Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.

Pablo Picasso

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

*Game-forcing spade raise


One of the simplest but also most attractive techniques of declarer play that we all learn is an elimination play. If you want the opponents to lead a suit rather than have to lead it yourself, then you try to remove all the other palatable options from the defenders before giving them the lead and forcing them to do something they would otherwise be unwilling to do.

If you can take out all the trumps, or all of a side-suit, the play may be foolproof. But sometimes declarer can only execute a partial strip or elimination of the other suits before throwing an opponent in.

For example, playing in six spades here, South wins the heart lead and tests trumps. When they fail to split, he should not take the diamond finesse. Instead he should attempt to set up an endplay to avoid taking the finesse until or unless it is absolutely necessary.

Declarer leads a second high heart, ruffs a heart and cashes the three high clubs before throwing East in with the master trump. Because he only has diamonds left, East must lead away from the diamond king. This is a partial elimination or strip, because declarer lacked the entries to eliminate hearts completely. Had East held a fourth heart, he would have been able to lead the suit and avoid opening up diamonds to declarer’s advantage. Then South would have been forced to fall back on the finesse, but at least he would have given himself every additional chance.

There are two bids I could not stomach making here. The first is passing; in third seat this is a full opener and passing makes your opponents’ life far too easy. The second is opening one club – anyone who does that deserves to find their partner raising clubs, or leading a club against the opponents’ final contract. Open one heart for the lead; if necessary put down dummy with a spade in your hearts…


♠ 10 7 4 2
 A K 6 4
 A 5
♣ 9 6 2
South West North East
    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


leonMay 21st, 2015 at 9:43 am

Hi Bobby,

What we want to avoid is that east ruffs the 3heart high and can safely exit with a club.
Isnt it therefore slightly better to play club ace, club king and then play heart king and ruff. This line wins also is east has 2 hearts and 2 clubs.

Another line is to play 3 clubs before ruffing the heart. That wins if east has 2 hearts and 3 clubs, but it loses (compared to the proposed line) if east has 3 hearts and 2 clubs….

Difficult choice, better to develop some “table-feeling” (watch how do opponents discard on the first two clubs).

Thanks for sharing an instructive hand.


bobby wolffMay 21st, 2015 at 10:56 am

Hi Leon,

Your suggestions are nothing short of brilliant, if for no other reason than to distinguish the very good from the even better than that.

It is simply a positive talent to see and understand the declarer play partial elimination and throw-in, but it is even better to consider specific distributions which might make a material difference in the order of winners played.

Obviously you have a keen bridge mind and proven by your comment, an abiding interest in an attempt at perfection. Both of those attributes give you, at the very least, the numeracy talent to be special.

Furthermore you have even put in a word for the choices available to declarer in “guessing” the most likely adverse distribution which, when failing, may derail his master plan, and also the competitive “duty” for the opponents to try and confuse by their order of possible falsecards, e.g. East throwing the jack of clubs on the first or second high club lead from declarer.

With “eagle eyes” such as you and many of our “regulars” on this site, both the readership and I are blessed with your presence.

Please, don’t be a stranger.

jim2May 21st, 2015 at 11:52 am

Leon —

Outstanding spot! I confess that I skipped over that wondering about the bidding. I guess the N-S partnership must have had some sort of agreement that South’s rebid of 3C would show either a suit or shortness, leaving South able only to bid 3S to show strength (with 4S being fast arrival closeout). Then N had to bid 4S instead of cue bid due to having a minimum forcing raise? Even if that is correct, why did not S ask for aces?

BTW, would any of us be clever enough to follow with the QH holding:


bobby wolffMay 21st, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Hi Jim2,

Playing Jacoby trump raises, South’s bid of 3 spades showed maximum values 17-19+ but denied any shortness.

As you commented, North then raised only to 4 spades, thinking he had a stark minimum. Yes, South probably should have checked on aces, but possibly feared East might double the 5 of a red suit bid, directing his partner to the best defense and felt that partner would certainly have at least 1 ace since he South had a full 19. In any event that would be as good an excuse as any for not.

