Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 14th, 2015

(His) dispatch of business was extraordinary, his maxim being 'The shortest way to do many things is to only one thing at once.'

Samuel Smiles

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


Today's deal from last year's NEC tournament comes from Hinden's successful semi-final match against an Australasian team.

Francis Hinden’s one spade call would surely be a unanimous choice here as South. This argues that since game is nothing special here, maybe the North hand is worth nothing more than a strong invitation?

Be that as it may, Hinden was forced to play four spades on a heart lead, and when she put up the queen, the hand was over. East covered the queen with the king and declarer could scramble two club ruffs in her hand while drawing trumps, but had to lose four red tricks at the end.

Better is to win the first heart in hand while preserving dummy’s queen. Then you can take the club finesse, cash the club ace, ruff a club, cross to the spade king, ruff a second club and take the two master trumps.

In the five-card ending the key is now whether to play West to have opened so light, or for South to have responded one heart with only a four-count. If you can read the location of the high cards, you can succeed now by leading the low diamond from dummy. If East ducks, he will eventually be endplayed with the second diamond to lead hearts. If he rises with the ace, declarer builds his game-going trick either from dummy’s heart or her own diamonds.

It might be worth emphasizing that with one-bid hands like this, the normal response is to bid spades, rather than diamonds. The logic is that if your side has a game it is far more likely to be in spades than diamonds. If your partner has clubs and diamonds with reversing values, you will hear about it soon enough.


♠ 10 9 7 5
 A 8 5
 Q 9 4 3
♣ 7 5
South West North East
Pass Pass 1♣ 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


Mircea1February 28th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Rather than risking a pushy game, is North not better off doubling 2C at these colours? It must surely be for business. South has no reason to pull it off and West is helpless

As always the defense must be accurate in order to produce the best result but East’s loose lips should make it easy. North starts with 2 top spades getting count and suit preference from South, then switches to hearts. Dummmy’s trumps are removed and declarer is now forced in spades. Dummy will provide a diamond discard and allow declarer to take a deep finesse in diamonds but North forces again in spades endplaying declarer.

By the time it’s all done, a better score than 420 should be written for N-S. I hope I got it right.

DarinFebruary 28th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

@Mircea1 Agreed. And while East could run to 2H, South should be able to double that (North’s double of 2C should promise extras) and the same tricks are available against 2HX for the defense.

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Hi Mircea1 & Darin,

While both of you are right on with results, you’ve both crossed over into the twilight zone in bridge bidding.

While North’s hand is mighty, it is particularly offensively oriented once his partner freely bids spades, a suit in which he is very strong. True the combined defense offered by NS is adequate, EW’s bidding is indeed strange, especially considering West’s opening bid, which defies most intelligent partnership’s logic.

Another way to describe it, is that EW’s bidding habits allowed NS to do what you two suggest, but how could NS possibly realize it with enough clarity to back that judgment?

Often, during the course of an auction, if a partnership was allowed to sit on a bench together and compare all 26 assets instead of just looking at 13 and totally guessing at the other 13, they would triumph over a pair who on the surface were many times better as players, but alas, did not have that huge advantage.

And that is why I am using words like the twilight zone, since the above will never happen, and during the bidding, especially at low levels (1, 2 and even the 3 level) becomes more of a guessing contest than anywhere near a sure thing.

“some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice” was written by Robert Frost with my guess that those two opinions are about as accurate as very low level bidding, especially on defense, which can become, even among the most experienced players as, at the best, only highly speculative.

Consequently, even the thought of doubling one’s worthy opponents expecting a penalty (assuming EW qualified for that designation, but, after all, they were invited to play in a major world tournament), is a major stretch of how far imagination can take us.

However, nothing I say above can detract from your worthy analysis. All I am doing is sending a message about how difficult it is to be exacting when discussing the code words used in the bidding to describe one’s strength, and, more importantly in this case, one’s specific distribution.

Jane AFebruary 28th, 2015 at 2:24 pm

I don’t understand the bidding. What system is west playing to open a poor eight point hand? It is likely that the spade game will still be reached under normal circumstances, but 5/5 in the minors and eight points? Really? Should there have been a alert?

JeffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I really don’t understand West opening and then following up by bidding over 1S. Especially at these colours and after his partner has shown hearts. Even if you, say, initially mistook the heart for a diamond, it would still seem hard to open and impossible to continue after the subsequent bidding. I can easily imagine sitting North that I would picture my partner with a very weak hand featuring six spades. I think I would jump to 4S also.

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 3:56 pm

Hi Jane A,

Obviously, at least to me, EW were playing a system which catered to very light opening bids.

Some players would consider the opening bid by West as a psychic, but my guess is that the subject pair simply played very light opening bids, usually with good playing distribution (this one with 5-5 in the minors), to start the proceedings.

What would go along with is to never eventually double the opponents, expecting defense from an opening bid, however my experience from being the National Recorder for many years is that partnerships which go in for that kind of strategy must go out of their way to remain very ethical in their tempo since the very wide range which accompanies their opening bids CANNOT begin to be shown in the way of varying tempo, from an immediate future pass to a normal pause with a 13 count but still what others would think a minimum.

