Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely.

Lord Macaulay

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

*Transfer to hearts


Today’s deal from a bygone US trials saw Seymon Deutsch take on Jeff Wolfson in the semi-final stage. Both tables reached three no-trump, and Wolfson went one down on a spade lead after an unopposed auction, when he tested hearts then led the diamond queen from dummy. After the diamond queen was covered by the king, declarer tested diamonds but had only eight tricks – three tricks in each red suit and one spade on top. He could establish a second spade but had no valid route to a ninth trick.

By contrast, Chip Martel for Deutsch had the benefit of an informative auction. He won the spade 10 at trick one, and tested hearts, pitching a club from hand, then reassessed the position. He needed the diamond king onside, but since neither opponent had introduced spades, a 4-4-4-1 shape on his right was quite plausible. Playing the diamond queen would lose out to a singleton king, but if he were to play a low diamond from dummy and the king was in a three-card or longer holding, he would have had to lose an unnecessary diamond trick.

Martel correctly led a small diamond from dummy, and the appearance of the king brought him up to nine tricks; four diamonds, two spades, and three hearts.

The mathematics of the position are quite complex. But Martel believed that East had four cards in each major, and from his opening bid had at least three clubs. Therefore if he had the diamond king it had to be singleton or doubleton.

So he ran three rounds of diamonds, ending in hand, East keeping all four clubs and one spade. Now Martel played the spade king, ducked, then led a diamond to dummy, and a club toward his hand for his ninth trick. Had East kept two spades and three clubs, Martel would have built himself a club trick first before tackling spades.

The choice here is to pass, or bid two hearts. A little depends on whether the one notrump call is forcing; if it is not, then you rate to have a real club fit and are less likely to have an eight-card heart fit. If one no-trump is forcing I would bid two hearts and hope to find our highest scoring fit.


♠ 4
 A Q 7 3 2
 Q 8 4 3
♣ 5 4 3
South West North East
    1 ♠ Pass
1 NT Pass 2 ♣ 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


David WarheitMay 27th, 2015 at 9:52 am

You made a misstatement in your last paragraph. The CK was declarer’s 10th trick; as you previously noted, he already had 9 tricks and he already had cashed all of them Of course, E could have discarded better and held declarer to 9 tricks..

bobby wolffMay 27th, 2015 at 10:37 am

Hi David,

Correct you are, again. Chip was given a chance for 10 tricks when his RHO discarded down to 1 spade when Chip was cashing his diamonds.

Since the top level in playing bridge is probably achieved only by attention to detail, so should it be presented by bridge columnists to their readers.

This is my way of apologizing for the *#^@$ error in today’s rendition. However by doing so, I should appreciate you enough to pay a small price, perhaps one or two pence for sitting on my shoulder, as Jiminy Cricket famously did for his friend Pinocchio, in order to perform as his conscience.

TedMay 27th, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing in a Knockout against good but unfamiliar opponents, I was very conscious of Jim2’s TOCM on one hand in particular. How would you handle the following (red against white, partner deals) :

1NT (11-14HCP) 3S

You hold:
Kx AJ9xx K10x KQx

Which should be safer, 3NT or 4H?

If you decide on 3NT, the SQ is lead. Cover or hope the suit is blocked? Is this strictly table feel or is there anything else on which to base the decision?

Iain ClimieMay 27th, 2015 at 10:29 pm

Hi Ted,

Just for interest, does declarer have Sxx or Sxxx or even 4 small spades- I assume we can discount Jx(x) in declarer’s hand with the spade overcaller having found a flashy lead of SQ from AQ109xx(x). I can see where this is going, though, as the hot breath of the TOCM beast is on declarer’s neck here.



bobby wolffMay 28th, 2015 at 12:41 am

Hi Ted and Iain,

To duck and find the partner of the overcaller with Ax is nothing short of brilliant, but to play the king, win or lose is clearly the percentage thing to do. Whatever the result, I, as either NPC or a teammate would be disappointed if the king was not played.

When one talks about table feel, situations as common as this one (common meaning it happens about once every 500 hands or probably fewer) but when it does, even against newbie club players, most would lead the queen from length and either with or without the ace with perhaps the exception of having another ace to get in with, then opening with the ace, just in case a player on the declaring side was dealt the singleton king.

Obviously neither the dummy nor one’s teammates should bring up a losing venture if the declarer does duck, but if he plays the king and loses, consolation (except, of course for Jim2 who we all know by fiat would be required to do the wrong thing), but I suspect he would be doing the right thing (playing the king) and only having it turn out to be disastrous.

When one considers how many more spades are in the opening leaders hand compared to his partner plus the opportunity to have 3rd seat only have the singleton ace, table feel, short of showing declarer his hand, has very little to nothing regarding this decision.

“Shot at sunrise” to someone who ducks is my advice with also a strong letter to follow.

However the possibility of bidding 4 hearts instead of 3NT is a topic worth discussing with my experience about 40% in favor of choosing
to do it. However, the bidding occurs before the opening lead and since partner can have many different spade holdings the chance for just brilliantly picking hearts is not as pretty as some may dress it up to be particularly when RHO’s preempt makes it more likely that hearts will not be breaking well.

Again the spoils go to the winning side, but as Damon Runyon, a famous American gambler and writer once said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”.

