Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Curtsy while you're thinking what to say. It saves time

Lewis Carroll

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


Both sides' double-fit will encourage plenty of overbidding. But at this vulnerability East-West rate not to go beyond the five-level, while North has rather too many losers to risk Blackwood at his second turn. Mind you, six spades depends only on a successful club finesse, and if North bids on to five spades over five hearts, South might well raise to six.

The next question is what West should lead at trick one. A case could be made for a diamond; however, most Wests will lead a heart — but which? I like the idea of advancing the queen, retaining the lead while you plan what to do when the dummy comes down. Of course, things do not work out as planned, and it is East who has to lead to the second trick.

East will know that two more tricks are needed to defeat the contract. Since the club suit will yield one trick at most and West’s lead surely denies a club void, a trick will have to come from the trump or diamond suit. To set up his side’s potential diamond trick, East must play his partner for the diamond king and shift to that suit. If you found the answer, well done!

But that is not the full story. To avoid being thrown-in with the second diamond after the major suits have been eliminated, East must switch to the diamond queen at trick two, or he will be fatally endplayed with a diamond at the end of trick five.

Opinions will be sharply divided here on whether you should sit for a double of one spade if your partner makes that call. I say no; and if you agree, you are better off bidding two diamonds right now — suggesting a minimum shapely hand. If you pass and pull the double on the next round, that would show a better hand in high-card terms.


♠ 10
 A J 10 6 3
 Q 8 7 4
♣ K 9 2
South West North East
1 Dbl. Rdbl. 1♠

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


Bill DanielJune 8th, 2014 at 7:58 am

The opening bid of one heart is rather light but I like it. Though only 10 HCP (11 LP) it is a 7 1/2 loser hand. If you don’t open it when the bidding gets back around the bidding might be so high you have to bid at the 3 level. Switch the spades and clubs and it might not be as urgent.

bobby wolffJune 8th, 2014 at 10:58 am

Hi Bill,

First of all, welcome to aces.bridge

As you suggest regarding the BWTA hand, the modern trend is definitely to open the bidding relatively light, usually in search of a fit, keeping in mind that passing up a possible opening bid runs a real risk of when it gets back to you, it will just be too dangerous to chance bidding at a higher level for fear of not having a trump fit.

In the column hand, if East (same hand as the BWTA South) did not venture into the bidding, the defense would not have had a chance to defeat 4 spades, but by bidding, E-W was able to drive their opponents to the eleven trick level of 5 spades, to which excellent defense enabled a plus score instead of that same defense still being minus 420.

Also note that 5 hearts would go down only 1 trick -200 when doubled making it a good sacrifice, which turned out even better than that when their opponents took the push (and with that South hand holding 7 spades and being supported at the 4 level, I think, most would).

Good bridge and especially at the highest levels of play, is fiercely competitive, making the initial noise, instead of a sometimes wimpy pass, the winning strategy.

Whatever method a player uses to judge his opening thrusts, the bias should trend toward being aggressive. “Stout heart usually, but not always, wins fair contract” and I suggest that view to be the percentage route to success.

Thank you for your comment and don’t be a stranger.

jim2June 8th, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I feel compelled to note that the column East made a one level overcall after partner had passed, which is significantly different from opening one heart as dealer.

East’s failure to double is a valuable nuance, while Noth’s one club bid improves the probability that partner has length in the red suits. Other overcall nuances include the failure to make any number of bids, such as Michael’s and the unusual notrump, all of which would NOT be available without an opening by North. That is, East showed points to compete (which many play shows a lower minimum than an opening) while limiting his/her hand far more than an opening by dealer. Similarly, a passed partner facing an overcall is better placed in hand evaluation than one whose partner has opened as dealer.

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Everything you say is true, perhaps up to 100%, and although a different slant on advantages, it is certainly worth a long look.

Overcalls, although not as laden with requirements as opening bids, still overlap strength requirements, perhaps 6-17 in points but are more specific in suit length and texture, particularly minor suits and are what could be called ready to roll, instead of approach forcing, a term going back to the halcyon bridge days of Ely Culbertson.

Yes, and what you suggest about differences in what the dog did or didn’t do, with overcalls, it is more pronounced than in choosing what an opening bid should be. However the different styles of bridge players, and certainly even at the top levels, with so many variances, e.g. overcalling instead of first doubling, specific requirments before conventional bids are used, choice over bidding NT instead of doubling or again, overcalling. trap passing instead of bidding while holding RHO’s suit, strength (and distributional) requirements (considering the vulnerability) in bidding at the higher levels, choice of doubling or overcalling at the one level with only 4 card suits, not to mention styles with either coming in or not over preempts and, if so what to choose in close situations, e.g doubling, bidding NT or a suit.

The best advice I can give, at least with competing against equal strength teams, is to have a preview (plus, of course, personal experience, if possible) of each opponent’s preferences, not only in the bidding, but his or her proclivities with opening leads and what probably determines it.

Having said the above, all I can further say is that these kinds of discussion are very necessary among partners and certainly teammates before an important (or for that matter most) matches.

Jim2, your above comments and the reason for them is what a captain does, if for no other reason than to force his players to focus entirely on the match at hand, and suggests to me that one fine day you might be a great choice to be a captain (as long as TOCM tm is not contagious).

I realize (or at least suspect) that your main purpose is to show some possible disadvantages in opening light and, although I agree with you, it still does not ring true (at least yet) not to do so, since in most cases (and I’m guessing) the facts you mention IMO often become too esoteric to worry about.

jim2June 8th, 2014 at 9:03 pm

The reason I made those distinctions is that I would NOT open the BWTA hand as dealer, but I would ALWAYS overcall as east did in the column hand.

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Hi Jim2,

My guess is that among most very good players a small majority of polled players, would feel as you do with not an opening bid, but rather certainly an overcall at least, at the one level.

However, recently I suspect a change or move to open anything that breathes among our many top juniors who have been arriving on the scene to challenge the younger European juniors who are now coming off a significant number of years where bridge has been taught in the schools and they, too, are loosening up the requirements for an opening bid of one.

However, I am not in a position to view this change first hand, only in what I read in popular high level bridge magazines and follow on BBO’s very fine presentation of important world bridge competition.