Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Never do today what you can
Put off till tomorrow.

Matthew Browne

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

*Two-plus cards


The finals of the NEC trophy in Yokohama this time last year turned out to be one-way traffic, in favor of the combined Russia-Netherlands team. This deal was symptomatic of what happened in the match.

In one room Evgeny Gladysh was delighted when the opponents came to rest at the three-level in his best suit. He started with ace and another spade, as declarer, Sabine Auken, pitched a club. She then led a trump to the king and ace. Gladysh switched to a heart, and Auken won and played four rounds of the suit to pitch a club before playing any more trump. That allowed Sjoert Brink to ruff in from the short trump hand, and now the contract was down three for minus 150.

In the other room Andrei Gromov played in diamonds, but a level lower and two tricks better. Jacek Pszczola for Team Welland (known as Pepsi) led a heart against two diamonds. Gromov won and did not play on trumps; instead, he led a spade to the queen and ace.

Pepsi now switched to a club to the ace, and Michal Kwiecien returned a club. Gromov won the king, crossed to a top heart, then pitched his last club on the spade king. He ruffed a spade, led his third heart to dummy, then ruffed a club and got out with a low diamond. Kwiecien overtook the diamond eight with the jack and returned a diamond, but Pepsi was now endplayed to concede a diamond to Gromov’s king for eight tricks, and 6 IMPs to Russia.

Even as a passed hand, I would caution against responding at the two-level when you have only a singleton in partner's suit. A response of one no-trump may temporarily conceal your diamonds — but as against that, it is far from clear you want to emphasize them that much. You have a bad hand for partner; a two-level response may excite him unduly.


♠ Q
 5 4 3
 K 9 5 4 3 2
♣ K 6 2
South West North East
Pass 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 ClimieMay 1st, 2014 at 11:00 am

Hi Bobby,

It is easy to be wise after the event but should south bid 3D on the hand shown? East’s spade bid and south’s spade shortage suggest a possible misfit (assuming north will have decent majors). For that matter should north really double rather than over calling 1S or even treating the hand as a Michaels cue bid?

I’d be very interested in your views as to how far off-shape doubles are sensible with fairly weak hands.



bobby wolffMay 1st, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Hi Iain,

Two statements have been publicly emphasized lately by some of the world’s top players (usually in interviews, but sometimes just volunteered).

1. There is not as much difference in systems played by worldwide better players as first thought, so, if faced with a choice, choose one which comes closest to fitting the personalities of the partnership.

2. If the above is true, and at least now it seems to be thought true, the results at the table will usually be determined by how well the players play and defend as that partnership.

With the choice of system, one must adjust (at least IMO) to the caliber of players he, she or they are playing against and decide whether they are going to be conservative (playing what could be called down the middle, taking as few risks as possible) or aggressive (going after the opponents by sometimes taking significant risks in the hopes of ringing the bell, during the bidding) with the luck needed to catch partner with a fitting hand for the bid partner has chosen and/or in defense to often not have a predictable hand on the bidding which, in turn, often causes their opponents to do the wrong thing in the play and even sometimes misjudge more often in the bidding.

Here, the NS pair has done very well with the aggressive approach recently, but how long it will last is up to Dame Fortune. It didn’t bode well on this hand, but it is only a part score, so no great damage was done, but it still is interesting (at least to me) in seeing it in action.

Yes, either a 1 spade overcall or a Michaels cue bid seems a better choice than a double, which generally would have significantly better support for the unbid minor (although EW’s system doesn’t suggest, by the one club opening, that clubs are any longer, or even as long, as diamonds).

During my long career, involving many matches and sometimes against the world’s best, I prefer the relative conservative approach, because without it, when the inevitable unlucky streaks occur, the psychological downsides reign and serious doubt often creeps in. To do otherwise requires an iron will, off-the-charts compassion, and the ability to deal with sometimes embarrassing adversity, those difficult to achieve qualities not often always seen in both partners and at the same time at that point in one’s bridge life.

However, if a partnership wants to see for themselves what happens, please try it early in one’s partnership, see what happens, but promise not to lose objectivity in assessing its value.

Iain, as an afterthought I, for one, do not like to have more spades than hearts (5-4) in making a Michael’s cue bid because when partner is 3-3 or even bite your tongue, 2-2, he will choose the wrong major so with the subject North hand I would have bid what you first mentioned, a simple 1 spade.

Iain ClimieMay 1st, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this and I take your point on bidding 1S, especially given the negative inferences should north then bid hearts. In terms of the psychology of partnerships, is there a pattern to the best ones e.g. one fairly calm and one more adventurous, at least in terms of bidding and play rather than behaviour?


Bobby WolffMay 1st, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Hi Iain,

As far as I know, there have not been many studies done on what constitutes greater harmony between bridge partners.

Marty Seligman, a Philadelphia bridge player and probably world renowned psychologist, whose book, “Learned Optimism”, is at least the most famous book on that special subject, has often stated that optimism is one important characteristic in the making of a world class player.

Whether two supreme optimists, playing together would jell or not, may rest on whether makeable slams become present on about 50% of the hands dealt. Although that statement is said with tongue in cheek, since there are just not that many slams bid and made, it may be better for differences in beliefs to attract.

However, one thing is very necessary and appropriate for partnership success, and that is simply to be able to adjust to partner’s habits and beliefs, and although the adjuster feels differently, he (or she) will be more able to deal with partner’s bidding and defensive choices.

For what it is worth, Marty gave a test on learned optimism possibly 16 years ago at a Reno NABC and he told me that my test nailed me as the most optimistic player ever to take it, at least at that time. It would be like someone going out and finding horse manure in his front yard and then circling the house looking for the Shetland Pony, sure to be close by.

My guess is that 90+% is not necessary for partners in bridge to jell, but adjustment is, without which the feelings and results of the two will never achieve what they could with others who might better fit the bill.

Mircea GiurgeuMay 3rd, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Mr. Wolff,

Your general comments about bridge are worth more than the analysis of the problem at hand, at least in my opinion. I enjoy them very much and I hope many of your followers do, as well.

An aff topic question: where would I find the most complete description of your Signoffs, preferably coupled withe the 3D checkback? I’ve been scouring the Interenet but couldn’t come up with anything satisfactory. Please let me know.

Bobby WolffMay 4th, 2014 at 1:53 am

Hi Mircea,

First, thanks for your kind words about enjoying our discussions. However, it is doubtful that everyone agrees with whatever is said, whether it is me who is talking or another commenter giving his views. Bridge, being a combination of much subjectivity and some science, lends itself to different views at every level, even, of course, the very top and, IMO will always be that way.

Any book dealing with conventions will probably include Wolff Signoff, especially the once every 10+ years or so update of the Bridge Encyclopedia. It is not complicated to play and truthfully doesn’t add a great deal of positive value to any partnership system, but sometimes is handy to be able to sign off and go down only one trick instead of two.

A similar convention, originally attributed to Jeremy Flint of the UK, and slightly older than mine is also basically covered in any book which deals with many conventions. Please contact the bridge league in your country or if in the USA, check with the ACBL and they will direct you into being able to find what you want.

Good luck in your quest and, if overbidding when playing, for your finesses to work.