Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Alas, regardless of their doom
The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come
Nor care beyond today.

Thomas Gray

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


When this deal arose South's preempts, especially when non-vulnerable, were known to be frivolous. Hence he elected to open four diamonds, and was raised to game by North – not without some trepidation.

West hit on a spade lead, and East took his ace and returned a low spade. West won his king and attempted to cash a third spade.

Declarer ruffed in hand, and needed to establish a club winner on which to pitch his losing heart. The club finesse would have been a 50% chance, but declarer did better. He played to the club ace and ruffed a club high, then took a high diamond and went to the diamond king to ruff another club high and draw the last trump. Now a heart to dummy allowed a third club ruff, and the second high heart in dummy afforded the final entry to allow him to cash the club queen.

The key to the defense is for West to establish that the third spade is not standing up, and it is East’s responsibility at trick two to make that clear to him. With two cards left he plays the higher of his spot-cards, from three left he plays the lowest. From four, as here, he plays back the highest spot-card he can afford, the eight.

At that point West can infer the precise layout of the suit, given the auction and play thus far. West must therefore shift to a heart at trick three, thereby dislodging a critical entry from dummy prematurely.

Were it not for the overcall by East, you were planning to jump to two no-trumps, planning to show a balanced 18-19, upgrading your hand into that range. The overcall makes this very dangerous; but is it more desirable now to reverse into two hearts or rebid that feeble club suit? Nothing is attractive, but I¹ll lie with two hearts and hope to get to no-trump later.


♠ J 10 5
 A K 4
 K 7
♣ A Q 9 6 3
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 1♠

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 12th, 2015 at 11:51 am

Hello Mr Wolff

1. I think West shouldnt be entirely blamed for the defence debacle. spade 3 lead clearly cant be singleton as if south has four spades along with 7 or 8 diamonds contract is cold, it has to 3rd best if playing 3rd/5th leads or could be 4th best if playing standard leads. So East knows that there cant be more than two tricks coming from Spade suit. So he should ideally cash Spade Queen and when it holds should shift to hearts as if hearts are two and diamonds are eight contract is again cold. Also if clubs are doubleton then he is getting another trick so heart shift is clearer to East.
2. Is spade 3 a good lead ? Personally I would prefer hearts.
3. In BWTA what would abid of 2 Spades by South mean – a diamond raise or big hand showing directional cue bid ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 12th, 2015 at 11:58 am

PS: East has to assume Heart J with West. So it is better from West to play hearts but that is liable to mistake as happened in the column.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

angelo romanoFebruary 12th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

BWTA – why not “double” instead ? it can’t be for real spades

Iain ClimieFebruary 12th, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Hi Angelo,

Back in the bad old days (70s and 80s, but also before double of 1S would have been penalties and even quite profitable on occasion. The modern treatment is more flexible and generally effective but I occasionally yearn for a caveman style double.



bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Depending on where you live, it is safe to say that it is either the middle of the night (4:45AM here in Las Vegas), noon (GMT), or else, perhaps other in exotic places. In any event, welcome and I’ll attempt to give as complete an answer as I can.

1. Yes, practicality (almost always a critical factor) the Queen is the preferred choice and for your reason given. Chances are that partner would (should) not be leading from 3 small spades and if so hearts should definitely be switched to at trick 3, but, of course, it would be better led through the ace king in dummy (in case declarer has the jack), but there is a greater danger of partner trying to cash your hoped for queen of spades rather than the small (usual) advantage of knocking out a crucial entry to establishing the contract making 11th trick. No doubt great analysis is a huge advantage in attempting to become a world beating top bridge player with this problem falling under that theme.

2. Although it is fairly close, I agree with the spade lead from Kxx rather than a heart from J9xx. When in doubt and with not many clues from the bidding (here) I will always choose aggressive defense. Does that always work? Of course not, but over the course of many years, and assuming I am right in my experience, I think it is clearly right to do so and by a significant margin. Furthermore, the world over, I think almost all nationalities, with the exception of the world class French players, would agree. However their judgment is not to be taken lightly and because of that, my opinion has to be taken as just that, a preference, not an edict.

