Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Confidence is not a guarantee of success, but a pattern of thinking that will improve your likelihood of success, a tenacious search for ways to make things work.

John Eliot

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


The differences in approach between teams or rubber bridge and the pairs game is a subject that exercises my readers' curiosity. I am often asked whether there are deals that exemplify the difference in approach between one form of scoring and the other. Today's deal might clarify that point, because while the approach at pairs would not be straightforward here, the best play at teams is easy to identify.

Declaring four spades, you receive the lead of the diamond queen. With only four possible losers, you might decide at pairs to win the opening lead and draw trump, then to run the heart jack, or to lead a heart to the eight. You are playing for an overtrick, but with all the club and heart honors lying badly for you, the defenders are likely to prevail by winning the heart and reverting to diamonds. When East wins and plays a club through, you finesse, and lose both that trick and a further heart.

At teams or rubber bridge you would banish thoughts of an overtrick. Instead you win the diamond lead, draw trump, and exit with a diamond. When East wins to shift to a club, you take your ace and exit with a club. This forces the defenders to open up hearts for you. They can lead hearts through you once but not twice (and if East had shifted to a heart, not a club, at trick four, you would have set up a heart for a club discard).

Though not worth a drive to game, you are worth at least one more call, since your partner's range is 6-10 HCP. While it is human nature to advance in spades, that would be impetuous, and unnecessary. Since you have already shown 5-4 in the majors, the best way to show your extra values is to bid two no-trump. That suggests this pattern, plus extra values. Let partner decide the level and strain now.


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


David WarheitMay 21st, 2014 at 9:35 am

Your last sentence is not correct in detail, although, of course, it is correct in noting that 4S is now cold. If E shifts to a (small) H at trick 4, you duck, W wins and is endplayed, forced either to give you a free finesse in H or C or a ruff-sluff by returning a D, in which case you sluff a C from one hand (presumably dummy) and ruff in the other. You now can take the H finesse for an overtrick.

David WarheitMay 21st, 2014 at 10:32 am

Oops. On second thought, if W wins a H at trick 4 and returns a D, it would be better to sluff a H from dummy, ruff in your hand, then cash the HA and ruff a H, making 5 if the other high H appears. If it doesn’t, take the club finesse, making 5 if that succeeds.

Iain ClimieMay 21st, 2014 at 10:54 am

Hi Bobby, David,

At pairs, I think I’m still conceding a diamond quickly, as the defence will always get that trick. A club comes through, finesse loses and a club comes back but now I can use the many spade entries to try to get hearts right. I don’t think taking the club finesse myself is a good idea even at pairs, and there is always the scope for opponents to goof.



Iain ClimieMay 21st, 2014 at 11:04 am

Sorry, 2 caveats. Cash SA before ducking D and the club finesse may be an absolute last resort but I think the heart pips may be enough e.g. If HJ covered, win, back to dummy, play H to 8 or 10. If west wins, it is either another H when they are 3-3 or He sets up a heart for me. If ruff and discard, then a club goes from table. If east wins 2nd heart, only guess is H3-3 vs club finesse for 11.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Between the two of you, and with appropriate what ifs, you have given a master’s review of the likelihood of scoring a maximum number of tricks while declaring 4 spades on today’s AOB hand.

While definitely of interest (to many), let us take a minute or two to discuss the overall picture. History will show that Auction bridge, the father of contract, was an inferior game because of the absence of the salience of having to bid to the right contract (buying the hand as cheaply as possible and getting credit for whatever was made, games, slams, etc). The grandfather of bridge, Whist, was even more inferior because of, having no dummy and blindly leading, then creating a close to impossible attempt to play even slightly well, by usually being much too difficult to even attempt to “guess” what to do.

Let’s now fast forward to the current comparison of IMPs to matchpoints and discuss or at least think about, the guesswork necessary to fight for crucial overtricks (and undertricks defensively) keeping in mind the luck element always present, especially in matchpoints, when the alternative in IMPs, is almost always trying to make one’s contract while declaring and set the opponents contract when defending. In short making the extra trick (one way or the other) so necessary in order for a matchpoint competitor to have a winning score since that extra trick often counts as much in matchpoints as the difference between making or going one down in a close game or (gulp) slam.

