Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 5th, 2015

I am relatively inexperienced, and tend only to play rubber bridge, but I am starting to play duplicate. In your column I saw a response of two diamonds to one no-trump to show hearts. Is this part of Standard American?

Innovator, Boise, Idaho

The two-diamond response is a Jacoby transfer, showing hearts. Opener is obligated to complete the transfer, even with only a doubleton. My readers could reasonably ask me why this was obvious. The simple answer is that most people learning bridge are now being taught transfers, and most intermediate players know of transfers even if they do not play them. Where I have space I try to put in the apprpriate footnote.

You recently ran a deal where an expert threw his opponent in to cash some winners — thereby squeezing his own partner. Do you think that non-experts should always assume that experts play relatively accurately and that lesser mortals would do well to avoid any “Greek gifts”?

Trojan Horse, Bremerton, Wash.

Experts are more than fallible too. They can forget to draw trump or simply mis-estimate the chances of an adverse ruff. By contrast if they deliberately throw you in to cash your winners, you can assume that they have probably worked out the consequences. That does not mean it is always wrong to take the winners, of course. But you would certainly be entitled to check the gift horse’s teeth.

Holding: ♠ K-Q-6-4, Q-J, 10-6-3-2, ♣ A-10-3 how do you feel about the merits of opening in fourth seat – and what call would you select? Would you bid your minor or bid the major to shut out the hearts?

Red Flags, Charleston, S.C.

I would not pass, but much depends on your partnership style. I think the ‘right’ opening bid at Pairs is one spade, cutting out the opponents’ hearts and trying to steal the board. But if your partner is never going to play you for a four-card major, I might consider either opening one club for the lead instead of one diamond. Switch the majors and pass is more appealing, since the opponents appear to have the spades.

I’m trying to improve my defense, and move from an entirely attitude-based system of signaling. How often does the expert player consider suit preference in his carding on defense?

Lost Horizon, Grenada, Miss.

Not every deal is played out, because of claims and concessions. On those that go the distance, an issue of suit-preference (SP) is relevant at least half the time, though a trick may not necessarily be at stake, of course. SP tends to arise on the later round of a suit, or in the discards. Since attitude signals come up on every deal, being able to signal attitude correctly is the priority. Knowing when to signal count or SP is far more challenging – but truly worth the effort.

Today I am going to play bridge for the first time in over 40 years. I used to enjoy the game tremendously during my service years. But after I got out, I never located a bridge club, and eventually gave up looking. I tried teaching my friends, but most didn’t have any interest. What kind of advice would you have for someone like me?

Broadway Danny Rose, The Bronx, N.Y.

By the time you read this you will already have played, but I’ll pass on my thoughts anyway. Bidding has changed a lot. It is much more about having trump fit than having high cards. Get in fast while you can! The play of the cards won’t have changed at all. So maybe take a quick look at one of the books on modern bridge – Larry Cohen might be a good place to start. I’ll suggest a few other authors if you get back to me, and we can talk some more.

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.
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ClarksburgJuly 19th, 2015 at 10:49 am

From a recent Club game.
North AKQJ982 AK4 86 6
East 73 76 KQ93 AKJ102
South 6 Q109832 J74 875
West 1054 J5 A1052 Q943

After North’s strong 2C Opening, N reached 4S on a quick and otherwise blind auction. East didn’t double the 2C for lead, and ended up on lead anyway.
In eleven plays, only one EW Pair got their three off-the-top defensive tricks!! At the other ten Tables, NS ran away with 12 tricks. Presumably those ten Easts elected to try to cash AK of clubs.
Could anything like this ever occur in an expert game?
Should East have started with the D K aiming to develop the DQ?
Given the CA lead, should West somehow be able to smell the danger of continuing Clubs? And if so, what card to play to the CA?
Your thoughts on any aspect of this would be helpful.

bobby wolffJuly 19th, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

While what you are asking me could be quickly answered, I want to delay my reply in order to seek emphasis. Yes, since IMO the answer can be described as the “keys to the kingdom” in relating why bridge is much harder for some than others, with the answer again IMO, having little or nothing to do with my version of what constitutes intelligence but rather what applies often at the bridge table, leaving it up to you to tell me what it will take, as the little heroic Dutch boy learned in NT, to putting his finger in the dike (dyke) to prevent a flood.

