Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 8th, 2014

The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.

Edmund Burke

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

*Weak with spades and a minor


Today's deal from a recent junior championships saw a good lead and smart declarer play rewarded with a nice pickup.

At both tables South’s two-spade opening showed a weak hand with spades and a minor. In one room where East had doubled four spades, West expected his partner to have values in all the three outside suits. So he led the diamond ace, and was rewarded when this led to an immediate diamond ruff and a quick one off.

At the other table, where East-West had passed throughout, West led a heart. Could declarer take advantage? After winning the heart ace, South ruffed a heart, drew trump (East pitching a heart), and ruffed another heart, the king appearing from East. He then led a club to the jack, king and ace. East returned a club, and declarer won, ruffed his last club, and paused to take stock.

West appeared to have started with five hearts. In addition, West was known to have the club 10 left (since he had played the jack on the first round and the 10 had not appeared yet). It followed that if either player was short in diamonds it was more likely to be West than East.

Accordingly, declarer led the diamond queen from dummy. East won his king and deceptively returned the diamond nine, but South rose with the jack, hoping that even if it lost to the king, West might be endplayed. His second chance came to pass; West won the diamond ace, but then had to give a ruff-sluff and the game came home.

I am not going to be rash enough to say that it will always work better to open one no-trump than one spade. That clearly isn't true. But what I will suggest is that 5-3-3-2 distribution represents a balanced hand, and that when in the range of 15-16, you should open one no-trump no matter what your five-carder — unless you have all your high cards in your five-card major and a three-card side-suit.


♠ A Q 9 7 4
 A 4 3
 Q 4 3
♣ K 9
South West North East

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 22nd, 2014 at 9:39 am

Hi Bobby,

Can I raise a slight diversion based on a might have been hand from last night. You will be aware of the Duke of Cumberland hand (also in moonraker) where AKQJ AKQ AKQ KJx doesn’t stop 7C. You hold KJxxx Kxx Jx Kxx and lho starts 1S. Part bids 3H (weak), rho dbles showing minor suit values and this player passed to await developments. LHO bids 5D, part passes and RHO thinks then bids 6D. You dbl and LHO redbls, enthusiastic vibes coming off him. Pass, pass and now what? Perhaps LHO has not just a void heart but 6-5 or even 6-6 in the pointed suits, but can 12 tricks be close? It is pairs and you are green vs red – what would you do?



PS I’m on your left, rho is a good, sound club player.

Bill CubleyMay 22nd, 2014 at 12:36 pm

It seems many experts are espousing opening 1NT with 15=16 HCP and a 5 card major.

So should we also take up Puppet Stayman? And then there is opening 2NT with a 5 card major.

I am actually waiting for a good partner for larger events rather than playing causally with a stranger at the club.

Your enlightenment is needed. Thanks in advance.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Although what happened, in the bidding on the subject hand, is quite exciting, IMO there is no correct bridge answer available, only a major adventure in bridge psychology.

Before I begin let’s compare it to being asked what one would do if he made (what I think is) a poor business decision (penalty double on this hand), but then had a chance to reverse his bidding decision (revert to 6 hearts) changing his original thoughts and cancelling what he had done.

However, bridge can get complicated, with false reads (intent of the 6 diamond bidder or perhaps the 5 diamond leaper) to tantalize their opponents, hoping they will fall for their own confident bidding (6 diamonds together with a redouble) and take a phantom sacrifice based on the poker element in bridge, intentionally creating a false impression.

In order to gain evidence as to whether the above is true, the key bid is LHO’s redouble which could be either straightforward (and if so, my money is on 12+ tricks being scored up by them) or a ruse, trying to get you to take it out so that their side can get a maximum+ result with whatever the set turned out to be.

When the above happens, and although rare, it represents a very real side of the game itself when top players compete against each other.

From the heart sacrifice side, a decision needs to be made (by the doubler, not his partner) as to his opinion as to what is going on and the evidence should be determined by what he thinks are the proclivities of his worthy opponents. There is no right or wrong based on bridge, only a judgment made on the spot and with the flag waving, IMPORTANT!

