Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

You're a mouse studying to be a rat.

Wilson Mizner

South North
North-South ♠ 9 4
 7 2
 A Q 10 7
♣ A K Q 8 6
West East
♠ Q 7
 6 5
 6 5 3 2
♣ 9 7 5 3 2
♠ K 5 3
 A K Q 10 9 4
 9 8
♣ 10 4
♠ A J 10 8 6 2
 J 8 3
 K J 4
♣ J
South West North East
1♠ Pass 2♣ 2
2♠ Pass 3 Pass
3♠ Pass 4♠ All pass


Before falling prey to the knee-jerk reaction of taking your trump tricks when you can "before the rats get at them," stop to consider the implications.

At the table West naturally led a heart against four spades, and East cashed two of his top hearts, then continued with a third. West was quick to ruff in with the queen in front of dummy. Declarer took the diamond return on the table, and with dummy’s two trumps still intact, he was able to run the nine successfully. South continued by finessing the 10, and with the ace dropping East’s king on the third round of the suit, he was able to claim 10 tricks.

See the difference if West elects to discard on the third heart, rather than ruff. Declarer ruffs in dummy, yes, but the consequence of this is that dummy is now reduced to one trump. This means that only one trump finesse can be taken. Declarer duly takes it, and West wins with the queen and returns a diamond.

With no trumps left in dummy, and lacking the ability to reduce his trumps in hand sufficiently to effect a trump coup, South will continue with the spade ace, hoping that East had started with a doubleton spade king. But this eventuality will not come to pass, and declarer ends with just nine tricks, having to concede a second trump to the spade king.

There are some (not I) who would have opened this hand a strong no-trump. And equally, there are others who would now reverse into two diamonds at their second turn. I prefer to rebid clubs because I feel that a reverse — which would force club preference at the three-level — requires at least another working queen.


♠ 9 4
 7 2
 A Q 10 7
♣ A K Q 8 6
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1♠ 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


Iain ClimieApril 23rd, 2014 at 9:13 am

Hi Bobby,

West could pull off a devilish coup here. Imagine he ruffed the 3rd heart with a small trump. Will declarer believe what is happening or will he overruff and play east for KQx in spades? The column defence is sounder, of course, but the psychological impact of a Grosvener coup in a tea.s match should not be overlooked. Not so clever at pairs, of course, where the victim may mess up the next few boards against pairs sitting the same way as the coup’s perpetrator.



Michael BeyroutiApril 23rd, 2014 at 11:29 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
how do you feel about opening 1D with the BWTA hand? And what’s the preferred opening with 4-4 in the minors? Thanks.
Iain: I never thought of not destabilizing the opponents for fear they might give tops to others…

jim2April 23rd, 2014 at 11:43 am

First seat vulnerable against not, you hold:


Do you open one spade?

Iain ClimieApril 23rd, 2014 at 11:50 am

Hi Michael,

I said to one weak pair whom we’d just mangled in a club session “Cheer up, it is just a couple of poor boards, and there is still time to pull back and recover.”. One of them complimented me on being nice, so I admitted to being a manipulative cad who didn’t want them to do badly against the next few pairs sitting our way. She point blank refused to believe that I would pull such a subterfuge but still thanked me for the consoling words and left in good cheer. Sometimes honesty is the funniest policy.



Jane AApril 23rd, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Bobby,

Could you describe what you mean by “another working queen”. It does not seem like replacing one of the major suit cards in the BWTA hand with a queen would be enough. Or is it?

I assume Jim2 is asking players much better than me what to do with his example hand, and it depends on partnership style and agreements, but I would open it two spades first seat
vul. Yes, the spade suit is lovely, and the stiff is nice, but what do the two jacks offer? Not much, in my opinion. If partner has nothing to say over my two spade bid, then we are probably high enough. If the opps have enough to come in over my bid, so be it. My partners and I play disciplined weak twos in first and second seat, especially vul, so my partner would know my hand.

