Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.

Mark Twain

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

*Three of the five aces counting the trump king as an ace


In last year’s NEC Cup qualifying tournament more than half the field bid slam here and went down. The editors of the daily bulletin glossed over the play in six spades on a club lead, but Gopal Venkatesh persuaded them to revisit the deal. So how would you play the hand?

After a club lead won in the South hand, it looks natural to play spade ace, spade queen, then two more clubs, pitching the losing heart. Next lead the diamond ace, and a diamond. East does best to discard, then overruff dummy on the next diamond, and force declarer with a heart. You can ruff in the South hand, but now cannot both draw trump and get back to run the good diamonds. In fact, there’s no line of play that works after you cash both of South’s top spades at trick two and three. The idea of picking up West’s trumps when he holds jack-fourth is an illusion — unless diamonds split threetwo.

Can the hand be made if both pointed suits split four-one? Yes; after a non-heart lead, declarer must cash one high spade in the South hand and then lead a low trump to the king. Now come two more rounds of clubs, to pitch the losing heart, followed by ace and a second diamond. East cannot usefully ruff in, so he discards a heart.

So you win the diamond king and ruff a diamond, setting up the suit. If East over-ruffs, win his return and claim the rest. If he pitches, cross to the other high trump in hand and run diamonds. East can score only his trump trick.

How can you catch up after the initial pass, given that a jump in spades doesn’t do your hand justice? You cannot bid no-trump, and if you cuebid you seem poorly placed over anything but a twospade bid from partner. If you settle for the jump to two spades, partner may pass with a minimum opening bid. So you have to choose between two flawed options. Put me down as a pessimist.


♠ K 10 5 3
 10 5 3 2
 A 3
♣ A J 6
South West North East
Pass Pass Dbl. 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


David WarheitJanuary 27th, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Provided that neither S nor D are 5-0 and provided C are no worse than 5-3, then either line of play works if S are 3-2 (actually makes 7). If W has 4S, either line works if W has singleton DJ or 10 or if D break 3-2, provided W doesn’t have both D honors.

That leaves what happens if E has 4S. The recommended line works no matter what, while the line actually taken works only if D are 3-2.

bobby wolffJanuary 27th, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for giving a clinical analysis covering all reasonable contingencies.

The only venture left for the inquiring bridge mind is why the counter intuitive play of the spade suit becomes correct once a heart is not cashed by the defense at trick one.

Everything changes once a club, not a heart is led and proper, but different technique, is now required.

Such is one of the factors which determine the best world players from only wannabes. However it is only just one of several flexible talents noticeable when top players square off.

Add exquisite bidding judgment, flowing partnership compatibility, playing consistently best during crunch time pressure, and total dedication to the game itself and what is sometimes referred as “world class” becomes best described.

Again thanks for your excellent summation.

TedJanuary 27th, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Hi Bobby,

In BWTA, since partner may simply be balancing and hence a little light for his double, should a spade jump here possibly be a little stronger than normal (like a good 10 to 13)?


bobby wolffJanuary 27th, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Hi Ted,

Yes and no. Your suggestion passes scrutiny, far more than would mine to which I would overcall 1 spade originally, but if not (perhaps at unfavorable vulnerability), then make a TO double of my own. However I would rate an original pass as my third choice.

However when playing with me as your partner, I then, more than most, would have to go with the 2 heart cue bid in order to remain as consistent as I should be.

Summing up, IMO there is too much worry about bidding something (the first round) rather than not.

How about instead of “loose lips sink ships”, “jacking the bidding results in winning”?

bobby wolffJanuary 27th, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Hi again Ted,

And furthermore since in the interest of numeracy and in these days of five card majors, since with the first two hands guaranteeing at least nine hearts between them, isn’t there then more room in partner’s hand for holding 4+ spades than before the bidding began?

It certainly seems to me that there is, and if so, “finding an early major suit soon, may take away some of the opponent’s bidding room”.

TedJanuary 28th, 2016 at 1:08 am

Hi Bobby,

I can’t picture your slogan on a WWII poster, but I like it.

I overcall on a lot of hands I wouldn’t have even considered bidding a few years ago, but that spade suit would still intimidate me with LHO unpassed and awful spots. TO double, however, has some definite appeal.

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2016 at 5:57 am

Hi Ted,

While your views are definitely in the majority, just because one overcalls with a dilapidated suit (to put it mildly), doesn’t ever suggest that other suits are not considered, particularly if the penalty doubling begins.

A takeout double to start merely asks for partner’s opinion but while expecting at least some decent support for all suits sometimes the light finally starts its glow and while shining may make it more difficult for unsuspecting opponents to do the right thing.

When a defensive partnership allows free reign to their worthy opponents, the odds always favor the experienced combatants.

All the above is only to instill a fighting spirit with players, intending to give them confidence in bidding rather than going quietly.