Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 10th, 2016

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order the continuous thread of revelation.

Eudora Welty

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

*Texas transfer to hearts


Everything else being equal, the chance of a finesse for a queen succeeding is one in two – though I admit it often does not feel that way at the table. But the chances of finding an even break in a side-suit, to set it up, are also generally close to 50 percent. More to the point, you can often combine the latter chance with the former, if you make your plays in the right order.

In today’s deal South chose to open with a slightly off-center call of two no-trump. His partner might have transferred to hearts and raised himself to game as a mild slam-try. Instead he set hearts as trump, asked for aces and drove to slam over the response.

West led a trump, and South won in dummy and immediately took the diamond finesse. In with the diamond queen, West was lucky enough to be looking at the spade ace, and had no problem in cashing it, to set the contract.

Playing with the odds, there is a better percentage shot than South’s line. Win the heart lead in dummy and play a spade. West wins and returns another trump, to the ace. Ruff a spade high, draw the last trump, return to hand with the diamond ace in case the queen drops, and ruff another spade. When East and West both follow, the contract is assured. Come back to one of your top minor-suit cards, then ruff another spade ruff to set up the fifth spade for a diamond discard.

Note: if spades don’t break, you can always fall back on the diamond finesse.

You have a great hand but you do not need to bid more than one spade now. It is easy to see that you need quite a bit of help from partner to make game, whether it be in diamonds, hearts, spades, or no-trump. Start by showing a good hand and let partner bid on if he has anything to say.


♠ J 9 6 4 3
 A 6
 A K J 3
♣ A K
South West North East
      1 ♣
Dbl. 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


Iain ClimieMarch 24th, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Hi Bobby,

In terms of the bidding nuances of 2NT-4H or 2NT then transfer and raise, I have a rather odd arrangement with one current partner who is much happier for me to play the hand. If my partner opens 1NT (12-14) and I bid 4H that is clearly to play. If I open 1NT and partner has that sort of hand, she’ll transfer to 2H and then bid 4H so I’ve hogged another one. I know you prefer 2 way Stayman to transfers, but this is a rather eccentric benefit. Should I alert this partnership treatment though, even though it tends to cause helpless laughter from some opponents when explained?

Should you compliment West for the trump lead today, though? Cashing the SA may well nudge South towards the better line, although West doubtless expected South to hold the SK.



bobbywolffMarch 24th, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Hi Iain,
Though it could be a bit embarrassing to your partner, truth in partnership understandings in bridge is similar to truth in advertising in real life just to update them as to the whys and wherefores so that they will not be disadvantaged while defending, in not having to wonder why bids are being made.
Also in the ACBL I think there used to be a rule requiring both partners to be playing the same conventions both ways at the table. However I never heard of that rule being challenged at the table, so perhaps it is not in effect anymore, even if it ever was.
For the eagle eyed player, with a club lead, if declarer needed an extra entry to effect the same result, perhaps he could cater to the singleton nine of hearts being in one hand, allowing him to lead (or in this case, merely play) a high heart from dummy back to his ace, hoping for the singleton nine (present in this hand) in order to then create an additional entry with the second heart 3 to the high 6.
Just an example of a long ago article, aptly named, "The good and the very good".
Finally, while playing weak NT (12-14 or weaker) one of the alleged advantages of transfers often goes away, since with the opening NT reduced in size it is less likely that it is beneficial for the opening lead to be coming around to it, since on game and especially slam hands chances are that partner has the greater number of unsupported or partially so, tenaces, eg. (AQs, Ks, Q10x etc).
Just another advantage of 2 way Stayman.
Yes, I know, I never stop promoting what I prefer!

Iain ClimieMarch 24th, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Thanks Bobby although we are both playing the same thing but have different ways to reach the same contract. Obviously opposite a 2N opener or even a strong NT, it may be better for the strong hand to be concealed. With (say) x KJ9xxxx kQxx x opposite a 12-14 NT I’d want pard not to mess about with transfers – bidding fame straight off stops them bidding spades and the need to cash out is less obvious. There are limits to my HH tendencies!

