Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 6th, 2014

The children of men are deceitful upon the weights;
They are altogether lighter than vanity itself.

Prayer Book

South North
Both ♠ 10 9 2
 A J 5
 A 10 9 3
♣ Q 7 4
West East
♠ Q 7 4
 K 7 6 4
 8 6 4
♣ A K 2
♠ J 8
 10 9 2
 J 7 5 2
♣ J 9 8 3
♠ A K 6 5 3
 Q 8 3
 K Q
♣ 10 6 5
South West North East
1♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
2♣ Pass 3♠ Pass
4♠ All pass    


Deception is an important part of the game. This is easier to attempt when you are declarer than when you are a defender, because in the latter case there is always the danger that partner may be the one deceived. However, opportunities for defensive deception do crop up from time to time.

Put yourself in declarer’s shoes in four spades, when West leads a top club and East contributes the three, showing no interest. West continues with a second top club on which East plays the jack — a suit-preference signal for a heart. West now switches to the heart four. What would you do as declarer?

There are two possible lines of play: You can play low on the heart, hoping West has led away from the king, or you can rise with the heart ace, cash the spade ace-king and the diamond king-queen, and then cross to dummy with the club queen (presumably if East had been ruffing the third club, West would have continued with another club at trick three), in the hopes that the diamond jack would fall, giving you two heart discards.

It is all a question of who you are playing against. In truth, though, the odds of the first line are significantly better than the second line since you can also cope with some bad trump breaks. So unless I was convinced that East was a very honest fellow, I would prefer the first line; but I would congratulate East for doing his best to deceive me.

Here your hand appears to be relatively suitable for defense, but I would still advocate raising to three spades pre-emptively because it makes your LHO's task so much harder. You may tempt him into indiscretion — and after all, how is he to know you have this hand and not one weaker by an ace and a king? Bidding may lead to a small loss, but it may also lead to a large gain.


♠ Q 7 4
 K 7 6 4
 8 6 4
♣ A K 2
South West North East
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


jim2November 20th, 2014 at 12:46 pm

The play also assumes a pretty high bridge level for East.

In more casual or intermediate play, signals like East’s in this column have always seemed to be a sort of “restricted choice” situation. That is, holding the king, East will signal encouragement. Not holding the king, East might or might not signal encouragement.

(Missing QJ: when ace led, an opponent plays the Q. When held singleton, the queen will always be played. When holding QJ doubleton, sometimes the queen will be played, sometimes the jack.)

Thus, I tend to believe the signal, but I rarely play the opponents Our Host does. So, in the case on this deal, East would have got me.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thank you for your practical and heartfelt summation with who to believe and who to not (or at least suspect).

Deception in bridge is an altogether separate, but encompassing subject, not having to do with percentages or usually technique, but everything to do with psychology, quickwittedness and the experience level, of a worthy opponent.

On this particular hand, for East to signal for a heart rather than just being neutral with a middle club (8 or 9) is truly a spectacular ruse, since by doing so he might, with other possible declarer hands, be giving away the farm.

However, on further reflection and, of course, considering the bidding, it is difficult, if not impossible, for East to be giving away the setting trick by falsely encouraging a heart switch.

However, at pairs if declarer started with:
s. AKQxx, h. Qxx, d. Kx, c. xxx (a hand consistent with the bidding) the defense may give away the overtrick by so doing, especially if declarer fears a singleton heart from West and rises with the heart ace.

In any event, East’s brilliant suit preference ruse might snatch a trick from the jaws of defeat with little or nothing to lose, so why not reach to the stars for whatever even lighter than vanity he can gain.

However in finality, let me offer a disclaimer to those who love spectacular, please be very careful (not an easy chore) before you do this at home, or even at the local bridge club, especially you Jim2, with your TOCM tm (theory of card migration) malady, who will (depending on what you decide) transfer the cards to enable your worst nightmare.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Please forgive my 5th paragraph above for being very confusing with my intended meaning, since I gave a reason why declarer may go for the ruse, by rising with the ace of hearts, although by not, he would gain an overtrick.

