Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Only those who have patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.

James J. Corbett

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


Where you have eight tricks in three no-trump, there is usually a way to find a ninth. Today's deal was well-played by Nevena Senior in the round of 16 knockout match against Singapore in the World Mind Sports Games a few years ago. Cover up the East and West hands and give it a try yourself before reading on.

Not surprisingly, the heart four was led at both tables. The Singaporean declarer did not really make much of an attempt to make her game. She won the heart king, crossed to hand with a club, and led the spade jack. When West covered with the king, she ducked, but now the defenders were not hard-pressed to know what to do next.

By contrast, Senior won the heart lead in hand and immediately played the spade jack. When West covered with the king, she won dummy’s ace and ran her club winners. West discarded a diamond easily, but on the last club had to discard a spade. Nevena now cashed the spade queen and exited with a heart. West cashed her four heart tricks, but then had to lead a diamond and it was easy for Senior to guess the position.

In the same position the player sitting West for the U.S. produced a sparkling defensive resource. On the last club he discarded down to the bare diamond king. Now when declarer cashed the spade queen and threw him in with a heart, he had a spade winner to cash.

Although you have no more than two likely tricks on defense, you have a hand where the opponents should not be making overtricks, and you would certainly not expect five spades to have any chance to make. So double, expecting that this will end the auction.


♠ A Q 7 5 3
 K 2
 Q 6 5
♣ J 8 7
South West North East
Pass Pass 1
1♠ 4 4♠ 5

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 24th, 2014 at 10:59 am

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, to what extent would vulnerability, form of scoring and rho’s failure to bid 5C or 5D (to help his partner judge whether to dbl 5S) influence your decision e.g. Are there cases where you would pass rather than double? Getting such hands right makes a huge difference so any insight into the thoughts of top players is always interesting.



bobby wolffApril 24th, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Hi Iain,

Every comment you made, together with significant innuendo to which you refer, is not only worthy of discussion, but rushes to the heart of this vital subject.

1. Not only would vulnerability, IMPs or matchpoints, RHO’s 5 heart bid (instead of a more descriptive continuation) be a consideration, but also quality of play of that partnership would enter into whether to pass or double. Bidding 5 spades is simply out of the question.

2. As it is said and done on the rifle range, when it is time to shoot, the flag is up and waving, in order to signify the importance of hitting one’s target. Your last sentence merely verifies that waving flag.

3. Simply put, the difference apparent when playing against sometimes grizzled, but very tough competitors, as against lesser experienced, yet nevertheless fearless adversaries, is quite different and fire needs to be dealt with by firing back, but doesn’t mean anything like always bidding one more.

4. With the former type, I would and should double 5 hearts, not because I am sure of a set, often it will depend on which opponent holds the ace of hearts, but percentage-wise it rates to be with the opener (5 heart bidder). However, against clever peers I would probably pass (for fear of an easy make and even possibly an arrogant but well calculated redouble) and chance my partner is being happy to having driven the opponents one higher than expected and consequently merely passes and hopes for a lucky set.

5. While doubling is speculative, passing sometimes puts too much pressure on partner to not do something dumb such as falling for the temptation and continuing on, basically violating a well-known caveat in defensive bidding and that is “once the push is taken to a speculative level, try to defeat them rather than having your side go for an extra trick doubled defensively”.

The above is not to claim that rocket science is involved, because it certainly is not. Only good solid common sense should dictate which is always an admission: “We do not know what the end result will be while defending at the 5 level, but we are only satisfied to have pushed them one higher than we could have and if fortunate (with the way the cards are placed) want to bear the positive fruits from such an effort”.

After all that is exactly what our opponents are trying to do, back at us!

Thanks for asking, and although nothing is being said that will always (or anywhere near) be right, the principle involved will work out more often than not, even though the result will not sometimes be the one we wanted.

Iain ClimieApril 24th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Many thanks for this – plentiful food for thought especially given the dodgy results I got last night from passing various doubles. Having said that, one case of -670 instead of 200 in was partner starting with the right defence but then shifting.


