Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T. S. Eliot

South North
Neither ♠ A J 7 2
 K 10 7 6 2
 7 5
♣ 8 3
West East
♠ 5 3
 Q J 8 4
 6 4 3
♣ Q J 5 4
♠ Q 4
 A J 10 9 8
♣ K 10 9 7 6
♠ K 10 9 8 6
 A 5 3
 K Q 2
♣ A 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass 2♠ 2 NT
Dbl. 3♣ 3 Pass
4♠ All pass    


When opponents employ a gadget that defines a particular distribution, the information given can often be turned to your advantage. But South missed the point here, and suffered the consequences.

The defenders started by leading clubs, setting up a winner for themselves. South won and returned the suit, and West hopped up with the jack to play a diamond, knowing from his own holding that there was little benefit to having his partner play the suit through declarer. East took the ace and played back the suit, and South now knew that East had 10 cards in the minors, so the spade finesse was odds on to succeed. When he lost to the doubleton queen, a heart loser was inevitable later on, and that was down one.

It was only later, much later, that South realized he had misplayed the hand. After coming on lead with a diamond, what he should have done was take his last diamond winner, then play a heart to dummy’s king, and another heart towards his ace.

If East had ruffed the second heart, he would only have been ruffing a loser; if East followed suit, declarer could be almost certain that East held at most a singleton spade and West could be finessed with greater certitude.

Note that declarer cannot embark on this information-gathering process before cutting the defenders’ communications in the minors. Otherwise East might ruff the second heart and cross to his partner in clubs for a second ruff.

One possibility is to cuebid three clubs to set up a game force. But since you really do not know what strain you belong in – even facing a club stopper, it is best to start with a card-showing double to save a round of bidding. You can cuebid three clubs at your next turn if you want.


♠ K 10 9 8 6
 K 5 3
 K Q 2
♣ A 2
South West North East
1 Pass
1♠ 2♣ Pass 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Shantanu RastogiFebruary 5th, 2015 at 9:43 am

Hello Mr Wolff

1. I think you explain beautifully with this deal the need for declarer to cut opponents communication by returning the club. This workd even when east is 3055.
2. IN BWTA I know your aversion for support doubles but suppose we are playing that then North’s pass denies 3 spades so only possible contract is 3 NT or a penalty of 2 Clubs doubled. So vulnerabilty would come into play also.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 5th, 2015 at 9:48 am

PS: with 3055 discovery play may not work but there is nothing wrong in returning the club. How would you suggest the card play ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Your inquiring mind, which so often leads to on the spot bridge knowledge and information (honoring the quote), is again in action.

Furthermore, the word discovery, in my memory, first applied to bridge by Terence Reese in his marvelous book, “Master Play” or “The Expert Game” (called both), by featuring it with a chapter heading. His initiative has given you and other mega bridge lovers a telltale expression which so often makes a genuine critical impact.

True, if East held a 3-0-5-5 distribution the line of play suggested would, no doubt go down in flames, but since bridge is a percentage game, both, 2-1-5-5 and 1-2-5-5 are more likely, although because of the possible singleton spade queen it, no doubt becomes very close.

Going still further, the possibility of a singleton heart honor with East complicates the play even more.

Perhaps when bridge gets firmly in school systems world wide (good luck with that), in the third or fourth year the column hand can be discussed, only to possibly discount it as being anti-percentage, in the following year.

In any event the column is what it is, a tantalizer to the willing enthusiast, though unwashed, but cold hard reality when faced with it during an important match.

So as not to be thought of as a fence sitter, I will only offer that it is not critical which line of play is chosen, only that the column line suggested is one of the choices.

To answer your second question, my strong dislike for “support doubles” comes 90+% percent because I think it helps the worthy opponents (when there are some) more often, and sometimes to a critical degree, than it does one’s own partnership (usually when the bidding becomes competitively justified). Here, assuming support doubles (SD) are not played, does not really inconvenience NS much, if any, to take a slower way to go about choosing the final contract. Even if partner chose a SD, I would still test out NT as an alternate contract, by cue bidding 3 clubs, before just choosing spades willy-nilly, although, while not playing SD and having partner raise spades (often with 3 and some ruffing values) I would then just chirp 4 spades, although others may not rule out a possible slam.

Thanks always, for your helpful thought provocations.

jim2February 5th, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Playing the third diamond is a safe discovery play, of course, because the Board can over ruff West should East have been dealt six diamonds. When West follows suit to all three leads, East is revealed to have started with precisely five diamonds.

That much is clear to me. Less clear is how declarer can deduce that East has only ten minor suit cards, hence only five clubs. That is, why cannot East be 1-1-5-6? Would not the play have gone the same if West had, say, QJx of clubs?

