Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Christmas is over and Business is Business.

Franklin Pierce Adams

South North
Neither ♠ A 9 7
 8 7
 A 6 4 3 2
♣ K 5 2
West East
♠ 8 6 5 4 3
 9 2
 9 5
♣ Q J 10 7
♠ K Q J
 Q J 10 6
 Q J 8 7
♣ 9 4
♠ 10 2
 A K 5 4 3
 K 10
♣ A 8 6 3
South West North East

It is Xmas; your choice!

That depends…

Since it is Christmas Day, here is a hand from my collection of bridge curios. Which of the five basic game contracts – three no-trumps, four hearts, four spades, five clubs or five diamonds – can be made against any defense?

Let’s start with three no-trumps. If South is declarer, then any lead from the West hand leads to defeat. And if North is at the helm, any lead from East apart from a low diamond does the damage.

Let us consider a contract of five clubs by South next, a contract where 10 tricks can be garnered, regardless of the lead, but not 11. Again, only a low diamond lead from East will allow North to get home. Five diamonds fares even less successfully, since no more than nine tricks are available there.

Four hearts certainly has play, but a club or diamond lead followed by accurate defense thereafter should suffice to defeat that contract. So what are we left with?

Remarkably, the only game that can be made, against any defense, is four spades.

A trump lead might look best, but declarer takes the trick and cashes his six plain winners ending in hand, followed by a heart ruff, overruffing West if necessary. Then comes a diamond ruff with the spade 10 as East helplessly follows suit, and a final heart ruff with dummy’s remaining trump. That makes 10 tricks.

It was Richard Pavlicek who initially devised this deal – my thanks go to him.

Eli Culbertson might have argued that two aces and a king constituted an opening bid, especially when coupled with a five-card suit. I would probably look at the very poor spot-cards and decide that I could afford to pass this hand, but would not disagree strongly with someone taking the other approach. Give me the diamond 10-9, or a little more shape in the side-suits, and I'd change my mind.


♠ A 9 7
 8 7
 A 6 4 3 2
♣ K 5 2
South West North East

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 WarheitJanuary 8th, 2015 at 10:39 am

Rule: you must open if you have a) 14HCP, b) 3QT, c) 6 or fewer losers. Also, if you have 7 losers and 13HCP or 7 losers and 2½QT or occasional other hands, typically filled with 10s and 9s. The key to hand evaluation to determine whether or not to open is LOSING TRICK COUNT. The BWA hand has only 11HCP, 2½QT & 8 losers. Pass.

David Warheit

leonJanuary 8th, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Hi Bobby,

Funny hand.
What bidding sequence do you suggest to reach 4S 🙂


Iain ClimieJanuary 8th, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Hi Bobby,

There is a composed hand where NS can make 6H with A10 only in hand opposite K7 in dummy unless a trump is led. LHO has H65432 and RHO has HQJ98. Declarer cashes 8 side winners ending in hand then leads a plain suit to which RHO must follow, thus making the H7. A suit declarer can ruff from table forces east to ruff high, declarer overruffs then ruffs again with the HK, rho underruffing, and makes the H10 en passant at T12 or 13.

Today’s hand is better, though!



Jeff SJanuary 8th, 2015 at 2:34 pm

I like the how to get to four spades question. It requires quite a bit of fantasy, but why not? E aggressively opens 1H playing four card majors. South, reliving his youth and forgetting all about modern bidding, doubles. His partner takes out the double to 2D. East, with nothing more to say, passes.

South bids 2H intending it to be natural, but his partner reads it as a cue bid indicating strength, but no real support for diamonds. Picturing his partner with KQJTS and some other nice cards to boot, puts in 4S and South – thinking his partner must have very long spades and diamonds leaves in the 10-trick game.

It’s the best I can do at 6:30 in the morning. Since Christmas really is over and business is business – off to work!

Bill CubleyJanuary 8th, 2015 at 3:06 pm


Richard Pavlicek makes up some tough problems. It is a loss for bridge that he no longer plays.

I have kibitzed him at some Vanderbilt/Spingold matches and he always played very well. But they lost when I kibitzed. So I offered getting some regional free plays from Richard if I stayed away from the nationals. He did enjoy the humor.