Thanks in advance.

bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi Iain.

All your advice is worth considering, but not without an explanation and a caveat.

Yes a Grosvenors Coup or Gambit (defined as a humorous play by Frederick Turner of Los Angeles in the Bridge World, June 1973 wherein a defender deliberately makes an error, giving the declarer an opportunity refused because he expects rational defense) has long been thought of demoralizing the opponents for the next period of time, so if done in a pair game, always choose the first board of the round so that your pair will, at least, be able to benefit on the remaining board(s). Tongue in cheek, of course, but sometimes Grosvenors are, no doubt, infuriating to the opponents, so be sure of only executing them to those your partnership does not like or admire.

To heck with honesty and although you no doubt have a way with women, they do appear to hang on to what you say, even if the eventual outcome is not always satisfying.

Not unlike bridge, which is no doubt why you and I love it so much.

bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Hi Michael,

Although the choice of opening bids has both plus and minus, 1. More fluidity in the rebid, as opposed to 2. Sometimes winding up with fewer trumps as declarer once the responder prefers. I vote for fluidity, since after opening 1 club and hearing an expected 1 of a major response, the choice of rebid should be 2 clubs, not 2 diamonds, which would show a significantly stronger hand e.g. a major suit king (or at least a random queen or a singleton in the unbid major) in addition.

However, learning to play as declarer, e.g. in this case with possibly only 7 diamonds instead of 8 clubs, may sharpen up one’s skills, an issue never to be underestimated.

With 4-4 in the minors the overwhelming world wide choice and across the board is 1 diamond, except of course, when playing an artificial forcing 1 club opening.

Iain ClimieApril 23rd, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Thanks Bobby, although my wife reckons that my supposed way with the fair sex should involve the phrase “Go away!” being shouted loudly in my direction. Or something meaning that but ruder…


bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, I do open 1 spade, but many very good players would opt for the preemptive value of 2 weak spades, (of course, assuming that pair is playing WTB’s).

Neither side jack is my reason for opening the bidding with a 1 bid, but the 10 of spades is. And, if my spades and jack holding is the same but I am 6-3-2-2 instead, I would then choose a 2 spade opening.

My advice is never to confuse that an opening 1 bid (regardless of vulnerability, although that needs to at least temper some aggressiveness) is meant to be forward going as the first step to determining the right contract for your side, while a WTB is primarily a preempt with its main purpose to make it more difficult for the opponents by taking bidding room away from them.

The above statement reminds me of what Al Roth, the late and great inventor of many long standing successful bridge treatments and conventions often said, due to his preference for very sound opening 1 bids: “When I open 1 club at the table, the opponents tremble”.

Peter PengApril 23rd, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Good morning Mr Wolff

Just a curious note. It is 1 PM here in Florida, but your answers are posting at 4:43 pm, today, April 23. I wonder what time zone is your computer in?

But two serious questions:

1. I passed yesterday in fourth seat with 12 HCP, including 3 spades, QTx, resulting in a passed out hand.
My partner, an expert, who won many European titles, chastised me for not following the rule of 15.
The result was we got a 75% board. Points were 11-9-8-12. All who bid went down, on both sides.
I have been doing that, taking a sure average plus, rather than gambling, in fourth seat. In this case, I admit, I had more than I wanted, but I have one A and no Ks, the rest of my points were quacks and jacks, no adjoining QJ, JT9, etc. In other words, I think I made a valid call, opting for a sure average. Can you comment on the rule of 15? (BTW, I think that if I had 11 HCP and 4 spades, or 10 HCP and 5 spades, they are diferent hands from what I had).

2. Say you have

A92 in dummy and

QJ4 in your hand

say this is the spades suit.

The lead is the 5, clearly from a five card suit, and you need to stop the suit three times, because you need to develop both hearts and clubs in order to make your 3NT contract. If you do not stop the suit three times, you will either lose 3 spades and two Aces, or you will need some luck for the two Aces to be divided or the your RHO’s hand.

