Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Better the day, better the deed.

Thomas Middleton

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


The European open championships in San Remo saw a couple of British teams collect medals. Today’s deal comes from the de Botton team’s successful quarterfinal encounter against a strong Dutch squad.

The Dutch North-South had failed to reach slam here, but in the other room Artur Malinowski and Janet de Botton played six spades on the auction shown.

Janet de Botton found a successful line of play. She won the diamond ace, cashed dummy’s heart ace and played a heart back towards her king. It would not have done East any good to ruff thin air, so he threw a club, and declarer won her king and exited with a heart. When West won and continued the suit, declarer ruffed high in the dummy, then cashed the spade king and ran the spade 10, finessing East for the jack. When the spade 10 held, she crossed to hand with a club, drew the last trump, and claimed the remainder.

An alternative, and perhaps safer, approach would have been a dummy reversal. Declarer wins the opening lead, cashes the diamond ace and ruffs a diamond, plays a spade to the ace and ruffs a diamond. Then he cashes the spade queen, and plays a club to dummy. Now he ruffs a diamond, leads another club to dummy, and draws the last trump, pitching a heart from hand. He can cash one further heart and club winner, simply conceding a heart at the end.

It is very tempting to raise partner; after all one is always told to support with support. Here I’m dubious as to whether this is right, as your whole hand is defense to diamonds, and your partner may picture a more offensively oriented hand than this. Nonetheless I will raise, with misgivings. With the spade 10 instead of the jack, I pass.


♠ J 8 3
 K J 7 5
♣ 10 9 7 6 5
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 ♠ 2

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 WarheitMay 13th, 2015 at 9:18 am

Slight misstatement: at the end of the alternate line, S cashes HAK (not H & C since the C are all gone) and concedes the last trick (a H). Okay, you owe me 3 peanuts.

David WarheitMay 13th, 2015 at 9:21 am

On BWA, I bid 2S even with S1083. Why? I’m scared to death of the opponents finding their H fit.

Michael BeyroutiMay 13th, 2015 at 11:25 am

I like the dummy reversal line better. However I did not like the lead of the third club to dummy when only two rounds of trump were taken. Somebody could ruff this. I think the text meant to say “lead a heart to dummy…” And that’s why at the end there’s still one club and one heart winners to be cashed.
David – you owe me a peanut or two…

Dave Memphis MOJOMay 13th, 2015 at 2:57 pm

This auction shows one of my pet peeves. Support with support, dammit! The first time North raised spades was at the six level. There are many South holdings that would make 7S odds on.

bobby wolffMay 13th, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Hi David & Michael,

I appreciate your corrections and agree to be the peanut settler in our various transfers.

No doubt the dummy reversal is the correct declarer’s play with today’s hand. Since a 3-2 break is around 67% plus a possible 4-2-4-3 defensive distribution in the event of a nasty 4-1 trump break certainly trumps the 50-50 nature of finessing for the jack of spades.

When writing about a “real” hand played in an important tournament sometimes we run out of space with our descriptions. Then, in no uncertain way, does not forgive inaccuracy in presentation, but sometimes is a distracting influence and needs to be corrected by us.

Always thank both of you for your contributions.

bobby wolffMay 13th, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Hi Dave, Memphis MOJO,

No doubt, the earlier a trump fit can be disclosed within a partnership, the easier the bidding flows with other suits becoming cue bids (not length but rather specific controls).

Without, which you have so deftly and enthusiastically pointed out, one side, in this case North just had to bellow and jump to 6 spades where his partner, South, was instead valuating his hand for clubs.

Since the whole 2 over 1 GF style of play was designed for finding a fit early, announcing it as soon as the 2 level and then both partners, being on the same wave length as to the eventual trump suit, can be on the same page during almost the entire bidding sequence, especially when slam is in the air.

For old times however, this process is something new to them, making some of their bidding sequences reminiscent of old time give and take, but almost always awkward attempts to hit the target.

We all should feel fortunate that bridge bidding has improved greatly, and you are right on when you merely classify it as “What in the Hell are trumps going to be?”

Michael BeyroutiMay 13th, 2015 at 4:45 pm

MOJO – Sorry, but I disagree with you. And sorry if this seems to be my day of being contrary…
I happen to think that the “old timers” bid the hand pretty, pretty well. North knew exactly what he was doing and he knew “what the hell trumps are going to be”. There is no simple bid he could have made earlier in the auction to show “support with support”. When he learned that his partner is minimum, from the first four bids she took, he settled for the small slam. Otherwise he would have gone for the grand, there’s no fear of that.

What amazes me is that this is “the European championships in San Remo” and yet “The Dutch North-South had failed to reach slam here…” How could that happen?! Maybe South didn’t open with his 11-count?…

Michael BeyroutiMay 13th, 2015 at 4:47 pm

another peanut coming my way… I hope.

Jane AMay 13th, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Bobby will probably hang me out to dry, but I would not have opened that south hand either. Put the ace of clubs as the ace of spades, and the hand looks better to me. But if I hold the north hand, and south does open, my first bid is four NT because we are going to six spades at least. Why mess around and give the opps an opportunity to double for a lead along the way if they have the right cards to do it. But here is what would happen to Jim2. Ace of hearts gets led then another heart and it gets ruffed. TOCM strikes again. No peanuts for him, and probably not me, just shells.

bobby wolffMay 13th, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Hi Michael,

First and foremost, there is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with me or anyone else. After all, if Christopher Columbus did not disagree with the world being flat instead of round, we likely wouldn’t be, at the very least, enjoying the game of bridge.

