Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.

David Starr Jordan

West North
Neither ♠ Q 6 2
 5 3
 10 6
♣ J 8 7 5 4 2
West East
♠ 3
 J 10 9 4 2
 Q J 9
♣ K Q 10 3
♠ J 10 9 8 5 4
 K 7 5 3
♣ A 9
♠ A K 7
 A K Q 8 6
 A 8 4 2
♣ 6
South West North East
Pass Pass 2♠
Dbl. Pass 3♣ Pass
3 NT Dbl. All pass  


Deciding whether to win or duck the opening lead is often a delicate one.

Terence Reese in “Play These Hands With Me” has a classic example of deception in this area. Rather than try to improve on the master, I will give a prĂ©cis of his comments on his play to three no-trump doubled after the lead of the heart jack.

Reese remarks that by ducking the lead he may gain a tempo, perhaps even a trick. The possibility was increased when East follows with the seven. Reese dropped the eight, hoping that West, missing the six, would construe the seven as encouragement. After some sighs and precautionary mutterings (designed to show that he suspects the trap), West duly followed up with a low heart.

I love that parenthetic aside! Now watch what happened after three more rounds of hearts. East felt obliged to keep four spades, so let go in total one diamond, one club and two spades. When Reese ducked a diamond, West won the jack and underled his clubs to East’s ace. Back came a spade and Reese carefully won in dummy to lead the last diamond. If East had flown with the king, he would have ducked, but when he played low, Reese took the ace and led another diamond. Either way he would establish his 13th diamond, and emerge with nine tricks.

Incidentally, at trick six, the defense had one more chance; East had to overtake the diamond jack with his king and unblock clubs.

This is the same auction as in today's deal, but the modern approach to responding to this double is to use direct three-level actions as invitational but not forcing. Thus you put all weak hands through a response of two no-trump. This acts as a puppet to three clubs, which you intend to pass. This is an extension of the convention known as Lebensohl. See here.


♠ Q 6 2
 5 3
 10 6
♣ J 8 7 5 4 2
South West North East
2♠ 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


jim2September 11th, 2014 at 11:34 am

In BWTA, I am going to quibble with the opening clause of the answer. In the column, the two spades bid had been made in third position after two passes. Most partnerships take greater liberties in that position. Similarly, the column doubler’s partner had also already passed, which changes many of the response ranges when responding to the double.

In this BWTA quiz, all those same bids were in direct position by unpassed hands. These distinctions are particularly important to me, since I decline to play Lebensohl in these situations; I already have enough things to forget at the bridge table.

Iain ClimieSeptember 11th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

Although I play Lebensohl here as you describe, I wonder about how it copes with balanced hands. With an opening bid and a stop, you can just bid 3N while using 2N then cue-bidding might be such a hand without a stop. But what if part doubles 2S and you hold xx Jxx Kxxx Kxxx or even weaker? To be fair, bidding 3C without Lebensohl also doesn’t get the hand over but any thoughts?



bobby wolffSeptember 11th, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Hi Jim2,

I do not intend to quibble with your quibble about the change of position of the weak two bidder in today’s BWTA hand.

Certainly the bridge strategy for 3rd seat weak two bid openings requires less discipline than does 1st or 2nd seat WTB openings, since partner has already announced less than opening bid values. However important that fact really is, doesn’t actually affect the point made on this hand except in the discussion of the particular Lebensohl convention often played at the higher levels in bridge.

Today’s responder has a perfect example hand for how it should be handled while playing Lebensohl by bidding an artificial 2NT which is a puppet for partner to automatically respond 3 clubs, therefore then enabling the weak club hand to pass.

However, since the doubler has such a powerful hand, he would not choose to then meekly bid 3 clubs, in order to among many other reasons, not give his partner a chance to pass him out there.

Of course, Reese did bid 3NT over an amorphous 3 club response, a terrible contract, but his exceptional talent, overcame that small imperfection.

All of the above discussion is basically for me to agree with Jim2 in declining to play Lebensohl in this situation, but not just for his reason of not adding another convention to forget, but rather because I do not like to give up the natural meaning bid of 2NT as a response, perhaps the most frequent bid which might occur on this type of sequence.

Many top players swear by its value, but I choose to swear at its usual (at least for me) results.

Without delving into a controversial difference of opinion at the bridge table (they happen all the time and at every level of play) suffice it to say that If Terence Reese had been subjected to that convention (this hand happened decades before this version of Lebensohl was born) he would not have been able to include this typical cat and mouse battle between him and his defenders to include in his wonderful book.

bobby wolffSeptember 11th, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2,

Your question is one in which I do not think has an intelligent answer and thus have formed an opinion to not play Lebensohl over doubles of weak two bids.

Its objective of constructing this version of Lebensohl is certainly well intended, but alas, the result might resemble an artist’s version of what might happen if camels were ordained to have a different look.

Yes, that might produce an improved and more efficient animal, but after careful reflection, it’s more attractive design just didn’t help.

Summing up by trying to be tasteful but descriptive: The age old way of responding to TO doubles of weak two bids, is still awkward and mostly guesswork, but as of yet, any significant improvement (or any at all) has yet to grow past the drawing board. AMEN!

Iain ClimieSeptember 11th, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Someone once described a camel as the result of a committee being asked to design a horse. Reese’s acerbic views on many conventions might apply here and in other areas.