Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, October 10th, 2015

He who does not fear death cares naught for threats.

Pierre Corneille

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


On this deal from the Mixed Teams at Sanya both Souths were faced with a choice of whether to go high or low at their first turn to speak. The fact that you have no sure defensive trick argues for preempting to the limit. Both Souths duly preempted to four diamonds and were raised to game. What should one lead from the West hand?

In one room West selected the club four. I’m not convinced about the technical merits of this approach — but it worked a treat. Declarer had no choice but to finesse, and East won with the king and returned the spade four, West’s major-suit aces producing a rapid one down.

In the second room, where Mike Cappelletti Jr. was declarer, West went for the heart ace. I admit it: this is what I would have done too. She then switched to an honest club nine, and declarer played her to be an upright citizen, and not to have the club king. He put up dummy’s ace and then treated the defenders to eight rounds of diamonds.

When the last of them hit the table, declarer had a club menace in hand and a threat card in each major. West had to keep two hearts and the spade ace, thus discarded her last club. With the communications cut between the two defenders, declarer could come down to two spades and one heart in dummy, and lead a spade toward the king for his 11th trick. That was a well-played +400 and 10 IMPs.

You may think you have a pile of garbage, but I would nonetheless raise to three clubs now. There are two reasons for this: you may keep opponents out of their heart fit, and facing a hand with shape you might make a lot of tricks. (Incidentally, I wouldn’t sit for three no-trump here if my partner makes that call next – this hand looks like it should be played in clubs.)


♠ Q 8 6 4 3
 8 2
♣ K 10 8 7 5
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣ 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


David WarheitOctober 24th, 2015 at 9:22 am

Well played? Yes. Well bid? No. How about 3D-3N, making at least 4? This seems to be a very common theme in hands you have posted for some time, namely the pre-emptor pre-empts his side, either simply by preempting in the first place or, as here, by making too big of a pre-empt. Just think: if partner has as little as DAx and 3 kings, 3NT would be a heavy favorite & yet NS would have only 19HCP.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2015 at 10:05 am

Hi David, Bobby,

Interesting point as I recently opened 4C in 2nd on SKxx Hx Dx CKQ109xxxx and found partner with SA109xxx HAKxx DAKx C None. 3rd in hand my bid might have been OK, and 1st in hand I might be pre-empting two opponents vs one partner, but 2nd was a mistake in hindsight.

How much merit is there in transfer pre-empts? I used to play that 2N was a pre-empt in a minor, 3C was both minors, 3D and 3H were H & S respectively, 3S was a gambling 3N and 3N was a 4-level opening bid in a minor. 4C/D were South African Texas and 4H/S weaker 4-level pre-empts. This was in the late 1970s, so I’d be interested to know if such ideas are still popular or, if not, why they went the way of the dinosaurs. I suspect they make the defence easier for those who’ve put in the effort, but any thoughts?

Using this scheme, it goes 3NT – Pass on today’s hand of course.



jim2October 24th, 2015 at 10:24 am

How would you play it 5D on a trump lead?

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Hi David,

Although I cherish life, but dealing luke warm about fearing death (check this column’s quote), I will shout from the mountaintops a contra opinion about your theme.

Our challenging game is not, nor has ever been, anywhere near an exercise in aces and cinches. When in an early dealing bidding position and either first or second (especially first) seat, no one, except perhaps the miscreants who cheat, will have any idea about who at the table has what.

Consequently, when holding a non-solid 8 card minor suit, nor much on the side and especially not vulnerable, should prefer a preemptive mode, in order to attempt to disrupt the opponents while informing partner approximately the nature of one’s hand. Sure, by doing so, there is a risk of bypassing 3NT, but, at least for my money the gain to lose ratio can be measured, at least to me, as high as 5 to 1 in favor.

One may certainly ask, what determines that relatively large positive comparison to exist? If so, here is my answer:

1. My hand could be bereft defensively, not contributing a likely defensive trick to my side’s cause.

2. However my offensive potential with my suit as trump is likely 7 tricks (long suit minus 1 for the missing ace).

3. Partner can immediately adjust his hand, within a small radius, as to what to then do,
final contract, without the opponents able to exchange much information along the way.

4. The only clear and present danger is that 3NT is now lost, but really how often will 3NT make, but 5 of our minor goes set.

5. And even when #4 actually exists,
s. 5, h. 96, d. KQ1098652, c. J2 opposite
s. Kxx, h. Axxxx, d. Axx, c. Kx what about the opponents playing a spade contract? Somewhere between 9 and 12 tricks.