Thanks Ted for starting a discussion worth sharing thoughts.

jim2May 28th, 2015 at 1:29 am

Or one could double, accepting a small loss in case pard cannot find 3N on his/her own or some other bid.

TedMay 28th, 2015 at 2:55 am

I’m not sure whether 4 Hearts would make since I didn’t get a close look at the other hands. Declarer quickly claimed — once the defense took the first 7 tricks.

In answer to your question, Iain, Spades were 7222.

At the other table 3NT was played from my side (no weak NT) and made 4. Is there a bidding counterpart to ToCM?

Jim2 – a double would have been primarily takeout for us. I had visions of stumbling around in a minor when 3NT was cold.

Thanks to each of you.

jim2May 28th, 2015 at 10:44 am

More than one bridge writer has suggested that — when one does not know which game contract to bid over a preempt and that the wrong choice would be a disaster — then it is often best to double. Either pard may know better, or pard may sit for the small set. Thus, if the other room guesses and guesses wrong, you get a good swing and — if the guess right — your loss is not great.

On TOCM ™ and bidding, my favorite personal gauge is 1N opened auctions by opponents. One can add to that special system openers like Flannery, Precision 2D, etc. That is, one is at a disadvantage on a hand if the opponents get to open a special bid (especially a hand-defining or limiting one) that the field is unlikely to open.

In one 26 Board session, the opponents opened 1N sixteen times, from 8-10, 11-14, 13-15, 15-17, and 16-18. Additionally, there was one Flannery 2D and one Precision 2D. Thus, we started at a dis-advantage as many as 18 of the 26 Boards. For those Boards that they opened 1N with 15-18, our dis-advantage was admittedly smaller because most of the field also opened 1N.

We did not win that one …

bobby wolffMay 28th, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your bid of double with that very good South hand is probably the best gambit of all, allowing for the greatest choice. If partner now chooses a minor suit, a follow up bid of 4 hearts would definitely show five, but with other options, including 4NT.

It seems that I have an aversion to doubling simply because many partners (some absolutely top notch) seem to have preferences to stand firm instead of TO. However, on this hand, if they so choose, it figures to be the right option, or at least definitely in the ball park.

Thanks for reminding me of my losing bias and why I should loosen up, or at least what it may seem to be.

bobby wolffMay 28th, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Hi Ted,

One of the spectacular features of bridge competition is that over a long match (90+ boards or, in truth even 60+) and against close to equals, my remembrance is that even though fortune may favor one side or the other from one 15+ board session to the next, that both sides, if clearly superior will have the chance to advantage themselves enough to win if they have the industry, patience, and consistency to wait for the opportunities which will present themselves.

That fact is also present in our well known playoff systems of so many of our major sports.
However when the possibility of losing enters some of the player’s minds it can have a devastating effect. It may or may not be pertinent for me to then mention that Lebron James in basketball seems, while not playing any better than usual, is now leading his team (Cleveland) by supplying incredible leadership on what to do to win, an invaluable and necessary element to consistently wind up in the winner’s circle.

It happens also in bridge, even more so since the mind plays such a large portion in how excellent individual players perform in our chiefly mind game.

BTW, in your subject hand, did the opening leader have or not have the ace of spades? I suspect he did not.

bobby wolffMay 28th, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Hi again Jim2,

Yes, most, if not all, of the conventions used against you (in that infamous session) all become advantageous if and when they show up, if for no other reason, then they can immediately narrowly describe their 13 cards within certain distributional strictures.

One of the chief disadvantageous of many conventions, at least IMO, is the infrequency of their occurrence, so when they do bellow forth against you, the bidding TOCM tm has again raised its head.

Your description, even applying to a Precision 2 diamond opening, which is always short diamonds (0 or 1), long clubs and either 4-4 4-3 or 3-4 in the majors which, in truth, is a default provision in that system, trying to shore up a weakness (the difficulty of handling the diamond suit) but with that single bid they start the bidding relatively high (taking away some of the opponent’s bidding room) and very descriptive, again giving them a significant advantage on that hand, at least in the long run.

With your intelligent post, there is, as always, a lot of important grist available, to better understand the game and what leads to become a consistent winner.

TedMay 28th, 2015 at 4:22 pm

The thought of doubling then, if necessary, pulling 4m to 4H did not occur to me at the table. Thanks for the very useful suggestion.

Bobby, the opening leader had 7 to the QJ10.

jim2May 28th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Well, of COURSE, the AS was in the other hand! Well, once the KS was called for, anyway. Before that, maybe not …


bobby wolffMay 28th, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Hi Ted & Jim2,

Thanks Ted for either confirming the disaster or in fact only relating how the West (meaning EW) was won.

Jim2, have you thought of a strategy of taking a picture of the 3rd seat hand after the opening lead but before declarer has called a card from dummy? However, perhaps the kinetic energy from the disease itself is the main culprit in basically forcing the victim (in this case, declarer) to always do the wrong thing. But if so, it could be a scientific advance
made possible and thus should logically be named the “Jim2 step”.

However, OTOH, to have a disabling disease named after you, might be of questionable value, but still, to some, you would become as famous as Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

jim2May 28th, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Most do not want to cameras on them, esp in such situations.

If I did get one to agree, I have no doubt the picture would come out blurry, just toooo blurry to make oout the card(s) of interest.