Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood.

John Cheever

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


The rule of 11 is a subject we all know about in theory but sometimes fail to apply in practice. Let’s see how a hand where the players at the table failed to make the most of their opportunities.

When this board came up at the Dyspeptics Club, West led the heart six against three no-trump, and declarer had no choice but to win the ace, as East followed low, He crossed to hand in diamonds and ran the club queen. East won his king and jack of hearts, then looked around for inspiration, but found none. Declarer claimed his nine tricks a moment later, and East went on the attack, asking West why he had not overtaken the heart jack. Declarer showed him his heart 10 and commented that he would have taken 10 tricks had the defense gone that way.

Then, to twist the knife, he commented sympathetically that it had been a hard defense to get right. Just as he hoped, East asked him sharply what he meant, and South told him that he needed to unblock the heart jack under the ace. The rule of 11 tells East that there are five cards higher than the six in the three hands other than the leader, and East can see three of them. If declarer has the queen or the 10-9, East’s defense doesn’t matter; if West has the Q-10 all defenses work. But if, as happened today, West has the Q-9, the unblock is essential, to allow East to lead through declarer’s remaining 10-8 on the third round.

I can see a case for bidding one no-trump (minimum with a spade stopper), repeating the clubs, or bidding the diamonds to suggest both minors. With 4-4 in the minors I’d be less enthusiastic about the two diamond call, but I can stand a retreat to three clubs happily, so it would be my choice. This auction does not show reversing values, by the way. With that, you would bid three diamonds.


♠ A 10 4
 9 5 4 2
♣ A J 10 4 3
South West North East
1 ♣ 1 ♠ Dbl. 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


Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2015 at 11:51 am

Hi Bobby,

If East wants to show off, he can always drop the HK but the bidding hand is more interesting. I recently had a moderate hand after 1C from partner, 1S overcall, I doubled 2S from LHO and 3H form partner. After some thought, I stretched to 4H – pushy at pairs but the CQx seemed to be pulling their weight along with an extra trump. Pard had a 17 count (!) with 4 hearts, good controls, you name it amd was surely value for 4H. She asked whether a new suit at the 3 level wasn’t forcing anyway but I pointed out that I’d effectively bid hearts. Any guidance here, as I’ve seem such a situation occur quite often.



bryanSeptember 15th, 2015 at 12:54 pm

If South sees the Jack drop on the opening lead and fears East has the Club King, is there any tricky that S can do? For example, come to hand in diamond and then lead the 8 of hearts. Or is too late, and nothing is likely to work anyway.

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Hi Iain,

You, as a fierce bridge lover, also have the heart of a bridge teacher, catering to high-level rather than beginner type play.

Your comment directly smacked of expert judgment, emphasizing valuations which do not
come naturally to many (most) novice type students.

Regarding the 17 count hand while holding 4 hearts, opposite a hand which made a standard negative double, more or less promising at least 4 hearts, together with perhaps a point count of 7+-no real higher limit, except when holding a good hand would no doubt bid again the next round unless game has already been reached. Yes, the good hand should take no prisoners and merely leap to 4 hearts.

In other words, a best and brightest student must logically sort out bidding systems which demand the bridge logic of fitting the flow of bidding to the level reached, so as here, when the opening bidder bids hearts at the three level (forced or not) an intermediate hand containing 10 or more working points, s. Kx, h. KJxx, d. QJxx, c. Jxx should then raise to game, but instead holding: s. xx, h. KJxx, d. Qxxx, c. Jxx let it go, because of the one lesser spade trick possessed.

All the above to many, comes from experience, but for others it takes harder work, more higher level bridge to be played (against better players), and a patient loving partner who does and always says the right things with also the right tone.

Since instead with the high card win set (HCW), beginning players playing against others of the same ability it sadly usually results in no one stepping forth out of that morass of mediocrity, resulting in a too long time frame before any positive improvement develops.

And for that, shame on the ACBL’s attempted
bridge learning process of not encouraging novices to play up and not have to sleep in the streets for an indefinite time. There is no better incentive for promoting bridge than for the improving player him(her)self seeing things he or she never thought about before.

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Hi Bryan,

You are to be commended for attempting to find a way (in the event of the club finesse losing) to overcome going set when East quite correctly jettisons the heart jack at trick one.

However your possibly clever play of returning to hand with a diamond and then playing the heart 8 from hand in the hope of the opponents then finding a way to block their own suit, what if West had the KQ96xx and the club king?

West would then give you such a thankful look, not making your attempted coup worth it to attempt. However, in no way, should you shy away from the creativity sometimes necessary to make applesauce out of just apples. In other words, keep on trying, but before executing try and make sure of what might go wrong.

However, there are other things to think about once the opponents defend well at trick one and that is, from declarer’s viewpoint, when first a club is led from hand, perhaps catering to the singleton king in West’s hand by leading a small one instead of the queen might be a starting point.

