Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

It is necessary to relax your muscles when you can. Relaxing your brain is fatal.

Stirling Moss

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


In today's deal West led the heart six against three no-trump. After winning with the king, East returned the jack, and declarer worked out that if the lead was a genuine fourth highest, there was no prospect of blocking the suit. So he did well to let the jack win, and was delighted when East switched to a spade. But South was so pleased at having guessed right that he took his eye off the ball, in what appeared to have become an easy contact. He tried the minor suits in succession by cashing them out from the top, and, ended with only eight tricks when both suits refused to behave.

How should South have continued after winning the switch at trick three with a top spade? He should start by cashing the club ace and queen (the suit in which he has no flexibility) making sure to leave himself an entry to dummy, and discovering the bad break. The critical play comes next, which is to cash the second top spade before trying the diamonds. By so doing, he will find out that West had started with six hearts, four clubs and at least two spades, and therefore, at most, one diamond.

Now, after crossing to the diamond king, he leads the diamond 10, with the intention of running it if it is not covered. If East does cover, South has retained the club king in dummy as an entry to repeat the finesse against the diamond nine.

The hand is absolutely maximum for a jump to two no-trumps here, which is not unusual but shows a balanced 19-21 in protective seat. With only a doubleton spade, it feels right to make this call rather than double, since spades are not really on the agenda from your perspective.


♠ A K
 Q 7 4
 A Q 8 3
♣ A Q 5 2
South West North East
1 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


David WarheitFebruary 17th, 2015 at 9:15 am

There is another line of play which works even if S has only a small D instead of the 8. After winning the S at trick 3, S cashes CAQ and gets the bad news as E discards a S. He now cashes DAQ and gets further bad news. He now cashes SK and CK and E must discard another S. Declarer now leads dummy’s remaining S, but E has only 2 S to cash, and at trick 12 he has to lead a D up to dummy’s K10. Making 3NT!

Iain ClimieFebruary 17th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Hi David, Bobby,

I thought David’s line was double dummy at first – then realised that declarer has a perfect count on the east hand. Nice one, and my apologies.


bobby wolffFebruary 17th, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Hi David & Iain,

No doubt our resident double dummy expert has again proven his skill.

What we can all learn from David’s special talent is simply that when a perfect count becomes available in bridge, it is very much like an open book test in school.

This hand represents two ways to secure our contract, but when there is only one, and because of the perfect count, an aspiring player (at any age) must learn how to execute it (merely an exercise in numbers, adding to thirteen, together with a large dose of normal mind discipline), otherwise his future bridge playing life will always have a much lower ceiling than he desires.

slarFebruary 17th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

I wonder how many C-strat players know the methods for showing strong or extra-strong NTs in the balancing seat. I have one partner who insists on playing balancing the same as direct because he is likely to forget. Okay…better than a miscommunication which is what happened with another partner when we hit that 1 in 1000 hand.

Iain ClimieFebruary 17th, 2015 at 10:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I pose an ethical dilemma which I think I maybe got wrong, but we definitely didn’t profit from it. I was playing in a moderate pairs session with a partner who used to play a lot but, like myself, took a long break from the game. He’s only come back to duplicate in the last few months although he plays regular informal rubber bridge at work during lunch breaks.

I held S None H KJxx D AKxxx C10xxx at favourable and heard Pass, Pass 12-14 1NT on my right. 2C here (pard’s preference) shows hearts and another suit, so I trotted it out on the basis that I have two other suits. Partner fails to alert (so this is perhaps unauthorised info that he’s forgotten the system), LHO bids 2S and partner bids 3C. RHO takes the push to 3S (it is pairs) and I now have a problem. Is partner competing to 3C / 3D (but not in hearts) as clearly I haven’t got spades, has he a decent club suit of his own or has he assumed I’ve got clubs and raised the wretched thing? We have no detailed agreement here even if he had alerted.

I decided that we’d be least likely to profit from the mix-up if I passed, so I did so. All passed, and partner has 9xx x QJ10xx AQJx. After he’d led, I explained to declarer what had happened, he was happy to just play the hand and got a top for +140 – we can actually make 5D. Partner apologised for forgetting the system, the oppo were happy not to get the director to award an adjusted score and at least we didn’t profit from the mess. What should I have done, though, as I wonder if ethically I should have bid 4C assuming he has clubs?

For the record, LHO (not playing weak 2’s) had a 6-4-1-2 hand with SQJ to 6 and HA109x while his partner had the remaining high cards. NS can make 4S by playing me for long hearts, we can make 5D so par is 5S* -1 by NS for 200 our way. I must be a masochist, as I was actually quite OK with this result in an otherwise good session!



bobby wolffFebruary 18th, 2015 at 2:53 am

Hi Slar,

Learning how to move up the ladder in bridge begins with not questioning the work and thus opinion of others who have been there and done that for the rest of us.

