Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Between good sense and good taste there is the same difference as between cause and effect.

Jean de la Bruyere

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


Agnes Wesseling of the Netherlands is a familiar face at European tournaments. In today's deal she was playing with her regular Dutch partner, Betty Speelman, in a women's knockout event.

She had reached three no-trump after North’s pre-emptive opening bid, when that player suggested club values and a nonminimum hand at her second turn.

West led the heart five to dummy’s queen and East’s ace. East returned the heart 10, which was ducked, and another heart won by declarer’s king.

Declarer now crossed to dummy’s club queen and played a spade to her 10. She next led a diamond to dummy’s ace. What was East to do? If she didn’t unblock her diamond king, South would have an easy route to success. She would simply take another spade finesse, then cash the spade ace, and concede a spade, establishing four spade tricks, one heart, one diamond and three clubs.

Accordingly, East unblocked the diamond king. Now if declarer had pursued the above line, she would have lost one spade, three hearts and a diamond, since East would have re-opened a line of communication to her partner’s hand, allowing West to cash the long heart.

However, declarer switched tack. She took a spade finesse as before and cashed the ace, but when the suit did not break, she played off her top clubs and exited with a heart. West could win this and cash the diamond queen, but had to concede a diamond to dummy’s jack at trick 13.

This hand is worth one try for game despite partner's announced lack of interest so far. By bidding three clubs, you describe your shape and values to let partner have the last word on level and strain.


♠ A Q 10 7 6
 K 7 6 4
♣ A K 9
South West North East
1♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
2 Pass 2♠ 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 19th, 2014 at 12:10 am

On BWTA, what will you do if partner bids 3D?

bobby wolffSeptember 19th, 2014 at 1:27 am

Hi Jim2,

I assume that you mean, after a 3 club distributional bid by me, if partner now responds 3 diamonds I would expect him to hold something close to: s. xx
h. Qx
d. QJ10xxx
c. K10x

where only because of his doubleton spade he preferred 2 spades to 3 diamonds, last roung, with his queen of hearts a plus value for playing a spade contract, but now since 3NT is out of the picture 3 diamonds appears the least of evils and may, on a good day even make. If I held the QJ109xx of diamonds I would have preferred that to a spade preference last round, since only a part score is in the offing and our search should center around finding the best one.

All of us need to accept our game the way it is, certainly not (at lower levels) scientific, more so when determining best game contracts, and very for slam bidding. Much more simplicity and practical when fighting it out at lower levels. So with xx, Qx, KQJxxx, K10x I would respond 2NT to 2H, assuming I didn’t create a GF the first round with a 2 diamond response.

Unfortunately many players attempting to play the high-level game would, after bidding only a forcing NT the first round (in response to 1 spade) would now bid 3 diamonds over 2 hearts which, of course, be bid over 2 hearts holding only 3 clubs to the Jack instead of K10x.

Run for daylight if possible, but have a good reason for differentiating one’s rebid between good and bad the second round.

At least to me, these kinds of decisions which you brought up separate the winners from the also rans.

jim2September 19th, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Well, pard can’t hold the KC because “you” have it, and could hold as few as 6 HCP.

So, after partner responds 3D to your 3C, what would you bid?

bobby wolffSeptember 19th, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Right you are, so give partner: s. xx, h. Ax, d. QJ10xxx, c. xxx, and allowing partner to pass, opposite his suspected singleton (however if the opening bidder has a void he then is unlikely to pass 3 diamonds, but instead return to 3 spades only, if he was dealt 5-4-0-4 with the above.

The original responder should probably pass 3 clubs with either s. xx, h. Qx, d. Kxxx, c. Qxxxx. or even s. xx, Ax, d. Jxxxx, QJxx However, if he held s. Jx, h. Ax, d. Axxxx, c. xxxx I would recommend him jumping to 4 spades over 3 clubs (because of his two major suit honors, plus a stray ace instead of a lesser honor, but with s. Jx, h. QJ, d. QJ108x, c. Qxxx chance 3NT since your 6 quacks together with partner’s approximate known distribution and extra strength may allow the declarer to score up 9 tricks in stoppers alone.

The above also illustrates the well known (to some) bridge bromide, suits work better with primary cards (aces & kings), NT with (queens, jacks and tens, particularly when linked together.

While I have carefully orchestrated hands which tend to stand up to scrutiny, my underlying purpose is to cause readers (bridge lovers) to above all realize that bridge is a thinking mans (or womans) game, separating the bidding process to first tell and then at the death, to act, based on what partner’s distribution and approximate strength has shown.

In some ways this type of natural sequence is the opposite of a relay system where only one partner gleans hoped for specific card holdings from the other and then unilaterally places the final resting spot. This relay procedure works much better when one hand is usually distributionally strong eg. s. KQJ9xx, h. AQJxx, d. Kx, c. void and needs to find if partner holds the ace of spades, king of hearts and/or the ace of diamonds without which, the queen in addition to which suit (usually the longest, but sometimes the more solid) to name trump.

I realize that I have not stayed strictly on your subject, but wanted to share with you somewhat related thoughts about judgment in bridge show and tell.

jim2September 19th, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I think your answer was that you would pass.