In other words that partnership MUST become actively ethical, and if judged to not being so, being then permanently barred from using those methods. No other penalty will make up for allowing that partnership to thrive.

Yes, at this point in time our best and brightest bridge administrators do not often have the fortitude (call them bleeding hearts) to enforce what needs to be done.

Yes, very light openers not only need to alert the opening bid, but to pre alert it before the round starts and allow their opponents to discuss whatever they decide to do against the opponents opening bids.

No doubt, a thorny problem, but one which needs to be dealt with, because if not, just another example of the ACBL administrators, including the BODs, not doing its entire job in a responsible manner.

To me, giving away all those master points in such cavalier ways (sometimes for under 40% games) is totally ridiculous especially when not enough consideration is allowed for establishing guidelines to keep our game fair.

angelo romanoFebruary 28th, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Hi Bobby,
if W has his opening, i.e. the diamond AK, shouldn’t he start with them instead ? that’s why probably one of them is in E, and not for the 1H bid (over the double, K J 10 9 7 6 looks enough to me)

ClarksburgFebruary 28th, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Mr. Wolff, you said:
“…To me, giving away all those master points in such cavalier ways (sometimes for under 40% games) is totally ridiculous especially when not enough consideration is allowed for establishing guidelines to keep our game fair…”

YUP. It has occurred to me that a very ordinary Pair playing everyday for 50 years in a “wild” Club game, unbalanced NS / EW fields, a lot of random chance and gifts, could amass many hundred (thousands?) of Black MPs. Along the same lines, it is quite common for a Pair like that to bag (fluke) 10 or 15 silver in an unbalanced STAC.
I started very late in life, but will easily reach 300 (soon), and possibly reach 500 with required respective Gold and other Colours to achieve whatever those are called. If I ever get there, and anyone says “well done”, I shall matter-of-factly tell them it just shows that the BAR is set FAR TOO LOW !! 😉

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 6:41 pm

Hi Jeff,

Simply expressed, I agree with everything you say, especially the hand you envision for your partner’s 1 spade bid. Of course, West, after opening, should not (at least according to what may be thought to be normal standards) bid freely since South’s 1 spade bid will keep the bidding live for partner, regardless of whether North bids or passes. However, perhaps the EW partnership does not allow for free bidding, (showing at least something extra) which then relegates their bidding system one which could be called a “home brew” (one that was made up from just their own views).

For those who are interested, I believe that anything not designed to be destructive to the opponents (controlled psychics as an example) should be allowed, however, because of the rarity of opponents having to face such variations, greater ethical strictures, both in their proprieties and also in their disclosures to the opponents MUST be required, with any failures or heaven forbid forgets by them dealt with in rather stringent ways.

The morality of my suggestions has to do with inconveniencing others which is OK if done with a pure heart, but not with either lazy habits or only winning at the table, not enough regard for the sensational game we all love to play, but rather thinking, “if we can get away with this we’ll have a better chance to win”.

Since IMO, without regard to the above, bridge itself would be better off without such experimentation if it is deemed by the very highest level players on site that there is either no or not enough constructive ideas involved to make whatever is suggested allowed to be played. However consistency and accountability for those decisions must be recorded and by what person or persons.

Many of the top world sports have gone through this type of evolution and, at least in my judgment and memory, only constructive ideas with plenty of merit attached, pass through to be included in the future.

Iain ClimieFebruary 28th, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Hi Clarksburg, Bobby,

The English Bridge Union introduced a national grading scheme a few years ago where a moving average score is updated by each session. Your grading is a function of %age, score, strength of partner and strength of field. It covers mostly pairs sessions and is only approx but, like chess grades and share prices, it can go down as well as up. I suspect there will be some inflation with time, but you may like to look up NGS on the EBU website. Is there anything similar in the US?



bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Hi Angelo,

Yes, normally the player on lead would choose to lead a suit in which he held an AK combination, but once in a while (and depending on the contract and, of course the specific bidding) the opening leader may prefer to lead a singleton, especially when partner has bid that suit. If you are looking for a good reason, the opening leader may envision partner with the ace of his bid suit and possibly the queen in the suit partner has the AK, allowing him to be brilliant and underlead his AK for the setting trick on a ruff.

Of course, if partner does not have that specific queen and the holder of the AK still underleads it, his being called daring will shrink to perhaps foolhearty, at least by his partner or maybe teammates.

Finally in regard to your detective work in determining who has the other high diamond, since both of the opponents needed it for their bidding, the likely assumption “my dear Watson” is that you are either playing with a pinochle deck (all cards above an eight have two of each with no cards with 8 or less) or else a defective one.

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

No doubt, trying to give the ACBL a break, the masterpoint has gone through an extensive change of direction. It was probably instituted from the beginning with a hoped for meaningful final destination.

However, since that time in the mid 1930s, it has been reduced in stature to a more or less attendance indicator, although the better players still have accumulated enough of them, to, at the very least, be able to separate themselves from others who, for whatever reasons (we all know a bunch), do not have as many.