3. With the BWTA, a 2 spade cue bid should be a slightly better hand and more importantly, a good fit for partner, two reasons why it should not be considered, although whatever takes its place is not close to a perfect description. In retrospect, with this specific bidding I now wish I had only opened 1NT (15-17), although I agree that the decent 5 card suit makes the hand marginally too good to do so. We, as aspiring very good bridge players, need to be careful in making sure we do not overstep our bounds and bid something which means one thing, but because of frustration in choice, we instead hope it means something else. One of the standout talents of a world class player is his (her) ability to choose the least possible lie with difficult bidding decisions.

Finally and regarding the PS, I certainly agree with your reason for first playing the queen of spades at trick two and then switching to a heart, albeit from your side (just too difficult a decision for partner).

bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Hi Angelo,

As I mentioned to Shantanu, double would be a wonderful bid, if, indeed, it meant this hand or if was simply played as a request to partner, “please do something intelligent once you now know I have a good hand”. It is rarely played with that meaning (rather instead as penalty, yes, real spades) or among some good players as possibly a minimum but showing a 4 card heart suit) and also instead a long study and then double could be construed as being unethical with the intention of the hesitation alerting partner to the specific dilemma.

While the above is not intended to suggest anything sinister, but only to call attention of our responsibility to the opponents and more importantly to the game itself. No doubt, a slow double, would represent this hand best, but, well, in your case that would never be your intention, but we just cannot ethically make slow bids like that, especially if one’s partner reads him. However a prompt in tempo double is quite OK, but unless a partnership has discussed that sequence it will often lead to a costly misunderstanding.

Perhaps I have gone too far in my discussion, but it is a good opportunity to bring up something controversial, which needs to get more publicity so that relatively inexperienced (but aspiring) players will be able to think about the special rules of our game regarding proprieties.

bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Hi Iain (aka Fred Flintstone),

Finally I need to corroborate your comment. You know, from one cave man to another.

However, from the beginning of the transition from Auction Bridge to Contract in the late 1920’s the double unquestionably was for penalties, but as time went by, many bridge scientists (they prefer being called creators) began to toy with it meaning something else, providing more utility.

“On such a full sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves or lose our fortunes” Shakespeare, (I think Julius Caesar).

RyanFebruary 12th, 2015 at 4:18 pm


On BWTA, would a double followed by a 2S bid show anything not already covered? My hope is that partner would bid NT with a spade stopper, and put the lead on East, or pick three of either minor.

bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Hi Ryan,

You ask a very good topical question.

In these days, and at usually low levels of the bidding, a double tends to just show extras, but no particular direction. However, in order to facilitate that tendency, of course, then the usual meaning of doubling interference for penalty goes out the window.

What that will later bring, if not sooner, is greater freedom for the defense to come in the bidding for lead direction and in search of a miracle fit for sacrificing later, an advantage to the opponents which should not be considered trivial.

Whether that will prove harmful to those giving up the possible penalty remains to be seen, but yes, playing doubles that way will increase the ability to bid problem hands in a more logical manner. However any bid, even a pass will tend to give partner a chance to prioritize bidding NT when he has their suit stopped (and enough to bid on), plus, of course, an option to pass it out allowing his opponents to buy the contract, which is not to be underrated.

The specific hand in question is too strong for that, consequently the possible 2 heart call is mentioned and, of course, the discussion of what a double should mean.

My final conclusion, other than what has already been said, is to discuss this with partner and arrive at some agreement which is mutually satisfactory, keeping in mind that very few “real life” bidding problems are easily solved. Yes, a TO double (of some sort) plus then a 2 spade cue bid should show a very good hand, probably better than this one, but again, basically bidding NT within a partnership should always be an important concern in making a choice, especially when half stops (Jxx, Qx, or even 10xxx), a convention called Western Cue Bids are so prevalent.

Very little in bridge bidding is a slam dunk and therefore some bids thought of as exceptions, rather instead become the rule.

AviFebruary 15th, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Dear Mr Wolff

on BWTA – playing strong NT (15-17, or even the older 16-18), why not simply open the hand 1NT?