My beef is with both partners early in the bidding (with, of course, the lion’s share of the high cards between them) not knowing what the eventual trump suit is going to be will set in motion the wrong kind of valuation for the unknowing partner.

I would open the South hand, holding nine cards in the majors plus the AQ combination instead of those two honors being in different suits.

However, some like chocolate and others prefer strawberry and IMO each can arrive at the maximum contract, as long as their chosen system is well thought out (not always the case). However my Prince Albert reason for preferring opening the bidding is that it will deny those distrustful worthy opponents from preempting our side into lesser bidding room often necessaryfor success.

At the World Championship level with most contestants very good technical and experienced players often the difference is the accuracy of slam bidding. Therefore the solution is in trying to get a possible participating partnership the repetitions necessary and both partners knowing what suit is going to be trump, and as early as possible is my very first priorit.

Many very good almost world class bridge partnerships sometimes miss good slams, but doing everything one can to not be one of them, is perhaps the main goal.

Before I award you those valuable peanuts I would like to hear your rebuttal.

Bobby WolffMay 13th, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Hi Jane A,

No shells for one of my favorite commentators, and a local one at that.

Often I comment on what, if any, are the major differences with high-level bridge now
compared with many years ago. To that I reply, the major plus is how much bridge bidding in general and slam bidding, in particular, has improved.

The exchange of information between the partnership has become:

1. Values
2. Initial suit lengths
3. Which suit will be established as the ultimate trump suit. (sometimes it remains TBD, but when it does, NT then usually is in the mix)
4. From then on controls (aces, kings, voids, singletons) are often cue bid not only showing which suit, but also indicating enough values to at least be in the slam range
5. Specific ace asking conventions are only used to keep from bidding a slam off two, but never as a means of bidding one.
6. As as you are no doubt well versed on, depending on the early bidding, some important knowledge of suit fits (some kings and queens, and even jacks are more important than others, and the same thing is, of course true in distribution after that key trump fit has been established and known by BOTH partners, not just one.
7. Of course there are some relay systems, played by a few top partnerships where only one player asks and the other player answers with, at the end of the auction. the asker placing the final contract. However those systems require much practice (also memory work) and do not lend themselves to bidding some possible, but not laydown slams probably worth bidding.

My general reference for this site is not to get into these specialized systems, since many are complicated and do not serve a worthwhile subject for a somewhat random audience, no matter how bridge intelligent they may be.

Michael BeyroutiMay 13th, 2015 at 9:44 pm

No rebuttal from me, Mr Wolff, just appreciation for the time you take to share with us your invaluable expertise! I am wondering, in case South does open the bidding, what should North’s first response be? An imperfect Jacoby 2NT (lack of a fourth trump) or simply 4NT, as Jane A suggested?

Bobby WolffMay 13th, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Hi Michael,

First, thank you for the very kind words which always strikes a sensitive and very positive chord where it counts.

No, I would not recommend a Jacoby 2NT which should require 4 trumps, and although AK10 are more than strong enough to tell a tiny lie, that 3-3-4-3 distribution is not what a Jacoby 4 trump raise is about.

However if partner decided to respond 2 clubs (a very small misdirection) I would, of course, rebid 2 hearts and then playing 2 over 1 GF (very popular here in the USA) partner would merely now just prefer spades by bidding 2 of them. I would then attempt to complete my description by bidding 3 clubs (which would normally be 5-4-1-3). At this time if either partner then either jumped to 4 spades or merely bid 4 spades it would be a suggestion for partner to pass, but, of course that responding hand would never choose that since his ace of diamonds would be facing a likely singleton, a positive holding with no wastage.

Of course, if the original responder had bid 2 clubs, then the opener at his third turn would then bid 2NT not guaranteeing 5-4-1-3 but still probably the most likely distribution. From there the strong hand would push toward slam until reached, with very little extra enthusiasm from partner. However, by then the ultra strong responder will get the message not to expect much extra, if any. In this way it becomes a cooperative effort and shows a positive with the 2 over 1 GF to be of significant value early to alert both partners to both spades as trump with the destination of how high still to be determined.

As a reminder of the important caveat that a Blackwood bid (4NT jump) should never be used to get to a slam, but rather to keep out if 2 aces or2 key cards (out of 5, including the king of trumps, here spades, are missing.

The above message should then be translated to the Blackwooder that he is obligated to bid at least a small slam once he finds out his side has at least 3 out of 4 aces or 4 out of 5 key cards.

There is much more to add about what it takes to be successful slam bidders, but I think it better to now give it a rest in order to think about what we have just discussed.

Dave Memphis MOJOMay 14th, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Michael: Thanks for your comment. My point (sorry if I didn’t express it more clearly) was that South could have had a slightly different hand, bid the same way, and be cold for a grand slam. Sure, North knew all along he/she was going to 6S, but to bid seven would need cooperation from South, something he/she was able to make happen.

Bob HAugust 20th, 2015 at 7:33 pm

you are too kind for the English declarer…