Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Many people are angry when they make a mistake, but very few people have the sense to be sorry.

Katherine Patterson

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


Most players are aware that duplicate pairs and rubber bridge require somewhat different approaches, but they often fail to make the necessary adjustments when switching from one to the other. Today’s deal is a case in point, where West, a keen pairs player, made a rare trip to the rubber bridge table.

North opened one spade, South showed his hearts and ended in four hearts. West led the club king, gave the matter some mature consideration, then cashed a second top club before switching to the diamond 10.

This proved fatal for the defense when declarer took full advantage by timing matters perfectly. The diamond 10 was covered by the queen, king and ace, then declarer drew just one round of trump with the 10 before leading the club jack. West covered and dummy ruffed. A second round of trump to the ace enabled South to cash the club 10, on which he threw dummy’s losing diamond. Declarer trumped the diamond seven in dummy and now lost only one more trick to the spade ace.

From West’s point of view it was perfectly true that a club loser might disappear if declarer held both the diamond ace and king. However, unless the defenders could come to a diamond trick, they would surely not defeat the contract. To cash a second high club first might save an overtrick at best — quite possibly correct tactics at pairs, but it proved a catastrophe here, as it let North-South clinch the rubber.

When your partner is a passed hand, a new suit is non-forcing. Does that mean you should pass one spade here? I am not sure. Partner will always have five or more spades here, so arguably you are in your best strain at the most sensible level, with no chance that game can make your way. With the same hand and the club king in addition I would bid two clubs, but as it is, passing seems reasonable.


♠ 10 8
 A Q 10 9 8
 A 7
♣ J 10 6 5
South West North East
    Pass 1
1 Pass 1 ♠ 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1January 21st, 2016 at 11:45 am

Hi Bobby,

Can we make a case that the key for the defense is East’s signal at trick 1? If he makes the normal attitude signal, discouraging clubs, West should find the obvious switch.

Am I right to say that when dummy comes down with at most 2 cards in the suit led, a suit preference signal is in order? Unless as in this situation when one suit (spades) is out of the equation. So now, a simple attitude signal will help partner decide to continue clubs or switch to diamonds. East discourages clubs when he lacks the ace or the jack in the suit (assuming the agreed lead from AKQ(x) is the king and from AKx(x) the ace)

Mircea1January 21st, 2016 at 11:54 am

Hi again,

Just a beginner question on BWTA: why does North’s 1S promise 5 cards in the suit? What shoud North do with, say:


Bobby WolffJanuary 21st, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Hi Mircea1,

You are starting the day (at least here in the far West of the USA) with an excellent question which always will have far reaching effects with bridge defense.

At a certain higher level in bridge, partnership legal signals need to concern a general guide to the defense, considering what is known by the bidding, of course the final contract, and (most important) how to defeat the contract, if possible.

Here East should play the deuce of clubs on West’s partnership lead of the King (I, for one, have always preferred leading the King from both the Ace King and the King Queen) only to show attitude (IMO no legal signalling can effectively try and signal more than one feature at a time). However if West would continue the ace (not recommended on this hand, but then East should play his lowest one left (this case the seven) to indicate a diamond shift instead of the nine which would deny liking diamonds and nothing much more. Of course East could hold either J92 or even Jack ten, nine 2, but the limitations in conveying legal information will always be present and a case could be made that if East started with J1092 he should play the Jack on the first trick, possibly enabling the opening leader to then underlead his original AKQx in order to get a diamond back at trick three.

Yes, it is possible that East has only Jack small in clubs (then with declarer being 5-5 in the rounded suits) but that is also bridge, mister which makes defending at bridge an acute and difficult mind game.

IMO the first signal should always be attitude unless a singleton is in dummy,along with length in trumps or some other obvious reason to be present persuading East to then resort to suit preference. BOTH DEFENDERS, IF INDEED, THEY PREFER TO THINK OF THEMSELVES AS WORTHY OF SIGNIFICANT CLASS, need to get into all defenses from the get go, otherwise mistakes (at least theoretical ones), will abound.

The good news is that once learned (or at least pointed out by a worthy mentor), fewer of them than anyone realizes, always remembered and with the passage of time becomes much easier (like good driving) as one starts concentrating early (even when just the opponents are bidding) making it a level playing field for all worthwhile competitors to strut their stuff.

No one has ever said, at least within my hearing (and especially now with me being almost deaf) that bridge is an easy game to play well.

As an answer to your BWTA question it has been found more useful by most top players to require at least a fairly decent 5 card suit (at least Kxxxx) before that suit is bid in response to partner’s overcall in order to be able to allow that response to be passed,with the overcalling partner having a more or less minimum hand with no particular direction but with, of course, holding more than a singleton trump for partner.

Not etched in stone, but, at least to me, worthy of being followed.

Perhaps now, with our exchange of what it takes, to succeed at a fairly high level of our marvelous game, and the overwhelming chance of not succeeding somewhere along the way, but still rising above those failures to continue the quest without even considering to give it up.

The above should lead to literally hating those miscreants (usually with at least them possessing some talent) who resort to the total coward’s way of implementing dirty filthy cheating in order to win at all costs and totally distort and destroy what is at least, undoubtedly true.

Bridge is the greatest mind game ever invented and to illegally cheat (or for that matter to not live up to its strict ethical standard) is an unimaginable serious crime where barred for life should be its sure and certain punishment.

Otherwise how can we succeed in being able to play it, if our minds are diverted to even thinking it possible that other competitors may be doing so?

Bobby WolffJanuary 21st, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Hi Mircea1,

And while preaching fire and brimstone I became diverted from specifically answering your question about the hand you presented.

I would bid a simple 1NT, although not having the opponent’s suit totally stopped (Jxx) the whole hand met the other requirements of values (about 10 HCPs) and balanced which, to me, is close enough. Partner then follow up my bid with whatever then suits his hand and by doing so, at least most of the time, will not be disappointed in my first bid.

Mircea1January 21st, 2016 at 10:03 pm

Thanks a lot for your response, Bobby. Very enlightening, as always.

Although I’m not contributing much to this blog, simply because I don’t have time, I try to read it every day. I’ve learned a lot from here and for that I’m very grateful to you and your contributors. You’re doing bridge a great service.

philippeJanuary 22nd, 2016 at 5:53 am

hi bobby
if you exchange KJ diamond for heart ace, you have to play two rounds of club

David WarheitJanuary 22nd, 2016 at 7:16 am

Philippe: I believe that you are giving S DAKJ & C J10x. In that case, however, E would have 4 C & would play a high C at trick one, leading W to cash a second C.

Bobby WolffJanuary 22nd, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Hi Philippe & thank you David,

Yes Philippe, you are definitely correct and, of course David is also right on with his explanation of why and what for.

What does it all mean? Only what bridge is all about, that our many-splendored game is a 100% partnership effort where the strength of any pair can only be measured by how good those two players are in partnership with each other.

However, in order to proceed fairly, without which the game loses all its lustre, all four players MUST adhere to the special ethics of the game of not giving any unauthorized information to each other. sometimes compromised by significant breaks in tempo or undue emphasis and/or not keeping the opponents aware of one’s bidding and defense private strategies to which they are entitled to know.

When the players soon become aware of their responsibilities, the game itself no doubt, jumps to the greatest mind game of all time, combining logic, numeracy, problem solving, high-level psychology, and legal communication among other features to add all those particular challenges to sheer entertainment making for the pastime of the ages.

Welcome to our site and feel free to tune in whenever convenient, express your questions and concerns, on the way to learning however much you can glean.