However at the Dyspeptic Club such possible safety plays are not often made, but rather mediocrity rules the day instead of the positive creativity your mind will turn to, as your game
continues while in the up elevator to success.

Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for your kind and detailed comments. It may amuse you to know that the underbidding partner was actually a qualified bridge teacher while I’m going through the process of becoming one. I have a concern though, based partly on Terence Reese’s comment that the player who says “I had such and such a number of points, so I had to bid such and such” is beyond hope. Overly harsh on beginners but can I ask your opinion on something.

When I’m helping teach, I try to explain that constructive bidding (with no interference ) is an exchange of information until one partner is able to bid a sensible final contract based on a picture of the two hands together. Time and time again, I see over-regimented teaching methods leaving players too worried to show any creativity or imagination, especially when faced with a hand for which there is no ideal bid. How can this straitjacketed approach be avoided, and players encouraged to develop a better feel for the game? Similar concerns probably also apply to card play.



bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Hi Iain,

You state quite a case, one that I totally agree with, and if anything your fears are understated.

There is a huge psychological issue in bridge, both with learning it and, of course, teaching it.

At least to me, good to excellent and above bridge playing should never be equated with overall intelligence. However, the ability to combine an above average amount of numeracy together with the theory of games and the intense psychology of competition and do it to best advantage is enabling to taking a ride in the elevator going up, which then will be an indication of how well one will do when he is in the midst of the ride. Some succeed and others fail for reasons difficult to decipher.

Problem solving and getting along with partner are very important to winning as is the acquiescence to partner’s request for compliance. Partnership in bridge is even more so IMO than it is in marriage. Mainly because when bridge is in the air hours, days and weeks go by with very little let up forcing all involved to accept the pressure or choose a different pastime.

Of course, social bridge is an entirely different game and although extremely popular 80+ years ago, other entertainments and distractions have taken its place causing middle class bridge to sort of phase out.

However high level bridge offers mind competition like no other and becomes a way of life even more fanatical than some view their religions. Although there is not much physical violence reported, it is only because of it being played by mostly intellectuals rather than just ordinary people.

I have not completely covered every emotion involved, but at least the above is a start to understanding the dynamics.

slarSeptember 15th, 2015 at 11:48 pm

To amplify your points, I see a lot of flight C players chained to not just their point counts but also their conventions. It is as if the hand evaluation doesn’t go beyond “how many points” and “what convention is this”. Maybe they use losing trick count. Meanwhile they “learn” conventions that are nearly useless like Bergen Raises and 19-way transfers (I exaggerate, or do I?) before they understand more fundamental things like responses to takeout doubles and what a penalty double is.

I think there the MP limit for games limited to the Limited Convention Chart should be raised substantially – 500 seems about right. Force the beginning players to learn bridge before they learn conventions. (As an added bonus, less committed players would not be intimidated by alerts and convoluted auctions.) When a player is ready to play up, then it is time to start (judiciously) picking conventions. You should at least be able to understand the natural bid it is replacing and why the convention may be an improvement. How many Flight C players do you know that can do that?

Iain ClimieSeptember 16th, 2015 at 10:16 am

Hi Slar,

Thanks for the kind and you may be amused by someone I used to play with who only played Precision Club (this was in the late 1970s) and had never been taught a natural system (Acol this side of the pond, Standard American on yours). She was a reasonable player despite this but how did that happen, I wonder? Needless to say, such an approach does not help after 1H (1S) 4H (4S) and now what – pass, bid on or double?

I also talked to one teacher recently who reckons that far too much effort goes into bidding at an early stage instead of play. When I learned (at the age of 13) I’d been playing card games including whist for years and had some feel for how the cards interacted. I suspect this is much less common now. Still, given the choice between a good card player in a poor contract and a bad one in the theoretically best spot, where would you like your money to be?



bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2015 at 11:14 am

Hi Slar & Iain,

Between the two of you, a tacit (or maybe much stronger) agreement has been made about the importance for newbies to be taught the intricacies of what better than normal card knowledge can add to one’s game, leading to better results from the get go.

While, no doubt, your views are right-on in the higher level bridge game, it is problematical whether the average (top 50%) can be made aware, and thus achieve, that necessity.

All three of us hope it can be done, but the fact that, at this point in time, the three of us are left to be able to talk about this quality, but other less serious players (euphemism for no can do), who still love the society of playing this wonderful game, will likely be left at the gate.

In any event I am less optimistic that enough people have the combination of far above average numeracy (the application of numbers on a continual and mammoth basis) and the ability to solve bridge logic problems in all three major elements of the game, bidding, defense and declarer play) without having to learn to do backward somersaults at advanced ages.

Summing up, no doubt your dynamics for bridge success are well described (cut out the farcical emphasis on points and many unnecessary stilted conventions and just learn the best ways to out think worthy opponents in the bidding and even more important, take almost all your tricks (or almost) on both offense and defense.

Of course, for some with significant talent, still a daunting task, but for others, next to impossible.

The good news is that maybe in the next life, not so much!