Oh well, although by playing or even discussing our great game, there is much room for making errors, to which I plead guilty.

Accept it for what it is, trying to play, bid and defend as well as possible, but far too often, coming up below expectations.

jim2November 20th, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I’m experimenting with magnetic cards and a metallic card table top — just my latest attempt to keep the cards where they were originally dealt!

Iain ClimieNovember 20th, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Hi Jim2,

Physics could yet strike – Schrodinger’s card instead of cat may come into play.



MirceaNovember 20th, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

I hope that this post will go trough, all my recent attempts have failed with no error or warning.

Anyway, bridge: is there a way by a top level player to sniff these deceptive plays other than to use your nose?

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Hi Iain,

I have often wondered how anyone could offer a reward for returning Schrodinger’s cat dead or alive and how they would differentiate it or would that just oversimplify it?

Iain ClimieNovember 20th, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Dead, alive or even both – someone really wants that cat and doesn’t mind paying, regardless of condition. I wonder if they’d like to buy a historical landmark I happen to own…

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Hi Mircea,

First we hope your posting troubles have been cured, since we all greatly missed you and lovingly welcome you back.

It is difficult to recognize bridge deception since to do so forces an astute opponent to first consider his risk in doing so as opposed to what he is attempting to gain.

However when that risk/gain ratio may appear negligible to him, and, most importantly, your take on him is both the cunning to do so and the bridge acumen to follow through, you are on your way to solving that puzzle.

However those battles are always hyper sophisticated but rare, and if done right, need, as you indicate, a good detective nose to overcome.

When in full bloom they usually represent what is always among the best mind battles in bridge and one which stays in both combatants minds for many years, sometimes life.

For starters, think of the declarer competition when he has the 108x in dummy with the Kxx in hand and has his RHO switch to either the queen or jack through his hand. That defensive start could be from AQx, AJ9, Q9x, J9x, QJx, AQ9, QJ9, or AJ9 but the knowledge that RHO knows discards for that suit are on the way for declarer so he must attack it now?

Sometimes getting one trick for declarer may fail. I estimate I have dealt with this specific combination at least 12 to 15 times over perhaps maybe 45 years of high level competition against some of the very best and one thing for sure, in all cases the defender has led the right defensive card at the least opportune time for me.

Of course, sometimes, which number is also included in my overall memory, it was either my partner or me who returned the puzzle to others.

My memory also tells me that in all cases I remember (perhaps with a forget, but likely not) never once did declarer go trickless.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Hi Mircea,

I did it again. Subtract the second AJ9 and add Qxx and Jxx in order to cover (if I haven’t failed again) the possibilities.

Sorry, but patience is not a virtue of mine.

jim2November 20th, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Iain –

I really liked the Schrodinger’s Cat joke that was on Bones a few weeks ago.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Hi Mircea,

Please now add AJx and I should, in order to properly pose it, stipulate either the Q or the J to always be the first lead.

Who knows, but these corrections may continue to last all day.

Iain ClimieNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Hi Jim2, I’ll try to track it down as I rarely watch TV when working away from home. If you can find a youtube reference or similar, I’d love to look ar it.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Hi Jim2.

Please tell me, since believe it or not I had to recently look up what Schrodinger’s Cat was all about, it being new to me.

Iain ClimieNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Was it “The corpse at the convention…” episode? I found references!

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Hi to those still interested,

The odds on just guessing right on my card combination (by just flipping a coin) would be (I think) exactly 3 to 1 in favor of declarer getting one trick.

However, The tricky one of RHO leading the Q or the J from Q9x or J9x would force declarer to play the queen the first time to have a chance for a trick, so maybe I am just wrong with my 3 to 1.

Could similar odds effect Schrodinger’s Cat or would odds never apply?

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

This is going from bad to worse, since my queen should be the king.

Forgive me, for I do not know from what I do.

jim2November 20th, 2014 at 9:28 pm

The first 27 seconds here:

Iain ClimieNovember 20th, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Thanks Jim2, I’ll check that.

