Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.

Gloria Steinem

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


Today’s deal presented an awkward problem for South after the intervention over two clubs. His pass promised at least semipositive values, since with 0-4 points South would have doubled two spades. Then, facing a takeout double, he cuebid and next jumped to five hearts since he thought he had too much for a simple call of four hearts over four diamonds. So he reached the normal slam in unusual fashion.

After the lead of the spade three to the ace there was no point in trying to ruff a spade in dummy immediately, given the weak trumps in hand and the shortage of entries back to South. Instead it looked right to take the heart king and queen, hoping for the hearts to break. If they had done so, you would draw trump and give up a spade, hoping to be able to work out the ending in the fullness of time.

However, the 4-1 trump break was very bad news. See if you can find a legitimate play for the contract now. In fact the least unlikely chance to play for is to hope West holds four diamonds in addition to his four hearts – certainly not impossible, given East’s overcall.

You must take the diamond king and ace, then lead a diamond to the 10. The diamond queen allows you to throw a club as West continues to follow suit. Then the club ace-king and a club ruff brings the trick total to 11. The heart jack in dummy is the 12th winner.

Were you tempted to raise spades, or to respond one no-trump? When partner bids two suits and you have decent support for the first-bid suit, simply give preference to that suit. Yes, diamonds scores less well than making a spade or notrump contract. But the last time I checked, it was better to go plus than minus. Even a partial club stopper might tempt me to settle for a call of one no-trump.


♠ 5 4 2
 A 5 3 2
 A 5 2
♣ 9 8 3
South West North East
    1 Pass
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


Iain ClimieSeptember 26th, 2015 at 11:30 am

Hi Bobby,

As an aside, unrelated to today’s column, can I recount a horror story where Bob Hamman’s sensible advice (don’t place me with exact cards – I haven’t got them) rebounded horribly. It is game all at pairs and you hold SJxxxx HQx D10x CJxxx. RHO passes as do you and LHO opens 1H. Pard doubles and RHO bids 3H, basically the standard pre-emptive raise / sound raise to 2H. I briefly toyed with bidding 3S but partner is still there and can double with a fair hand (say 16+) provided I pass without thinking too long. Of course partner might have a freakishly good fit like AK10x x AKxxx C10xx and not feel able to double on the 2nd round (I would expect her to do so with CQxx) and spades could be 2-2 with no trump promotion or similar. Guess what….. 3H makes, 3S can be beaten but may not be and is unlikely to be doubled. The opening H bidder has xx AKxxx Jx KQxx. Rude words (thought not spouted)!

I then had to endure (only slightly) results merchant complaints about why hadn’t |I bid to the level of the fit even with a dodo HQ. Any thoughts on this, bearing in mind the obligation to be polite to partner as per best behaviour at bridge?



bobby wolffSeptember 26th, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, your adventure, during a real hand of bridge, set in motion many of the mores, social aspects, and most importantly, technical expectations of what the higher level of the game is all about.

My suggestion with the solution is just to bid, rather than pass, if at all in the ball park. Reason being, though somewhat selfish and at the very least unilateral, you will seek excitement, keep your mind occupied with the challenge, and above all, experience playing the ducats to best advantage.

Believe it or not, it happened early in my bridge life (I was certainly no more than a teen) and while playing at my fraternity house at school learned different ways to take tricks, since they were all usually necessary in order to fill my lofty contracts.

Social skills in the form of apologies were also honed, when the oft impossible, of course, did not arrive, but on the whole, that experience gave me the confidence to not shy away from attempting to make the slam offered in today’s hand.

Some may think me greedy and way too much self-oriented, but, in truth, while performing, with the real to become bridge lovers at that table participating, for some we all learned much instead of just idling, ho-hum.

Sometimes, perhaps more often than anyone suspects, talent for one thing or the other, may remain dormant unless, often by sheer chance, it suddenly will emerge, but, my guess, without someone or something encouraging it, may never take hold, and that, indeed could and would be sad, similar to a beautiful girl who is dressed up and ready to roam, but alas there is no place to go.

See what your introspective diatribe produced while strolling down nostalgia lane?

Iain ClimieSeptember 27th, 2015 at 10:14 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this and I gave the matter considerable thought on the way home (I’m working 230 miles away form home during the week, so stop away). The simplest way round the specific concern I could think of was that an immediate 3S is competitive (almost anything with 5 or more of them, but around 6-8 with 4) while doubling first shows a sounder 3S e.g. 7-9 with 5S, 9-11 with 4. This allows partner to distinguish between (say) Q10xxx xx Jxxx xx and Kxxxx xx A10xx xx or between KQxx xxx Qxxx xx and KQxx xxx AJ10x xx, thus removing any problems when they have (say) 15-16 for their double and have no idea whether to bid 4S, dbl or pass after 1H (X) 3H (3S) 4H. As a treatment it is announcable / alertable I presume, but it removes ethical pressure, doesn’t upset opponents (at a moderate club level) who are surprised you are bidding on rubbish (and may even think it unfair if not warned) while still allowing partner to bid to the level of the fit, one of her pet prefences. I take the point about hogging the hand though!



pppcheu@btinternet.comSeptember 27th, 2015 at 11:10 am

Hi Iain,Three spades, Could be 3-8 and x followed by 3S 7-11,pard is likely to push on to 4S in the latter unless heart wastage,as regards the former 3-8,pard could still be on a guess as to what the right action would be..if x on 15 or good 14..regards~Patrick.

Iain ClimieSeptember 27th, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for this and 3S works on the cards as they lie (provided pard doesn’t bid 4S over 4H, of course – 4H loses 4 top tricks, 4S possibly dobled can lose 3C, 1H and a trump promotion – even 200 vulnerable undoubled is bad news) although HQx is pretty much the worst possible heart holding – two quick losers are very likely and the HQ not pulling its weight. Shift the queen to elsewhere (e.g. diamonds) and I’d have done so, though, especially given Bobby’s advice to play the hand – as if I need any encouragement.



bobby wolffSeptember 27th, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Hi Iain & Patrick,

Well answered with a winning touch, at least I think or, at least hope.

Of course, no two bridge players, at all levels , exactly alike, making the necessary quality one of consistency so that partner can quantify, reload, and tend to be more accurate.

At least that is the goal and a worthy one especially if the stakes speak, whether coin of the realm or even where the competition challenges for just ego where someone’s father can beat up the other one.

slarSeptember 28th, 2015 at 2:58 am

I had the opposite situation recently. With a spade void, a A-sixth in clubs, and another K and Q (unpaired) in the red suits, I ventured a 3C preempt. LHO had an obvious 3S overcall and RHO with a flat 12 raised to game which was obliterated by a 5-0 trump split. It happens. Preempts work. I love preempting and it is rare that my preempts backfire. Even if I get slapped for -150 or -200, it usually means that the opponents had game somewhere. It is rare for both opponents to have the discipline to double me and be right and defend right.

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Hi Slar,

Welcome to perhaps the most important caveat learned on the way to seriously improve one’s game.

Constantly, if possible, challenge your worthy opponent’s judgment, as early in the bidding as possible, like being dealer with your suspected dangerous but effective preempts which, in turn, take much needed bidding room from them.

The above is not a lesson in card playing, but rather a lesson in war (bridge, that is) which, while not classically taught, nevertheless exists in spades (or rather no trump).

Perhaps your comment should be entitled “the keys to the bridge kingdom” which rivals in truth the sun coming up in the morning.

Thanks for your effort.