I interpreted your explanation to be that:

– 2S is probably a playable contract, likely a plus score,
– South has a bit more strength than minimum for bidding 2H,
– South has incurred extra risk by bidding 3C (turning a plus into a minus),
– There are some North hands for which bidding 3C will not lead to a minus,
– There are some North hands for which bidding 3C will improve the result,
– When North bids 3D, South must hope that is a playable contract, and
– At MPs, South must hope 2S does not make +140

If I were to attempt to analyze further, I would probably try to work out what the relative probabilities were of North’s various replies.

That is:

– Pass — South must hope to have hit North’s suit, maybe +130 versus +110, or 2S goes down
– 3D —- South hopes North has a long and weak D suit with little in transferable values
– 3H —- 2-3 in the majors? 1-3? With such a weak H suit, would South bid 3S? If so, same as 2S but more risk
– 3S —- South could hardly bid 4S, so same as 2S but more risk
– 3N —- This has potential to score well, but how likely is it really after the timid correction to 2S?
– 4C —- Would South bid 5C? It is the only real chance to outscore 2S. How likely is an 11-trick game, though?
– 4D —- Hardly possible
– 4H —- Hardly possible
– 4S —- This has real potential to outscore 2S, but how likely is it that 3C would elicit such a response?

In my humble opinion, South’s 3C bid hopes that either North is at top end of range but could still somehow muster only a 2S bid, or has a long, weak minor suit such that 3C or 3D would make while 2S would not. Additionally, South can hope that small extra strength will be enough to score +140 the same as at 2S should the bidding end at 3S.

I might bid 3C, as well but — if I did — I would not be nearly as optimistic as the BWTA answer seems to be. You see, I think 3D is easily the most probable response.

bobby wolffSeptember 19th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Hi Jim2,

First of all, I appreciate your determination in using this hand to set a standard on how important every decision, both great and small, can be in at most seeking perfection, but at least, taking very seriously every bidding crossroad.

Yes, with the specific hand I would definitely, over the preference to 2 spades, take another bid (3 clubs) simply because I think it is worth it. Some frequent bidding sequences lend themselves to wide variances in strength and after responding 1NT to partner’s major and then preferring partner’s original suit (in this case spades) is one of those.

Because of the above there have been attempts at narrowing those variances, but if they experiment, artificiality comes into the picture, to the tune of either the Bart or the Gazzilli convention. At least at this time I prefer to only talk about normal handling and not modern scientific, mind challenging memory.

The responder, by returning to partner’s 2 of a major will normally have exactly 2 trumps, but anywhere from a weak 6 points to a good 9, but, if a forcing NT is played it is possible that the return to 2 spades may include even a slightly better hand than 9 points.

Therefore the opening bidder’s hand in question can easily still be good enough for game and for better description 3 clubs seems the best choice just like while holding s. AQ10xx, h. KJx, d. Axxx, c. x and after opening 1 spade having one’s partner respond an ubiquitous 1NT (either F or not). Then 2 diamonds by the opener and 2NT by the responder. To me, (and I suspect to many very experience players) the opener then should respond 3 hearts to show his extras and at the same time, since he denied 4 hearts when he rebid 2 diamonds, he is showing only 3 thereby completing his description of 5-3-4-1, and therefore catering to partner who could hold 1-5-3-4 (10+) or close.

Since you have gone to extremes to cover almost all possibilities let me only attempt to add what I may have also thought. No, I would not expect partner to bid 3 diamonds since he knows I have at most a singleton, and because we already both know that, he would not suggest a diamond contract unless he still thought that a singleton diamond would be ample to still have it be our best trump suit and therefore the final contract.

Since a huge percentage of bridge players (consisting of at least some who are bridge lovers) either never or hardly ever have had an opportunity to play an advanced stage of the game with an eligible partner who has a like interest of delving deeply into the theoretical positive (up to now) scintillating beauties of this highly intellectual pastime.

In other simple words, which applies to so many things in life, one gets out of something what he (or she) puts into it.

While not pretending to know the history of any of our so called, fellow commentators, I cannot be sure or even close to, who has done what in advancing his bridge game. That fact is not important since IMO it is unwise to put pressure on anyone to do anything he or she is not ready to attempt.

No doubt, some are more prone to be interested in the scientific part of the game and why. It is probably a good idea if I (and also the column) from time to time mention what other roosters in the barnyard are doing, and leave it up to the individual to react the way he wants to.

Your above accurate and comprehensive treatise goes much above what I think is necessary in order to rise quickly through the ranks of good players, traveling quickly to a higher designation. In other words it is more practical to concentrate on what works and what may not and that basically sums up my role, at least as I see it.

To repeat, I do think the subject 5-4-1-3 hand is good enough to attempt to find a superior contract once partner only returns to 2 spades and I then choose 3 clubs as my pick.

Could I be wrong? You betcha I can, but what else is new? For me to go deeper would only produce blank stares in the eyes of other bridge enthusiasts and, of course, I do not want to accomplish that.

A full bridge curriculum would take many years to cover the waterfront. At this point there are not that many takers, but if there are some, my experience dictates that those who accept will not be disappointed and that goes IN SPADES!