Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

When a lovely flame dies, Smoke gets in your eyes.

Otto Harbach

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


When this deal arose in one of the pairs tournaments at the summer nationals at Las Vegas last summer, the reporter did not specify the names of the guilty party.

As he said, interesting and amusing things happen when you take on Mr. Magoo. To start with, has he made the call he intended to? Has he sorted his hand properly? One never knows. This was a typical problem he posed his opponents.

Sitting South, you seem to have a very good hand in fourth seat considering the bidding, but you trust partner, not the opponents, and bid what you think you can make. On a low diamond lead, you have your first challenge. Surely West would not underlead the diamond ace-king? You play low and East plays the king. Back comes a diamond to the ace and a third diamond establishes West’s jack.

Now you know the full story – you think. You cash the spade king and spade queen, then play a club to your ace and another to dummy’s king. If the clubs are not good, you play the heart king. West does best to duck, so you lead a heart to the queen, and if West ducks again, throw him in with a diamond to his jack to give you a heart trick at the end.

Nine tricks duly materialize, and Mr. Magoo apologizes shamefacedly to his partner for opening his nine-point hand. “Sorry,” he says, “I thought I had three aces, not two!”

No matter what the form of scoring or vulnerability, I am against preempting here. I can understand at favorable vulnerability the idea that you should roll the dice and open two spades. I can understand it but I wouldn’t do it. Personally, I’d rather open a chunky five-card suit with some side-shape than a bad six-carder with defense on the side. Pass, so your partner can trust you the next time.


♠ J 9 8 7 3 2
 7 3
 K 8
♣ Q J 5
South West North East

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


Yasser HaiderAugust 4th, 2015 at 10:07 am

Hi Bobby
What is the double by East? And how do you rate a 2S bid instead? That would have been my choice despite the possibility of a damaging spade lead by partner against South as declarer.

Bobby WolffAugust 4th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Hi Yasser,

In this type of competitive bidding sequence which finds East the first round of bidding, one can slightly reduce the value requirement to less than a game force and thus chirp 2 spades the first round.

However, East’s hand simply will not pass muster in strength, although, I agree with you, that bidding spades instead of a TO negative double somehow feels right.

Therefore the choice of double would likely be the lesser of evils, followed, if possible, by a bold spade bid the next round, which would then clarify the first action as long spades, but not enough “meat” to independently bid them.

This type of compromise has long been an accepted manner of “dealing” with this specific problem. However, bridge and its limited space in being able to show both strength and distribution often comes up lame with results.

Certainly here, since West was too much below strength for his opening bid, causing at least part of the problem, allowing South to have enough strength to bid what he did, and in turn led to an unfortunate lead from the defense.

Of course, all bridge players are at liberty to decide for him or herself who was at fault. And to the losing side, sadly the loudest voice sometimes convinces the softer one it was not him, but rather his partner who won that contest.

The irony of what did happen is that perhaps a spade lead is best, since it doesn’t give a trick away immediately, but that discussion should wait its turn because of the difficulty of clearly envisioning the “end” game, not unusual when dealing with real life hands.