If you cannot stop the suit three times, you need to guess which Ace the LHO has in order to knock it out first, before the Ace in your RHO’s hand. However, if you duck the first spade, you will win the second spade and still have a stopper, and then all you need if for the two missing Aces to be in separate hands.

So the question is not wheter you can make the contract, which seems safe most of the time, but:
What is the right card to play from dummy, so that you can make the contract even if both missing Aces are in your LHO’s hand?

Thanks for your attention.

bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your sophisticated response to my choices.

In short, the singleton held in Jim2’s question is enough (but obviously, just barely) to sway me away from preempting so thus preferring constructive. Meaning the singleton, in the long run and only based on my feel and judgment, both adds enough to that example hand and at the same time probably increases the opponent’s value (possible greater fit in the suit in which I hold that singleton) to warrant suggesting to partner that we need to intelligently bid this hand as opposed to go into preempting mode which creates a defensive mindset with partner.

Disciplined preempts (especially vulnerable) have their valid place with good partnerships, but that form of understanding rarely puts bread on the table, but rather creates an overrated sense of safety within the partnership leading to peace of mind rather than the goal, winning at bridge.

You are probably correct that an extraneous queen may not turn the example hand into being worth a reverse, (clubs, then diamonds), but, in order not to have to bid a shorter suit before a longer suit, I might risk the overbid in order to not succumb to the other risk of playing in my shorter trump suit.

So many choices in bridge bidding (and in bridge play, but that is not the current subject) are deciding in favor of lesser of evil choices rather than just dart throwing to an elusive target.

All of the above is intended to define very good bridge playing the way it is, rather than dreaming of what we want it to be. And like so many things in life, unrelated to bridge, we, as adult human beings, need to separate the wheat from the chaff or else we, like so many others, will not continue to move forward with improving our bridge skills.

To repeat, disciplined vulnerable preempts, like 5 card majors and always having 4 of the unbid major(s) when making a TO double are always preferred, but sometimes when one holds certain hands, but does not meet all qualifications, it still is right to aggressively choose that action compared to being wimpy. Bridge is all about taking the best percentage action, true in defense, bidding and declarer’s play, and safety is not the only crucial factor.

The confidence which comes with moving up the bridge ladder allows one to think for him or her self rather than to be tied to losing bridge traditions usually passed down through the years, but in reality are just words which, at the very least, do not now work.

“Sometimes the change will do us good”!

jim2April 23rd, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Do note that if I had failed to ruff with the QS and shift to a diamond, then TOCM ™ would have made that the South hand.

bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Hi Peter,

And the top of the morning to you, since it is 1PM+ now in Florida (specifically 1:56) but 10:56AM here in LV. And perhaps the 4:43PM shown on your computer may have to do with Greenwich mean time, but do not bet the farm on it.

Whether you use the rule of 15 (# of spades + HCPs totaling 15) or not is up to you. However perhaps a better rule is who one is playing against (aggressive or wimpy) and decide each case on what it may take percentage wise to secure a plus score beating those who pass it out your way, whether it is an IMP match (with only 1 opponent or a matchpoint game where you have a section(s) to worry about) Just always be right and you have nothing to worry about, but if you are that lucky you are wasting your time at bridge and should enter every lottery available to make better use of making your fortune.

Now to get serious about your second question. First you, as choosing the right percentage, play the 9 from dummy at trick one since if West (assuming you are South) has led from both the King and the 10, presto magic you have your 3 stops. It is likely that it will work, however it could be that East if holding the 10 without, of course the 8 will play the 10 if you play low from dummy, but in spite of that it appears that playing the 9 is clearly the right play.

Other than that advice I have little more to offer rather than if the unlucky thing is done at trick 1 (play the 9 and getting it covered it can easily be the right play, if the suit is 5-2) to now duck the spade so that East, if the wrong ace is knocked out earlier he may not have another spade to benefit the defense.

