Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, April 18th, 2014

Genius is only a greater aptitude for patience.

Comte de Buffon

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


Today's deal brought back happy memories of sitting opposite Bob Hamman, who made a play very similar to this one, with a very similar result. The difference was that the seven IMPs he won were just enough to win the International Trials for selection for our team.

There was slightly less at stake in the featured deal, since it comes from the semifinals of the NEC tournament, held in Japan last April. Both pairs played five clubs doubled from the South seat, and both Wests led three rounds of spades, trumped by dummy’s nine. At one table East overruffed dummy to play back a heart. Declarer ruffed this, crossed to the diamond king to finesse in trumps, then ruffed a diamond to hand, and eventually drew trumps to claim down one when the club king put in an appearance. Not a triumph, but not a disaster either.

However when Roy Welland and Sabine Auken were East and West, defending against five clubs doubled, Auken led three rounds of spades. Declarer ruffed the third one with the club nine, on which Welland as East pitched a diamond rather than overruff! Declarer now led a diamond to the king and a club to the eight. Welland won with his jack and played back a club, leaving declarer with an eventual diamond loser.

That led to a penalty of plus 500 and the hardest-earned seven IMPs of the event. Welland’s team went on to reach the final, but lost to a Russia-Netherlands combination.

This is an easy one. Your call of two hearts here will be natural and nonforcing. Indeed, it denies as much as game interest, since you would have relayed with two clubs (known as New Minor Forcing) with invitational values or better. Whether a jump to three hearts here would be shapely and invitational, or 5-5 game-forcing, is up to each individual partnership.


♠ Q 10 8 7 2
 9 8 6 5 4
♣ 10 4
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1♠ Pass 1 NT 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


David WarheitMay 2nd, 2014 at 9:52 am

The bidding goes 2H-P-4H. As North it wouldn’t even occur to me to enter the bidding. I have 3 quick tricks, I can be absolutely certain that at least one of the minor kings is in dummy, and I know that declarer will face the worst possible trump split. I might double (down 3 for -500 the other way; notice that that includes a trump promotion), or I might pass (still down 3 but only -150). Note also that if we give E the DK and W the SQ, so that partner has 0 HCP, we still beat 4H by 2 tricks. North was so fortunate to be in fourth seat; anywhere else, & of course he would be in the bidding. But when you are presented the hand on a silver platter, I find it inconceivable that any thoughtful player would jump into the bidding, and yet both Norths did so.

jim2May 2nd, 2014 at 12:36 pm

This hand is a bridge Rorschach test!

Very few who have paid an entry fee could pass the North hand. I would surely would reason that the “gods of bridge” did not deal me a 2-0-5-6 with a void in the enemy suit and the perfect system bid in our agreements just to have me “pass”!

Of course, I would not double, as TOCM ™ would move the spades around enough to have pard takeout the double to 4S. After that, I would have to bid 5C and pard would have diamonds and pass.

Fortunately or not, the opponents are vulnerable and pard will suspect that — if I have a suit — it is not spades, and so will hopefully track a minor suit card. Then, just possibly, we will take the first five tricks and let me (North) lead the fourth diamond for a very unlikely trump promotion! Ah, yes, +300.

On defense, that lovely non-ruff is another TOCM ™ just waiting to spring!

Iain ClimieMay 2nd, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

If pard did bid 4S over a dbl from North, you can bid 4N giving him the choice of minors. The more I look at double, the more I like it given partner’s likely trump stack; you are certainly no worse off dbl’ing than bidding 4N unless South keeps bidding spades (yet he didn’t overcall) or goes mad and assumes 4N is BW.



Jane AMay 2nd, 2014 at 1:36 pm

North has no way to know if there is a trump stack or not just because he is void. Dummy could hold four or more hearts also. But forcing partner to the five level vul is a decision that could turn out badly, especially if four hearts has no chance, as is the case this time. I like it when the opps get to play the misfitting hands. This time, it works out quite well. It is a bidder’s game however, so for those who just can’t pull out the pass card no matter what level or vulnerability, you pays your money and you gets to make your choice. Some of us would let the dogs out. I would probably keep mine on the leash this time.

Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Hi David, Jim2, and Iain,

Far being from me to argue such things as an entire 39 unseen cards around the table, but why couldn’t Dame Fortune (TOCM tm notwithstanding) deal the following: East: s. Qxxx h. AQJ10xx, d. xx c. x, South: s. Ax, h. xx d. KJxxx, c. J10xx, West: s. KQ10xx, h. Kxxxx, d. x, c. Kx leaving North with the hand he held:
s. xx, h. void, d. AQ10xx, c. AQ98xx.

Now the hand is either 5 or 7 diamonds made (depending on the club finesse) and with a spade lead, but always at least 6 diamonds (and probably 7) with a heart lead (except likely only 6 against a devilish low club lead by West).. Note also that EW will always make 10 tricks in hearts allowing them a good save against even 7 of a minor by NS.

I am, in no way, officially disputing David’s logic in deciding to go quietly with a pass by North (he could be right), but only trying to analyze different views, possibilities and their likelihood.

And to Jim2 with his TOCM affliction, he, by his experience with this insidious disease, always will lack any optimism in whatever he does (perhaps he should always bring with him a personal kibitzer who possesses at least one coin to be able to flip) when he is faced with an important bidding decision and pray that another person’s flip may have developed a God sent immunity to that would be terminal malady.

Iain has attempted to cover some bases with him seemingly trying to convince himself to first double and then after the expected response, do handstands to cancel his previous action, No doubt, his lovely wife will benefit from that plan, with him then, and after his overall strategy failed, will then decide to spend more time with her, instead of running off to the bridge club, since his prospective partners may begin to dry up.

As the Godfather may have said, “Nothing personal, just strictly business”.

Iain ClimieMay 2nd, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

Like the comment but, on the hand you suggest, won’t South be bidding 5D (or possibly 4N) if North doubles, applying Ron Klinger’s maxim “Take out take-out doubles”? True, 4N from North migthget to slam, but you’ll still be reaching a minor suit game not leaving 4H*.



jim2May 2nd, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Iain Clime –

I am with the immediate 4N bidders. No way I would bid 4N over pard’s 4S in that auction! Pard would surely reason I could not have the minors because I had not bid 4N initially.

I have no way of knowing that West does not have a more typical pre-emptive raise and, at MPs I would know that the field would bid 4N with those cards. This was from a team match, however, so that could be a factor. That is, should I take what appears to be a deep position and pass? Or simply make the indicated system bid and move on?

Simply too many good things can happen if I bid. As Our Host has suggested, pard merely needs a fit for one of our minors for a good play for play. Add the AS, and a slam could be there.

Actually, this brings up a related question. How should South respond in this column hand with:


Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Hi Jane A,

Yes, some times it is wise to keep the dogs on a leash, but as you alluded to “bridge is a bidder’s game” and I believe it.

Sometimes a quote speaks volumes and one by Damon Runyon, American poet and gambler once said, which I have used before, exemplifies my thoughts:

“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet”.

Iain ClimieMay 2nd, 2014 at 2:44 pm

HI Jim2,

I have to say that at the table I would have bid 4N first and thought about whether double (or even pass) could be better at a later stage if at all! Despite this, it could have some merit should partner have long trumps and a weak misfitting hand; it could equally misfire a treat, of course. Worst would be partner having a few good bits and a singleton trump, then leaving it in – ouch!


Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you, as North, would fervently be pulling for your partner to TO your double to 5 diamonds with my example hand: s. Ax, h. xx, d. KJxxx, c. J10xx, but if you were doing double duty and was watching this hand while viewing either BBO or vu-graph at the site, would you be extremely confident he would venture 5 diamonds instead of passing? Remember double digit IMPs (close to 30) are at stake with this, what I think, is a close decision. If the 5 card suit is in the other major, spades, then no problem, but in diamonds??

And with both of us being somewhat sophisticated with the workings of the law of averages, wouldn’t we be thankful if our teammate did the right thing, but hopefully also objective, if he didn’t and decided to pass?

Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

No sense in my nodding my agreement to your vote for 4NT since I have already stated it.

With your example hand, a pretty good rule for determining taking out a double which is not based on trump tricks, but rather what could be called a cooperative effort, e.g balanced but still a very reasonable hand for a TO bid by partner:

With a balanced 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 5-3-3-2 or 5-4-2-2 and some 6-3-2-2 hands especially when the longest held suit is not a biddable major, take it out only if you will expect to make your contract perhaps 60% of the time.

Otherwise just pass and usually accept a small penalty, but by doing so you will normally be avoiding a minus score.

CAUTION: The above only works when it works, so just BE RIGHT, BABY!

