Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 15th, 2014

The day breaks not; it is my heart.

John Donne

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


High cards have their place, but often the fate of a contract hinges on the intermediates. Today's deal is just one such example.

The deal dates from a bygone era when South had no sophisticated maneuver available to him to consult with his partner on what game would be best. Had I held those cards, I would have tried three no-trump at my second turn to suggest this pattern, and let partner pass if he had produced a three-card raise or if he had an absolutely square hand like this. But then there would have been no story!

Today the contract of four spades was a deeply unattractive one, though the possession of the spade 10 might have given declarer some hopes of success. As it was, though, South needed to assume a highly favorable distribution in the side suits for repeated throw-ins.

He won the opening lead and extracted East’s trumps in two rounds. Then South crossed his fingers for the first time and threw East in with a heart for a minor-suit return.

East made the natural shift to a low diamond, letting South cash three tricks in that suit. West ruffed in and cashed his heart winner, but then had either to give a ruff-sluff or concede three tricks in clubs, whether he led high or low. Declarer knew the club honors were split since East would have exited in clubs at trick five if he had started with only small cards in the suit.

It is important when deciding whether to act with a marginal hand over a pre-empt to make your decision quickly or you may cause your partner ethical problems — as well as giving away information to the opponents. Here your heart length should be the deciding factor in going low. Let your partner balance with heart shortage.


♠ A 7 4 2
 8 7 6
 A 4 2
♣ A 10 5
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


Michael BeyroutiAugust 29th, 2014 at 11:12 am

I am so tempted to double with the BWTA hand!… If I pass and if partner doubles in fourth seat, i’ll be in an embarrassing situation… what.. 3spades?

Iain ClimieAugust 29th, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Hi Bobby, Michael,

I can see Michael’s point about bidding once and going quietly thereafter rather than trying to play catch up later, while is there likely to be a game on unless partner has 4S and a fair hand or a pretty good hand in other ways? The other side of the coin would be if LHO holds a good hand with a poor heart holding (e.g. 4-1-4-4 15/16 count) when you’ve walked into trouble as partner would have passed 2H out given the chance, and opponents would probably have settled for 2H +1 or 3H. In terms of likelihood, I suspect the first scenario is rather more probable, while where do you go if partner re-opens with (say) 3C or 3D?

How much do you think the use of Lebensohl responses to a double (2H * P 2N asks for 3C with a weak minor hand, a suit bid of 3C or 3D directly shows fair values) helps here? It seems to be a popular treatment nowadays.



Bill CubleyAugust 29th, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Usually partner can be aggressive responding to a takeout double when partner has 3-4 cards in opener’s suit because the doubler will be ruffing.

Usually it is best to have less than 3 cards in opener’s suit when you make a takeout double. You might wind up dummy with only 3 card trump support, but you can offer a ruffing trick or two with your three trumps which helps the cause.

Doubling with more than two cards in their suit is a recipe which results in minus scores.

Conversely when you double on your second opportunity to bid, partner knows you have a flawed hand for an original double but a good hand otherwise and can bid intelligently.

My personal best/worst was bidding 4 hearts on 6-4-3-2 and catching dummy with A-K-Q-5 and a stiff spade.

bobby wolffAugust 29th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Hi Michael & Iain,

Since both of you gentlemen (how do you like such respect?) bring up, concentrate, and espouse various factors surrounding competition against preempts, a subject that the BWTA raises and in spades (please excuse the pun), let the discussion begin.

Though, when usually faced with a choice, I tend to bid, with the actual South hand given, I would make an exception and pass in tempo.

Why, since limited HCP’s (here, 12) are not a major deterrent from so doing, that is definitely not the reason here, but both the awful 4-3-3-3 specific distribution and the 3 little hearts are, in spite of aces always being undervalued by most of us. Change the distribution to 4-1-4-4 (and exactly the same 3 aces) and I go from not bidding to rather doing so with both confidence and zest, thinking it dead wrong, not to mention down right cowardly, to not insist on it. With 4-2-4-3 (or 3-4) it becomes, to me, a virtual toss-up.

The difference in hand evaluation comes from either many years of experience or possibly having to do with the immutable laws of probabilities (or both).