From the lack of seeing the whole hand, the bidding and whatever else is involved (how to con an opponent into not taking his ace the first round if I attempt to guess which ace to knock out first, but I guess wrong) I can not offer anything more but to wish you a happy April 23rd together with successful bridge trails.

It is now 11:18AM here and 2:18PM in Florida.

Peter PengApril 23rd, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Thanks a lot, I will try your “rule” on whether to open in 4th seat or not.

Thanks for the comments on the hand play problem.

The RHO had T-7

LHO had K8653.

bobby wolffApril 23rd, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Hi Peter,

Just a final word to thank you for not rubbing it in my face when I played the 9 from dummy on the first lead, therefore taking away the virtual certainty of, after the 9 held, having 3 stops in the suit.

As Zia has said many times, do not ever forget that bridge, not any of the players, is usually the master of the table, since the exact location of all the cards is up to Dame Fortune and she, too many times, has a sadistic bent.

bobby wolffApril 24th, 2014 at 1:51 am

Hi Jim2,

Sorry for not responding earlier, but I just turned my attention back to the AOB hand of the day.

Does TOCM tm also sit, like Jimminy Cricket might, on the shoulder of the declarer, and tell declarer where the cards are, allowing declarer to now pick up the queen of spades that you didn’t ruff in with? If so, we need to bar him as a kibitzer and you would be within your rights to call the TD and complain that an unknown force is informing declarer how to make anti-percentage plays (to say the least) and virtually cheating his opponents.

Forgive me for using the C word, but if the ACBL and all those sensitive players who detest any vulgar use of such language realize it, that spades should be called spades, not f…ing shovels.

jim2April 24th, 2014 at 2:21 am

Actually, yes, it all too frequently does.


jim2April 24th, 2014 at 2:38 am

Actually, I do not believe playing off the top trump is anti-percentage at all in the second version:

1) Heart
2) Heart
3) Heart ruffed (and NOT over-rufffed)
4) AS
5) KS (assume QS does NOT drop)
6) AC
7) KC (D pitch)
8) QC (last D pitch)
9) Concede S for 10 tricks

If a high club is ruffed before all Ds pitched, then all trump are gone and declarer spurns any D finesse and uses the AD instead as the entry to cash last club(s).

Declarer’s line is a deliberate one to preserve the AD as a late entry. In fact, the only way to go down with that hand is to take the unneeded finesse.

OTOH, the over-ruff allows the D attack too early for all the clubs to be cashed safely.

Peter PengApril 24th, 2014 at 3:09 pm

hi Mr. Wolff

I understand the logic of playing the 9.

In the question of whether to open the bidding in fourth seat with borderline hands, I thought I had understood your suggestion, which was to consider the profile of the opponents, whether aggressive or conservative – you used the word wimpy – however later in the day I thought – wait a minute – did Mr. Wolff suggest that (A) against aggressive bidders we open the bidding, because we will have the points, since the aggressive bidders failed to open the bidding, therefore either getting to a make-able low-level contract or pushing the aggressive bidders into an unmake-able contract, and pass against wimpy opponents, because they are likely to have the points but fail to open; or (B) pass against aggressive bidders because if you open the door they may find a fit, or push you to an higher than desirable level, and open the bidding against wimpy players because they will let you buy the contract cheap.

I concluded that either interpretation of what you said would be valid, so I decided to ask you what is your consideration exactly.


bobby wolffApril 24th, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Hi Peter,

I definitely meant that, while playing against wimpy or, maybe a better description, conservative opponents, I would be inclined to open the bidding since our partnership may be better able to buy the hand at a lower contract, which with our limited resources, may be necessary to do to go plus.

At matchpoint scoring those hands are just as important as slam decisions, because of the frequency of gain principle always present.

Peter PengApril 25th, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Much obliged! Muchas gracias! Muito obrigado! MERCI! Great insight!