Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

Book of Matthew

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


At the table West led the heart eight against three no-trump, which went to East's king, declarer playing the jack. Without giving the matter too much thought, East continued with ace and another heart, and declarer won and cashed his last heart, pitching a diamond from dummy, then crossed to the club queen and led a spade towards his jack. East plunged in with the queen and shifted to a diamond; too late. Declarer had nine tricks now when the spades came in. How many mistakes were made here?

When East saw the jack from declarer he should have realized that his partner’s heart lead could not be fourth-highest. Were that so, his partner would have begun life with Q-10-9-8 and he would have led the 10, rather than a low card. So East should have shifted to a diamond – a play that required the least from his partner, in the form of four diamonds to the king. A club shift, by contrast might both need his partner to have good clubs and for declarer to have a singleton spade.

And what about declarer’s play to the first trick? Could he have followed suit with a card that might have been less revealing about his holding? I believe so. Had he followed with the heart 10 at the first trick, East might legitimately have played his partner for Q-J-9-8-x of hearts, when the initial lead of a low heart would have been at least a plausible alternative to a high card.

There are two questions here. The first is whether to go low with a response of three hearts, or to commit the hand to game. In the latter case the next question is whether to bid four hearts or to offer a choice of games with a four diamond cuebid. Given the solidity of the heart spots, a 4-3 fit may play just fine, so I would bid four hearts here.


♠ J 6
 Q J 10 9
 Q 8
♣ K 9 8 7 6
South West North East
Pass 3 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


Iain ClimieJanuary 14th, 2015 at 9:32 am

Hi Bobby,

On the bid hand, I recall some advice that the doubler should assume that his partner has around 7-9 points, otherwise pre-empters will rob the stronger side blind on frequent occasions when 2nd hand talks himself out of taking action. Needless to say, this does not avoid the odd case where the pre-empters partner has (say) a 4-4-1-4 hand with a 16 count and huge defence and disaster follows, but do you think the advice is sound?

Isn’t 4H a bit pushy (although tempting at teams) given the probably wasted DQ? There again, modern pre-empting style doesn’t preclude our partner here having DAJx or similar when the card is rather useful. I’d be much happier if the DQ was the SQ and also isn’t two diamonds often the nightmare holding, with the possibility of partner not being that short?



bobby wolffJanuary 14th, 2015 at 11:04 am

Hi Iain,

Of course, bidding over preempts is risky, demands good judgment, and is not a short cut to superior results.

Yes responding 4 hearts is a tad “pushy” and by choice of strain, for the most part, rules out alternate contracts of 4 spades, 5 clubs, or IMO 3NT, especially so if partner has three diamonds to a major honor.

So, what if, after doubling pard now bids 3 spades over your alternate choice of only 3 hearts, what next?

Sue me, sue me, shoot arrows through me, but against any good player wielding his 3 diamond NV preempt, why not counter his attack by chirping 3NT?

We’ll never know the result, but over a course of a lifetime, as long as the preemptor is not known far and wide as a thoroughly solid citizen, I will respond with 3NT. My values are just too fragile for a 10 trick 4 spade contract, especially when played from the wrong side.

Iain ClimieJanuary 14th, 2015 at 11:16 am

Hi Bobby,

The 3N over 3S is an interesting thought, especially as partner will, hopefully realise that the diamond “stop” may be shaky. It does raise the question of why partner didn’t bid 3S in the first place – presumably he hasn’t just got spades and a minimum hand or he’d have bid 3S in the first place, while he might have done the same with (say) 5-2-2-4 and a minimum. Presumably 3S is therefore quite positive, even forcing, or am I missing a trick here? In any event, bidding over it does seem indicated.

I do know some partners with whom the sense of humour failure would make me bid 4C over 3S, though. They just wouldn’t see the funny side of watching my LHO cash DAKJxxxx.



Jeff SJanuary 14th, 2015 at 1:27 pm

On the column hand, yes, 10H may have been a better follow, but isn’t the game going to given away on the next trick regardless of how South follows? In which case, it would seem East should still be able to work out the diamond shift. Or was the point that it might work out better sometimes since maybe East doesn’t have the AH, even though from where we sit, the 8H sure looks like a top of nothing lead.

As always, thank you for the column and the dialogue. They are definite day-brighteners.

bobby wolffJanuary 14th, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, by first doubling and then bidding 3 spades, will show a trick to a trick and a half better hand (about 5 or 6 points on average) to a mere 3 spade bid immediately. Also when holding s. AQ10xx, h. Kx, d. Axx, c. J10x 3 spades and nothing else is called for. However when holding s. AQ10xx, h. Kxx, d. Ax, C. AQx first double and then 3 spades going forward, rings the bell.