Considering the circumstances, as you explained, since North, being first to speak, at least for his partnership, and, of course, having the hand he held, was destined, with the exception being some kind of an artificial auction which somehow might get the final contract declared by South in spades or perhaps in hearts, would then always (and at all tables be playing game).

Everyone’s bridge choice will be a high club. Then with East on lead and looking at that threatening jack of diamonds while almost being certain the ace of diamonds would be held by North unless he would have illegal knowledge to the contrary, how could East do anything other than continue with another high club?

At least to me, and especially with the bidding which you described, anything other than that defense might be (should) grounds for a recorder slip on that EW pair.

Even if EW gave only count on opening lead or any other conventional treatment the logic of this fairly common situation will ultimately come back to the above bread and butter approach to defense.

Yes, it is certainly true that North may have the exact hand he had, but so what? Now we can bust through what you and I have mentioned (or at least alluded to) many times in the past, even the greatest bridge players of all time wouldn’t (shouldn’t) even consider switching to a diamond rather than the mundane choice of continuing clubs.

To do so is nothing short of crazy and this comes back to my time in bridge as one of the few cheating investigators because of my creating the Recorder system of bridge police, where a diamond switch, particularly when a suspect pair is playing against relatively inexperienced players would be strange enough to set off a serious alarm.

The playing of bridge is what it is. By that I mean, even the most feared great players are only mortals, and for East not to suspect to being relatively sure that the ace of diamond is held by North is close to being totally aberrant thinking. I know all about North having Axx in hearts and also the ace of diamonds, but what about the AK doubleton heart and no entry. Besides this discussion is only about defense as it really is, not what many of us would hope it to be.

The amusing thing, at least to me, is that others when reading this reply (if anyone besides you, does) will then come up with various ways it would be relatively easy to make that switch. To them I might politely laugh and not even dignify what they are saying for fear my reply would then subject me to having to then listen again to what he had to continue to say.

Is the above strong? Yes, perhaps too much, but that is why I warned you about the emphasis, because to do less just wouldn’t set right with me, because by underplaying it, I simply would not be fair to you.

No, the original lead of the king of diamonds should certainly not even be considered. The results at your club on this hand pleased me and to repeat a phrase I remember from my childhood, substantiates that “God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world”.

Finally (tongue in cheek), the only possible play West can make which has a chance to succeed in taking more than one defensive trick on this hand is to play the ace of diamonds on partner’s opening lead and after the director is called have the declarer than take the wrong option in fulfilling EW’s penalty.

And only to protect myself with hearing from others, obviously if the bidding on this hand was very different where South bid hearts and North then raised, but still winding up in 4 spades or EW got in the bidding with their minor suits, sure that could result in an altogether different ending.

That goes without saying, but if not said, may induce some what would turn out to be, a ridiculous and only an argumentative dissent.

Please forgive me for being overbearing, but, at least to me, everyone needs to understand that even the greatest of the great bridge players should not be thought to be omnipotent.

ClarksburgJuly 19th, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Many Thanks
Your reply has been shared directly with some other local Club Players. Hopefully some other aspiring Intermediates “out there somewhere” may also be reading this.
Turns out that N at that Table elected to open 1S not 2C. East got in a 2C overcall and West had raised Clubs.
But from your answer, it seems clear that knowing North had only one Club changes nothing; East’s best second play is still the CK; and the worst choice would still be a shift to DK; so if East does elect to shift, it should be to Hearts not Diamonds. In other words, although a Diamond shift happens to be the only way to hold NS to ten trick in this specific hand, it is nevertheless not the correct defense. Is that interpretation correct?

