Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 25th, 2014

The true price of anything you do is the amount of time you exchange for it.

Henry David Thoreau

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

*Intended as agreeing hearts


The cut and thrust of rubber bridge can be exciting – and when you’re playing for 10 cents a point, a fair sum of money can hinge on the play of a single card.

As an example, I’ll give you a long bidding sequence and an opening-lead problem. Put yourself in West’s shoes by simply looking at his 13 cards, and imagine what you might have done.

No doubt your partner knew what he was going to lead against seven clubs, but you have little clue as to what to choose against seven hearts. In practice, the hapless West chose a club, and as you can see from the full deal, declarer was soon claiming 13 tricks for 2470 points. A spade lead would have led to a penalty of 500 points — quite a significant swing.

The subsequent post-mortem was surprisingly good-natured, with West pointing out that perhaps East should have been happy with beating the grand slam and should not have been so greedy as to double. East retaliated by saying that he was trying to persuade them to run to seven no-trump where the penalty would be much larger. Or not, as the case might be.

Much credit must go to North, however, for realizing what was going on and removing himself to a contract that had a better chance than one where East was going to be on lead with an ace to cash.

With a blind lead, the biggest chance to generate tricks seems to be to lead the club queen. As well as being the unbid suit, this gives you a decent chance to promote a trump on the third round of clubs.


♠ J 7 3
 Q 8 5 2
 Q 6 4 2
♣ Q 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1
Pass 1♠ Pass 2
All 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


Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 10:14 am

Hi Bobby,

Would you have doubled 3S as east? It wouldn’t have led to the entertainment level of the hand, but would have left NS having to settle for game. Of course if north’s 3S were natural, such a double could misfire horribly when south with S K10x or similar redoubles.



MirceaSeptember 8th, 2014 at 11:02 am

Hi Bobby,

How would you have bid the N-S hands using your preferred methods?

Speaking of preferred methods, you mentioned quite a few on this blog that you like or not, but is there a way for us to see them all in one place (ie your Convention Card plus System Notes)?

Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 11:26 am

Just an afterthought – isn’t this a bit reminiscent of S J Simon’s “Why You Lose at Bridge” which starts with a simple question – do you double a (freely bid) slam with 2 Aces? It then explains why this is a very poor idea in terms of odds e.g. a player with a void redoubling. means your attempt to gain and extra 50 or 100 points risks a far greater extra loss should the slam make. It might even push declarer towards a position (e.g. taking a ruffing finesse through the doubler) instead of another option which wouldn’t work.


jim2September 8th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Had a very similar personal experience forty-some years ago at a college duplicate game when RHO started asking questions in the pass out seat after we had settled in at 6N. Once he had been reassured that the he was on lead, he doubled. I knew there was an ace missing, and realized he must have a cashing AK, so I bid 7 in a suit that made me declarer. When it came around to him again, he said, “I double, I double twice!”

It went all pass and he triumphantly whipped out his opening lead and started to slam it on the table. I instantly extended a cautionary hand and pointed out that he was not on lead. His partner stewed and stewed, and finally guessed wrong and we made it doubled.

In hindsight, I needed merely to keep my attention on my own cards for an extra instant, and he would have led out of turn before anyone could have stopped him, thus guaranteeing the contract.

Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Hi Jim2,

A triumph for your sportsmanship before TOCM descended upon you luke a vulture and sank its claws into you. How and when did the wretched creature fasten onto you?


Bill CubleySeptember 8th, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Good bidding by North. East might have doubled 3 spades in the first place and easily won the recap with West. Some players would rather win the recap than the hand.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Iain,

As usual, your comments have hit a bridge nerve, and the reverberation from it, would do SJ Simon (and no doubt some great bridge minds and talent from yesteryear) proud.

Poker is really not a card game, but rather a numbers and mind game which is only played with cards as symbols. OTOH bridge is both a card game (declarer’s play and defense) and a mind game (today’s hand is representative), which in itself separates both the very good from only the good, and gloriously, the very best ever, from those who are very close behind.