Let us at least attempt to examine the evidence:

1. Fewer hearts, (especially low ones behind a heart bidder) will ward off the evil experience of partner also having 3 with the sinister opponent behind me lurking with only 1 to lead through (either immediately or perhaps later in the hand) in case we wind up in a suit contract.

2. More trumps for partner, whatever suit that wonderful being (after all he still consents to playing with me) happens to select to become trump and of course, fewer heart losers to contend with.

3. At the same time, the more hearts I hold the fewer trumps those horrible opponents will have available (assuming the preemptor becomes declarer), making their playing the hand less valuable to declare for their cause.

4. One catch phrase, which for continuing decades has rung true to me, is “No double, no trouble”, which, of course, refers to trying to avoid situations which, at least the initial emphasis, suggests a safety net necessary when we have both fewer immediate losers and more trumps for partner.

5. Especially to Michael, I, too, am tempted to bid, but at least, some discipline is required, otherwise we may become an accident waiting to happen, and this hand’s distribution sends up the storm warnings which sometimes accompanies such adventures.

6. Trust partner in these cases. Granted that through the years I have played with some great ones, who were blessed with bridge numerate talent, winning habits, and very good judgment in knowing what to do (except perhaps choosing me to be his partner). Other readers will not be able to either say or emphasize such a thing, but first must come to the self-realization of what it takes to arrive on a similar class to your dream mate, otherwise the reply to the old adage, when expecting an invited palooka to be the loser in a high stakes rubber bridge game in which you are playing and you do not see him or her there, you’re it.

I do not like the Lebensohl convention to be part of my weak two bid defensive measures.
The reason being is that a natural 2NT response to my partner’s TO double is perhaps the most common single response (6-10+) HCPS, their suit stopped and lacking 4 of the other major(s). Also, and even more important to me, when holding less than 6 and trying to sign off sometimes (too often) your suit is not long nor strong enough to rely on, making the whole process surreal and, at least for your partnership, not worth the aggravation (plus more often than admitted, poor results).

What one gains is simply not worth it, but many very good partnerships do play it (usually with variations), so obviously they feel differently, but I would accept a computer generated frequency challenge to prove my point.

One last point is that there is a relatively major difference between being in the 2nd seat and directly behind either a weak two bidder, or a preemptive three bidder changing some of the discipline required for the 4th seat player who should have a different perspective (better informed) after the preemptor’s partner has acted.

However, that may be a topic for later discussion, but not right now.


bobby wolffAugust 29th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Hi Bill,

Again, crossed messages with the internet, a common malady which is often cured by merely suggesting that the new subject is covered above or better described, below the since arrived one.

You have concentrated on length in their suit TO doubles which could be described as “X” rated bridge discussions (not for youngsters or newbies in bridge).

Thanks for writing.

Iain ClimieAugust 29th, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the thorough answer. There does seem to be a tendency for doubles to be getting more and more “bid regardless” (e.g. some people would double 1H with today’s BWTA) so it is instructive to see the case against. I have to concede that if partner has a poor hand with 3 hearts and I double 2H, the next hand will Redbl and the consequences are unlikely to be pretty.


bobby wolffAugust 29th, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your support and, as always, positive statements.

Nowadays, the redouble doesn’t even have to occur, since the preemptor’s partner can rely on him passing it around. This strategy then calls only for a redouble by the WTB’s partner when one suit might not be ravaged, (possibly a 5-2-4-2, KQ10xx, xx, AKJx, Ax or 5-1-4-3, AKxxx, x, AK10x, xxx defense oriented monster, after partner open’s 2Hs) but enlists the WTB to double with some length in the escape suit (clubs), to avoid a disaster if the WTBidder had a 3-6-3-1 or perhaps 2-6-3-2 without much defense.

You are so right and therefore topical as bridge tactics vary when very talented younger players (now mostly in Europe, Southeastern and Scandanavian) study the game (like warfare) trying to crush old shaky theories which have stood the test of time, at least, until now.

The good news is that there is far less cheating at the highest level than there used to be (though not totally eliminated), mainly because the recent crop of younger potential bridge greats can feel and spot them (and do) much easier.