Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Always look on the bright side of life. Otherwise it’ll be too dark to read.


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


Against your contract of four hearts, West leads the club king and receives a count signal of the three, suggesting an odd number. Now he switches to the diamond five. How do you envisage the play going?

At the table declarer was frightened of a ruff, so rose with the diamond ace, and tried to draw trump. But when the 3-1 break came to light he had to go one down, losing a trick in each suit. The point is that the defenders now had two chances to work out which black-suit winner would be standing up.

South should have worked out that if West was allowed to obtain his ruff he would be able to claim 10 tricks. That would be so unless West started life with two red singletons, which is surely against the odds. So it is best to finesse at trick two hoping either that East will give his partner the ruff or else that he does not find the spade switch.

So now the question is whether East should get the defense right. After winning the diamond king, the shift to a spade is right either if East-West have to try to cash two spades, (in which case declarer could surely always guess the spade suit) or if the actual lie of the cards exists – which is certainly a relatively unlikely position to have to cater for. So I suspect most defenders would get this wrong, one way or another.

If your partnership plays support doubles, so that North has essentially denied six hearts or three spades, then your choice is to pass (hoping this is your only plus score or your smallest minus) as opposed to doubling to show cards and hoping something good happens. If you could bid three clubs, natural and non-forcing, you would, but except by prior agreement that isn’t so clearly what the call means.


♠ Q 10 8 4 3
 K 5
♣ K 10 8 4 3
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 RastogiMay 5th, 2015 at 10:11 am

Hello Mr Wolff

South in the deal opend 4 H. Is this correct ? South has full one level opening bid and also has two Aces which should point towards opening 1 H as non vul against vul this 4 H should be very light otherwise what would one do with very light hands. I can understand if someone playing Namayats opens this hand at 4 level not otherwise.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Joe1May 5th, 2015 at 11:06 am

Should E overtake the lead? E knows W has Q. The DK is placed nicely. If an H is coming, it won’t go away. But E should see that a S could disappear on the D’s, thus should be attacked? Basically E seems to be in a better position to read the winning line.
Thanks to our host for being part of the “bright side”.

Iain ClimieMay 5th, 2015 at 11:55 am

Hi Shantanu, Bobby,

Although South’s hand may be overly strong, there can be a case for putting up a barrage as you don’t yet know who has the balance of strength. I also recall a Reese comment that a preempt which is known to be always weak is a blunt weapon. How much of a case is there for varying pre-empts, and not just in 3rd seat? Do the risks of fooling partner outweigh the benefits of taking bidding space from both opponents?



Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Hi Shantanu,

At least as far as my judgment goes, I agree with you.

While it is always tempting to make it difficult for the opponents by starting the auction off at the 4 level, especially when holding long hearts rather than spades plus the elephant in the room, being NV vs. V, accuracy in final location may offset that advantage.

Let us delve deeper into today’s example:

1. Both directions have a longer combined trump suit, 10 cards in their minor suit and only 9 in the always preferred major (for being able to play one trick lower in game).

2. Both sides can legitimately (and best defense) make 10 tricks in their 10 card fits, but only 9 in their major, while, probably by coincidence each side has exactly 20 combined HCP’s.

3. Chance will have it that the defense with dummy exposed will make it easier when EW defends diamonds rather than hearts where there will be a different opening leader and, of course, then a much more obvious correct choice.

4. The law of total tricks (LOTT) is pretty much on target, suggesting it is of consistent value, but only in intuitive judgment when length of partner’s suit is at least suspected.

5. The only noted bridge author, at least to my knowledge, to even suggest and then discuss the above subject of the symmetry in bridge is Ely Culbertson and he has been dead for almost 60 years (12/55).

6. It then may follow that our beautiful and challenging game is a combination of numeracy, with its first cousin of probabilities,
and crucially the high-level experience necessary to judge accurately while playing against peers.

7. Not unlike the physical exercise of the practice necessary to hit basketball shots from a distance, the hand to eye coordination to hit a 100 MPH fastball in baseball, the grace of throwing and catching a football between a 40 yard pass thrown and then caught by an acrobatic receiver while being fiercely defended, or the overall athletic necessity of playing soccer at the highest level to be able to combine, endurance, strength, speed and above all intense concentration over a finite period of time (the whole game).

Please excuse the above rant. but I believe our game deserves that and more and thanks to you and all other bridge lovers we, at least will have the joy of participating in what is a great intellectual exercise which has proven to keep its devotees in keen mental condition for much longer than others who have not so been blessed.

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Hi Joe1,

I’m with you with your suggested defense and heartily agree, but hope declarer’s hand is not: s. AKx, h. KJ98xxx, d. x, c. xx and decides to let the spade shift ride to his jack in dummy.

Nevertheless, that hand just doesn’t begin to look like a 4 heart opening and for others to fall for my contrived red herring is unethical on my part.

Also thank you for the kind words, your participation and above all, don’t be a stranger.

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt I agree with both Reese and you in the description of being stereotyped in tactics tends to blunt the weaponry. The poker element in bridge, particularly when opponents are well known to each other, lives and thrives on its unpredictability.

On any one hand, no one knows, but I have always thought and agreed to the first poker book I read (perhaps well more than 100 years ago) which suggested that a new poker player should bluff early to gain that reputation and then forever switch to proven probabilities in order to then gain maximum advantage.

Seems imminently correct, except for the axiom of “all generalities are incorrect, including this one”.

In answer to the possible partnership problem in varying one’s tactics, there is no really good answer except to perhaps fit one’s style to that particular partner’s personality and discuss it with him or her before hand.

On paper that might work, at least until the human condition arrives.