Yes the play of the queen of hearts by East on the opening lead is indeed sensational and would almost certainly cause the declarer to lead 3 rounds of clubs early (to his dismay).

As a matter of fact, it took me some time before I realized your example hand only included a doubleton club, therefore breaking up the column line.

As is often said that when there is a will there are always relatives, er, I mean there is often a way to best counteract the opponent and by George, or by anyone else, you have found it.

I guess between you and Leon the two of you would be competing to be Mr. Originality, a prize that Mr. Bert Parks used to give every September on TV and in Atlantic City, but in a decidedly different competition.

Obviously you, more than anyone else who has ever played bridge, knew that clubs couldn’t split at your table and because of that, this hand became duck soup for you,

Don’t you feel at least slightly unethical, to take advantage of a condition, TOCM tm, which no one else is lucky enough to suffer from?

jim2May 21st, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Ah, Dear Host, even now you do not understand the full power of the … TOCM ™!

At my table, I would:

1) win the heart,
2) cash the two top trump,
3) cash the two top clubs, and …

KNOW that the E-W cards would be in a quantum fuzz ready to resolve to thwart me.

As I began to pull the third top club out of my hand … East’s club would begin to disappear and morph into a heart.

I realize that, and switch my hand to a heart, and East’s hearts suddenly begin to fade out of sight, being replaced by pointed suit spots.

See, there is no escape … at least not for me!

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

TOCM tm is in fact a living organism with a brain which fully understands high-level bridge.

Maybe we can morph this creature into rooting and therefore performing for our side, of course, turning against our many worthy bridge opponents and then we will win one World Championship after another.

Some may cry foul, and keep our players out of the H-O-F but even so, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez seem to still smile, every time they are photographed.

jim2May 21st, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Professor Schrodinger gets pulled over by a policeman, who asks to see his license and registration.

As the officer looks them over, he thinks he hears a noise in the trunk.

“Do you have someone in your trunk?” he asks.

“Just my cat,” replies the professor.

“Open it,” the cop demands.

“No, please!”

The officer insists and opens the trunk himself.

He looks at the professor. “It’s dead.”

The professor shakes his head sadly. “Well, NOW it is.”

slarMay 21st, 2015 at 7:27 pm

As an aside, what are we supposed to do with our pesky convention cards when we commonly open a four-card major in third or fourth position but only if it is very good (AKxx or KQJx)? My partner and I will happy describe our agreements if asked but the pair of check boxes (4 and 5) doesn’t provide a lot of clarity.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Hi Slar,

Of course, when on the front side of the CC the subject becomes four or five card majors, as you describe possible four card majors in the 3rd or 4th position (a treatment which many experienced partnerships prefer) try and write in bold print or perhaps an asterisk calling attention to it.

In addition, and especially when playing against newbies, it may be wise, although probably not necessary, when your side opens a major suit in the 3rd or 4th seat to alert.

One real problem is that there is a scarcity of real bridge aficionados in Horn Lake who unfortunately are on the front line of these kinds of queries and sometimes rather than seek an answer they put a bandaid on it and nothing of much value is communicated to the questioner.

The answer would be to always have a very well educated bridge expert at the ready to give a complete job of describing what is available.

I’ll continue to dream, but in these troubled days there apparently are more important agendas to be planned.

Joe1May 22nd, 2015 at 2:08 am

Thanks jim2 for the joke–or the insight into our seemingly random reality. On the bidding, neither S nor N made any moves to inquire about a possible grand. While not available as the cards lie, neither knows this from the bidding, why not cue bids along the way. With 4 As and 3Ks, and room for an extra Q or more, on a different hand there could be a good play for 7.

jim2May 22nd, 2015 at 2:34 am



As for looking for a grand, I am not Our Host, but I think North’s 4S was the final bid that took it out of the picture. That is, North’s initial 2N denied extra shape, and South also denied extra shape with 3S. Thus, when North denied extra HCP values by bidding 4S, South knew a grand was very unlikely.