Back to the bridge for a moment though. Can the defence be certain that the opposing holding is Kxx in hand? If there is any possibility that declarer has Kx then he will have tto rise with the king, so AJx, AJ9, AQx and AQ9 become less likely, especially iif dummy has winners for discards. Similarly, iif an honour comes through and is covered, LHO will need very strong nerves not to cash out at pairs or point a board.

Rule of restricted choice maybe argues against RHO having Q and J, but partnership confidence and discipline may suggest that east with QJ9 will still lead the Q. I’m not really helping get this right, though, just flagging extra possibilities. The losing option will always be there; maybe the trick is to find the line where the annoyance at getting it wrong is minimised, although that may be more about mental strength.


PeteNovember 21st, 2014 at 8:59 am

Hi Bobby,
Could you please answer a bunch of questions about inverted minor suit raises. I play them with several partners in the local duplicate club, and I don’t believe I particularly like them.
1) What is your opinion of inverted minor raises?
2) Presumably the 2 of a minor bid includes both limit and forcing raises. Therefore is the bid forcing to either 2N or 3 of the minor?
3) Would you use them in competition? Over an overcall? Over a double? If not would the cue bid and redouble be used to show the strong raise?
4) If not using them, would you play 3 of the minor as limit? If so what would your forcing raise be?
5) Now a specific hand. Playing 2/1 I held S – Q,10,9 H – 9
D – A,9,8,6 C – A,K,J,10,5
Partner opened 1D. I didn’t like 3H(splinter), so I bid 2D. Perhaps 2C would have been better. Partner bid 2S, I bid 3C. Partner bid 3D, and I bid 3S. I thought it was forcing, but partner passed. What is your opinion on that?
It turns out that 4S (Moysian Fit) is the highest scoring contract as 5C and 5D are the limit in the minor suits. However 3N made at many tables. Partner had H – Q,3 but opening leader with A,K,10,8 either underled the A,K or didn’t lead the suit.
Thank you for listening to all this.

bobby wolffNovember 21st, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hi Pete,

My guess is that, like many other modern conventional responses, inverted minors have both good and not so features.


1. Setting a trump suit, thus allowing cue and value showing suit bidding early and, more importantly, finding the strain to be played, leaving only the level to be determined.

2. Clear and unambiguous understandings, although some of your examples (like passing 3 spades) not consistent with #1 above.

3. Level, especially with minor suits the lowest possible, leaving more room for how high decisions, never a bad thing.


1. Because of the 3 card minor suit openings recommended, partner should then (at least theoretically have at least 5) which severely limits the intended experiment.

2. Whenever 4 card majors are held by the responder, it is difficult (and probably dead wrong) to pass over those frequent hands in order to keep the bidding low with an inverted raise.

3. Possibly more often than expected, we are dealt length in partner’s minor,

but because of the vulnerability it becomes dangerous to jump to 3 when such a weak hand is held, but it conflicts with showing partner support and is not nearly as dangerous when we can now do it at the 2 level. e.g s. s. xx, h. Jx, d. J10xx, c. Kxxxx, becomes very dangerous to jump 1 diamond to 3 instead of only 2, but equally wrong to simply pass.

Going further, using only a few random back and forth hands to determine is not nearly enough, but rather how the concept appeals to the partnership should probably influence the important decision of whether to play inverted raises or not.

Playing inverted minors hasn’t ever appealed to me, mostly because of the above, which I feel is a net minus.

However, others may legitimately disagree and, at least for them, they should follow their heart and play them.

Because of the scoring system, the game itself is more concerned with 3NT and a major suit fit, and while a major suit fit is provided for while playing inverted minor suit raises with the earlier bidding, still because of that, minor suits still need to be in the picture, but not with an immediate inverted raise.

That fact alone sometimes confuses, particular inexperienced players, into not timing the auction in a winning way, and the decision on what bids are GF instead of just one round, which, in turn seems to complicate partnership choices, and after consideration seems to occur more often when less than perfect hands (majors and minors) are dealt.

Sorry to be ambivalent, but much of bridge bidding system and convention choices belong in that category.

Good luck!