So be it and hail to the leaders, but since there was a time not too many years ago that the ACBL didn’t even continue to engrave the big supposedly coveted trophies, with annual victors, leaving many of us to wonder what is the point.

At least to me, while not caring much for pomp and circumstance, do wonder if anyone, anywhere, really cares who wins but without it, no wonder the powers that be basically have turned our once proud game into a way of only making money, which in turn reduces the thrill of victory, all by itself.

My own feeling is that bridge is better than that and deserves much more.

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Hi Iain,

Anything that can add electricity to any kind of competition should be more than welcome. Only the masterpoint has dulled in importance leaving a well thought out rating system in what I think might be great demand.

We need to wake this hibernating bear and find a way to generate great interest, which both Europe and China managed by getting bridge into an educational many year school system.

I, of course, would prefer a great endeavor to duplicate what other world powers have been able to do, but something is worth more than nothing.

David WarheitMarch 1st, 2015 at 7:28 am

Bpbbu: You forgot to explain the rules for playing bridge with a pinochle deck: 1) if, say, the DA is the high card played to a trick but 2 of them are played, the first one wins the trick; and 2) since there are only 48 cards, the 13th trick is awarded to the side that wins trick 12, which leads to some interesting end plays. Also, an average hand has 20HCP; what fun!

ROFFIMarch 1st, 2015 at 9:56 am

But what if West keeps 4 diamonds and a club : Diamond ace, diamond king, and club and South looses two hearts ?

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Hi David,

I had heard through the years of the great games of goulash (bridge played while playing without shuffling the deck before dealing the next hand), played on the commuter trains (usually in the morning to work or coming home from, in the afternoon) while traveling between Philadelphia and NY (a slightly over 1 hour ride).

Would you recommend bridge pinochle (BP) instead? Perhaps the ones who play BP have never heard of goulash and verse visa.

“They are both in the bed, the very same bed, and neither one knows that the other is dead”.

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 1:46 pm


But what if, at trick eleven, when West then cashes his good club, South doesn’t ruff in dummy but merely throws a heart away allowing West to then be forced to lead a diamond to South for the game going trick since no heart tricks will be lost?

There are sometimes many ways to skin cats, especially in less disgusting end situations while being declarer at bridge. (and only less disgusting for the declarer)

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Hi again David,

And speaking of disgusting, please excuse the extra worthless words at the bottom of my last post to you. I will eventually get them erased, but I have to wait till my master wakes up since only she knows how to do it.

Mircea1March 1st, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

I see your point. I learned from my experience that it is often better to declare with a good fit than to defend, unless you have a lot of their stuff. On this hand, a possible reason for the double of 2C to work poorly or even be disastrous is West having an extremely distributional hand. Would he be entitled to bid the way he did with say, 7-6 in the minors and 8 hcp (say KJ in bothe suits)? What would you do with a hand like that in first seat?

Bobby WolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Hi Mircea,

In answer to your question posed, exactly what you have suggested. Of course, the practicality of bridge bidding is that very few 7-6 hands are dealt so it is not practical to even think in those terms, but another caveat should be commonly applied.

What I am referring to is that in most cases beware of the so-called vulnerable coward.
Most players, unlike this EW pair, are wary of bidding vulnerable, particularly against NV opponents so expect of them to have extra, not so much in HCP’s but rather in distribution.

A 6-5 combination is to be expected and if he is lucky enough to catch 3 in dummy it will be difficult, sometimes impossible, to defeat them enough to overcome the 4 spades one should fully expect to make (unless the hand splits horribly, which on the bidding is more likely to happen than percentage would indicate).

Also, make no mistake, declaring a contract is much easier than it is to defend when defenders only are allowed to begin looking at only 1/2 of their assets, rather than declarer who, before even playing to trick one can see his whole arsenal. And never overrate the advantage of long trumps when the law of total tricks can even sometimes overcome a huge disadvantage in possession of high cards.

And to further toss cold water in choosing to defend (especially when holding AKQx in partner’s voluntarily bid suit) is that West’s bidding is indicative of probably at least 6-5 in his suits with high cards not much in evidence but certainly distribution is.

And it is not conducive to being consistently tough opponents to have to, after doubling at a low level, just hope the dummy does not come down with one more trump than you had hoped.

The tougher the opponents the more you not only suspect, but should be absolutely sure that surprises will be the order of the day, rather than just plain vanilla.

All the above are just general bridge winning ideas and may not apply on any one hand, but as Damon Runyon, a famous sports handicapper once was quoted, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet”. And West’s bidding is indicative of excellent offensive distribution, especially if East prefers diamonds, back around to you.

Please keep in mind that this EW pair is not representative of normal and so anything goes, but a duck does not come down from the ceiling, as it once did on”You Bet Your Life, MCed by the great American comedian Groucho Marx, and say to you that beware on this hand, but it is safe to do whatever you want on all other hands.

ROFFIMarch 3rd, 2015 at 6:33 am

thank you, bobby