Iain ClimieJuly 19th, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Hi Bobby, Clarksburg,

One stray query on Red Flag’s query today; is there any case for playing a weak NT in 4th position to cover this sort of evantuality (although clearly rubbish 12 counts can still be passed)?

The second point is where Clarksburg mentioned that clubs had been overcalled and raised. One approach I’ve seen in this situation, where the overcaller may well have CAK, is that the Ace asks for attitude and the King for count, so leading the CK getting the C9 could reasonably allow a switch. Unfortunately TOCM means that a heart switch will find Clarksburg’s actual hand while a diamond switch will find declarer with a singleton HA and DAxx. Flippancy aside, this would be a case where the shift would be legitimate (but only with the raise in clubs) rather than evidence of sharp practice.



bobby wolffJuly 19th, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, that is essentially correct. However, on the actual bidding at your table and after a club is cashed with partner probably giving you a negative signal which inferentially tells you, no more clubs to cash, Probably with only 3 clubs (after supporting he should play his middle one). But more than that he shows some additional defense, in this case the ace of diamonds.

While defending against your bidding, and while playing IMPs I would switch to a low diamond hoping partner either has the ace or if not, perhaps the ten with then declarer holding the Ace nine and the winning idea of perhaps developing 2 diamond tricks to add to 1 club and a late (or not so late) heart trick.

Everything I said earlier I believe is very true, but it does provoke an intelligent discussion of how the bidding can radically change the correct defense.

Unfortunately it does also more than hint about how matchpoints, like its grandfather Whist (Auction bridge being its father), is just too difficult a game to take seriously.

Fun perhaps, but when every overtrick becomes so important, either attempting to defeat them when playing defense or playing to only just safeguard making the contract while being declarer, is severely compromised by the scoring system, the beauty of “real” bridge is lessened.

However matchpoints is here to stay (I hope, along with IMPs and rubber bridge) so might as well learn to play it as well as possible.

Bobby WolffJuly 19th, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes weak NTs are particularly valuable to show relatively average hands, where every player (except the bidder) is in the dark as to where the both the strength and length is located. Also for 4th seat bids when there is a small indication that the hand belongs to the bidding side (over 10 hcps the exact average).

Add that to the advantage which usually goes to the declarer (looking at his 26 assets instead of the defense 13 of each) and one should come up with the favorite for the seven tricks bid.

Also on Clarksburg’s hand, once the bidding gets going (I think the opening artificial 2 clubs should get doubled with AKxxx) if for no other reason than partner leading them if on lead, not to mention sometimes leading to an intervention in the bidding.

No doubt once a suit has been bid and supported the defense will almost always markedly change, since the bidding information allows specific cards to take on more meaning. And the beat goes on, sometimes making bridge analysis totally dependent on earlier happenings including the type of bridge and the vulnerabilities involved.

My reference to sharp bridge practices was merely to show how strange it might be if on the bidding given the opening leader then switched to the diamond king at trick two. However if someone did, it should only be officially noted (if, as here, partner did have the ace).

Paul GoldfingerJuly 19th, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I found the question from “Broadway Danny Rose” about playing bridge for the first time in 40 years interesting for two reasons.

First, I recently published a book specifically targeted to those who learned bridge a long time ago and haven’t upgraded their game to modern bidding. It’s titled “Goldfinger’s Rule of Thumb: Bidding Basics and Other Bridge Tips” and it’s available at

Second, I too am from the Bronx!

–Paul Goldfinger
Whidbey Island, Washington

ClarksburgJuly 19th, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Hi Paul,
I was part of your target demographic about 6 years ago! Dorothy Hayden Truscott’s Bid Better Play Better was a great starting point for Partner and I while “in early transition”.
After getting started, I’ve learned hugely valuable lessons right here on this site.
I also have some homespun rules of thumb of my own:
1) In Club games, about 80% of bridge hand can be bid to a near optimum contract using simple standard methods
2) Somewhat complex conventions and agreements will help you with the other 20%, but if you have fewer successes than bidding wrecks, what’s the point?
3) You will be defending 50% of the time, so spend much of your learning time on that
4) Sound card play trumps all else. If you are not a gifted natural, work on it.
5) You can’t play well if you can’t learn to count.
Any of these themes make it into your book?

