Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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


This deal is from the first semifinal session of the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs at Providence last fall. Most of the field found spades: half played in game, half in partscore. Take a moment to decide how you would tackle the play in four spades on a trump lead.

It feels right to go after clubs – assuming decent breaks, you can come to three club winners, five trump tricks, and two tricks in the red suits. The entry position argues that you should win the opening lead in hand and advance the club king. West wins and continues with a trump, taken in dummy. Now you pass the club jack. No luck there either: West wins the club queen and plays a third trump. When you cash the club 10, you find the bad break in that suit has reduced your ten tricks to nine.

However you are not out of chances. After cashing the club nine, pitching a heart from hand, you need to find East with both key red honors (not that unlikely given his black-suit doubletons and thus red-suit length). You next lead a heart, which East must duck, and can then give up a heart to East. He can try to cash the heart ace, which you ruff, leaving dummy good after you discard dummy’s club on the diamond ace, or he can play a diamond. That allows you to finesse the queen, in order to pitch dummy’s two heart losers. Then you can cross-ruff the rest.

While your hand is balanced, the weak length in spades rates to be opposite partner’s shortage on this auction. Does that mean you should bid game? I think not, since you are far too often handing your opponents 500 in a doubtful cause. Better may be to bid four clubs; this shows less than a cuebid raise of clubs but real trump support.


♠ 8 4 2
 10 6 2
 J 7
♣ A Q 8 7 2
South West North East
  1 ♠ 2 ♣ 2 ♠

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


jim2December 10th, 2015 at 1:43 pm

On BWTA, I am not an expert, but 4C seems like a lot with no transferrable values and neither four spades nor a singleton diamond.

slarDecember 10th, 2015 at 4:13 pm

4C looks like a sound defensive bid to me. You don’t want to give the opponents a chance to make an intelligent decision whether to play 3 or 4 spades. They also might let you play there and partner might even be able to make it. That bid will also almost never be doubled.

If your black suits were reversed and the bidding went (1C)-1S-(2C) to you, I agree that a jump to game is reckless – you really need to have better shape to make that bid.

jim2December 10th, 2015 at 4:44 pm

It’s a transfer bid to 4S — nothing more.

Patrick CheuDecember 10th, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Hi Bobby, re BWTA, if all vul or all nv,would the bidding be any different as regards 4C? The merit of 4C is space consuming leaving opps the last guess and backed by the law of total trump tricks(allowing for negative adjustments..)is quite reassuring. regards~Patrick.

slarDecember 10th, 2015 at 5:48 pm

My rule on these competitive auctions is to decide what contract you want the opponents to play in and then bid your suit below it. Assuming IMP scoring, they aren’t going to bid 5S (something about the 5-level belonging to the opponents*) so they will double you. Do you really want to be in 5SX with no shape? Maybe white on red but otherwise no. So I think the right play is to make them play 4S, whether they belong there or not. Partner could have a good hand and your ace might be all you need to set the contract.

* one day I will print up t-shirts saying “The 5-level belongs to me.”

Bobby WolffDecember 10th, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Hi Jim2, (and Slar),

It is possible for me, unlike you, to temporarily forget your malady and chirp 4 1/2 clubs, However if at unfavorable vulnerability (we are, they are not) then simply choose 4 and let nature (sometimes sad, sometimes not) take its course.

It simply is too dangerous NOT to bid a lot. When one does, he has the following factors, not always felt, going for him. 1. The opponents, obviously very short in clubs (at least one of them) will not be able to predict your sides distribution and your aggression may tend to make them guess wrong. 2. The flag is up and waving, taking into consideration whatever vulnerability, and it is the nature of players to beware of the vulnerable coward, which in this case you are psyching, but unbeknownst to your wary opponents.
3. Under the cover of darkness your aggression will likely cause at least one of your table enemies to do the wrong thing.

Since the key is not to make the player sitting across from you fit the bill as one of those enemies, use this psychology to win the battle most of the tables, even if this is an IMP match, will encouter against strong opponents.

I agree to your reminding me that 4 clubs is basically a transfer to 4 spades from the opponents, so why not up the ante and let them taste the 5 level, giving your side your best option.

Your biggest enemy may be your partner, then bidding more, wrestling the Captaincy away from you. If so, at least this result will convince him that tactics, not great card play, is the subject on more hands than most all bridge players realize, especially when the competition has grown out of the high card wins category.

