Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Over the mountains and over the sea
You shall go happy and handsome and free.

W. H. Auden

S North
Both ♠ Q J 10 9
 9 8
 J 10 6 3
♣ A 8 3
West East
♠ 8 6 5 3 2
 K Q 10 4
♣ Q 9 7
♠ 7 4
 J 7 6 3 2
 K 5
♣ K 10 6 4
♠ A K
 A 5
 A 9 8 7 4 2
♣ J 5 2
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ Pass
1 NT* Pass 2 NT Pass
3 NT All pass    



One of the most difficult aspects of defense is a position defined neatly by Bill Pencharz as ‘overkill’. When defending notrump, most partnerships’ signals are set up to try to work out when to continue a suit or not. But when they hold every high honor in a suit, they may sometimes confuse the position with one where they hold rather less. Does that sound abstruse? Maybe; but this is an example.

Against three no-trump your partner West leads the heart queen, in partnership style consistent with a holding of kingqueen but not a sufficiently strong holding to encourage an unblock. You encourage with the seven and declarer wins the ace. Declarer now plays a low diamond and partner plays the queen. How are you going to help partner do the right thing?

The problem is that you would also encourage from an initial holding of J-7-x, when it is right for partner to continue with a low heart. On declarer’s play of the diamond suit it cannot possibly harm the defense for you to overtake with your diamond king – after all, either partner has the diamond ace or your king of diamonds is dead meat.

Once you are on lead you can safely continue the attack on hearts with a low heart from your side. As you must have at least four hearts for this play (from J-7-x you would have played back the jack), partner shouldn’t go wrong now, whether he has an original three- or four-card holding.

I’d generally advocate going low rather than high with an eight-count facing a strong notrump. It is so easy to turn a plus score into a minus, by chasing rainbows. But not all eight-counts are equal: your intermediates are so good that this hand is well worth a try for game. Indeed, if partner shows four spades, I might well bid game rather than invite it.


♠ Q J 10 9
 9 8
 J 10 6 3
♣ A 8 3
South West North East
  Pass 1 NT 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


slarNovember 25th, 2015 at 2:57 pm

A sign of a good defender is one who will voluntarily overtake partner and do something intelligent with the lead.

Okay, so this is a good 8. Can you invite with a good 7, like if the DJ is the D9? I periodically get hands with 7 that I suspect will make but I rarely give it a chance figuring that the field/opponents will be +120 or +150.

bobby wolffNovember 25th, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Hi Slar,

Your advice is on target and could be referred to as active defense (similar to active ethics) which together are excellent, and more importantly, often necessary for both proper behavior and consistent success.

However re: BWTA, 8 hcps are pushing it, so do not raise with a balanced 7. Remember the downside, when partner (with a minimum) merely passes a raise to 2NT and that partnership is then only able to take 7 tricks (happens often).

The above is IMO good advice, especially when playing matchpoints where the game bonus rewards do not match the amount of gain upside when playing either IMPs or Rubber.