I cannot improve on your description of Mr. Simon’s comment and why, but as long as mere mortals continue to play our off-the-charts endeavor, we will experience their frustrations and of course, their excuses for why they lose at bridge.

I can only explain why East didn’t double 3 spades (a slam oriented heart raise) by saying that the bid probably caught him by surprise and, if he studied first before passing, his partner would (should) be barred from leading a spade (UI) and thus he, in order to maintain the proper tempo, and possibly to not warn his worthy opponents of what to expect, just blurted out pass and hoped for the best.

It happens often to many of us and both happily and sadly is just part of the high-level game and, IMO, needs to be tolerated as a lesser evil to compromised ethics.

Digressing to “back at the ranch”, West should realize that partner, being on lead and listening to the bidding obviously possessed an ace (or perhaps a sure trump trick) so choosing a club lead will almost never be right since, on the bidding, partner will not lose that ace, but might, when choosing between a pointed suit lead, which West, now the opening leader, will have to guess.

Continuing, West may reason that since he held the king of one suit and the J109 of another that the diamond lead may be safer, but, in truth, I think it is more likely that if partner did have the ace of spades instead of diamonds he is more likely to get shut out of it by leading a diamond than he would the ace of diamonds if he led a spade.

While some may think my reasoning is contra indicated, I ask them to take some time before deciding. It might very well be that I am wrong, but one needs to think the auction through, before arriving at that crucial conclusion.

Thanks for your interest and always practical insight.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Mircea,

I’ll make shift my answers to you, keeping in mind that, yes, I have definite opinions on what I like and do not, but the highest level bridge bidding is constantly changing, making use of artificiality in keeping the bidding at a lower level, therefore conserving space in order to better describe.

Overall, I prefer 4 card majors and a forcing club, which to me, allows greater initial preemption with moderate hands and slower, more accurate partnership cooperation, with
better hands accenting reaching the right game and, of course, the ultra importance of superior slam bidding.

There are poisoned flowers to deal with because of adverse preemption (sometimes depending on vulnerability) when playing a forcing club, but is it or not an overriding handicap to overcome? That is the deciding question and I vote NO, but it is close.

On today’s hand, I would bid as did North but instead of bidding 6 clubs to offer another strain for slam, I would accept hearts and thus only cue bid 5 clubs, eliciting partner’s 5 diamond re-cue bid (showing the king) and then merely return to 5 hearts as North, denying a spade control, which South must see fit to pass, without one himself.

I cannot satisfy your request for a favorite CC, since as far as I am concerned, I have never had one. The best I can do is ask you to follow as time passes and as your bridge (and experience) improves you cannot help but learn what I consider best, but it may not always agree with your individual choices.

Choosing an overall system (and specific conventions) is a partnership task and very individual, usually to match one’s own talent, together with his chosen partner. Not everyone likes chocolate to the exclusion of vanilla or strawberry and my choices are representative of my always desire to be a tougher opponent than others, even sometimes to the exclusion of being more accurate myself.

Obviously, I think that quality more important than do others, which doesn’t render my choice any better or any worse, but, at least to me, it is my calling card.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your true story is probably one which, to any long time bridge veteran, will happen at least one time and probably more, in almost everyone’s bridge experience.

Obviously it will be slightly different here and there, but if in only one situation wherein it is more likely to happen, is when a preemptive 3NT is opened (long solid minor suit with semblances of stoppers outside) and partner raises to 6NT, then P, P double occurs, the responder then realizes an AK is very likely in the opening leaders hand and so the 6NT bidder perhaps holding Qx, AKQx, AKJx, xxx retreats to 7 of his partners known minor and makes his LHO guess, which of the other 2 (perhaps 3) suits his partner’s ace king is living.