His life is Mabel and it is a wonderful romance.

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Hi David,

Thank you for your evaluation of what you look to, before deciding whether to open the bidding.

The plus of your thinking is a combination of mind discipline and, at least, the attempt at consistency of evaluation. To that is added adequate defense, in the case of a competitive sequence and what your partner could expect.

While I find nothing critically wrong with your reasoning, hence basically saying, go for it, let me compare your thoughts with what the very high level current world class bridge experts are thinking and definitely applying.

They believe that when opening the bidding with other than pass, many unseen advantages accrue:

1. Start out with an offensive thrust which, upon immediately finding a fit, is often enabling to arriving quickly at a playable final contract, even if the result is only a good sacrifice against what the opponents can make.

2. More times than not, when eventually having to defend, the right opening lead will be suggested to partner, in case he becomes that opening leader.

3. When pass is initially chosen, that player is conceding that by the time the bidding gets back to him (the other three to speak), the bidding may then have preempted him out of being able to risk finding a magic fit, often the difference between winning and losing a match where top players are directly competing against each other.

4. Saving the best reason for last, I think all would agree that the biggest advantage is the potential loss of bidding space taken away from one’s worthy opponents, making them guess rather than be relatively certain of arriving at their best contract.

5. In order to consider the above reasons for opening “light” that partnership MUST not randomly double their opponents based on defensive tricks promised, since none are.

6. Finally and to keep this subject from becoming boring, let me just give a few examples of the type hands which might fit:

A. s. KQ10xxx, h. void d. QJ10xx, c. Qx,

B. s. x, h. AKxxxx, d. Q10xx, c. xx,

C. s. K10xxxx, h. QJ10xx, d. void c. Qx

D. s. xx, h. x d. AKJxx, c. Qxxxx

All the above would be opened with one of that player’s best suit (longest or higher ranked).

However, not:

A. s. 10xxxxx, h. Q d . KQ10xx c. K

B. s. x, h. Qx, d. J10xxx, c. AQJxx (but close)

because of the wrong lead direction when outbid. With B, reverse the minors and it qualifies.

However there are also super players who believe in opening s. Q10x, h. Kxx, d. AQxx c. xxx in whatever vulnerability and also whichever seat one is in, meaning when everyone has passed up to with the likely exception of 4th seat, since partner has already passed, lessening the chance for his side to be able to buy a successful contract.

My advice is only for our best and brightest upcoming players to discuss the above, and then after more experience (only playing against peers or better) decide for themselves whether they think that approach is better, and if so, be sure to objectively discuss later what might have happened if the above strategy was implemented.

Objective, not emotional, judgment is required
to get it right for that partnership to learn from this type of experience since the results will be very varied and therefore wide reaching.

jim2January 8th, 2015 at 4:11 pm

I wonder if Richard got this hand from the 1993 Lower Slobbovia Slush Cup?

My partner and I actually ended up in four spades, doubled no less! Imagine my surprise when pard wrapped it up for +790.

Sadly, our partners were ALSO in four spades doubled. North decided to prevent ruffs by going AS – spade, but -800 was just enough to lose the board ….

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Hi Leon,

Are you trying to kid me? After partner, as dealer opens 1 heart with the South hand and West passes, simply jump to 4 spades, with the A97 and hope for 10x in support. Finding eight card fits, especially in a major, is usually the goal, as it is with this hand.

Do not let the extraneous fact that it is the opponents who hold the eight cards dismay you.

Told my group that this should be an April Fools hand (April 1st in the USA)) instead of a Xmas fairy tale, but they, of course, overruled me. Likely because of the quote which had already been chosen.

Just misplaced my tongue, but what else is new?

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, trick hands have abounded in bridge and back in the halcyon days of bridge (perhaps 70+ years ago), many popular magazines carried monthly bridge articles, at times featuring hands like you have described.

They blend in well with youth, learning, excitement and interest causing me to dream, if I were king, would appear in a bridge curriculum, if only to describe the unusual nature of what sometimes offers trump tricks when some lucky common bridge combinations appear.

To which hand is better, yours or today’s, is strictly in the eyes of the beholder and, in either case, thanks for your contribution.

