Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 25th, 2015

No man is a hero to his valet.

Madame de Cornuel

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


Christmas always makes me nostalgic for times past. So I am irresistibly drawn to consider the life of Omar Sharif, who died this year. As well as being a fine actor, he knew his way around the game, and he was unceasingly available to the World Bridge Federation in the role of a glamorous figurehead for bridge.

Here he is playing the part of the hero (a role he was not unfamiliar with). Against three spades West led a top diamond and switched to a trump to East’s ace, aiming to prevent Sharif as South scoring any diamond ruffs in dummy. Back came the spade two. How would you have played the contract?

See what happens if you cross to a top heart to finesse in clubs. West wins with the club king and returns another heart, knocking out the last entry to dummy while the club suit is blocked. If you try a diamond to the jack next, West will be able to win and lead another trump, leaving you with just eight tricks.

Although East might have held the club king, Omar saw that there was no need to finesse in clubs. Instead he led the club queen from his hand (better than playing ace then queen of clubs, in case there was a ruff coming to the defense). West won with the club king and played a third trump, but the contract could not be beaten. Declarer simply unblocked the club honors from his hand, then crossed to dummy with a heart to discard a diamond loser on the club 10.

The first question is whether to respond to the two notrump opening at all. The second is whether to bid Stayman. I would certainly act, but whether to check for the fit and give away information to the opponents (as well as maybe give the chance for a lead-directing double of three clubs) is a very close one. I go for the raise to three no-trump. Were my ace in a long suit, I’d use Stayman.


♠ A 2
 10 7 6 3
 9 6 5 3
♣ 6 3 2
South West North East
  Pass 2 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


jim2January 8th, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Two questions:

1) What is the best line of play if the QC holds?

2) The range of a 2N opener varies a lot these days. That is, an old-fashioned 21-22 HCP range makes bidding on clear, but something like 19-21 makes passing potentially more attractive. What range did you assume?

Iain ClimieJanuary 8th, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

In answer to (1) above, I think CA then CJ as surely the clubs aren’t 5-1. If east has ducked smoothly with CKxxx and can now give west a club ruff, then well played to him. Otherwise, suppose west takes the 3rd club and plays a 4th which east can ruff. Now I can overruff and get a diamond ruff on table to compensate for the C10 being trumped. I’m happy to see improvements on this, though.



Bobby WolffJanuary 8th, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

Two good bridge questions from Jim2 to start the day.

The question of leading the ace or queen of clubs first has been adequately discussed and then answered by Iain.

Now addressing the wider range of an opening 2NT opening, I prefer a good 19 through 21 (without a 5 card suit which should upgrade it to 22 through 24 to which I would suggest an artificial 2 clubs and then a NF rebid of 2NT).

By opening a good 19, either 19 hcps along with a decent 5 card suit (KQ10xx or better) or one with several 10s and 9s which on balance may add to its strength when combined with gueens, jacks and 10’s in partner’s hand.

Result being more 2NT openings, which I think a positive thing, since lesser knowledge is given an opponent by so doing (IOW, no 1 level bid has preceded it, giving the opponents a jump start before the auction which sometimes serves a critical advantage in choosing the opening lead.

Possibly only a small advantage, but one which more than compensates for the few times that when opening 2NT with 19 hcps, a partnership winds up one down, as opposed to resting safely at no higher than the one level.

And then it certainly follows, when partner now raises to 3NT with a scattered 5 or 6 hcps, the chances of scoring it up increases slightly because of the lesser knowledge given to the opening leader.

Also most players have often been told that dummy play improves when more is at stake (game bonus, thus a better reason to play tougher). Yes, I would pass partner’s 2NT opening with either 2 queens only or either 2 jacks and 1 queen or certainly even all 4 jacks.

slarJanuary 8th, 2016 at 6:29 pm

I hate the 2NT opening. All that bidding space gone. For what? It had better be a good 19. With a bad 20, I’d rather open a suit. If partner has nothing, maybe I can play defense or escape to 1NT. NT slams seem to come down to controls and texture more so than total HCPs.

Meanwhile I am seeing a lot of people use Puppet Stayman over 2NT. I go along with this just to be agreeable. (It is the old disclosure vs. concealment argument. Washingtonians tend to disclose everything but truth be told I prefer concealment most of the time.) But I suppose even with this agreement, you would lean to a direct raise to 3NT, even at the expense of missing a 4-4 or 5-4 heart fit?

Bobby WolffJanuary 8th, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Hi Slar,

You are somewhat flying in the face of convention, tradition not popular bridge conventions.

If you hate eliminating bidding spade, a sophisticated and applicable belief, why not delve into forcing clubs. If so, Precision is the simplist (replete with the ever popular 5 card majors), but the Aces Club (with the Italian Neopolitan Club, its father) is my individual favorite emphasizing 4 card majors.

While taking away bidding space from possible slam auctions (an opening 2NT a good example) is unlikely to be a good idea, there is still room to find all 4-4 fits (major or minor) with most bases covered to suggest controls and, most important, not off AK in any one suit, (usually with cue bidding) when not possessing short suits as the partner of the opener.

Puppet Stayman was particularly devised (or at least gravitated to) for use over 2NT openings. It’s shortcomings (weakness) is that it gives the wily opponents all sorts of room to both suggest leads (with the use of doubles of artificiality) plus much knowledge of declarer’s full distribution even sometimes before the opening lead.

The only time I would suggest direct NT raises is when the responder is 4 triple 3 in all suits and remember when either player raises to 5NT without a previous ace asking check (after an accepted quantatative raise of 4NT, partner is expected to bid all suits up the line with the intention of playing a 4-4 fit which in the absence of both partners being 4-3-3-3 and in the same suit will often produce an extra trump trick. However that fact has several disclaimers having to do with strength of suit and also other suits producing 4 full tricks instead of needing a 3-3 break.

Nothing terribly simple about any of the above, but only high-level bridge in the raw, a concept which will never get as easy as we would like.

Finally, I do not tend to agree with your comment about 5-4 fits or even shying away from 4-4 ones, but as an offset, I heartily approve of your great general enthusiasm for our wonderful game itself.

slarJanuary 9th, 2016 at 3:53 am

My plan is to make more progress in other phases of the game before I embark on adopting Precision or another Strong-Minor system. I think there is a lot of potential in a strong diamond system. It splits the difference between 1C and 2C and leaves 1C available for maximum options in constructive bidding. But not yet.

My partner and I got the year off to a good start yesterday but we got some help. As one of my idols recently noted, “Do not accept in victory what you would not accept in defeat.” That would go well in one of your daily quotes.