Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The most dangerous of our calculations are those we call illusions.

George Bernanos

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


North's bid of three clubs showed a limit-raise or better in spades facing South's five-card major. You lead the club king, for the three, four, and ace. Declarer plays the spade ace and a second spade, partner contributing the five and six. You are on lead; where to go now?

Partner’s play in trump is suit-preference, asking for a shift to the lower (or lowest) of the options. Which minor to play? Well, you surely cannot beat the hand by playing a diamond if partner has three clubs. There is very unlikely to be any way to collect more than a spade, heart and diamond trick since your partner can hardly have more than six points, can he?

On balance, it is far better is to hope that your partner has a singleton club. Play the club queen, and then give partner a ruff, then hope that your partner can come through with enough in the red-suits to beat the hand. (South might have done better to look for three no-trump here, a far safer contract today.) You should also calculate that if everyone follows to the second club, (unlikely, I know) it looks right to play a third club and kill declarer’s discard while hoping for the trump promotion.

Just for the record: this is the sort of hand where the old-fashioned trump echo to request a ruff might appear to make life simpler. But you can still convey the same message, as well as many others, by Suit Preference in trumps.

Your inclination might be to let sleeping dogs lie, and pass out one diamond. That might work out well for you, but the percentage action is surely to balance with a call of one no-trump, showing a maximum pass with a diamond stop. Unless your LHO has a moose, this rates to play well enough for your side.


♠ Q 9 4
 Q 10 6 2
 A Q 2
♣ J 5 3
South West North East
Pass 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


slarMarch 5th, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I need to back the truck up here. Could declarer have AJxxxx in spades? And if so, wouldn’t it make more sense to draw trumps (eschewing the unlikely finesse) because of the chance for a bad break in a red suit? If declarer was strong in a red suits and needed a club discard, he would attack immediately if not sooner.

Basically my analysis fell apart because I had declarer with 6-3-3-1 distribution and a stiff club ace by virtue of the bidding (with the vulnerability, East wouldn’t bid 4C under most circumstances) and the failure to echo. The only question was which red suit to attack. The only way declarer gets a discard is if you give it to him by playing your CQ.

-10 IMPs.

Bobby WolffMarch 5th, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Hi Slar,

Just wanting to let you know that I appreciate your bridge compassion and the specific problems (illusions) one is forced to overcome.

To say it simply, bridge itself is difficult enough to just be able to play it consistently well, and when overtricks become vitally important, like they are at matchpoints, it becomes very restrictive to defenders when they are prohibited from just looking for the best way to defeat a hand and have to deal with, by sometime doing so, finding a possibility, but then having to accept what goes with, when being wrong, declarer may score overtrick(s).

Add that sad compromise with its frequency of occurrence, and you will get my drift. That decision, at least to me, is much more minus to our game (matchpoints) than plus, since often there is no way to tell, or, at least, almost, rendering that part of the game a significant conundrum, better off not having to be faced.

One can and is, often argued with “Get real, it is just another factor in making matchpoints a really great game, with some bridge puzzles, just being harder to solve”. To that I would reply that Whist, contract bridges grandfather, (Auction bridge is its father) was given up when it was rightly decided that its difficulty was just too great to fathom and thus not worth the effort.

To me either rubber bridge or preferably IMPs has the right blend of Goldilock’s porridge just right, to set it apart as the game of choice, because it represents the skill necessary to excel rather than “just too much luck” required.

Some like it hot, but not everyone.

Ron KautzMarch 5th, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Your bridge column in the Houston Chronicle(3/5/15) had the bidding as follows with E opening: 1H-1S-2D-2H(???). N had a 3244 holding with Jxx, xx, KJxx and AJ10x. Most of us have the 2H response as showing not asking. Is the 2H conventional showing the minors? If not, it sure doesn’t look like SA bidding to us. Help!!

slarMarch 5th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Maybe I wasn’t making myself clear. When East failed to echo, I placed South with AJxxxx/Kxx/xxx/A (or maybe swapping red kings with partner). If declarer would certainly finesse in spades in that situation then my analysis is flawed and that’s the end of the story. However, might declarer eschew the finesse and hope for an assist from the defenders? With that layout, isn’t the only play that gives declarer a chance the CQ? The failure to echo got me to invent a way to go wrong that might not have existed otherwise. If West plays a red suit the contract is hopeless.

The reason this sticks in my craw is because I recently made a similar blunder in a completely different scenario, seeing a supposed winner ruffed away after I got the E/S 3-1 holdings in that suit backwards.

Bobby WolffMarch 5th, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Hi Ron,

Thanks for writing.

However, since I do not keep files of my hands and the March 5th column, not to appear on the internet ( until March 19th, two weeks delayed and it being written, perhaps 6 months ago, I cannot decipher from your description exactly who is bidding what.

The 2 heart bid is usually showing, perhaps if your ??? indicated that North was the one bidding 2 hearts while responding to the 4 way bidding and his partners (South) overcall of 1 spade he is merely showing more than just a 2 spade raise, using the heart overcall instead of a mere raise to 2 spades as a method of showing a maximum+ raise.

