Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Say you are dealt the following uninspiring collection: ♠ Q-3-2,  6-5,  Q-9-6-5-2, ♣ J-7-4 and are in fourth chair. Would you take action after hearing one club on your left, doubled by partner, and one heart on your right? I passed and the opponents bought the hand in two hearts, while we could have made a diamond partscore.

Stumbling Sam, Orlando, Fla.

Your initial pass is reasonable, but my intention would be to back in with two diamonds at my next turn. In fact, if the opponents bid and raise hearts, announcing a fit, I might even contemplate risking a balance of three diamonds, assuming that they had eight trumps between them.

What is your opinion on opening a strong no-trump with ♠ 8-2,  K-9-6-2,  A-Q-8-5, ♣ A-K-8? While the high-cards are perfect, I believe the small doubleton is a problem because a major-suit lead is the most common lead against a no-trump contract. Am I being too conservative?

Man Overboard, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Any time you have a balanced 15-17 (especially, by the way, 16, where any other treatment of the hand except as a balanced 15-17 looks unacceptable) you must open 1 NT. Even with a five-card major — unless all your values are in two suits — the no-trump call is generally right.

I had a problem on the third round of the auction when I picked up ♠ 10-7-4,  Q-10-8-5,  A-Q-9-5, ♣ A-J and opened one diamond in second seat. My LHO overcalled one spade, my partner made a negative double, and I rebid two hearts, passed around to my RHO, who bid two spades. Should I bid three hearts now or pass?

Fighting Mad, Bay City, Mich.

When you bid two hearts, you showed four hearts and a minimum opening — exactly what you have. Since your RHO's two-spade call might be based on a doubleton spade, your three little spades are not a bonus. I'd pass smoothly and hope partner can find a second call.

When you open one no-trump and partner responds with Stayman, how do you deal with intervention? Can you ever bid at the three-level?

Going for Broke, Peru, Ind.

If the opponents double, then make your normal call, except that redouble shows four or more very good clubs, while two diamonds shows real diamonds, and pass is the default call with nothing to say. Over higher intervention, bid at the two-level if you can, doubling for penalties. Only bid at the three-level with a five-card suit, plus a maximum.

What do you think of giving suit-preference when partner leads an ace and dummy has a singleton — or some other holding where continuation seems unlikely to be right? If not, what should you play?

Smoke Signals, Greenville, S.C.

It is remarkable how often continuation of the suit led is the right defense in such situations. However, to my mind, suit-preference is a simple enough way to go if dummy has two :possible" shifts for partner to make. A middle card therefore asks for continuation of the led suit. If dummy has only one sensible alternative continuation at trick two, then encouraging the opening lead should ask partner not to make that obvious shift.

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


ClarksburgNovember 9th, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Mea culpa, about a terrible opening lead!
On lead against a blind auction 2NT > 3NT , I held:
S xxx
H Jxxxx
C xxx
In previous blog discussions you’ve made it abundantly clear that “WHEN YOU HAVE A FIVE-CARD SUIT LEAD IT !!”.
Overthinking (not well) and too clever by half, not liking the prospect of developing and getting in to cash long Hearts, I led a Spade… Declarer’s suit. Partner held H AKQx. Ouch and Double Ouch.

General Lesson learned: Not only might leading a five-card suit turn up tricks for us; it is also less likely to help Declarer. Hadn’t thought about it that way before.
Never again!
Not really sure why I posted this :). Maybe it’ll help one reader, somewhere, to avoid such a blunder.

Iain ClimieNovember 9th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Commiserations, as I once held the following against 1NT (12-14) P 3N All Pass: xxx 10xx 6432 Jxx. Working on the basis that they hadn’t used Stayman, and I needed to hit partner’s suit, I tried a spade. Partner had DJxxxx and two entries, dummy had a 4-2-2-5 14 count and had decided not to bother with Stayman. To be fair, a diamond lead holds it to 9, as declarer takes his ttricks before we get 5, but I wanted to scream as the overtricks rolled in.

I accept that a heart lead (especially at pairs, where they’ll all do it) on the hand you quote is safe but is a spade lead really that culpable at IMPs? Our host’s view will be interesting here, and would it still be the same with (say) 5 small hearts and no diamond honours.



ClarksburgNovember 9th, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Thank you for commenting, in part:
“… (especially at pairs, where they’ll all do it)…”
I am just learning to “stay with the herd” in bidding at Pairs (e.g. bidding games that I really judge should not make, not bidding slams that I really judge should make, etc.) but I haven’t been applying it in the play, where it should apply equally.
Nuts, isn’t it?

Iain ClimieNovember 9th, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

As an indication of how mad pairs is, I played in 5H dbl’d over 4S as a save at adverse vulnerability, and where I thought most would defend. I lost two early tricks and then drew trumps (which were 2-2) before having to play K9xx opposite AJxxx for no loser to make +850. After small to the King, and one back (all following so far, but no Queen), I knew +850 was there and I was almost certain that this side suit was 3-1 on the bidding. I played for the drop (only at pairs) reasoning that -200 was fine if the side suit was 3-1 as most others would lose 420, and so it proved – -200 was 80%. If the side suit was 2-2, 4S would fail, so then I’d need 850 but not if 4S was making.