6. At least to me, the very high level world bridge community is made up of all fine technical players, with some slightly better than others, but that small technical difference is hardly a blip on who is the more successful.
That honor, at least to me, is which player, or rather which partnership is the hardest to play against, and that “cool” fact is often determined by which one gets the bidding level up higher and fast.

7. No doubt, the playing of excellent bridge is made up of many different factors. However, to me, the most important one is the ability to disrupt those very worthy opponents and make them mere mortals.

8. Yes David, you bring up a legitimate concern and for that I thank you. However, I then would like you to reconsider your view. While I am not expecting you to not continue to feel the way you do, I would just like you to, if possible, generate (simulation on a computer) the likelihood of the other 39 cards dealt around the table with the subject hand the other 13. I actually think that it will knock your and others eyes out, at what that study will glean.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt a preempt can adversely effect one’s partner, but the odds again are in favor of doing so, since there are two opponents but only one partner.

Also, on your example hand, my guess is that your partner ventured 4 spades (with that moose for a hand) and if so, perhaps in tribute to him you raised him to the 5 level and then he continued on to slam (only dreaming the impossible dream). If he indeed only raised you to 5 clubs (with his void), at least you will have made that game.

Transfer preempts have the advantage of always (at least 99%) having another crack at searching for the best final contract as opposed to the opening bid leading to three passes. However, transfer preempts run the risk (and believe me it is real) of having moving parts as to what to then bid, other than just accepting the preempt by bidding the accepted suit.

Unless those moving parts are vigilantly studied by both partners, chaos will be just around the corner, soon to be laughing at you, especially by the lucky opponents you are facing.

Yes, bids which are artificial and create more room for that subject partnership are also much easier to defend against because of the wide use of doubles and cue bids available to those particular opponents.

Today, much greater than the 1970’s, are the use of artificial bids in order to create more ways to show different distributions and valuations, but whether it is winning or rather just “fun” is still open to question.

However, good luck to everyone who explores, especially the ones who don’t really care about their results.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

I am almost sure I would just let the club ride, hoping an opponent is forcing me to make a critical decision early with say K9xx in clubs.

However, before casting me aside with my poor result, remember I am the column writer
with the power to make that K9xx in clubs appear with West.

Moral to be learned; Don’t F*%$ around with the FALCON!

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Hi @#$%$%,

&*)(% ^^$)*^$#@ (*$__,

Thanks for writing. I wish I knew your melodic language, but I lack the education.

Guy SimetiOctober 24th, 2015 at 3:28 pm

The foreign language comment is written in Chinese.

The content is economic spam (e.g. make a million while doing nothing).

Translation is courtesy of and thanks to Google Translator.

Patrick CheuOctober 24th, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Hi Bobby,Re Jim’s question of a trump lead against 5D,could declarer try a spade first and see what West does? A favorable heart position is necessary for the contract to have a chance…perhaps. regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Hi Patrick (and Jim2),

Yes, of course, if getting a trump lead, then lead a spade, and although all players, very good on down, would tend to rise ace when this kind of play is made at trick 2, so when they don’t, the odds would seem to favor finessing the queen.

Of course, this psychological advantage for declarer can sometimes be of value on some other hands which involve two small from declarer and an honest 50-50 guess.

One thing is for CERTAIN! All greqt bridge players are very fast witted, particularly at bridge, and contrary to what others may think, first, often the bidding, will give an opening leader some kind of accurate image as to what type of hand he holds, and so after the opening lead and, of course, then viewing dummy world class defenders are ready to do bridge justice to their overall play, ducking or rising, whatever the best defense happens to be. Certainly not always, but do not usually bet against it.

Another learning experience for our best and brightest bridge enthusiast is that in all these psychological battles between the declarer and worthy defenders, the advantage goes to the declarer for creating the best tempo for himself. He does not have to worry about ethics (giving unauthorized information to partner) but instead enabling himself to glean information rather than give it away.

Usually never discussed, but all experienced players are aware.

Sorry for my misreading Jim2’s query.

slarOctober 27th, 2015 at 1:28 am

I’m a little late on this one but I proved over the weekend that 4D can be a constructive bid too. I was about to open 2C with AQJxxxx/x/AT/AKx. Partner naturally opened 4D, promising 7 tricks at that vulnerability. Since I had what appeared to be 5 sure tricks in my own hand and no more than one quick loser, I jumped straight to 6D and we were all smiles. Any other bidding and we have to deal with probably a barrage of interference.