BTW, these situations are usually the determining factors in winning and losing when top players, all with good technical abilities and well worked out partnerships, square off against one another.

Good luck, but understanding the above is worth learning since sooner or later these nail biters will occur.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Hi Bill,

Basically I am in favor of NT openings with 5 card major suits as long as the hand is 5-3-3-2 in either hearts or spades and I do not like Puppet Stayman since on all hands in which it is used it makes the defense much more accurate, especially the choice of opening lead.

Yes, cultivating an adequate partner is a much better route to go than taking pot luck with a random group since sometimes weaknesses shown, often tend to destroy the games of inexperienced partnerships, causing more frustration than pleasure.

Also, since one of the shortcomings of an American Standard partnership is the 2NT opening, wiith one of the reasons being having to offer that opening bid with awkward distributions including 5 card majors, in order to show that range of high card points.

Perhaps Puppet Stayman should be adopted then, although it also is enabling to good defense which makes its use questionable at best.

Iain ClimieMay 22nd, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the discussion and there is close to being no good answer. I held A987x none K108xx A10x and the 5D was a simple bid of what I thought I could make. The WJO was quite strong with 10 AQ9xxx xx Qxxx and my partner placed me with probably the SK more and a club less than I’d promised. The redbl assumed partner had rather more but had two funny sides.

At the table, the doubler panicked and ran, suffering a huge penalty. 6D is absurdly close e.g. On a trump lead. Take the DQ, play the SQ pinning the 10. This is probably covered so win, diamond to A draws trumps and another spade. If J is played, declarer is home, throwing 2C from table then cash the 2 black aces and cross ruff. If spade J ducked, declarer may still be ok if partner had C9, taking 2 club finesses. This is also the line if the SQ is not covered. I didn’t check the C9 at the time and partner felt I’d blasted a bit while I felt he was beiing rather foo keen. Still, superior luck triumphed.


Michael BeyroutiMay 22nd, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
what is your (BWTA) advice to those who play a weak 1NT (12-14)? Also open 1NT with a 5-card major when 5332? Thanks.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Hi Michael,

For those who play weak NT (12-14) I do not suggest doing so when holding a 5 card major except possibly 5 small and, of course, 3-3-2, and even then runs a more severe risk of going set too much, when it goes all pass.

Since a large majority of players play strong NT (15-17), being in a different final contract can produce a close to zero at matchhpoints while when doing so while holding a strong NT, will, at least, have much company around the room.

The same at IMPs when losing a part score competition can often result in a 6 IMP adverse swing.

Mircea Giurgeu, Kitchener ONMay 23rd, 2014 at 10:30 am

I have seen a version of 3C Puppet over 1NT where very little is disclosed. Opener bids his 5-card major at the 3-level or 3D otherwise and responder bids his other major or otherwise 3NT. Justin Lall has an interesting article in his blog about it. I thought it makes a lot of sense to play it since otherwise it is almost impossible to find the 5-3 fit.

bobby wolffMay 23rd, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Hi Mircea,

Yes, Justin’s version is less transparent than most, but, still when responder bids his other major, not only does the opening leader have the advantage of knowing the 4 card major about to be displayed, but also runs the risk of his partner doubling the denied major. And how about the smaller negative inference when one doesn’t double?

Simply put, in order for the declaring side to search out the 5-3 fit, the “X” factor of oft times giving away critical distributional information is, at least to me, not worth the trade-off. Obviously sometimes, as you mentioned, getting to one’s 5-3 fit is critical, but when one factors in the possibility of a blind opening leader, even choosing on occasion, to lead the NT bidder’s 5 card suit
my money is on being a tougher opponent and not disclosing.

Once bid, and then reverted to 3NT. both worthy defenders will soon, almost immediately, often know declarer’s exact distribution around trick 2 or 3, once the play gets under way.