Iain ClimieFebruary 5th, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Hi Bobby, Jim2,

Is there an extra chance covering both 2155 and 1156 here? If declarer eliminates both minors and tries the avoidance play, east not ruffing, then cashing the spade king and then finessing either picks up the trumps or end plays east to give a ruff and discard.



bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

While not discounting your analysis (it speaks for itself), since West chose 3 clubs when he could have passed, it could be thought of by declarer that with equal length he “might” have declined to choose and merely passed. That, of course, together with West following to 3 diamonds is, at least some reason to suspect 5-5 in the minors with East.

bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Hi Iain,

Sounds almost foolproof to me and if after adopting your line East shows up with, s. Qx, h. Jx, d. AJ10xx, c. xxxx, play would soon stop, possibly never to resume.

East, as the RR might say, “Yes, bridge is a bidder’s game and I am trying to prove it, and besides your temper, what’s up doc?”. However RR has not gotten out with his heart jack yet, and perhaps will decide not to.

Other than the above and even including it, I will hire you to represent the column on this and all future disagreements. However the pay is scarce and I’d rather owe it to you than beat you out of it.

jim2February 5th, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Would QJ7 versus 643 not merit a preference by many?

Iain ClimieFebruary 5th, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Hi Bobby,

Doesn’t the avoidance play still remove both east’s hearts, then (with minor suits hone) the rabbit is still caught? On the subject of RR, I wonder if Mollo’s creation would have looked like Roger Rabbit? Just as long as he wasn’t partnering Jessica. The fair sex is under-represented in bridge literature (I think) although I’ll probably now be swamped by counterr-examples apart from Mrs. Guggenheim and Aunt Agatha.


bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

It would be to me, but having a lot to do with which one of our side is more likely to be the opening leader. In this particular case it is going to be me, so then the number assumes more importance and with equal length, it is better to let partner choose.

Going one step further, sometimes it is worth several tricks, particularly when one side is sacrificing against an opponents game or slam to play the longest trump suit in order to be able to set up another suit, almost always the other suit shown with a 2 suiter.

For example, holding: s. x, h. AKJ10x, d. KQ10xxx, c. x and hearing RHO open 1 spade. With all vulnerabilities I would overcall 2 hearts but then lets assume LHO jumps to 4 spades, passed around. I think it necessary to have a way to not only bid diamonds but to tell partner you, the overcaller, have longer diamonds than hearts.

I think the best, and possibly only, way to announce that is to first bid 4NT, alerting partner that something unusual is up (with 6-5 or 5-5, instead of 5-6 just bid 5 diamonds and partner would then take a normal preference). However 4NT would announce a longer minor suit and partner would then either bid 5 hearts (with at least 3) or bid a minor suit of at least 3. With for example, 3-2-6-2 he would have to bid 5 clubs to allow for partner coming in hearts and clubs.

Nothing much else, but I think a partnership needs to discuss these situations which are sort of on the same subject as responding to a 2 suiter by partner. Also and finally when bidding a conventional response of some 2 suiter it is ALWAYS preferable to have as least as many in the lower ranking suit (example spades & hearts) having as least as many hearts since with 5-4 I prefer to overcall 1 spade but with 4-5 I’ll tend to risk a 2 suiter bid, if one is available.

Just something to think about, with the emphasis on, when partner is 3-3 and not heaven forbid 2-2.

slarFebruary 5th, 2015 at 4:51 pm

How do you feel about East bidding 2NT with 5-4 in the minors if the high cards were consolidated in his two suits? Perhaps with an extra queen to boot (closer to full opening strength)? I like the idea of declarer guessing the distribution wrong.

bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Hi Iain,

I, no doubt, got confused with the possible 3-0-5-5 lightly discussed and thought that the check was only for no more than a singleton heart.

In any event I’m confusing myself and should back off when I am just a little behind. And speaking of that, how about Easley Blackwood’s Miss Brash who loved to bid em up but wound up usually sleeping in the streets.

bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Hi Slar,

At least to me there are three important factors in helping to decide whether or not to enter the bidding and all three are ever changing in their order of difference making.

1. The type of game played, IMPs (also rubber bridge) and Pairs with pairs the game to take the greatest risks.

2. Who the opponents are, especially their experience and their boldness in doubling interference.

3. Of course, the vulnerability, which is always a factor, even if the opponents do not double and are not particularly good defenders.

All the above do not directly go to the game itself, but rather to the general idea of being as tough an opponent as possible.

As in most competitions, duplicate bridge favors aggression (as long as the partnership can oft times get away with it).