South now knew that the max combined holding was ~32, neither hand held a singleton or void, and neither hand had a side suit source of tricks.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2015 at 4:51 am

Hi Joe1,

If in fact the NS pair were playing Jacoby trump raises (and I suspect they were), 2NT showed 13+ and 4 trumps for partner.
The opening bidder showed a maximum gradation 18+, but no singletons or voids with his 3 spade rebid. A jump to 4 spades by opener shows a minimum opener and no short suits as does a 3NT rebid but rather a middle gradation of 15-17.

And as Jim2 suggested, it would be difficult to construct the 26 NS cards so that a grand slam would be odds on (67% or better) especially since both partners would and should add to their hands value if either had an extra trump (6 for opener or 5 for responder). Therefore the queen of spades needs to be held by a friend and not nestled in their opponents 4 card spade distribution.

While you have every right to not be hasty about giving up a good grand slam opportunity, good judgment should prevail with the early bidding and here the opener just shot out a graphic slam try, 6 spades by name, and a try to make a small slam.

Please note if South went the Blackwood way and got a 1 ace (or key card response) of 5 diamonds, a lead directing double by a wide awake East would scuttle this slam.

While some experienced and very good players would take that down one in stride, muttering that it is all part of the game and being unlucky has to be accepted.

Except I buy into an opposite opinion of NS merely asked for good defense (this time a right on opening lead) with little to gain since the first couple of bids already had determined the strength was there so why beat around the bush since a grand slam seemed out of the question when the responder, as Jim2 said, merely raised to 4 spades over South’s very strong rebid.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide on what you now think, and wouldn’t tend to criticize making another slam try, but when doing so sometimes “loose lips sink ships” as it might have happened here.

Is bridge a great game or what; especially the high-level variety, but we all have to work to get into that exclusive club, including the psychological side of the game which, IMO separates the best world players from only the great ones.

Mircea1May 22nd, 2015 at 11:34 am

Hi Bobby,

Do you agree with using Jacoby raises with unbalanced hands as well, thus limiting the strength of a splinter bid? A friend of mine advocates this as being more advantageous with very strong hands (15+) for the responder.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Hi Mircea1,

The treatment of having both shortness, a good fit for partner’s opening bid suit (particularly a 5 card major) and also a surplus of high cards is a dangerous combination.

Dangerous to have so many positive possibilities because if, in fact, the opener has a poor fit e.g. KQ opposite shortness the responder will find excuses to continue bidding instead of showing respect for partner’s warning. Consequently I would suggest shortness being shown with, of course, good trump support (four much better than three opposite a 5 card major opening), but exclusively in a range of 10-13+ high cards.

However, if the responder is dealt as many as 16 HCPs (with aces and kings undervalued and queens and jacks overvalued) he then should bid again over a game signoff. And, of course even larger numbers of high card points causing the specific philosophy to basically suggest that the splinter is with the weaker number of high cards, but even after a signoff which is usually based on the wrong holding (neither xxx(x) nor the ace) opposite the shortness.

There are variable factors such as voids rather than singletons, easily set up side suits rather than balanced, good trumps, but not too good such as KQJxx instead of Kxxxx opposite a 5 card major which is usually just as good without the QJ.

In other words, the maturing of a bridge player (always with at the very least, a numerate card enthusiast) who can take the pressure and welcomes the competition.

Getting back to your specific question a former favorite partner of mine, Sidney Lazard many years ago, would jump to 4 of a singleton over a 5 card major opening (spades) with s. Kxxxx, h. xx, d. Axxxx, c. x believing that the responding hand was worth more than an opening one bid opposite a 1 spade opening by partner.

Yes, I do believe that a Jacoby trump raise can be used with GF hands of any range and/or distribution to find out critical features as early as possible enabling the higher bidding to then focus on trump honors and specific suit controls (as well as a possible source of side tricks in one hand or the other).