Have a good Easter,


Pete SagerMarch 24th, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Hi Bobby,
Perhaps you or one of your regulars could help with these two questions. Thanks in advance.
1) A few weeks ago a bridge lesson in competition was included with the local duplicate. The instructor said that with S-Kx, H-J10xx, D-xx, C-Axxxx if the bidding was (1D)-1S-(X)-?, he would bid 2S. His comment was ‘Show values, the distortion bodes well if they bid.’ He also said his style would be for the overcaller generally not to reraise to 3S without a six card suit. No vulnerability was specified nor was it specified whether the game was matchpoints or IMPs. Do you agree with that bid? If not what would you bid? Should a redouble be played as a type of snapdragon showing spade tolerance and the fourth suit – in this case clubs?
2) In a matchpoint game with both vul I dealt with S-A,10,8,7,6,3,2, H-void, D-K,9,6,3, C-A,7 and opened 1S. Left hand opponent overcalled 2H. Partner passed with S-K,5, H-J,7, D-A,8,5, C-10,9,8,6,5,4. Right hand opponent passed, and I bid 2S. It then went pass, pass, and righty bid 3H. At that point it was passed out. We got a terrible score as they made 3H and we’re cold for 4 or 5 spades. He maintained that I should have bid more. I felt that after bidding spades twice he should have raised to 3S. I suspect that neither of us covered ourselves with glory. What do you think?
Thanks again.

jim2March 25th, 2016 at 1:54 am

I am no expert. With that said, on the first hand I would assume the negative double showed hearts and probably clubs. Thus, if I were to take a bid on this round, it would be 2S. Partner’s overcall basically denied four hearts and they could well be 4-4-4-1. The AC is a transferable value and the KS is a big card.

On the second hand, some might have doubled instead of 2S intending to later rebid spades over a club bid by partner or a heart raise. Nonetheless, rebidding a 7-card suit can hardly be wrong. Non-vul, your partner HAS to bid 3S, but I think he should have bid it anyway even vul.

bobbywolffMarch 25th, 2016 at 4:11 am

Hi Iain,

Your comment is straight on favoring hidden distribution rather than leads up to likely tenaces.

In fairness to you and the subject I really, uncharacteristically, have no valid opinion. Most of the top pairs around go with the strong hand becoming declarer (transfers), giving away the distribution after the opening lead, but not budging from having the strong balanced hand the declarer.

In days of your there used to be two transfers available over 1 or 2 NT openers. Texas, which was bidding one under the suit held, and South Africa, where 4 clubs transferred to hearts and 4 diamonds to spades, leaving normal jumps to 4 of the major natural and available.

Perhaps you should go the South Africa route, allowing you to transfer if you want, or just bull doze your way to 4 of the major with you playing it.

Do I feel from you as if you just died and arrived in heaven?

bobbywolffMarch 25th, 2016 at 4:24 am

Hi Pete and Jim2,

Answering #2 first, no doubt, I agree with the responder bidding 3 spades once the bidding got competitive and after partner reopened with 2 spades.

I also have a grudging admiration for bidding 2 spades (playing 5 card majors) the first time. When holding an ace and king, it cannot be really wrong to support immediately rather than wait for the tides of battle to show the way.

As far as competing on the overcall hand, yes the snapdragon convention takes care of that combination wherein redouble takes the place of just a good hand, but specifically a decent doubleton honor in partner’s suit plus at least 5 cards in the heretofore unbid suit.

The thought of putting heretofore unused or at least rare auctions to use with meaningful and practical usage is mighty appealing when constructing a solid bidding system. Snapdragon, although not common, puts to use a combination of cards which occur with surprising frequency, leaving open a free bid of the new minor to basically deny decent support for partner, only because the non-use of that conventional bid is also descriptive of a poor holding in partner’s suit.

Good luck in both learning something of value and using good judgment when using it.

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