Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Big doors swing on little hinges.

W. Clement Stone

East North
North-South ♠ A Q 10 9
 10 9 8 7
 K 9 7
♣ A 4
West East
♠ K 8 5 2
 J 5 3
♣ K 9 6 5 3
♠ J 6 4
 K Q
 A 10 8
♣ Q J 10 8 2
♠ 7 3
 A J 6 4 3 2
 Q 6 4 2
♣ 7
South West North East
1 1♠ 2♣ Dbl.*
2 3♣ 4 All pass

*Three-card spade support


In today's heart game the Polish declarer in an International match won the club lead and immediately played a heart to the ace and another heart. East won her king and played a second club, ruffed in hand. Declarer now led a spade to dummy's 10 and East's jack. Back came a spade, but West withheld her king, of course. Now declarer could discard only one diamond from her hand. She had to broach diamonds herself, and inevitably lost two tricks in the suit for one down.

In truth, this was an uninspired effort. Declarer should win the club ace and ruff a club at trick two. Now when she plays ace and another heart, East would be endplayed. If she plays a spade, declarer has no losers in that suit and can afford two diamond losers. If East plays a diamond, declarer makes three tricks in that suit and loses only the ace. Giving her a ruff and discard makes things very easy for South.

This swing turned out to be especially important, since the North-South pair in the other room had defended three clubs for two down, when South had not thought her hand worth an overcall at adverse vulnerability. Accordingly, it turned out to be a sizeable pick-up in one direction, instead of the swing going the other way, had the game been brought home.

Incidentally, would you have overcalled as South? I think you have to bid. Too dangerous is no excuse…

It is important to distinguish between a responsive and a penalty double. In this auction, where the opponents have not agreed on a suit, the double of one heart is for penalty, showing hearts (typically at least three hearts, more commonly four). But when the opponents bid and raise a suit around a double, your partner's double is for takeout. As it is, you should pass now and await developments.


♠ A Q 10 9
 10 9 8 7
 K 9 7
♣ A 4
South West North East
Dbl. 1 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


Patrick CheuNovember 19th, 2014 at 10:34 am

Hi Bobby,If East has KQx hearts,can declarer cater for it,by not ruffing the second club?Thus,AC,then 10H QH AH LHO shows out,now spade to Ace,club ruff and only now heart exit,East wins KH and plays a third heart,declarer wins JH,and exit with a second Queen,as the JS come down in three rounds and KS on the left,declarer can discard two diamonds on the spades…only problem if West ducks the second spade..declarer may guess wrong..? Regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Hi Patrick,

Thank you for the sensational analysis.

Although 2-1 breaks are significantly more frequent than 3-0, the bidding on this hand seemed (at least to me) to make it more likely than normal.

It then would follow that your line of play would, at the very least, be considered, but since this hand actually occurred, we reported it as such, but in doing so, became an example of a very spotty declarer effort (in spite of not falling victim to the possible, but not actual), fatal heart void with West.

Whoever said that players who do not consider playing hands as safely as possible often fall victim to uncalled for poor results, would not refer to today’s hand, because that eventuality did not happen.

Alas, as you so deftly (politely) explained, in spite of his non-lethal shortcut, he still managed to fail.

Is playing, reporting and analyzing bridge a great game or what?

Patrick CheuNovember 19th, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Bobby,ruffing the second club and playing for trumps 22,the spade finesse can wait,simplicity also works..thanks for showing us this hand…regards~Patrick.

Patrick CheuNovember 19th, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Sorry,trumps 2-1.

LeonNovember 19th, 2014 at 1:08 pm

“Incidentally, would you have overcalled as South? I think you have to bid. Too dangerous is no excuse…”

I agree, I would even like to say “not overcalling is too dangerous, you might miss all kind of good things (like a vulnerable game on this board”.

LeonNovember 19th, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Patrick, Bobby,

Imagine you try to cater for the trumps 3-0. You play heart T in trick 2, east follows small of course. Now if you duck this and west wins and plays a club you are essentially in the same situation as the declarer in the original problem (or do I oversee something?).

I think you have to decide right away if you maximise your chances with trumps 2-1 or try to make it anyway when trumps are 3-0. I think you can’t combine in the way suggested.
Bidding suggests hearts more likely 2-1, so that seems the best line.

jim2November 19th, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Sadly, in our match in the Slush Teams, when our opponents held the N-S cards, IIRC, it went like this:

xC — AC — 10C — 7C
10H – QH — AH — xH
xS — xS — QS — xS
xC — JC — xH — xC
xS — xS — AS — xS
10S – JS – xH — xS
xH – xx — 9H — KH

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Hi Leon,

Yes, I certainly agree with you that not overcalling becomes much too dangerous since your first chance to make what some would say is a light vulnerable overcall will likely be your last chance, particularly so against wily opponents who know how to get the bidding up high early when both sides tend to have fits, but (at least in their minds), perhaps only one will find out.

