Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Paul Simon

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


Today's deal comes from a duplicate at Honor's Bridge Club, which is always in contention for having the largest table-count in the country, and certainly has one of the strongest standard games every afternoon.

North, who supplied the deal to me, asked for anonymity, but indicated that his first reaction was to jump to seven no-trump at his first turn to speak. Then he tried to protect a putative spade king in his partner’s hand, and succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

South had done beautifully in the auction, but fell from grace in the play when West hit on the inspired lead of the singleton diamond jack. How should the play have gone?

Best play is to win the diamond lead in dummy and run six heart winners at once (that gives West, who began life with three hearts, a chance to discard a club prematurely and help you count out the suit). Reduce to two diamonds and four clubs in hand, while keeping a count on the diamonds, then cash the club ace. When West follows, he surely started life with eight spades, three hearts and two singletons. So give up on the overtrick, and pitch a club on the last heart winner, then come to hand with your diamond king. If East has kept two diamonds, throw him in with a diamond to lead clubs, if he has kept one diamond, your last diamond will be good. And if he has kept three diamonds, your clubs will run.

Your partner's double is takeout, and though you are low on high-cards, your shape suggests you are worth more than a regressive four diamonds. I think a jump to five diamonds makes sense, though I admit it is a stretch. Just for the record, with the clubs and diamonds reversed, you might consider a bid of four no-trump, for the minors.


♠ 5
 6 4
 Q 10 7 6 5 4
♣ Q 7 6 5
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 1♠
Pass 3♠ Dbl. 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


jim2July 16th, 2014 at 11:23 am

In BWTA, what would three notrump mean?

David WarheitJuly 16th, 2014 at 11:59 am

I repeat my comment of yesterday. EW have a good save in 7SX (down 5, -1400). Do you think they should have bid it, and if so, how?

Iain ClimieJuly 16th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Hi David,

If south is going to go off (as apparently occurred), is it worth finding? Even good declarers can have bad or just unlucky days, so beware the first star wars prequel when considering a sacrifice.



SlarJuly 16th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Am I to assume that 3S is weak in this scenario or does it not matter? I can work out a set of hands that everyone could reasonably have in the invitational scenario and could see that 5D is a reasonable spot (at least in IMPs) but it took a while to work out. From a practical standpoint, how long do you generally give yourself to make a decision at the table in these kinds of situations?

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Hi Jim2,

Clearly, at least to me and with the BWTA, a bid of 3NT would be simply an offer to play 3NT in hopes of making 9 tricks, KQx, xx, xxx, Jxxxx or even with J10xx, xx, Axx, xxxx.

Sometimes the doubler is the source of 7 or 8 tricks, e.g. x, AKQJx, KQ10x, Kxx or even x, AKQxxx, Axx, Axx and the short route to game (3NT) becomes the best option.

In reality, the main stumbling block for many newbies is not their lack of experience (although that is very important), inability to visualize 26 card layouts, or general card (trick) taking scenarios, but rather the deadly confusion as to the meaning of bids (thank you for asking) and most importantly the theory involved.

IMO, the most important single factor is that BOTH partners need to take a practical, rather than an unusual thought process (much too often done) and play bids to mean what they appear to be, natural and uncomplicated.

Perhaps the reason for the above crippling virus is that we all want to appear knowledgeable about what John and Jane have told us rather than reading up from significant bridge authors the need for bids to be what they sound like rather than some other esoteric meaning.

For the above to ring true, all young aspiring players should at least have read about the ACOL system, originating in the UK (many years ago perhaps 70+) which emphasized natural rather than conventional.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Hi David,

It is difficult indeed, to estimate exactly what to do when, often depending on specific vulnerabilities, the less blessed side in strength of hands considers taking sacrifices. However the following may be used as a rough guideline:

1. From both an IMP and a matchpoint viewpoint it needs to be considered approximately what the damage will be, if deciding to bid on.

2. If specific numbers of tricks taken is only one (or close to) trick difference between a possible worthwhile sacrifice and an almost certain 0 or at IMPs, significant loss, then the answer is almost a total NO, DO NOT, especially at IMPs!

3. Just because one’s hand looks like a good chance to take a profitable sacrifice, DOES NOT mean that one’s partner does not have enough defense to at least make the opponent’s guess and/or play very well to make his/her contract.

4. On the other side, sometimes bidding one higher will cause the other side (in an effort to be accurate) to bid one more and that fact could be an important reason to compete one higher. Taking it a winning step, it is often right to jump one higher than the opponents suspect the first time, in an effort to deprive one’s worthy opponents an opportunity to exchange legal information and thus be more accurate in their final decision.

5. Something we all need to keep in mind is that the bidding in bridge is not an exact science and especially in the subject of sacrificing. All we can do is guess, but the best players around are adept at both guessing accurately, but even more important, enticing their opponents to choosing wrong in their decision, e.g. GREAT AT BRIDGE PSYCHOLOGY. Beware of a very good player enticing or tantalizing his opponents into doing the wrong thing. It happens more often than the other side cares to admit.

6. David, finally and at the death, when an opponents has bid to what well may be an aggressive contract, just button down the hatches and try and set them, because whatever sacrifice one may consider may produce a terrible result since either other opponents (matchpoints) or the only opponent at the other table (imps) will have a completely different situation wherein the only chance for a decent board by your side is to stay mentally tough and defeat their contract.

I have no valid recommendation for yesterday’s hand except for following the above guidelines and probably not bidding on.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Hi Iain,

Obviously I agree with your summation and to pass along that in very high-level bridge competition, there are way too many Darth Vaders out there, tough opponents and clever beyond description, making your advice totally on point.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, it is of some value to know whether the opponents are playing weak (modern) or limit raises (old time), but what one opponent may have will only influence what the other than does competitively.

I appreciate your analysis, and in time a bridge player’s built in computer (his competitive brain) will continue to improve (experience) with his ability to be more accurate and do it in faster tempo.

It probably is a good time to mention that all bids, whether aggressive or wimpy, need to be made in the same tempo and intonation, not only to not give one’s partner unauthorized information, but also to be a tough opponent and make it more difficult for them to also judge what to do (pass, bid on, or double).

As a direct answer to your tempo question, unlike Groucho Marx’s famous TV show “You Bet Your Life” a duck does not come down from the ceiling with the answer so studying long, rarely helps. I do believe in the bromide of “Study long, study wrong”. but, in whatever case the one serious wrongdoing in competitive bridge, and at ALL levels, is to be advantaged by partner’s hesitation.

However, if it happens IT IS EXPECTED that the transgressing side purposefully lean over backwards NOT to take advantage. Sometimes that is hard to stomach, but it is like the Golden Rule is in life, “Do unto others what you would expect them to do unto you”.

We all can play our game and make the atmosphere as graceful as it can be, but often it is not take advantage, but when that does not occur, it is amazing how a partnership starts cutting their studying down in order not to make it difficult for partner to stay ethical.

With these above questions and answers bridge will be honored if more and more of us will appreciate the great advantages our game offers and not the least of which is how it mirrors life, a fact which seems particularly important now during so much real and political wrongdoing which seems to be now present.

Let the playing of bridge serve as a vehicle for “Bridge for Peace”, (eg, respect for one another) the motto of the World Bridge Federation.

David WarheitJuly 17th, 2014 at 5:23 am

Ian: Yes, but of course I was assuming that EW were playing against me as declarer. Oh, all right, against our host.

Bobby WolffJuly 17th, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your modest comment.

However the playing of bridge is so complex, with so many variables, I learned long ago not to judge anyone on how he or she performs on any one subject, whether it is avoidance or zero tolerance for ethical violations.