TedApril 24th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA if East was in first seat (so West and North were unpassed hands) and the rest of the auction proceeded as shown, would you still double 5 Hearts? Would a forcing pass have been in effect for either side after the 4 Spade bid?


bobby wolffApril 24th, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Hi Ted,

It would be the same problem for me, although the facts are slightly different. However, it would not change my discussion (above) since both West and North made declarative bids, neither of which sounded like the real values for opening the bidding.

There would be no forcing passes (FP) available anywhere around the table, leading me to suggest for you to understand the complete logic involved in creating FP.

FP’s only apply when both partners have bid in a way which indicated to each other unequivocally that the hand belongs to their side, therefore the opponent’s competition is only intended as a sacrifice. Also, along with, that fact then becomes 3 gradations available bidding higher, doubling or the middle road of passing it around to partner to make the next mistake (humor intended, but in reality, seriousness should prevail).

In addition there are subtleties when, after the competition to the higher level, in this case let’s say 4 spades, South could (should on occasion) compete with 5 of a minor, which would show a distributional hand such as:
a two suiter (say AQxxx, KQJxx in the bid suits), a willingness to compete to the 5 level theoretically expecting to have a very good play for the contract (or else a slam dunk sacrifice attempt) and helping partner make a future decision, in case he is called on, e.g after 5 of the minor then Pass, a return to 5 spades by partner, but then one of the opponents continues the competition to 6 hearts. Again perhaps the overcaller who now has shown where his distribution is concentrated can, if next to bid, bid again (very unlikely) double or pass which would allow you, his partner, to make the next decision, likely either pass or double.

In effect what this partnership has accomplished on this hand is to “Make Every Bid Count” something all partnerships should strive to do.

The above is what happens in the big leagues of bridge, but for whatever reason or another, is not often passed down to up and comers unless they are around to see and discuss what is happening.

Good luck and ALWAYS let bridge logic rule, but as you might be thinking, “I’m not that sure of what to do”. If so, join even the big boys, in many of the dilemmas which occur, but at least, up to then, you have learned what the bids were intended to show.

bobby wolffApril 24th, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Iain,

Sounds like it is all your fault on the -670 for failure to offer a big smile when your partner started on the right defense. Your poker face, though actively ethical, obviously cost you the board.

Yours in jest,


Peter PengApril 25th, 2014 at 1:52 am

hi Mr. Wolff

I am going back to two days ago.

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.


Herreman BobApril 25th, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Nice hand. Bridge is Beautiful.
Who was the American West ? He merrits to be named !

bobby wolffApril 25th, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hi Bob,

I do not know which American player discarded down to his singleton king of diamonds, causing declarer to go wrong in the end game, but (are you ready for this?) this would be standard practice at the high-level because West would know declarer’s exact hand (by East’s standard count signal at trick one and by declarer’s 1NT opening which would insure that he, South, possessed the ace of diamonds for his opening bid).

The defensive play by West is indeed beautiful, but it is a necessity, brought out by the expediency of counting, which must be done on every hand by both the defense and the declarer, as the play begins to unfold, piecing together each other’s hand, sometimes (often) not being absolutely sure, particularly in the case of declarer not being 100% sure of the high card content in quiet defensive hands, not bidding (sometimes though as once stated by Sherlock Holmes the “dog who did not bark”) nor giving away its contents by unnecessary signalling which only serves to help declarer, not the defense.

In this case, declarer is relegated to guess whether West has discarded down to the singleton diamond king (even if he possesses it), but also, if he does have it (necessary if declarer hopes to make his contract), he has to decide whether the hearts were originally 4-4 or 5-3.

I will dare say that in a very high-level game every West will do what this one did on defense. When you say that bridge is a beautiful game, you are right in NT (higher than spades). It is something for players with numeracy (the ability to count easily and accurately based on the evidence uncovered in both the bidding and the earlier play). In truth. it is only like learning to ride a bicycle, difficult at first, but once learned, always remembered.