Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 15th, 2014

You see, but you do not observe.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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


It is important as Sherlock Holmes once remarked, to focus on what did not happen as well on what does take place. Here, when West opened the bidding with one spade, emphasizing his higher-ranking suit both because of its quality and for its pre-emptive value, North and East both passed. South now balanced with two hearts, and when North bid two spades, it was an Unassuming Cuebid, agreeing hearts and showed a maximum pass. South now took a somewhat rosy view of his hand by jumping to game.

West cashed two top spades then led a third to East’s queen, ruffed by South. Next came the diamond three, to the seven, queen and king. Back came a club, won by dummy’s king, but now declarer took the trump finesse and when that lost, down went the game.

South had been on the right track by testing the diamonds early. When East turned up with the king, that, coupled with his possession of the spade queen brought him to five points. If East had also held the heart king, it would have given him eight — more than enough for a response to West’s opening bid. So West was known to hold the trump king and declarer had to hope it was singleton.

Incidentally, East could have made life more difficult for declarer by withholding the diamond king on the first round of the suit, since West’s seven looked suspiciously like the top of a doubleton. In all probability South would have continued with the trump finesse, on the assumption that West held the diamond king. Then East would still have come to the diamond king in the fullness of time.

There is no good reason not to lead hearts here. I can make a decent case for leading the queen rather than a low heart, since if dummy has the king, and your partner the ace-jack, you might in this way be able to lead hearts repeatedly, and force declarer to ruff, thus depriving him of trump control. I'm not sure I'd make this play without the heart 10.


♠ K 8 4 2
 Q 10 3
 Q 8 2
♣ J 9 2
South West North East
Pass 1 1 1♠
2 Pass Pass 2♠
All 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


David WarheitDecember 30th, 2014 at 2:16 am

I am bothered by the EW bidding on today’s hand. First, E has, it seems to me, a clear raise to 2S. The way I count, E has 5HCP + 1 for the SQ. Six points equals a raise in my book. Selling out to 4H was, of course, correct, but I am reasonably sure that at any other vulnerability either 4S or 5C is probably only down 2 so a good save, assuming NS would make 4H. Second, I would open the W hand 1C, not 1S, even though my S are much better than my C Again, at this vulnerability EW have to sell out to 4H, but at any other vulnerability surely E would raise 1C to 2C and then after S bids 2H, surely W would bid 2S, and now EW are in as good a position as possible to decide what to do if the opponents land in 4H. I’d be interested in your thinking about how EW should bid in the various vulnerable situations.

Finally, note that even if E had raised to 2S, assuming E wins the first D, S should still be able to drop the HK, since it is now known that W would only have 10HCP for his opening bid if he lacked the HK.

bobby wolffDecember 30th, 2014 at 6:20 am

Hi David,

While the bridge judgment as declarer points itself at directly dropping the singleton king of hearts is well enough described, the bidding around the table (as you discuss) is certainly subject to different opinions.

I would lean to opening 1 spade, not 1 club as West. 1. I want a spade lead if the opponents outbid us and partner is on lead, 2. The preemptive value of a simple 1 spade opening as opposed to either minor should never be underrated. Especially so when the opponents are vulnerable since, unless one of the opponents has a clear cut bid (not always present) we might steal the hand from VC’s (vulnerable cowards). 3. Whenever after opening the bidding with 1 spade and being immediately raised to 3 (limit raise) or better yet 4 (a usual preemptive raise with somewhat random values) we may be creating a large positive swing, even when 4th seat has a good enough hand to bid 5 of his best suit. If instead a double by him can also lead to the opponents (even worthy ones) doing the wrong thing either bidding or just as dangerous, not, or, if so, and at that level, not selecting the best trump suit since they have been severely crowded instead of not being pressured.

The above sequence is precisely why I have always preferred a 4 card major system, since these preemptive thefts (sometimes just teasing the opponents to compete one level higher than they want and suffering a one trick set, when we are down a couple at 4 of a major).

Show me a very good player who never enters into psychological bridge battles with his very good opponents and I’ll show you a very good player who doesn’t win nearly as much as he should.

As to bidding 2 spades with the East hand, I think it a tossup. Many good players these days, while playing a GF 2 over 1 with a forcing 1NT response would opt for 1NT with then a correction to minimum spades the next round.

Other tricky good players might do the same thing with s. Jxxxx, h. x, d. Jxxx, c. xxx in order to give the opponents a false read, with the relatively good chance of not worrying about fooling one’s partner since, whatever partner bids he can return to spades at the minimum level and if partner continues to bid, he will have a chance to score it up, because of the offensive playing value of the weak, but big trump fit hand.

Yes, I often sidetrack the discussions to what I think is an underrated and misunderstood part of the game, especially against excellent opponents. Good players who rarely make card play errors and are also good judges of their values in the bidding, do not fare nearly as well as good players who are very tough to play against and have good judgment when throwing nails on the bridge highway in front of their adversaries.

Finally I can only randomize my advice on bidding competitively, but again when in that position it is similar to a poker game, where the idea is 1. to do the right thing your direction and 2. just as important tantalize the opponents into doing the wrong thing their way.

Do not ever be stereotyped against very good player(s), or else the value of your red herrings is more likely to not work.

Your questions are all very relevant to separating winners and losers and only experience, not superior intelligence or brilliant bridge talent, often helps the most.

Bill CubleyJanuary 3rd, 2015 at 8:45 pm

Holmes “There was the curious incident of the dog in the night”
Watson “The dog did nothing”
Holmes “That was the curious incident”

From Silver Blaze.

I have a hand I call Silver Baze when I was in 2H once. Ducked a stiff queen on opening lead. Got a switch into a finesse for me.
I held the 9 and 7 of hearts facing AJ864. So I led the seven, LHO played low quickly and I let it run and picked up the stiff 5 from Sliver Baze himself in a pro am we were both in. Bridge Today’s Matt Granovetter ran the 1992 event in California.

And Eric Leong thought it odd that Kyle Larsen said I was playing well. I trust you mentioned that to him as you left the table.