Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.

Mark Twain

S North
Both ♠ 9 5 2
 K J 7
 K 6 3 2
♣ Q 8 7
West East
♠ A K Q 6 4
 10 9 3
♣ J 6 5 2
♠ 10
 8 6 4 2
 10 7 5 4
♣ K 10 9 4
♠ J 8 7 3
 A Q 5
 A Q J 9
♣ A 3
South West North East
1 1 ♠ Dbl. Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Today’s deal from a recent Cavendish pairs emphasizes that bridge can sometimes resemble one of those Russian dolls where you keep peeling off the layers to find something interesting and unexpected below.

Let’s look at a simple story first. Against three no-trump as West, Ton Bakkeren took two top spades, then shifted to the club two when his partner pitched a discouraging heart. Declarer took Huub Bertens’ nine with the ace but eventually had to play another spade, and ended up with only seven tricks when the club finesse lost.

This turned out to be a major swing for East-West, the eventual tournament winners, even though many Wests found the right defense of shifting to a club — but that was far from the end of the story.

As East, how should you defend if your partner shifts to a low club, and declarer plays low from dummy, then ducks your club nine? Since partner is marked with the three top spades, you know declarer has the club ace. Might you not be tempted to go passive and exit with a heart? That was the way Steve Landen played as declarer. When the defense duly shifted to hearts, he knocked out the spade queen and claimed nine tricks.

But that is still not the whole story. Say that as West you know declarer has four diamonds and four spades. If you are going to play a club, why not shift to the club jack at trick three? That was the defense Bob Hamman found, and now declarer had no chance.

There is a place for subtlety and delicacy in bridge; this is not it. You have a balanced hand and should treat it as such by jumping to two no-trump now. I’m not saying there aren’t hands where a one spade response might work, but the odds favor describing balanced hands as such as soon as you reasonably can. Your partner can always check back for a spade or heart fit if he wants to.


♠ J 8 7 3
 A Q 5
 A Q J 9
♣ A 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 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


Patrick CheuJune 16th, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Hi Bobby,The 9C holds,East now has to decide whether declarer has 4342 or 4243 as to whether he plays a second club? Is that just a pure guess or was he influenced by the method of scoring here,pairs as opposed to teams? Nevertheless the play of the JC by West points the way for guessing! Regards~Patrick.

TedJune 16th, 2015 at 9:33 pm

The JC also, however, means no guessing for declarer if he holds the 9C rather than East.

Joe1June 16th, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Nice defense, hard to make 3; how about N’s double? Too weak? What about the raise to 3 NT, also weak? I know change K and J and it makes, or some other tweak. Hey, I wonder about TOCM? As N I would not have doubled, and probably landed us in 3D, or passes 2Nt. Too conservative?

jim2June 16th, 2015 at 11:30 pm

If I had doubled with that North hand, I would have been taken seriously in hearts. I sure thought that a negative double meant four in the unbid major and maybe the other minor as well. Here, the only four card suit North had was the one bid by partner. Expert bidding is too tough for me, that’s all.

bobby wolffJune 17th, 2015 at 1:56 am

Hi Patrick, Ted, Joe1 and Jim2,

While this hand is not very complicated, good questions and obviously both winning and losing answers, all added to making somewhat difficult non-standard bidding decisions.

Since bidding always preceeds the play let’s tend to it now. First, after opening the bidding at the one level, having LHO inject a one level overcall and then having the responder choose his best course of action, oft times no options are what could be called standard or automatic.

Enter Jim2 with his claim of a negative double of 1 spade by his RHO always will have at least 4 hearts and when not strong enough to bid 2 hearts may even have 5 or more.

Many partnerships demand such and all partnerships would like to comply, but sometimes exceptions should rule. On this hand there is just the right amount (or close) to the hand value expected (8-11+) and when the shouting and the furor dies the only card missing is a 4th heart. To compensate, the responder has a fit in partner’s minor allowing him to prefer diamonds as long as the bidding doesn’t get out of hand.

To not double but to raise diamonds instead is certainly a choice that many experienced players would opt, either a conservative 2 diamond call or rather an overbid of a limit raise (either 3 diamonds or a conventional cue bid of 2 spades showing a limit raise or better).

I prefer the negative double and although I concur to partner playing me for 4 hearts, I am hoping that my KJx will suffice.

Taking the untraveled road in bridge bidding always will run a risk, but merely meekly bidding 2 diamonds is also running the risk of missing a good game and my 3-3-4-3 hand pattern just doesn’t look nor feel right for leaping in diamonds.

So here we are now left with playing and defending this close contract. At all tables it will start with 2 rounds of spades, if for no other reason than the defense is hoping for their opponents to have gone off the rails with no spade stop.

Then it comes time to decide what to do. Knowing declarer, in the fullness of time, will be able to develop a spade trick if left to his own devices should, upon a complete analysis, turn the defensive focus to finding partner with the king of clubs with both the 10 and the 9 since the 8 is in dummy.

It has been suggested that West may have the king of clubs himself and well he might. However, if so wouldn’t he then give up a soft spade in order to create the setting 5th defensive trick if later in with his club king?

I do believe that West will expect a good declarer to play him for the club jack, not the king if he instead leads a small one, so if true why not be a good partner and show him the congratulatory jack as a precaution to keep from happening what Steve Landen did to his opponent, ducking the nine and convincing East not to continue clubs.

It is hands like these, especially when top players are in every seat, which show bridge to be the great test of skill that it will become.

And to say that analysis is a huge part of the game, but in reality, psychology plays just as large a factor especially on this hand with the lesser traveled road of a negative double without 4 of the other major and the bold play of the jack of clubs merely adding to the fun and, of course, the intensity.

Bridge standard rules are always followed only sometimes, but by the same token expert discipline should and is followed close to 100%, since without it, no partnership can overcome the disasters which will be sure to follow.

But that discussion is for another time,

Patrick CheuJune 17th, 2015 at 6:30 am

Hi Bobby, If West with Jxxx or Jxx or Jx of clubs is likely to switch to JC, East has to ‘psychologically’ decide on playing a second club,on 9c holding trk.A pity,then,that East cannot know whether West started with Jxxx or Jxx of clubs here?!Or is there a way?

bobby wolffJune 17th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Hi Patrick,

While there is no way for East to be sure of West holding that necessary 10 of clubs (to go with his lead of the jack), he will find out when it happens, but “no harm, no foul” on the defense since East will not be able to cash the fifth spade anyway.

The major premise which allowed Bob Hamman to lead his unsupported jack of clubs is that, by merely leading a low club, declarer will know (95%+) that it is East not West who possesses the king, for otherwise West would merely establish his 5th spade so that he can pounce on the setting trick when or if, he eventually wins the king of clubs.

Making the wrong defensive play, which, in turn, sometimes allows a contract to be made is not worth the pain of disappointing partner later by not having a specific card he might have expected.