Believe it or not, not learning these gradation differences, sometimes keep otherwise natural players from reaching their full potential. A good bridge mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially when only small logical disciplines need to be coordinated for maximum to be achieved. However, like in golf, never up, never in, some players seem to always find ways to fall short of what should have been dealt to them.

And on a personal note, if I may be too bold, perhaps the above serves as an Achilles heel to you since with our discussing, it becomes evident that you are not missing any other needed discipline to jump up the success ladder. Luck is sometimes defined as when opportunity meets success and, of course, that also implies finding a kindred spirit who also exudes the talent necessary to understand our game and together you two will surely grow exponentially, unless, of course, there become human roadblocks in your direct path.

bobby wolffJanuary 14th, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the follow up and certainly for your very kind words.

Most of the misreads by otherwise talented defenders come from undisciplined choices on opening lead by those who have not appreciated defensive disciplines which at key times are the difference between a top or bottom result. Sure, to effect a winning consistent partnership those deals need always to be judged right, but sometimes there is not enough discussing between only occasional partnerships or even if so, it is not 100% remembered.

Neither Rome was built in a day, nor a potential top line bridge partnership just evolved, but, in bridge, the necessary time was allocated and then the hoped for results began to emerge.

Like the study of law being a very jealous mistress, so is the learning of what it takes to compete in bridge at a very high level. That will never change, presto, time needs to be allocated, without which it will not be achieved.

Whether it is worth it or not is a choice, but with bridge now in various world wide school curriculums, I am optimistic that our great game will occupy its place in the sun for many decades and centuries. Some Hemispheres will lag behind, but if so, they will soon learn their weaknesses and will hopefully quickly catch up. The logic involved with our game will serve as a positive beacon to all who have the imagination to understand its value.

I can only feel sorry for those who will have to wait in order to join the herd, but individual agendas being what they are, will, like so many other enterprises, slow down the process. Kudos to Europe and China who have so far blazed a trail which may be everlasting.

Iain ClimieJanuary 14th, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your kind comments, and I do often wonder what might have been if I hadn’t got disillusioned with the game around 1984-5 then quit playing (apart from informal games) from 1986 to 2011. I learned later from a 3rd party that Ray Brock reckoned I should have achieved far more, although I had some reasonable tournament success. This raises the question of what is required in a partnership too make it work at top level.

At one stage, I played a fair amount with a guy about a year younger than myself whom we’ll call SG. He was good and we worked well until anything went wrong when explosions generally followed! I suspect that partnerships work best with one slightly solid partner and one more prone to taking a view – albeit with the solid partner’s tolerance if it misfires. I don’t know if you think this is sensible, but would be interested in your views – I don’t think 2 overly solid pards or 2 excessively flighty ones work best. Probably the best judge of why I under-achieved would be Barry Rigal, although I haven’t seen him since 1983; he does live your side of the pond now. I suspect that his views would focus on temperament and lack of self-discipline, so the truth might hurt.



bobby wolffJanuary 15th, 2015 at 4:54 am

Hi Iain,

Any guess as to the whats, whys and wherefores of at least appearing to be successful at bridge, becomes exactly that, a guess.

Like so many other things, especially in a relatively long life, fate, is as guilty as any other factor in determining. Throw in the timing when partners and teammates were peaking and the blend of all that could at least be the prime factor of having a positive run.

Of course careful planning usually will help, although unforeseen circumstances could easily monkey wrench all the best laid plans.

The development of the Aces bridge team was clear and powerful, although the original players who were both chosen and accepted certainly had their up and downs. Everyone did improve, but when the Aces discarded a prime systems and theorist genius in favor of a disciplinarian colonel from the Strategic Air Command all of us moved up a notch in the right direction.

Sure both temperament and self-discipline are too often in short supply, but both are necessary in order to combat the illusion of being unlucky. All worthwhile projects are almost always very tentative, leaving it up to Lawyer Carl Albert Perroux of Italy way back in the mid 1950’s to put together the original Blue Team. His disciplines were very simple and to the point which enabled three great players and the rest mediocre club experts to dominate world bridge to the tune of 14 world championships. No one (IMO) could match their three top players, but winning teams, especially these days need a full quota of six. However Perroux demanded something a little different and got compliance.

Presto Magico, it worked, but in reality it didn’t.

It all depends on what one wishes for in life.