Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, June 6th, 2014

Hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.

Isaiah 26:20

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

*Five spades and four hearts, forcing.


Several bridge conventions were invented to protect the stronger hand on opening lead, and also to keep it hidden. This is part of the reason for playing transfers after one-no-trump and two-no-trump openings, though in my opinion at least as important a consideration is that the transfer bid allows you an extra tier of bidding.

My view is that the issue of making the strong hand declarer is of relatively limited value. I have seen plenty of deals where it is better to play from the weaker hand. But in today’s deal, North used the Smolen convention to show five spades and four hearts at his second turn, and South became declarer in four spades.

West led the diamond three, and East guessed to win the ace and continue with a second diamond. Declarer won with the king, pitching a club, drew three rounds of trump, and played a heart. West won the ace and played another diamond. South ruffed in the dummy, drew the last trump, cashed his hearts, and played a club. When East had to win but had no more diamonds, four spades scraped home.

Though it looks illogical, East can beat four spades only by switching to a heart when in with her diamond ace. West must duck the trick, leaving declarer forced to ruff a diamond to dummy to draw the last trump. West now ducks the next heart and wins the third. When the defenders play two rounds of clubs, declarer is cut off either from his hand or from dummy.

The choice is between reopening with a call of two hearts (which would suggest this pattern in the majors and suggest less than a full invitation) or doubling. Your double should be card-showing, closer to takeout than penalty, and would be my choice. I can convert a response of two diamonds to two hearts, and would be delighted if partner elected to pass out the double.


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


jim2June 20th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Suppose South rebids 3N anyway. What does West lead?

Anything but a small diamond and the hand is cold for 9 or 10 tricks. If West leads the 3D, South can see the deuce in dummy, so knows the suit layout. With both round suit aces missing, South really has no other line but to win the second small diamond from East and nine tricks come home.

Iain ClimieJune 20th, 2014 at 12:26 pm

HI Jim2,

If South does bid 3N, the spades will be 3-2 and North will be 5-4-2-2 shape, when a club will come out at Trick 1. You know the cause ….!

Have a good weekend, kind regards,


Bobby WolffJune 20th, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

When I was a young bridge enthusiast and later a middle age bridge activist, I began to get the indelible impression that many of the so-called wonder bids tried to direct the play to the right side. It was considered to be the perfect medley to distance oneself from the pack with superior methods which somewhat detailed one’s holding, although in a large percentage of the time was unnecessary and only cosmetically valuable, and to me were in fact a marked losing strategy.

Those beautifully bid hands seemed, at least among defenders who knew how to take advantage of that community information, seemed to go set much more often than did hands where much lesser information was passed.

Smolen (above), Support Doubles (where the opponents will often know (or close to) the declarer’s side exact distribution, Bergen Raises (where opponents are privy to many different ways to direct leads and also more gradations of TO bids). sometimes even Key Card Blackwood (where both opening leads and whether to intelligently sacrifice against them come into play), Jacoby Transfers instead of two-way Stayman (where opponents will have two chances, as opposed to one, of balancing when the high cards are somewhat equally divided between the partnerships) all fall into that category.

Now that I am in the third stage of my career (an euphemistic description) I am now convinced that my “gut feelings” about the above and others such as an overuse of Lebensohl or the honest use of Help Suit Game Tries, without at least occasional tactical bids, are even more losing than I thought before and even more importantly, much easier to defend against, not only on opening lead but rather throughout the defense, often beginning with the opening lead.

When bridge is being taught in the schools (as it is now in many forward thinking countries), the above would only be emphasized and proven after a number of years of learning and mastering the basics of the game. However, at least IMO, when that specialized learning process would arrive, the best and brightest of the students will already have come to the same conclusion and will use that information wisely when forming a hoped for world class partnership.

If accomplished the right way, it will join in the WBF’s goal of creating “Bridge For Peace” which, at least when the World Championships occur, will be in full view of a world which desperately needs the respect for one another, regardless of the nationalities involved, which our significant game of bridge will always represent, especially since bridge, a mind game, is competed at the table in close proximity, instead of an outdoors stadium (like the regular Olympics) where adversaries usually do not get to know one another.

