Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.

Jane Austen

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


When South at the Dyspeptics Club is accused of being the best cardholder alive, he tends to respond complacently that he simply gets more out of his cards. This breathtaking inaccuracy of this rather na├»ve statement drives his regular colleagues to distraction — which might indeed be his reason for making the claim.

Today’s deal was just such an example. Given his usual rock-crusher, South failed to make the most of his opportunities. In six no-trump he won the spade lead to unblock clubs, then crossed to the diamond ace to pitch his heart losers on the king and jack of clubs. When the 5-2 club break came to light, it belatedly occurred to him that he needed to keep East off lead for the duration of the hand. So he led the diamond nine, intending to let it run. Alas for him, East had both the diamond jack and 10, and when the suit failed to break, down went the slam.

When South started to protest his misfortune, East stuck the dagger in by pretending to console him that the winning line would have been hard for a player of his caliber to spot. Do you see his point?

Declarer must cash the club ace and queen, then lead a diamond to the nine. East wins and shifts to a heart, but declarer goes up with the ace, crosses to the diamond ace to take his discards, and can come back to his hand in spades, whereupon his hand will be high.

In competition, after the takeout double, the re-raise by partner does not show invitational values; it is purely competitive, suggesting four trumps and a little extra in either shape or high-cards. So you are not close to bidding on here. Had West not competed to one spade, a free raise would show real extras and make you worth a try for game by bidding three clubs.


♠ 6 5 2
 7 5 4 2
 A 9
♣ K J 7 6
South West North East
Pass 1 Dbl. Pass
1 1♠ 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


MirceaOctober 1st, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Hi Bobby,

Partner deals and opens 1S, non-vuln at pairs. What would you respond with the hand below using your preferred methods?

A 10
K Q J 6 5 4 3 2
A 7


bobby wolffOctober 1st, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Hi Mircea,

An old fashioned bid of 3 diamonds fits my bill.

Starting out with only 2 diamonds only serves the forcing nature of that bid and not an additional thing, rendering that bid (likely to be chosen by a relatively high-level majority) impotent, except for bidding diamonds first.

An alternate, to the point bid, of 4NT ready to choose 6 diamonds when partner has his likely response of 1 ace will get the play from the wrong side, through the rounded suit aces instead of up to them. That fact, at least to me, turns an immediate 4NT response, if it does show 1 ace, from preferred to absolutely terrible, not to mention, wrong! I am aware of the pairs condition, making 6NT more valuable (when it makes) than is 6D. However that bastardized part of pairs, although ever present, not a valuable part of the game, but rather usually a painful one, since the luck element (in choosing) becomes enormous and hardly based on skill. I also realize that 6NT may make when partner has neither the ace nor king of spades, but fie on those who think that fact makes pairs a better game rather than IMPs or rubber. More exciting, perhaps, better, are you kidding me?

The more things change, the more they stay the same, but your question only makes the thinking man’s bridge player realize what is important and what is overrated. Of course, if partner has the KJ, especially in clubs and with a club lead, then it may be better for him to be the declarer. Is bridge a great game or what?

jim2October 1st, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I would have posted sooner but checked w/pard before, just to confirm things.

If I would have bid 4N in that auction, it would have confirmed spades as trump and been RKC. Any followup bid of 6D would then have confirmed all key cards, showed the KD, and been a grand slam try.

Thus, unless one has a clear understanding to the contrary, I would not recommend bidding 4N over 1S! Pard – playing 7S – would be unlikely to be impressed by the quality and quantity of the spade support. Your best chance then would be the alternative of 7N.

bobby wolffOctober 1st, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Hi Jim2,

While I totally understand your partnership method, I wonder whether, in the absence of actually agreeing the suit (with a first bid like a Jacoby 2NT being a GF raise) it is wise for such an agreement. What if, like in Mircea’s example, after a spade opening, RHO makes a preemptive jump to 3 clubs or 3 hearts, what would then be a jump to 4NT and would it agree spades?

If there is any doubt, wouldn’t a simplification of methods pay dividends, rather than overall being an inferior method?

jim2October 2nd, 2014 at 12:12 am

I think it would still agree spades, but I’ll ask pard. Nonetheless, when you are the one holding the spade suit, things are a bit safer than when partner holds it and might “correct.”

I think our larger agreement is that 4N over a raise is RKC for the raised suit, while jump to 4N over a suit w/o a raise sets the last suit as trump for purposes of the RKC responses.

Mark FinkelsteinOctober 2nd, 2014 at 4:09 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,
In the Sept 17 hand, declarer is in 6NT. You have him duck the first Diamond to guarantee himself 4 Diamond tricks in the case of a 4-2 split. It protects against a 5-1 split in Clubs. But if Clubs are 4-2 or better (maybe 80%), aren’t you better off to play as your Declarer played: unblock clubs, cross to AD, play off the KJ of clubs, and then try for a 3-3 split in Diamonds? Since 3-3 in diamonds is much more likely than 5-2 in Clubs, wouldn’t you be better, at least at matchpoints, to play that way, which allows for the possibility of an overtrick?