At rubber bridge, Chicago or IMPs, how do you justify decking what should be a cold contract and tearing up partner’s money or the team’s chances? Strange game!



bobby wolffNovember 9th, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Hi Clarksburg & Iain,

Since several subjects are under discussion, I’ll add (hope not subtract) from the conversation, but rest assured, at least IMO, there is no air tight answer.

Regarding Clarksburg’s opening lead at pairs, my advice is just to chill out, not worry, but try and be consistent with what I think are the percentages involved. While I do not expect any magic to occur, I would lead a heart from 5 to the jack with nothing more than a shoulder shrug (of course, figurative, not literal).

If they choose, let your competitors at the other tables, use their imaginations while you stay close to home (meaning expected). Why?

A certain portion to rising to the task of improving in bridge is certainly part general learning about all the aspects of the game. While that is relatively a tall order, there is no reason to even suspect, that with enthusiasm and attention to detail, as well as critically delving into whatever subject is on the table, that anyone of even just normal card sense, will not be up to just making it through the night.

The “X” factor is to establish confidence in your choices and the norm, similar to playing gambling games in casinos like Blackjack or poker, games which require thought and judgment, just follow the odds in a consistent manner and the immutable law of averages will take care of the rest.

Win you will not (at least in blackjack), but your loss will be negligible since their money is made from players who seek being thought of as original and, more importantly, exhibiting great flair.

In actuality, bridge, especially the high-level variety is totally based on numbers with an accent on psychology, which in turn has everything to do with who one’s opponents are and how you interact with them.

To lighten this discussion, if I was playing IMPs instead of matchpoints, my second choice to a heart lead, would be the Q of diamonds since much less is needed from partner to make that lead, magic. Imagination for that reverts back to numeric logic, not Quija boards.

As a comment on Iain’s vulnerable 5 hearts doubled, his reasoning has much to recommend what he did, as a tribute (if one is ever given to the bastardized game of matchpoints instead of the purity of either rubber bridge or IMPs) to his, at least to be, whole logical case for his finesse in trumps (not that it isn’t a probable straight guess), my only ax to grind is that he is depending on what he deems to be absolute truths happening at most, if not all, of the other tables.

While I am in no way disagreeing with his conclusions, I have found it very difficult to predict all the many reasons for predictions, although entirely logical, to actually occur, especially when bridge players, only being human, have differently wired brains and therefore the best laid plans of mice, men and too many of us bridge players sometimes go awry.

I certainly agree with Iain’s last paragraph of what he calls, “decking a cold contract”, at least in the minds of his former best friend, the dummy, or even the whole team, but those situations are what many of us love about the game.

It is never safe to just wait for aces and cinches since bridge will always test one’s character and do so indiscriminately without any regard for who she is doing it to.

Females, please disregard my choice of gender for the culprit, but I never heard anyone called Sir Fortune, instead of Dame.

Thanks for making it through to here.

bobby wolffNovember 9th, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Hi again Clarksburg & Iain,

As much as I prefer shortshrifting answers, I then wonder what leaving out something may do to its meaning.

In no way do I recommend you, Clarksburg, not bid good fitting games or slams when you think they should be bid. I am only referring to blind efforts (and the opening lead, particularly when it goes 1NT P 3NT all pass) are one of those.

You are now delving into what years of experience will teach any enthusiastic and somewhat talented bridge player. Do not fall for illusions. Winners never do, but, of course, sometimes fail to make magical leads and/or switches which should have no other description than lucky stabs.

Because of my reasons for what I have suggested, I do not like certain terms like “staying with the herd'” “or failing to use imagination” or even “taking the less traveled road in bridge” since all of those short cut descriptions never (at least for my judgment) take in all the “tells” which, if they do not appear in the bidding, tend to show up in the tempo, therefore creating indelible images as to what one’s worthy opponents (declarer may have) or even more likely a partnership’s defense, complete with their legal signalling methods have when either you or your partner are declaring.

Even though no sound at all could be heard, believe me some plays, ducks or tempo tanks, in truth, should sound like a violent thunder storm in departing correct knowledge.

Finally Iain, my only tip is that any apology by you is only necessary to be told a partner who is not nearly your ability and even then is very distasteful, for him not to realize exactly, and very soon after it happens, what you were obviously thinking.

If so, and probably 90% of the games everyone likely participates in, are made up of players who mostly only consider results. Sad, but true, but do not lower yourself to explain, perhaps later the subject will come up and then questions may be asked, but until then let it go, and anyone worth his salt as your friend will eventually, if not sooner, come to your psychological aid, usually with a compassionate laugh.

Iain ClimieNovember 10th, 2014 at 7:23 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, although my partner was happy with the explanation and end result – especially as he’d taken a push with a Michaels cue-bid and a little bit of extra distribution i.e. 0553 and a fair hand at adverse; cynics might say discipline slipped.

Andrew Robson, whom I knew from years ago when I played a lot more, wrote the hand up for English Bridge early in 2014. I later realised the Jack was in the short hand (KJxx in my hand opposite A9xxx in dummy), but the decision was still basically unchanged.