At least to me, it can be compared to the problem which eventually erased Whist and years later was replaced by the near perfect game of Contract Bridge, now in its eighty seventh year of existence.

The above is not to complain of the highly competitive game of duplicate bridge as played in so many bridge clubs the world over. However it is to remind younger players (or sometimes just to make them aware) of what I think both IMPs and its, at least one time, very popular relative, rubber bridge, as the two games which, at least from my viewpoint, represent our great game and its many superior features and elements by far the best, both emphasizing the goal (making the contract, and downplaying the sidelight, overtricks and undertricks).

ClarksburgMay 21st, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Unrelated to today’s column, questions about two competitive auctions:

Scenario 1:
Partner 2C (Disciplined Vul overcall)
I bid 3S (my intent was to show invitational values with a six-card Spade suit).
Was that bid OK? Would 2S have been enough / better? If not…then what?

Scenario 2:
LHO Pass
Partner Pass
I bid 2D (I had 2362: Diamonds were AKQxxx, Hearts Qxx. Is 2D unambiguously weak in this auction context, wherein both opponents have already spoken? Would 1D have been be better?

ps I normally save my Beginner / Intermediate-level questions for Sunday. But it seemed quiet here today. Hope this is OK.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I’ll try and wrap my answers in a brief, neat (for me) package.

Scenario 1:

2 Spades, not 3 is invitational and forward going, not 100% forcing (especially when a misfit for partner) but suggesting strongly to compete with the opponents to be declarer.

3 Spades is definitely forcing and would show a solid type suit perhaps: AKQJxx, KQJ10xx or even QJ109xx(x) with a major diamond honor and another side ace or very useful void.

Scenario 2:

I will suggest when vulnerable to play intermediate jump overcalls (NV to be weak), e.g (and with RHO opening 1 club, but encompassing whether or not partner has originally passed). Typical examples might be: s. Kx, xxx, AKQxxx, Kx or xx, Ax, KQJ10xx, A10x.

With your example hand, 1 diamond, not 2 should be bid and probably if the next time it is your turn you can still bid 2 diamonds, e.g 1C (RHO) 1 diamond by you, P, P, anything now by RHO which does not go past 2 clubs (whether or not LHO has bid the 1st time), then 2 diamonds by you is called for.

High-level simple bidding develops a rhythm which with more experience you will keep consistent, keeping in mind that the better the competition will result in the faster you will develop that positive rhythm. Playing against less experienced opponents will tend to make a more chaotic learning experience for you, simply resulting in your mistakes not being properly penalized or even noted but worse yet, getting undeserved good results, but, in truth, retrogressing from your original goal.

Summing up, with your attitude and likely smarts, you could progress rapidly through the stage that you are now probably in, but your surroundings need to have a really good player around or, at least, on call (like Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder) keeping you on the straight and narrow and not allowing you to get away with losing choices, especially when not realizing it.

The as close to perfect environment would be to have a somewhat talented constant partner opposite you while all of this is going on. However, everything does not have to conform exactly for you to show progress.

Do not worry about protocol when wanting to ask a question. Just keep an open and positive attitude and good things will, at the very least, eventually happen.

Good luck!

Iain ClimieMay 22nd, 2014 at 12:02 am

Hi Bobby,

Do you think matchpoints with Butler imp scoring, after best and worst scores deleted, is a good compromise? I’d like to play it on occasion.


bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2014 at 5:09 am

Hi Iain,

The event you discuss is indeed an action packed fun event and theoretically is a reasonable compromise between matchpoints and IMPs.

However, it is an event which requires ALL the players signed up to play with discipline and integrity, otherwise, even with the two extremes invalidated on every board, is subject to player selfishness which, in turn helps bastardize the event. Same old, same old, requirement of everyone playing his or her best, otherwise the event becomes very suspect often causing hate one way or the other, some directed to the pairs who fool around, not close to playing their best, and the free thinkers who (mistakenly in my opinion) feel they have the right to do anything they want, even if it is only to have fun.

As far as those two factions, never the twain will agree, unless the Scots can find a way to sentence the culprits via instructions written on the face of the nine of diamonds.