A reopening 1NT can be a rather wide range of 11-15+ while doubling first and then being able to and responding 1NT shows about 16-18. Doubling and then bidding 2NT (again when able) shows about (18+-20+) and just bidding 2NT should show about 21-23. These point count ranges are always to be tempered by long very good suits which may lower the HCP minimum by 3-6 points. Also when deciding to double, one’s holding in the other major becomes important with, of course, having that support a big plus and not having it, a possible weakness, where not doubling first, in spite of a slightly different range might be preferred.

This area in bridge bidding is somewhat inconsistent, but nevertheless needs to be known by both partners, otherwise chaos might be on the menu

bobby wolffFebruary 18th, 2015 at 3:02 am

Hi Iain,

Having passed originally and heard that bidding should prompt your partner to bid an aggressive 3 spades (cue bid) over his RHO’s 2 spade competitive venture. He obviously has good support for one of his partner’s suits and also then is likely to be opposite short spades since he has 3 of them.

It takes a while to gain feel but once done, seldom forgotten. You know as well as I do that hands which find big fits, play very well, suggesting to your partner that this hand is one of them and needs acting immediately, especially so since his hand is limited (by his original pass).

Once the right kind of experience occurs, the game is much easier and horrible results slow way down to a crawl. That is, unless one or both of the partnership, lose focus and/or discipline, which becomes unforgivable to all who were counting on each other.

Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2015 at 9:52 am

Hi Bobby,

Is 3N worth considering here by pard, which clearly can’t be natural. My concern if he’d bid 3S would be a suggestion of heart support or at least tolerance. There are still the remaining ethical problems, though – pard hasn’t alerted, the oppo haven’t asked so what (if anyy) unauthorised info have I got which I clearly must ensure I don’t use.



bobby wolffFebruary 18th, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, upon reflection, 3NT by your pard, (as long as that partnership is at least on a bridge logical level), is, no doubt, clearly the right choice.

Having said that and upon arriving and scoring up that remarkable 5 diamond contract, let’s revert to the ethics involved in your special situation.

Bridge jurisprudence is not a slam dunk and consistent thought accompanied by accountability (together with precedents set and available) are necessary in order to move forward and achieve the success bridge deserves with entangling the judicial process.

The committee chosen often needs both the experience necessary (one or two quiet but only marginally qualified members do not automatically hurt, as long as they willingly sit and listen, becoming more knowledgeable for the next time, rather than feel obligated to speak and do more harm than good. Above all, the chairman MUST be capable of understanding thorny bridge nuances which, believe me, do not always become easy to spot and also REQUIRES a fierce desire to achieve consistency, be fully accountable for the committee’s decision and one way or the other be available to write it up and explain the whys and wherefores, not only to the appellants but to anyone else interested in the subject. In so many words, BE FULLY RESPONSIBLE, with no excuses.

As far as your ethical responsibility, because of the non-alert, let us discuss. You need to assume and expect partner to still understand what your partnership agreements are and then, having done that, he is trying to make the best bid available the rest of the auction.

Having said the above, and after he (hopefully) makes the 3NT bid you suggest, a 4 diamond bid by you seems mandatory and then, of course, pass his raise to 5. Then the only thing left to you would be, after the auction is then over, explain to the defenders, before the opening lead exactly what is bothering you, your partner’s failure to alert, but, of course, you were assuming he knew what you were playing with the result of which, having bid accordingly.

As an addendum, if one of your opponents asks while the bidding is still live (and, of course before the opening lead), my suggestion (hopefully backed by what the ACBL either writes or, if not, definitely should) that you then would ask partner to leave the table and then explain to both the opponents what your bid meant, but was not alerted or explained up until the opponents have now questioned.

In that above way you have attempted to achieve the status quo, an always worthwhile goal, which does not promise anyone anything, it is only a method of doing the best one can to be as fair as possible. Fixes, one way or the other, are inherent in our game, certainly including this episode. The idea is to try to remain as pure as possible, not seeking advantage, but rather fair competition.

Obviously all committee members should understand what I have attempted to say and echo that thought. However bridge lawyers. being who they are, likely will rise in indignation with only self-serving as their goal, instead of what is best for bridge in the long run for that particular ruling.

Yes, usually too many committees have somewhat corrupt, political (redundant word) members, so it becomes that areas responsibility to try and search out the somewhat rare non biased knowledgeable people who are willing to give up their time for the betterment of the game.

In order to help the process (and make it more difficult for the “bad” guys) all bridge judicial hearings need to be recorded as to result and to which way each committee member voted (abstentions are OK, particularly for learning newbies).

Iain, aren’t you glad you asked? You did strike a nerve and with me I’ll try and live as long as I can, spreading the word about how necessary the bridge judicial process actually has become and learning how to consistently reach the right result takes frequent study, much effort and above all, sheer love for our future and thus our game.

“In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king” does apply. The idea is for many who qualify for bridge leadership and therefore bridge common sense, to get another eye transplanted and post haste.

Please keep Fagin and his disciples from reading this post!

Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Many thanks for this, very helpful especially sending pard away if required.