Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

‘Which road do I take?’ Alice asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’

Lewis Carroll

N North
None ♠ 9 3 2
 K Q J
 A Q J 4
♣ 8 5 2
West East
♠ K 4
 8 5 4 3 2
 10 6
♣ K Q J 10
♠ 7 6 5
 10 9 7 6
 K 9 8 3
♣ 9 6
♠ A Q J 10 8
 7 5 2
♣ A 7 4 3
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
2 ♣ Pass 2 ♠ Pass
4 ♠ All pass    


In today’s deal, after his partner shows a balanced 12-14 at his second turn, South’s two club rebid is known as “New Minor Forcing”. It is the equivalent of delayed Stayman, showing at least invitational values, and asks opener to introduce an unbid major or to show three-card support for responder. On the sequence shown, North reveals three-card spade support, making it easy for South to select the spade game.

West leads the club king against four spades. Rightly or wrongly, you elect to duck the trick and win the club queen continuation. Meanwhile, East plays high-low, consistent with jack-third of clubs or a doubleton. What should you do next, after cashing the heart ace?

If you take the diamond finesse and it loses, you may well find the defenders cashing a club, after which you will need the spade finesse to succeed. Alternatively, you can rise with the diamond ace, and take two discards on the heart winners. If so, which discards should you make from your hand?

If you discard your club losers, then take the spade finesse, or even play the spade ace and another spade, you might lose out to a diamond ruff. A far safer line is to pitch your diamonds on the top hearts.

After disposing of your diamonds, simply play a third club, and ruff the fourth club with dummy’s spade nine. You give up a trick to the spade king, directly or indirectly, but have the rest.

In this column I frequently offer the sacrilegious advice that opener should be both able and willing to raise responder with just three trump. This hand is on the cusp of what is an acceptable hand for a raise. With such a balanced shape, but no stopper in either black suit, I can see both sides of the coin. I would bid one no-trump with as little as jack-third in either black-suit. Here I raise, but I’m conflicted…


♠ 9 3 2
 K Q J
 A Q J 4
♣ 8 5 2
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


Joe1July 15th, 2015 at 10:06 am

Why not 3 NT? Many teams will get there, easy make?

Jane AJuly 15th, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Fantastic quote, Bobby, and so true for bridge hands. It certainly helps to have an idea which road you want to travel, even though you may hit a few pot holes along the way. Always nice when a plan comes together!

Thanks for all the interesting hands you continue to post, and your enlightening discussions to go with them. It is my daily bridge lesson, and how lucky is that to get instruction from such a world class player. I might even learn how to play this game before I climb down the rabbit hole.

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Hi Joe1,

Yes, 3NT is a relatively easy make, but it has to be played very carefully. Win the 2nd club play (not necessary on this hand), cash the ace of hearts and play 2 intermediate spades from hand (if necessary), but not required here, leaving declarer with 3 heart tricks, 4 spades and 2 minor suit aces and, of course most importantly, EW with only 3 club tricks and a spade.

The difficulty revolves around entries back and forth in order to secure the 4 spades and the 3 heart tricks.

However, no bridge player, no matter how good, during the bidding, can imagine anywhere near the exact holding of what specific cards his partner may hold. Therefore partnerships rely on certain standards to look for and let them use experienced judgment in determining what that final contract should be.

One of the more reliable caveats is looking for a combined 8 card fit in a major suit in order to contract for a game (10 tricks) if holding in the neighborhood of 26 combined high card and distributional points.

Especially with the South hand, since it contains such a strong major suit hand, together with a singleton (albeit the ace). True 28 HCPs alone are held between the 2 hands, but both finesses (in the pointed suits) are wrong, thus making careful play with either 4 spades or 3NT required for success.

Please note that the queen of diamonds and both red suit jacks turn out to be no more useful than waste paper.

And BTW, I do not think that any really good bridge pairs, much less many, will prefer 3NT to 4 spades in choosing their final contract. The South hand cries out for suit play (great, almost solid interiors, with the combined 8 trumps plus a side singleton with South).

However one of the thrills of the game itself is experiencing what really happens and without that time spent, no one ever, to my knowledge, has progressed up the stairway to the stars in an attempt to reach its pinnacle.

The best of luck to you and, of course, to everyone else, who gives it a great effort.

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Hi Jane A (aka “Bugs”),

Yes, playing good bridge is similar to living life in oft times requiring careful planning in order to get there from here.

Sometimes when being cavalier and just taking a joy ride instead of forecasting its result, we tend to not do right for our self.

Live and learn, learn and live, whichever comes first, but during our Alice in Wonderland years, looking before leaping seems to be the proper order.

If only everyone could be as wise as you are and, no doubt have always been. Since you are also such a tough bridge opponent, is that attribute the main reason for your consistent and stellar bridge play?

Jane AJuly 15th, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Oh sir, you flatter me, and thanks for the compliment. Not sure all my bridge partners would agree with you however! My Saturday partner brings me a hand to study each week as he is helping me understand more about planning squeeze plays and rectifying the count. Always something new to learn, but that is why those of us who play bridge enjoy the game so much. Never a dull moment.