Then of course you may have the pleasure of giving him a court-martial, but, if so, do it in private and much later.

Do the above and let your opponents, instead of your side, sleep in the streets.

And especially to Slar, the 5 level may be only for the opponents, but if so they, at least in my experience, are usually very willing to play there, if for no other reason than fearing a distributional monster coming down in dummy.

And when that distribution is only some 3-3-2-5 nondescript 13 cards appearing, be sure to welcome them to buying the bridge (not the game).

For your sake and concerning those printed up t-shirts, please add to your saying, “since your side will never let me play it”!

Bobby WolffDecember 10th, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Hi Patrick,

If you read my first comment in my post to Jim2 & Slar you now realize that tactics not just the law of total tricks is supreme.

The tendencies of whoever the opponents happen to be is far more important than some immutable law to be followed.

Will you always win the mind battle, heavens no, at least on this planet, but will you win most of the time, yes, at least that is what I am suggesting. It has even been known to go all pass after a big bid without the distribution to back it up.

OK, I’ll just say what I hope will be the lesson learned, be a very tough opponent to predict and your partnership results will rise. Tend to always do the right “book” action and instead win the award for your pair winning the congeniality award for the tournament, if they start recognizing it.

Patrick CheuDecember 10th, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Hi Bobby, Thanks for the timely reminder ‘be a very tough opponent to predict..’ 🙂

TedDecember 10th, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

I agree with Jim2 that 4C will serve as a transfer to 4S. Not necessarily a bad thing, but here I would expect them to make it since partner will almost certainly need 3-4 non-club tricks to beat 4S.

Depending on the opponents and the vulnerability, I’d either try 3C and hope the opponents merely think they are competing with 3S, 5C immediately, or 3C then 5C over 4S trying to look like someone who was walking the dog.

slarDecember 10th, 2015 at 11:08 pm

Back to BWTA, presumably East is showing three pieces. If West is 6-4 or better he will probably bid on over 5C. Most likely he will take his plus. There are certainly opponents who hate being outbid and in that case, I will trot out 5C (especially in matchpoints).

Bobby WolffDecember 11th, 2015 at 12:03 am

Hi Ted.

Without criticizing your strategy my guess would be that what is sauce for one goose may be the opposite incentive for another gander.

However, and at the same time, I, from my perspective cannot and will not suggest anything different. However I may add that bidding only 3 clubs will enable one of the opponents to choose between pass, 3 spades (only competitive) and 3 of another suit, inviting game.

Perhaps against mediocre competition it is better to turn judgment over to them rather than have them just guess right. Somewhat cynical, but not out of sight, wrong.

Bobby WolffDecember 11th, 2015 at 12:16 am

Hi Slar,

Thanks for your opinion on how many clubs to bid.

May I then ask you to consider (without trying to give a commercial) how playing 4 card majors is of immense value to make it more difficult for opponents to judge the value of their hands when opening the bidding.

So many on the way to being very good players refuse to look for ways to become tougher to play against by adopting a style which is not as accurate or certainly as comfortable as 5 card majors with the idea of making it more difficult for the opponents to gain advantage by listening to the bidding and being better placed to make more accurate decisions.

Why do we grow to be so quickly old and so slowly smart?

slarDecember 11th, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Interesting. I have had similar thoughts – basically if you aren’t the best pair in the room (or close to it) then it might be better to play non-standard methods. The lack of familiarity may give you an edge. (It is like going outside the book in chess.) The problem is finding a partner willing to go down that road with you.

Bobby WolffDecember 11th, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Hi Slar,

Two necessary caveats:

1. Keep your “new” methods clear, easy to understand, and consistently applied. By doing this all around you will applaud your efforts.

2. Methinks there are many, usually younger
bridge adventurers, who would enjoy the excitement of competing against tried and true
established players. On this upcoming journey, classify it as a learning experience, namely allowing your less experienced partnership to “catch up” and then only to understand when it is time to put the ball in the air to disturb the opponents and when it becomes necessary to exchange scientific (usually bidding) information to arrive at accurate higher contracts (certainly including slams).

The above can be a shortcut to learning much knowledge on what it takes to be a winning player, at least at a local level. From there you could upgrade that partnership to higher and higher levels, but first you need to get the fundamentals down at what it takes to succeed.