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for your honest effort to explain the unexplainable. However, we haven’t yet heard from the guy coming home early in the morning covered with lipstick with his clothes in disarray, explaining to his wife how he was robbed and then run over by a truck carrying red paint, but by a miracle was not killed.

Later he repented, but changed his thoughts about the results of the miracle.

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Hi Bill,

Just knowing Richard Pavlicek has been one of the highlights of my bridge life.

He has always represented a combination of what is the very best in bridge, a really great player, super ethical, superior sportsman, teacher extraodinaire, huge contributor to the future of our game, off-the-charts father, and a beacon of strength and love by devoting many years to caring for his beloved wife, Mabel.

Thanks for allowing me to focus on Richard and may God bless.

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

Wonderful memory feat from the slush regional and despite losing 3 tricks on the defense by leading ace and one trump against 4 spades doubled EW, still managed 6 more (3 aces and kings).

In B-A-M a loss but in IMPs a push making it somewhat sad for scoring up +790 NS by playing a weak 5 card combined trump suit for 10 tricks and only 25 HCPs to work with which could tempt a bridge partnership to either think of suicide or instead do the really unthinkable and split up.

At last reports your EW teammates were blaming your side (NS) for not finding a way to score up an overtrick in your same contract of 4 spades doubled to overcome their unlucky result.

Slushed again!

David WarheitJanuary 8th, 2015 at 6:51 pm

A. s. KQ10xxx, h. void d. QJ10xx, c. Qx,
B. s. x, h. AKxxxx, d. Q10xx, c. xx,
C. s. K10xxxx, h. QJ10xx, d. void c. Qx
D. s. xx, h. x d. AKJxx, c. Qxxxx

Note that A has but 5 losers and 2 excellent suits, B has 6 losers and 2 good suits, and D has 6 losers and one excellent suit. C has 6 losers, but you must add one for the hand being aceless, and that plus only 8HCP with a minus for a Q doubleton, and it would never occur to me to open, plus, holding both majors, it should be easy to back in to the auction. Also, assume the auction goes p-1c-p-1d & you now bid 2S since you have no conventional way of showing both majors, but you just did show both majors, since otherwise why didn’t you open the bidding 2S? Notice that now you have pre-empted the opponents without in the least deceiving partner as to your defensive strength which you would have done had you opened 1S, and you have gotten your H suit on the table as well..

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Hi David,

First, remember I acknowledged with satisfaction your valuation process, and although not a losing trick advocate, likely will use some of the same tools you do.

However, my overall judgment is not as disciplined as yours, but perhaps, because of both of our relatively long experience, one way or the other, will choose the same bid.

However, apparently you plan the whole auction or at least the first couple of bids before making your initial choice. Mine is mostly catch as catch can, after quickly only worrying about my first rebid (e.g. 4 diamonds and 5 clubs or 4 hearts and 5 diamonds).

I also do not think as deeply as you do about ways to later show both majors after passing, since sometimes before it comes back to me the auction is already at a high level (3 or 4).

Also, for what it is worth, if I hold something close to s. AQJx, xx, Qxxxx, xx being NV and hearing my RHO open 1 natural club, I will overcall 1 spade, not only for a lead, but even more so, to help preempt the opponents and hope partner can raise immediately, or better yet jump.

Does that sort of action always work? No, of course not, but in the long run it does IMO make my partnership a tougher one to play against by denying worthy opponents the opportunity to have the freedom of an unimpeded path to success and, almost as important, sometimes create false reads to them who become afraid to declare 3NT because of their particular holding in my overcalled suit.

Most of the above, including the overall subject is more tactical than it is scientific, but if asked, I will suggest that the strategy of the game (when technical talent is close to even) plays a significant role in determining finish.

In games of relatively huge talent and experience differences between the competitors, it then IMO becomes a random exercise in beat the palooka where the technical advantages pale in comparison to the strategy.

Whatever the above, I never have doubted (and now for years) that you, as a player, are a fierce competitor with significant knowledge of the whole game and even more importantly, demand respect with your views.

BryJanuary 12th, 2015 at 3:01 pm

on the 4 Hearts game, West leads the Q clubs
What is the accurate defense if it holds?

Is letting west win the club the best line for South to give the defense a chance to go wrong?