Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Money speaks sense in a language all nations understand.

Aphra Behn

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


The final of the Yeh Bros Cup, a tournament with $100,000 for the winning team, was contested between two Chinese teams, China Open and Red Bull. Somewhat curiously, the Red Bull team included a pair of Dutchmen, Simon de Wijs and Bauke Muller, who have been playing professionally in China for several years, as well as representing Netherlands in most of the recent International events. The two teams had met earlier in the double-elimination event, with Red Bull winning the earlier battle, but they lost the match that mattered.

This was an opportunity for China Open, but it finished up being a significant pick-up for Red Bull. The Red Bull declarer had heard West preempt to three spades over a one diamond opener. He bid a somewhat cautious four hearts – there being few more attractive alternatives, admittedly — and played there, guessing diamonds to make 12 tricks. In our featured room North-South had more room to find out about their combined values, and they reached six diamonds.

Linlin Hu received a low club lead to the ace and a spade shift. Declarer immediately went after trump and misguessed, to go one down. Had he taken his slight extra chance to explore the opponents’ shapes by playing the second top spade and ruffing a spade, he would have found West with very long spades and surely at least three clubs. Then I think he would have been heavy favorite to guess trump – don’t you?

That being said, I think de Wijs deserves some credit for the swing, for not pre-empting here.

For a negative double at the two-level your partner rates to have eight plus HCP with four spades, and probably no heart fit unless he has a limit raise. Even though your trump holding is not robust, you should opt to defend, since partner will typically have a doubleton diamond, and your side will surely have more than half the deck. And remember, two diamonds doubled isn’t game.


♠ A K 4
 K J 10 7 4
 K J 5 2
♣ 5
South West North East
1 2 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


Bob BordenApril 26th, 2016 at 1:40 pm


I think had declarer played a 2nd high spade and ruffed a third spade, he should then ruff a club to clarify that position, West could have led from 2 or 3 small
or KJ98, although the latter seems pretty unlikely. Declarer now knows that
West has 7 spades and most likely 3 clubs. He must also have a least 1 heart or
East would have 5 and would have led 1 at trick 2 to give partner a ruff. When
declarer then plays the diamond king with West following his only unknown card
is almost certainly a heart or diamond, with a very small possibility of it
being a club, but that small probability is probably enough to finesse for the diamond queen. It really seems that it’s almost 50-50, some table feel would
certainly help.

Mircea1April 26th, 2016 at 2:39 pm

As both the column and Bob are saying, declarer could have tried to get more information on the distribution. As the card lay, he would have been successful but I think that there are quite a few layouts where he has to play the percentages or where he simply has to guess. Any hand where West has no more than 6 spades and no more than 4 clubs with all the points to him, less CA, qualify. This would be more in line with his 1S overcall. I hope I’m not missing anything.

On the other hand, assuming that N-S can find out early that they’re missing one key card plus the queen of trumps, is the small slam still worth bidding?

Mircea1April 26th, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, would you still pass at matchpoints? I would be more tempted to bid 2S in this case.

jim2April 26th, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Mircea1 –

What about in hearts? After all, the 2h bid by N showed 5 and the 2S bid by S suggested heart fit.

Mircea1April 26th, 2016 at 3:25 pm


I know that there are methods of identifying the trump kings and queens in double-fit situations (Roman Key Card 6 – where both kings count as key cards – nicely documented in Eddie Kantar’s book on RKCB). Assuming such methods are employed allowing North to find out that his partner has at least 3 hearts with the queen and probably 5 diamonds but surely without the queen, is 6H better than 6D? I guess that’s what you’re asking?

jim2April 26th, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I had two points, really.

First, if N-S explored for a heart slam, they would have discovered they were missing one key card but had the queen of trump, making it more likely they would continue to slam.

Second, I do think hearts is the better slam because trumps can be drawn and more distribution information can be gleaned before the diamond decision.

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Hi Bob,

Thanks for both your dedicated opinion and the effort you gave expressing it.

The only addition(s) I would attempt to include is that experienced players tend (and should) to be aggressive while leading against a small slam (the rationale is to either miraculously cash two quick tricks (unlikely vs. good slam bidders) or just to establish a setting trick so that when in with the trick expected to be lost by the declaring side, the defense will have established the setter. Here, since clubs were not bid but West had bid spades and his partner had always passed, it is extremely unlikely that East had both the ace and king, therefore making it likely that the opening leader had at least 3 clubs.

Of course, you are right on that if East had 5 small hearts and once South jump supported hearts no doubt West would have at least a singleton heart and even with a singleton West may have led it hoping their defensive trick was East’s heart ace instead of the club ace.

Please keep in mind that all these assumptions by both sides are not rocket science, but merely just judgment based on their hands and thus West holding some singleton (on this hand, diamonds) may have made Wests hand good enough to overcall rather than Qx instead.

Certainly not conclusive like in the other room when a preempt was offered, but good enough to rely on it, rather than a 2-2 split.

Finally, guessing cards held usually by the declarer, but occasionally by the defense is to me the largest distinguishing factor between the greatest players (world class) and the ones next below them ready to emerge.

Again thanks for your time consuming analysis.

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Remember, this hand was played in an important money tournament wherein some of the best players in the world were performing, so that slams should likely be bid, if all that remains to score it up, as here, is guessing how to play the trump suit.

Where the a priori numerical odds favor a 3-1 break to 2-2 by a 50 to 40 ratio with 4-0 about 10%, while at the table and top level players competing, my opinion is that those odds change to perhaps at least 2 to 1 in favor of guessing it right instead of only 5 to 4 especially when 4-0 breaks either way, can be handled without loss.

No doubt, I feel the same way you do about the BWTA and prefer bidding 2 spades, rather than risk a penalty pass. However, there are many very good players who would think passing (with that problem hand a slam dunk and take one’s chances on that result).

My reasons (possibly similar to yours) are simply that defending is much more difficult than being declarer and the opening lead is basically blind, although we have opened and expect a heart lead.

However, if the 2 diamond bidder is a good player he is likely to play the hand to his best advantage which is not good news to us. And the kicker and deal breaker to me is that passing is so final, but bidding keeps our options open (except likely for defending a diamond contract) and low and behold we probably will be able to bid this hand to the best makeable game with even the possibility of a slam still in the air, although very unlikely.

To add to that, if partner (bless him) sees us passing his TO double he may be very reluctant in the future to double being void in the opponents suit but at the same time not having primary support for our opened major suit, but including even 5+ of the other major and unbid minor.

The above is possibly only irrational fear, but being around bridge for so many years tends to recall that feeling, and indeed, not a good one.

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Hi Jim2 & Mircea1,

You two seemed to have covered the bases with your discussion of which red suit to play the slam.

If your bidding system, especially when the opponents jack up the bidding allows you to guess enough about each other’s hand to know exactly what to do, even with various forms of key card BW available (which has always been overrated to my way of thinking) I bow to your judgment, especially between the two of you.

Not bowing out, but only using discretion before entering, but happy to answer any specific question where I may be able to help.

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