Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 2nd, 2015

The instructions for well-being…
Knowing how to answer one who speaks,
To reply to one who sends a message.


S North
None ♠ A K Q
 Q 9 7
 9 4
♣ A K J 10 3
West East
♠ 10 8 7
 A K 8 4
 A Q 10 8 6
♣ 2
♠ 5
 10 5 2
 J 7 3
♣ Q 9 8 7 6 4
♠ J 9 6 4 3 2
 J 6 3
 K 5 2
♣ 5
South West North East
Pass 1 Dbl. Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 Pass
3 ♠ Pass 4 ♠ All pass


Today’s deal contains a somewhat complex example of a very simple theme. All players are taught when it comes to signaling that you use high cards to encourage the lead, and low cards to discourage. That is the simple concept, but the more advanced idea is not to consider signals in a vacuum. Using the concept detailed by Pamela and Matthew Granovetter in their books on the Obvious Shift, one can extend the idea of a positive signal to encourage partner to continue leading his suit, to prevent him shifting, and one can discourage the opening lead, if what you want is a shift to the obvious suit.

Here is an example: this deal was played in the second qualifying session of last year’s Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs. At many tables South passed initially but drove to game in four spades after North doubled East’s one diamond opening and then cuebid at his next turn.

When West led the heart ace, what happened next depended on the defenders’ signals. At one table, after the heart ace went to the seven two and six, West decided he needed to cash out. Even after the heart king drew the nine, five and jack, it wasn’t clear that East liked clubs, not diamonds – was it? In any event, when West tried the diamond ace, hoping East had the king, declarer claimed ten tricks, for plus 420.

By contrast when Doug Doub, playing with Adam Wildavsky, sat East, he helped his partner out. He played an encouraging spot card on the first heart lead. Now after three rounds of hearts, the bad breaks in the black suits meant there were two inevitable diamond losers.

This deal comes from Larry Cohen’s recent book (Larry Teaches Opening Leads). Whether or not the two club response is game-forcing, your primary fear must be that declarer can draw trump and run the clubs. It looks right to get aggressive with a diamond lead, playing partner for one of the ace or queen of diamonds, rather than hoping he has two top heart honors.


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


Patrick CheuNovember 16th, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Hi Bobby,Try to send a hand yesterday but no success,so try again..we did not get to 6C: n A73 109xxx A K9xx s KJ9 AQ Qx AJ10xxx.S 1C N 1H~3C 3S(D worry)~4H(I did consider 4C) 5C(surely 6C as it’s pairs..).How would you have bid this? regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffNovember 16th, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Hi Patrick,

I’ve tried several sequences, but after 1 club by South, 1 heart by North, 3 clubs by South, 4 clubs by North, only 5 clubs by South, North needs to step up to the plate and bid 6.

In effect we want to be in 6 clubs and, IMO, I’d rather be in a grand slam than in no slam at all, basically depending on the heart finesse and nothing disastrous in clubs (together with a wrong guess). Also, perhaps South would rebid 2NT instead of 3 clubs, but then, depending on system North would show great club support and that momentum should bounce us to the excellent slam.

However, because of the awkwardness of the big hand not being able to cue bid, but rather to have to show strength, it may provide trouble. With my favorite Aces Club system I would open a strong club, partner would then show 5 controls (Aces=2, kings=1) with an artificial 2 clubs, South 3 clubs (suit) North 4 clubs (primary support) and it is just a question on how to avoid a finesse needing grand slam.

No doubt artificial systems are best for slam bidding, but promoting them for relative novices and other inexperienced players is not often wise.

Thanks for asking about this somewhat difficult to bid hand and sorry for not being of greater help.

ClarksburgNovember 16th, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Mr Wolff
Your answer said in part:
” …However, because of the awkwardness of the big hand not being able to cue bid, but rather to have to show strength,..”
Is that a hard and fast understanding amongst all good players?
Why do I ask? Well, my auction was:
1C > 1H >3C >4C >
4H (committing to at least 5C, I have somewhat more than I’ve already shown, suggesting slam, no Diamond control, but Heart control)
4S (I also have more than shown, have enough to be interested, I do have a Diamond control, and a Spade control)
South bids a slam.

Was my South’s 4H bid wrong / misleading / not-justified?

bobby wolffNovember 16th, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

If, in fact, you were chairing an investigation with the charge of attempting to keep players with bridge (and therefore numeracy) talent going forward, you would, at least IMO, immediately run into what I deem the elephant in the room: “Wanting, but not succeeding in hoping that specific bids will mean one thing one time and an opposite meaning the next”.

Using Patrick’s hand as the example, when and if the opening bidder after the first two rounds of bidding having gone (just between South and North), 1 club, 1 heart, 3 clubs, 4 clubs, then 4 hearts by South could show s. Kx
h. QJx, d. KJ, c. AQJ10xx in an effort to first establish strain before that partnership changes focus in order to concentrate on how many?

And change that South hand to include KJx heart making a heart slam nothing short of terrible (a singleton club, especially being led, will further decrease an at best, mediocre heart slam, even more.

Yes, very high level bridge, is known to the best world class players, as an exercise in difficulty, especially when standard type systems, popular the world over, are played.

To further complicate the noble endeavor of seeking consistent success, the change to strong club systems run the real risk of being preempted out of bidding room by aggressive and knowledgeable opponents.

However my main point is not to keep you and other best and brightest prospects away from seeking perfection, it is merely to point out that finding the proper strain sometimes takes an extra round of bidding to complete that task.

Yes, if I was holding the responder’s hand and after raising to 4 clubs at my second turn then heard 4 heart by my partner, I would sadly but I think intelligently, pass, since finding 3 hearts from partner (granted they could be the AKQ, but what if they weren’t?) deem hearing that choice by my partner as terminally negative to trying to negotiate what started out to be a very good percentage club slam.

So, what is the lesson learned? Simply what many times we all embrace, support for our suit, is at other times instead cold water we need to understand and respond in a correct winning fashion.

Finally, yes South’s 4 heart bid, under the circumstances is somewhat misleading (not three of them), not-justified, and (bite my tongue) also wrong.

bobby wolffNovember 16th, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

BTW, perhaps I should also go on to say that the following sequence (to some lesser experienced players) is quite different: 1H P 2C P 3H P 4H P 5C (is now a cue bid since after agreeing hearts, why would the focus not now switch to bidding controls (usually aces but sometimes only kings, even voids or singletons)?

Please hopefully understand the difference, but if not, seek additional help (from those you trust to ALWAYS be both knowledgeable and straight) until it does indeed make total sense, without which, one would not be able to get out of the batters box.

THERE IS A CRITICAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MAJOR SUIT AND A MINOR SUIT FIT. Do not let such a thing spoil you from moving forward.

Patrick CheuNovember 16th, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Hi Bobby,Your comment is much appreciated here,thanks again for your invaluable help. Best regards~Patrick.