No doubt, the winning play of a club ruff and then ace and another heart is very tempting.
My only fear is that when an opponent (in this case West) continues to compete in the bidding when obviously holding few high cards sometimes sends up a warning flag to beware of the defensive distribution which in this case may be a void rather than a singleton heart. That thought may have loomed with declarer when, after winning his heart trick, East likely fired back the queen of clubs, thus causing South to wrongly take a deeper finesse in spades, playing East for the king not the jack.

While reconstructing the defensive hands, declarer went wrong in spades, but since West was not void in hearts, the two actual hands seem to indicate that West likely needed the king, rather than the jack, to offer his second bid.

Oh well, all in a session’s work. Let’s hope the declarer learned something about complete defensive analysis was necessary on this hand which, in turn, might help his future career.

After all, in order to win against peers, we need to at least match them with top level analysis.

I sincerely appreciate both your and Patrick’s input.

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Hi Jim2,

Man alive, making 5! And I suppose the slush teams had a board-a-match format.

So graceful and fulfilling, especially when considering the award for the best played hand at the tournament was the lead dance at the awards ceremony with no one other than Lena.

Jane ANovember 19th, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Of course I would bid with the south hand but I would bid two hearts, which I believe describes the south hand nicely. Sometimes my partners are nice to me and show up with the hand north has this time. Bidding one heart shows a better hand in my opinion unless over calling with weaker hands is a system agreement. A six card major is always nice, but the suit is broken also. If west makes a negative double now, north’s hand looks a lot better.

Let the dogs out!

jim2November 19th, 2014 at 5:44 pm


Minus-one. No Lena for me THAT tourney …

Jane ANovember 19th, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Hi again Bobby,

Although I understand what you mean regarding the BWTA hand, I have to say you would have to handcuff my hands behind my back to stop me from bidding. What would opener’s pass indicate? Maybe he has a few hearts. Partner might want me to pick which unbid suit I like the best so the stronger hand might be the declarer. I guess partnership agreement is the deciding factor here, but my partners would expect me to bid, right or wrong. Dance with the one who brung ya!

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Hi Jane A,

Since psyching (faking) a suit behind a TO double and before his partner has had a chance to respond is an age old deception, the double (long ago and far away) has always meant penalty, in order for the TO doubler to be aware of what is going on around the table.

Therefore, since penalty is almost the opposite of take out, the doubler should (and with the values for it) think about competing himself in that specific suit. On this hand since the TO doubler has a minimum and only 4 hearts to the 10 he needs to not bid now (happy to defend in hearts) but if partner continues to show signs of life when it is next his turn, then the complexion may change.

For now remain quiet, but stay at the ready.

Holding: s. Jx, h. KJxxx d. Qxx c. Jxx first double one heart and then, if given an opportunity bid 2 hearts next time, but if the bidding becomes higher than that level, simply pass on the next round.

However if holding s. Kxxx, h. Kx, d. Qxx, c. Jxxx bid one spade (do not double) and if holding a bit more, then bid 2 hearts which is a cue bid and asks his TO doubling partner to bid a new suit, preferably the other major.

With those bidding instructions, all real life hands will allow themselves to be properly directed, but both partners must be aware of what their bids mean, otherwise supreme chaos will be the sad order of the day for that partnership.

Fire one but always carry a big stick.

Dave Memphis MOJONovember 19th, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I like the 1H bid, but hate the 2D bid the second time. You bid, you got your side into the bidding, now slow down. Do you agree?

bobby wolffNovember 19th, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Hi Mojo Dave,

Yes, I totally agree, but after a confusing time period I am beginning to understand.

No doubt, the rising stars (world over, but, if anything more so, close to home) have not only done away with any semblance to what used to be called a “free” bid, the whole valuation equalizer has undergone a big time change.

Also the standards for opening the bidding have dropped to what Culbertson would have called a full trick (equivalent of an ace). Overcalls are close behind with, as Al Roth used to say, “Vulnerability is for children”. Greco and Hampson have reduced even balanced hand opening 1 bids to 10 or 11 hcps.

With it, of course, comes the responder changes, which, because I have not been in many discussions about it, but obviously determining a possible game or slam, opposite one of those opening bids needs a compensating raise.

At least to me, I could always, through the years, see a great advantage to opening the bidding (believe it or not, playing a forcing club and 4 card majors) allows a partnership (more often than one thinks) to preempt to game immediately therein putting maximum pressure on the 4th seat opponent, especially when at the other table in an IMP game it has gone, P, P, 1 Club ? or sometimes P, P, P(or weak two bid), ?.

No doubt, different valuations take place, usually forcing the former conservative old timers or (whatever) to risk coming in instead of having an easy ride to whatever is the best final contract.

No one asked, but my guess is that when the opponents start taking the right actions against this current fad, it might come to an abrupt end, but meanwhile it will take some time before it plays itself out, if ever. One thing is for sure, that for now it is as effective as it ever will be, causing time alone to determine just how long it will be before partnerships start questioning whether what they have switched to is right or perhaps very wrong.

In any event, since I, being on the sidelines for several years, still have the judgment and ability to be able to judge the future, but as long as I am able, will be extremely interested in what happens next.

Sorry for the too lengthy answer or should say, guess.