Joe1July 15th, 2015 at 11:51 pm

For janeA, a similar quote I like, Yogi Berra: “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else”.

Yes 4 spades is the better contract, but N with 4333, and S and C covered by S, NT would be bid, especially by the hideous hog.

David WarheitJuly 16th, 2015 at 12:15 am

Joe: Our host suggests that at 3NT, S should duck the opening CK lead, win the next C, unblock the HA, and play S holding on to the A. He also suggests that on a different lie of the defensive hands it might be necessary to duck the opening lead. First of all, I’ve tried but I can’t come up with a reason why ducking might be necessary. Second, if you do duck, W might shift to a D. You can handle this, but it introduces more complications. Have fun going through them all.

Joe1July 16th, 2015 at 12:44 am

If it’s N’s 3 NT, E may not lead a club. A different suit simplifies things, establish spades prior losing C stopper. It seems I have been in similar spots. If C led, duck.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 1:36 am

Hi David & Joe1,

First David, sometimes a declarer becomes better off, by getting a better “feel” of the defense, and therefore what to expect. For example suppose West continues the queen of clubs and East shows out, an unexpected development, but one whose solution may be to switch to a diamond finesse with the possible intention of setting up an eventual end play at the death, rather than merely assume that the spade king is with East.

However since West declined to overcall 2 clubs, his holding a couple of kings outside that formidable club holding appears far fetched, particularly since EW are NV, but years ago when Roth-Stone was popular it well could have occurred. Perhaps, if all else fails some gleaned information might allow a spade safety play of the ace, guarding against a lonesome king with West, adding to the play, as it would certainly spice up a column which might feature it.

Right, not much fun for me to go through diamond shifts, but on the surface I’ll cross that bridge when I get this exact same hand when someone then deals it to me.

I hesitate to delve into the times we should duck and when we simply cannot even consider such a thing. However in perhaps benign areas when doing so we at least, when considering the table action (sometimes fumbling) lightness suddenly appears and lo and behold we even secure a 2nd club trick when the suit breaks 3-3 (especially while playing my favorite, matchpoints), groan).

Just to be hateful, what about a singleton club king from West, with East getting in with the spade king. I’ll end this note and although I unintentionally ignored Joe1, he may still be smiling.

Sometimes it is more productive to not f— around with the falcon, a behavior I learned exactly 70 years ago when I played my first hand of bridge.

Judy Kay-WolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 1:43 am

Hi Bobby,

I assume that f___ around stands for ‘fool’ around since you professed to learning such behavior when you were only twelve years of age!

Pete SagerJuly 16th, 2015 at 7:06 am

Hi Bobby,
1) Should West double 2C? After all if they play in NT, East will be on lead and West wants a club lead.
2) If West does double 2C, would there be a reasonable way for North/South to redouble the bid, and play 2C redoubled which would lead to a better match point score than either 3N or 4S?

Pete SagerJuly 16th, 2015 at 7:42 am

Hi Bobby,
Follow up to my previous question:
3) If North/South do get into 2C redoubled, should either East or West bid 2H which appears to be down only one trick?

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Hi Pete,

You bring up an interesting subject, which on any one hand could be critical to the result of that match or, of course, while playing matchpoints, would likely result in a top or a bottom, but my answer would remain in what could be called “the twilight zone”.

Yes, West could bite the bullet and double the artificial 2 clubs (checkback Stayman) for the lead and then North would have to disdain responding naturally, 2 spades, showing three card support. Then, since South held 4 to the ace, he might deem to redouble, followed by three passes unless West felt he had bitten off more than he could chew (not having a 5th club), deciding then to chance branching off into a bridge world he knew not of, with a Houdini escape to his 5 card very weak side suit, hearts.

All exciting and brave, but probably not to be called bridge, but rather only the seedy side of trench fighting.

Nothing really wrong with any of the above actions, especially the double of 2 clubs, which as you suggest could result in a hand changing result, assuming North did not have 3 card spade support or 4 hearts enabling NS to have found a 4-4 fit in that major suit.

In conclusion I have no real opinion on what to do, except to suggest that those types of actions would be better suited to the lesser experienced bridge partnerships while taking on the underdog’s role.

When being the “chalk” it seems wise to not rock boats and let game fundamentals reign, instead of the likely “wild luck” usually found in that “twilight zone” we mention. However, in this case and about doubling 2 clubs or not, it is no doubt a very close decision, but at the table, West should NEVER study over 2 clubs and then pass, causing an ethical stir, essentially barring an original club lead by East.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Hi again Pete,

I neglected to answer one of your questions.

If West doesn’t run to 2 hearts once 2 clubs is doubled and redoubled, East with his 4 hearts to the 109 should NEVER even consider doing anything but pass since all partnerships need at least some trust in each other and to willy nilly make such a runout, would become partner baiting at its worst.

In this case if I was EW, I’d rather be minus 560 in 2 clubs redoubled making NS, than minus 100 in 2 hearts doubled EW.

Although I consider myself a pragmatist, at least my partnership would last much longer.