David WarheitJune 20th, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Jim2: If W leads D3, E plays the J. Now best defense defeats 3NT. Even if E plays DA, he should return DJ. Again, best defense prevails.

MirceaJune 21st, 2014 at 11:55 am


So, are you suggesting that on this hand, North should just bid 3NT after partner has denied a 4-card major, forgoing a possible 5-3 spade fit with his unbalanced hand? Or even more bluntly, bid 3NT directly over 1NT?

Speaking from a much (much) lower level of bridge expertise, I find that all of the conventions you mentioned are very valuable but now I realize that that is so only because at my level, the defense is igonarant to all the information they convey. The lesson for me (and hopefully others at my level) is that using all the leagal means to build as accurate a picture of the opponents’ hands is paramount. This may sound lame but at these levels it is a very difficult to develop and master this skill.

This also explains it why it is sometimes so difficult to defend against otherwise much weaker players who are not using any of these more “advanced” tools and instead bid just based on gut instinct.

Having said all these, I think your observations are only valid at higher levels of competition. Until I get there, I will continue to use make use of these tools.

Thanks a lot for the insight, I find it extremely valuable.

Bobby WolffJune 21st, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Hi Mircea,

Thanks for your frank and earnest discussion which, if you will excuse the expression, puts the cards on the table, from your point of view.

Second, no I am certainly not suggesting, that North not go through Stayman to determine whether his partner has a 4 card major, making that suit the obvious game contract. However, the use of Smolen with its 5-4 jump to show one’s distribution and its transfer feature is a bit of overkill, and to my way of thinking will lionize his opponents more than it will help his side.

Yes, you are right when you suggest that perhaps I am expecting the social bridge player to rise to greater heights than he is capable (at this time) in order to worry about informing his worthy opponents (not always present) the best way to defend, but on the way to Oz and along the Yellow Brick Road, there are poisoned flowers and wicked witches to contend with, almost all in the form of not being a tough enough opponent to play against.

You are, of course, right in what you say and God’s speed to you in wanting to play these conventions perhaps because they are fashionable and mostly because that partnership sees value in them. If so, please continue along that path, but as you move up the ladder in ability, (and with your very good bridge mind plus your honesty and enthusiasm) I am trying to improve your G2 (Americanese for intelligence surveillance) as to what it takes to eventually arrive at the Emerald City expecting to talk and be advised by the Wizard of what to do and how to get back to Kansas.

Hopefully after arriving, you will be graced by dealing with a real Wizard, instead of Frank Morgan stealthily operating behind drapes, but in gliding through life as it is, is it any wonder what Frank Baum so cleverly perceived well over 100 years ago, as to what to expect?

You discuss the overall bridge learning very well indeed when you say what you do. However, as has been eloquently said before, (please excuse the paraphrasing), “A bridge mind is a terrible thing to waste” and with your natural smarts plus your apparent love for the game, you have a strong upside, and if other life responsibilities does not interrupt, you will be pleasantly surprised with what a deeper insight toward the expert game will result.

The rest is up to you, but, of course, whatever route you take is strictly up to you, but I would feel remiss if I did not attempt to, at least, give you my slant on overall objectives with a confidential map as to where those poisoned flowers and wicked witches are located.

I certainly appreciate your always kind words and your obvious keen and well spoken mind.

MirceaJune 21st, 2014 at 9:02 pm


Thanks again for your kind words of encouragement, they mean a lot to me.

So, just to be clear I understand your advise, Smolen (along with Puppet Stayman and a host of other conventions) should not be used, especially when playing in stronger fields?

To clarify my skill level, so far we won only a few Regional events but unfortunately in the last ten years since taking the game more seriously, could not play in more than one National event (in Toronto in ’11) because of my other life responsibilities. It’s funny but I think bridge is the only game, and for that matter – activity – that makes you want to get old.