Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 27th, 2014

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Samuel Smiles

South North
Neither ♠ 8 5 4 2
 A 6 4
 A Q 9
♣ Q 4 3
West East
♠ K 9 6
 K 10 8 3
 8 7 4 2
♣ 10 9
♠ J
 Q J 9 7
 J 5
♣ A K J 8 7 2
♠ A Q 10 7 3
 5 2
 K 10 6 3
♣ 6 5
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 2♣
2♠ Pass Pass 2 NT
3 Pass 3♠ Pass
Pass Dbl. All pass  


Almost a complete top swung on a rather subtle point of defense in this deal from the open pairs at Saint Louis last spring.

As East, you feel obliged to compete again when the opponents come to a stop in two spades. You bid two no-trump as takeout with four hearts, which shows your shape nicely — if perhaps suggesting a somewhat better hand than you actually have.

Your partner apparently takes you seriously when he doubles the opponents in three spades, then leads the club 10 against this contract. You can cash two clubs, everyone following. What should you do next? It seems normal enough to play a third club winner, doesn’t it? On this trick, East pitches a heart, while your partner also discards a heart, the eight, playing standard signals. Now what should you do?

The answer is that you’d better lead a fourth club! Declarer can ruff with the spade queen or 10, but West will complete his partner’s good work by establishing a trump promotion when he discards on this trick.

At this point West’s spade K-9-6 will be good for two trump tricks once East produces that invaluable spade jack. But note that if West overruffs at his first turn, he has undone all his partner’s efforts; the second spade trick now vanishes. This maneuver of building an extra trump winner by forcing declarer or dummy to waste a high honor, then refusing to overruff, is one of the most satisfying forms of trump promotion.

It may be very tempting to jump to three no-trump, but you cannot really be sure of the right strain or level here. If you play two-over-one, you can bid a forcing two no-trump. If not, temporize with a call of two hearts, the fourth suit, to set up a game force. You can then rebid no-trump to leave the door open for a possible club slam.


♠ J
 Q J 9 7
 J 5
♣ A K J 8 7 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2♣ Pass 2 Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Shantanu RastogiApril 10th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Dear Mr Wolff

This deal has interesting matchpoint decisions. NS are cold for 2 Spades and EW can make 3 Hearts by West which I think West should bid instead of passing over 3 Diamond by timing well (even on Diamond A opening lead by North West needs to discard Spade J on 3rd Diamond and then play on cross ruff if South doesnt shift to trumps). So its essential for West to double 3 Spades to get reasonable score. My question is isnt it better for North to bid 3 Spades over 2 Spades as a sort of blocking bid which would be very difficult for EW to double and hence could fetch a better score due to being undoubled one down or a fantastic score by making 3 Spades as now EW arent certain about their holdings ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Bobby WolffApril 10th, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Hi Shantanu,

On the surface both your question about North’s original non action (pass of 2 spades) and the eventual result on this particular hand are logically explained, but like many situations with our wonderful game need greater analyzing before accepting.

First, if I was South and heard partner raise me to 3 spades immediately, I, after, of course, passing originally and also having a solid diamond fit would gladly (but wrongly) accept and bid 4 spades.

Second, no bridge player alive or who has ever been, can accurately forecast exactly what to do, since he will not be able to read his opponent’s minds and when North passes two spades with his complete minimum and 4-3-3-3 he just hopes to make eight tricks and much prefers to play only an eight trick contract instead of a nine (or, of course encourage partner to bid 4 spades, like previously mentioned). In other words 3 spades by North is invitational, not preemptive.

East, at least result wise, made a fine balancing double (anyway it worked), suggesting the other major (hearts) into being a contract and I do agree with you that West should have slid into the auction with a 3 heart effort over South’s 3 diamond support bid, just in case North didn’t have the right hand to raise spades.

Overall, West’s final double is very aggressive and instead of no trump tricks, if North, usually the stronger hand (since he, not South had opened the bidding) had held the ace of spades and South the QJ10 or some such, West on many other layouts would score two less trump tricks allowing NS to score up a number ending in a 30.

Bridge is just that unpredictable and we, as mere mortals, whatever our bridge talent, are not able to see through the backs of cards and determine who has what (in this case the jack of spades in partner’s hand and the overall layout and defense).

West made a winning double (which only should be considered in matchpoints not IMPs) and even then would not (I am sorry to say) have been my choice, since I would have been happy to have my partner drive the opponents one higher and just hope to defeat them, but not risk getting a zero if we do not.

Your question, which should involve the above discussion, is very constructive and others may disagree with me (bravo for them), but the overall thinking involved is what makes our game rise above all other mind games, at least partly because of the uncertainty involved. Ever onward, ever upward and always remember that like “one swallow does not a summer make,” likewise does not one penalty double make a magnificent bridge player.