David WarheitMay 2nd, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Somehow I don’t think that Dame Fortune would deal the SQ to both E & W. Also, if I held the E hand you say she dealt, I would never (in first or second seat) open 2H (or anything else, for that matter), since I strongly believe that one should not pre-empt in a suit while holding 4 cards in a (the other) major. And as I indicated, if N feels compelled to bid, he can (should) double, leading to a good result, although possibly not the very best, but then that’s why people pre-empt–to make life difficult for opponents.

Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Hi David,

Apologies for duplicating the spade queen with both East and West. We have all heard of duplication of values, but never to this extreme.

It seems that the strictures once thought to be advisable in NOT opening many preempts at the two or three level, are now out of fashion, at least at the higher levels of the game, (support for the other major, 2 or 3 of the top 5 honors in the suit preempted itself, etc.).

I do agree to the modern agreements and have thought that to be true for many years. Preempts prime purpose is to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to have as much bidding room available as possible in order to have a better opportunity to use science to best advantage and get to the optimum contract.

Sure, by doing so it negates science by the preemptor’s partnership, but that price is usually worth it, in order to materially increase the primary advantage sought.

In bridge, it becomes increasingly apparent that, again talking about the higher level game, it is worth giving to get and by so doing, I totally agree that the rewards waiting, far outweigh the smaller advantage lost.

Not unlike in warfare to send out advance scouts to locate exactly where the enemy is situated, not often good for the scout team, but overall valuable and often necessary for winning the overall battle. Please excuse the gruesomeness of my example.

angelo romanoMay 2nd, 2014 at 4:43 pm

if we play 1D-1S-1N-2H as weak, I believe it is the same on 1D-1S-2D-2H; so how do you show in this case 4 hearts and invitational values ? it’s important, since the opener may well have 4 hearts himself

jim2May 2nd, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I apologize for being unclear in my bidding Q.

What I meant was that in the auction in this column, after North’s 4N, what should South bid with:


TedMay 2nd, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Hi Bobby,

I agree that the bidding is the more interesting part of this hand, but a question about the play. Why would East feel comfortable with not taking the setting trick at trick 3? Is there any reason at that stage to suspect that South cannot hold the CK?


Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Hi Angelo,

Even though 1D-P-1S-P-1NT-P-2H is weak,, if instead it goes 1D-P-1S-P-2D-P-2H it could be played either weak or forcing depending on what the partnership prefers. If played weak, then a jump to 3H is only invitational and then obviously does not indicate a singleton, but could be passed. Instead some partnerships play that a jump is GF with at least 9 cards in the majors. With that specific sequence including partner opening and rebidding either minor and with responder holding both majors, then specific bids need to be discussed and agreed upon, with the alternative rebid of 2NT in the mix which could include 4 hearts, but, of course, if the minor rebidder also held 4 hearts he would then rebid them over 2NT with his third bid. However the weakness of most all natural systems would be if the responder held Kxxxx, Jxxx, x, Qxx the partnership would be left in 2 diamonds (if diamonds were the opener’s suit).

A detail but well worth discussing and thank you for bringing it up.

Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Hi Jim2,

Only 5 clubs and a slam would be lost, but that is just bridge since there would be no way for this hand to determine that slam would be the percentage action, but sometimes in matches against good players a jump to 6 may strike gold in two ways, making the slam and/or enticing the opponents to take a phantom 6 heart save, not on this layout but perhaps on other.

The poker element in bridge and particularly at the higher levels is underestimated in importance.

Bobby WolffMay 2nd, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Hi Ted,

A gut wrenching question with no certain answer other than the body language of the opponent and tempo at the table. It may tip East off that he is missing certain cards, but on this hand West has doubled which he would not do with only the AK of spades since he could never be sure both would live defensively and has indicated to everyone at the table that he definitely expects to defeat 5 clubs, which he would (should) never do without at least one of the minor suit kings and the right distribution to overcome what the other three hands would have in store for him.

Good question and I hope a satisfactory answer which most readers would understand.

Bridge has many situations where experience, not cold hard what is front of one’s face, is the determining factor

jim2May 2nd, 2014 at 6:10 pm

That’s what I thought.

The questions I would ask myself include:

– does holding four hearts assure a void in North hand?
– does the vulnerability guaranteed North holding such good suits?
– how confident can I be that a heart will be led?

I would bid 5C also, but I would admire those who bid slam.