However, I feel, because of the strong bidding by all four players, something is amiss and I would likely restrict myself to only a 2 spade raise, even though the diamonds are favorably located over the 2 diamond bidder, making them more valuable than in front of.

The 2 heart bid by North is definitely not the minors, but rather a form of spade raise meant to show a maximum + raise in partner’s suit.

If you need further clarification do not fear asking more questions. That is what I am here for and hope to be of service to my readers.

Good luck!

Bobby WolffMarch 5th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, I understand what you were saying that East while holding 3 clubs (South now holding the singleton Ace) may have enough values to defeat 4 spades by certainly not making it easier for declarer by establishing the jack of clubs for an important trick. Without going into the nuances of what then might be the construction of the unseen hands South and East.

All that is important and may suggest delving deeper into the likelihood of defeating 4 spades, allowing for South to have the singleton ace of clubs. Without going into the imagination required to construct hands which fit the bill for that eventuality, I agree that strategy needs to be done and wish that I had time to do the work to properly analyze allowing for that possibility.

Perhaps later on, but not right now. If you want me to do it later please say so, and I’ll eventually find time to do it.

If there is something else in which I am either confusing you or not responding to what bothers you, please also let me know.

slarMarch 5th, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Well, if you don’t have time to fully analyze the hand now then certainly a lesser player wouldn’t have the time to do so at the table. Let’s try a simpler question. How is one supposed to determine whether the order of trumps played is suit preference or ruff-requesting?

Bobby WolffMarch 5th, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Hi Slar,

Again I appreciate your follow-up and will try and clarify what needs to be.

In bygone days, when bridge strategy was first enlightening up the scene, particularly the high-level game, a high-low defensively in trump, as already mentioned both showed a third trump and the ability to ruff something.

However thereafter as the years passed and that specific opportunity became rare, it basically went out, like the morning milk delivery, to a wide variety of other meanings involving, of course, suit preference whether or not a third one was held.

The result, particularly when an older player teamed up with a relative youngster, while the older player just assumed his original learning was still in effect, while the younger player had never heard anything except the cherished suit preference which was (is) vastly overrated and indeed, was hard to play ethically when holding only two trumps since often the choice was vitally dependent on what the defensive player who won the trick (or maybe was just following suit) held to match up with the play up to then (in other words many intangibles).

Because of these ongoing problems, particularly when important bridge and their adherents were constantly changing partners due to many reasons (which everyone should imagine).

Because of the above I preferred to not get into discussions about which method was better (often impossible to just determine) and usually just fell back into what I had become used to or agreed to change to what partner offered, but often realized that he had become a victim of very poor advice, but since it hardly ever came up, just decided to let it go.

Do I believe my first learned way, at this point in time, being old, with almost no one going back as far as I do, so who can blame others for just listening to whoever their mentor was at that time. Do I think my first learned way was the best?

How in the world could I know except to use a computer to attempt a simulation of perhaps a thousand hands involving different trump holdings while on defense against game contracts, since slams are usually easy and more valuable to a watching declarer and part scores become way too complicated and thus uninformative due to way too many options.

I guess (but am far from sure) that my old time method of showing a third trump and the ability to ruff something is still at least as good as any, although its use is rare, but what about the ethics involved with suit preference which begins with holding the 432 of trumps and as soon as a BIT takes place my partner will then be subject to receiving UI from me, something which I abhor and prefer never (meaning the rest of my life) to be privy to.

Others, even unquestioned top flight players discount the BIT they offer, and arrogantly think that if partner is advantaged, why is that so bad? Some like chocolate, others like vanilla, but whatever is chosen seems to follow the unethical option, but never by the top players who I constantly admire.

I hope the above shines some light on some subjects we can veer off into, but somehow I prefer not to, for fear of discussing vulgar type answers not fit for a final opinion.

To stay on the plus side of the above sensitive discussion it is better to play definitive signals, rather than ones which demand thought on some and quick plays on others such as Odd & Even (the worst), Smith Echo (almost as bad) and this subject, defensive trump plays.

When and if bridge ever becomes commonplace in the USA’s school curriculum on an annual bases, we will likely get a universal American opinion on what option is long range best for the future of defensive signalling. At that time my wishes will be fulfilled for that subject and many others which until then will always be only conjecture and not well enough thought out.

The sad part of this process for me is that for me to be on site when those verdicts arrive, would require me to reach Methuselah’s age and my current diet is unlikely to allow me to do it.

When you wrote immediately above about why I tried to postpone answering your question, I hope you now know why.

slarMarch 5th, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Thank you for your response. I think what I was missing from the get-go is that suit preference vs. echo is a partnership agreement like Lavinthal or Odd-Even. (While I’m a relative neophyte, the methods I have learned tend towards neanderthal so I didn’t even realize this was a possibility.)

To one of your other points, one of my partners encourages me to play Odd-Even discards and yes they are hard to play in tempo at times. While I don’t prefer them, I do think it was good for my development to play them at least sometimes because they forced me to think ahead. Now I think of my discards while declarer is planning the play so that I am ready when the time comes. Usually.