Lee McGovernJuly 19th, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Can you describe in more detail the recorder concept?

Iain ClimieJuly 20th, 2015 at 12:01 am

Hi Clarksburg, Paul, Bobby,

I had a 25 year break from the game and reckon Clarksburg’s advice looks good. I also took the game less (!) seriously on my return. My results weren’t much worse but my enjoyment skyrocketed; a realisation that pards will goof on occasion, that I will take wrong views (try an optician was one bit of advice in my first incarnation ) and that fixes are inevitable all help avoid pain. An attempt to play well, and help pard to do so, also beats the ego trip of trying to be a good player. It seems picky, but the attitude here can be crucial.

Can I just wish Broadway Danny Rose all the best, especially as he’s ex-military. I hope his session went well but, more importantly, that he enjoyed it.



Paul GoldfingerJuly 20th, 2015 at 12:44 am

Dear Clarksburg, Iain and Bobby:

As I mentioned, the target audience for “Goldfinger’s Rule of Thumb” is those who learned bridge decades ago. I’ve seen an awful lot of awful bidding at the local senior center (which actually worked out well by giving me examples of how “old style” bidding falls short).

My primary focus in the book is on what those people didn’t learn way back then — weak twos, Stayman, transfers, and take out (and negative) doubles.

I intentionally kept the book simple in the hopes that someone who has never read a bridge book before will read mine — it’s only 80 pages long. I’ve listed some of my favorite books for further reading, plus the recommendation to read a daily bridge column (something I did for decades when I wasn’t playing).

So my book doesn’t cover everything that I think is important, but should get some old time players — and social bridge players — off to a good start.

–Paul Goldfinger

Bobby WolffJuly 20th, 2015 at 11:16 am

Hi Lee,

Very simply, the recorder is there in order to be the first line of defense against possible serious bridge crimes.

Often if stealthy cheating is a possibility the first clues will begin when the evildoers are playing against relatively new players, unfamiliar with the regular nuances of the game. When that clash happens the culprits sometimes get over confident since they are usually not worried about those opponents understanding what might be going on.

An example might be while holding: s. QJ109, h. 10987, d. Jx, c. xxx and hearing the opponents bid 1NT by RHO P, 3NT by LHO, all pass and then lead the Jack of diamonds catching partner with AKQxx.

While even that, is not 100% certainty of overt signalling, but it does smack of that, and the recorder system is a private exchange of then, those defenders getting a recorder form (from the TD’s and available, or should be, from all sectional or higher tournaments plus random bridge clubs) and merely relating what occurred.

The Recorder (like the FBI) will then read what you wrote, and then decide on a course of action, involving that suspect pair, which, when I was active, and at a National level, had a basic 100% rate of success.

Your imagination should then tell you why, since the huge advantage of that hand, while at the same time that pair not being alerted to their jig being known, which lionizes them to continue (if in fact they are guilty) while if they are not, it will also also, in time, show up so.

Over the course of perhaps 10+ years the results were outstanding and I heartily recommend a Recorder existence, without which all serious and honest bridge players will suffer.

Bobby WolffJuly 20th, 2015 at 11:25 am

Hi Paul,

I do not want to ever remain aloof, but your more or less advertizing your book could grow to be a dangerous thing to allow or especially promote on this site.

While I have no real suspicions of any evil intent I hope you can realize what I am talking about.

Good luck to you in being a friend to bridge.
My host here is Ray Lee, the owner of Master Point Press, and both his friendship and, of course, generosity causes me to respect his probable wishes.

Paul GoldfingerJuly 26th, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Dear Bobby:

You are right to criticize me. My apologies.