As to your then halting experience in preventing him from leading out of turn, therefore insuring the contract, I think of it as, certainly not agreed upon universally by others, not exercising Active Ethics (AE), an example I have used in the past to define AE.

Others cry nay, saying everything from protecting oneself, protecting one’s partner or team, if he doesn’t know enough to not being on lead, I do not have to help him, Yada, Yada, Yada.

To me it boils down to preventing an inadvertence and one which is not necessarily pretended, but one in actuality, making it so where AE should enter the room, a happening which together with consistent application would make bridge rise to the heavens with respect, instead of an opposite emotion, despair, and doing anything to win!

We now live in a me, me, me world and your action counters that horrible realism. And to think that TOCM tm has cursed you, rattles my cage. “Respect is where you find it”.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Hi Jim2,

Oops, Iain’s comment was not up, when I started my response.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Hi Bill,

You are walking on treacherous ground when one talks about lead directing doubles and such.

What if East’s double would have directed NS to play a simple game in hearts and without the double, EW now had a chance for a top instead of about an average.

Which event will Dame Fortune favor next? Only Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) knows!

jim2September 8th, 2014 at 3:35 pm

I want to thank everyone for your sympathetic messages on my TOCM ™ affliction!

Best I can tell, the curse must have been levied about a year after the hand recounted above. Did I court a young lady against the hidden wishes of a parent? Did I not court one avidly enough? Was I overly stingy at a collection plate? These are just a sampling of the questions I have asked myself over these many decades!

Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

My approval may just be quixotic; Bobby’s is more impressive and worth having but the question remains – how did you enrage the forces that place cards such that they treated you this way? Did you once bring home a 0.1% contract, an opponent said you had a lifetime’s supply of luck there and you rashly agreed to salve his feelings? I seem to recall you being lucky in your home life, though, so perhaps the old saying has struck massively.


Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Sorry, I crossed too!

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

The mystery is solved.

Jim’s malady began a moment after he declined to buy the bridge I was selling him and it has continued for all these many decades.

Yes, bridge is the key word, with it being used in whichever way the reader desires.

Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 4:04 pm

And did you offer him a column as well (Nelson’s or otherwise)?

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Hi Iain,

Of course, but it wasn’t Nelson’s, rather instead a 5th column, getting it confused with a group which was in his home town, but acting in concert with his enemies.

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Hi again Iain,

I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that you were referring to Lord Nelson and his statue in Trafalgar Square.

Iain ClimieSeptember 8th, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Hi Bobby,

Correct, and the supposed con of selling tourists shares in the statue was famous, although probably an urban myth.


bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Thanks Iain,

Although I have met my match, say I to Smoky the Bear and to you.

jim2September 8th, 2014 at 6:20 pm

You know, about the time I first observed the TOCM ™ curse, I had just played in a big DC tourney and done pretty well. One of the better results came at the expense of either Fred Karpin or Edgar Kaplan (probably the former based on the geography). I did nothing extraordinary, btw. On lead against a major suit game contract of his, I led a top card in a side suit, spotted the doubleton in dummy, and shifted to a trump. We had just enough tempo left to prevent a ruff.

He complimented me on the shift, but I opined that it would be merely average since I expected every other defender to make the same lead and switch. He was right and I was wrong, though, because our score on the hand was a tie for top. Could Karpin have done it???

bobby wolffSeptember 8th, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

Probably not, since he was a gentle soul and not at all contentious.

The guilty party, whoever he, she or it happened to be either had political connections or learned his trade from Mandrake the Magician.

Why is that my suspicion, you may delicately ask? Well it did happen in DC and that is likely where those types of Voodoo usually occur.

Think Ray Rice and only a 2 game suspension, until some clever, well-placed photography plus media outcry, forced the NFL to take another look, which they probably wished
would not have happened.

Judgement day sometimes occurs and sometimes doesn’t, but for you and your TOCM tm you should open a fortune teller business, where forecasting your terrible trump breaks will become profitable.