David WarheitOctober 2nd, 2014 at 4:46 am

Mark: the 2 lines of play work out the same except: 1) D are 3-3; Mark’s line makes 7. 2) C are 5-2 and D are 4-2 and the same player has the long D & long C. The column line is better (making 6 instead of down 1). I can’t do the math, but Mark’s line is much better at duplicate. Also you talk about C being 5-1 or 4-2. Sorry, but the opponents have 7C, not 6, so you have to mean “protects against a 5-2 split in clubs; and “if clubs are 4-3”.

Finally, there is the question: what should declarer do after cashing the AQ of clubs and leading a D if W plays either the 10 or J? a) He wins the A, cashes a third C and C are 4-3 or E has 5. Cash the 4th C & run the D9. B. He wins the A, cashes a third C & W has 5. Hmmm. You could either cash the 4th C and run the D9, cash the 4th C and try to run D, or immediately take the H finesse and assuming it wins lead a low D to the 9. b) duck, making 6 if D are no worse than 4-2 or if the H finesse works.

I look forward to our host’s analysis of the various lines of play a) at duplicate, b) at any other form of scoring.

jim2October 2nd, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Our Host –

My partner confirmed that we play as I described:

I think our larger agreement is that 4N over a raise is RKC for the raised suit, while jump to 4N over a suit w/o a raise sets the last suit as trump for purposes of the RKC responses.

A few guarded inquiries to others have revealed similar understandings in their partnerships.

jim2October 2nd, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Still another line at 6N in the column hand would be:

– win S lead
– cash club AQ
– cross to AD
– cash club KJ

If clubs are 4-3 or if East has 5 or more, then finesse the heart:

– If it wins, that’s 12 tricks with a chance for 13.
– If it loses, win the return and hope diamonds are 3-3 (or J10 doubleton)

If clubs are long in the West, then West is very unlikely also to be long in diamonds after the JS lead. Thus, play diamonds from the top (pitching the QH on the JC). Of course, if East plays JD on the 9D, you can duck.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Hi Jim2,

Far be it from me to interfere with a regular partnership’s understandings, conventions and treatment within those conventions.

However, I think I would be remiss unless I mention that Key Card Blackwood (KCB) is slightly more delicate and subject to enemy attack more than many loyal users realize.

With the 5th ace, aka, the king of what is to become the trump suit, becomes difficult if doing so is postponed, allowing a relatively weak hand, but with a very long good suit and usually favorable vulnerability, NV vs. V. to ply an effective challenge.

Because of the above, I would suggest that in situations wherein the partner of the opening bidder is confronted by a high preempt before he has had a chance to bid or even if he has bid another suit and then a high preempt by the 4th seat opponent, when it is passed around to the original responder, then a 4NT call would just be number of aces and not KCB.

It is, I think, easy to understand that the above sequences are more common than one may expect since those types of hands occur fairly frequently and when they do, it is probably about only even money that the trump suit will be the opener’s opening bid suit.

Yes, one might need a memory aid to separate this exception, but your proposed way can be subject to a disaster if, using the subject hand as an example, what if after the opening bid, East preempts in either hearts or clubs, making the number of aces critical, certainly not the holding of the king of spades. Of course, if diamonds have already been bid then, with your rule, KCB becomes OK, but with very similar auctions, it becomes a very slippery slope.

Whatever you and partner decide to do is certainly OK with me (not that it should be of any concern with you) but I thought it prudent for me to voice what I have.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi Mark, David, & Jim2,

The column under discussion while playing 6NT, is directly a fictitious hand while playing rubber bridge.

Therefore the column suggestion is clearly the best percentage way to try and make what you bid, with other avenues clearly inferior.

If diamonds turn out to be 5-1 and East, upon winning his first diamond leads a heart, declarer would be a fool to not go up with the ace, in preparation of throwing his two other hearts away on the 2 good clubs remaining in dummy.

At matchpoints, IMO it is clearly the best play to play it the same way. However, yes it is possible, if diamonds are 3-3 that since 6NT looks to be a fairly normal contract that we will score a poor result.

The solution is, stop worrying and please just accept, the bastardization present at normal pair duplicate. Reason being that contract bridge as we know it puts a great deal of emphasis (with the scoring) of making a contract that is bid, but matchpoints often distorts the result obtained.

One disclaimer is to announce that it is as fair for one as it is for another, but I do not go along with that, since a key issue in the scoring of the game we love is what it is, but matchpoints counts just as much for a pair beaten with a 20 or 30 point margin as well as a 1400+ difference.

Fair, Hell no, but realistic, You bet! The only sad thing involved is that there is no real cure for that bridge disease, but accepting it the way it is and learning to discard the worry.

One way to cope is to understand that both rubber bridge and IMPs (not total points, the predecessor to IMPs) represents the purer game, but since matchpoints have most of the good bridge elements we also endorse that as a game of skill.

Finally and in reality the whole game of duplicate bridge (matchpoints) has more flaws, necessitating a larger luck element than is thought, but so what, it is still a very popular form of the game.