Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

As long as there was coffee in the world, how bad could things be?

Cassandra Clare

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

*Short spades, agreeing hearts


The final contract in today’s deal was six hearts by South – rather ambitious you might say, given the two missing keycards, not to mention the further hurdle of the bad club break.

When South heard his partner show heart fit with short spades, he decided to use Blackwood – far from unreasonably. Now North thought he had to catch up to show his void, though it might have been more discreet simply to answer the question his partner had asked.

East might have made a Lightner double of six hearts for the club lead, but he was not sure where his side’s second trick was going to come from. When he passed, West looked no further than his spade sequence on opening lead. South was unimpressed by the dummy, but that did not stop him giving the contract his best shot. He ruffed the opening lead, ostentatiously dropping his spade ace as he did so, took a heart finesse, then ruffed the spade king and repeated the heart finesse.

After drawing the last trump South was confident that his diamond loser was about to go on the clubs, but the 4-0 club break brought him back to earth.

Still, South did not give up; he cashed his remaining trumps, reducing down to the spade queen and three clubs, plus the diamond jack. West had to keep his diamond ace and three clubs so could similarly keep only one spade. With dummy down to two diamonds and three clubs, South cashed his spade queen and exited in diamonds, and West had to win and concede the rest.

Standard bidding has changed here over the last 20 years. After opener’s reverse, responder must be able both to raise his partner’s suits and also to admit to a minimum response. Methods, detailed at wiki/Wiki/ Blackout_convention allow you to bid three diamonds and set up a force for at least one round, since you’d limit your hand with two no-trump with a really weak hand.


♠ 8 6 4 3 2
 K 8 4
 A 7 6 3
♣ J
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 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 ClimieMay 18th, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, 4S, 5 / 6 D, 3N or 4 (even 6) H might be best although the 6H is a bit far-fetched. If you’re still playing older methods here (I’ll look up the new stuff) is there any case for bidding 3C here? I think we can discount partner being 3451 though, except against timid oppo.



DR RICHARD BICKLEYMay 18th, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Date: 18 May, 2016 11:53:02 AM MDT

Subject: May 10, 2016 Bid With The Aces


I hope that this or these questions reach you. The situation you address on May 10th got me thinking, or rethinking, a problem hand that came up May 6th that was remarkably similar. (Your) South held A1085, A, AJ86, A875. South had doubled 1H from East, the Dealer. West Passed, North responds 1S, Pass to South. Bid 2S, a strong bid, you recommend, and where things became very interesting to me was with two of your remarks. If RHO had competed, you pointed out, then South would have had to do more to show real extra values. (Thus, this implies that 2S over 2H by East is simply competitive. Makes sense to me.) What exactly would South bid to show the extra values? You indicated that a cue-bid suggests three trumps and about 17-19. Good, that is helpful. And it could invite a NT rebid by Advancer with a stopper in hearts. First Question: What would a (second) double by South show? A new suit by South would presumably show real extras, too. As would any NT rebid.

The “problem” hand for my partner and me came up a few days earlier (May 6, 2016) in a flight C D18 online GNT qualification round robin. Both NV, 1S on my left, Double by partner, Pass to me. My hand: 763, 54, 10972, KJ82. I bid 2C, wondering if 2D might be better. Then Dealer rebid 2S and my partner cue-bid 3S. We were one level higher than your example hand. RHO passed. I of course ruled out 3NT without a stopper. I interpreted the cue-bid to be strong (stronger than the 17-19 you suggest in your example), in part because I am being forced to bid at the 4 level with perhaps a bust. I also thought that Partner could be asking me to pick one of the two remaining unbid suits (or would a Double be asking that? — hence my question above). So I rebid 4D. I have something there (4 cards at any rate) and I am not a bare minimum. Not good. Partner then bid 4H. Well, I thought, so much for diamonds, maybe he really, really wants to play hearts, so I passed. His hand: A, AJ109, QJ6, AQ943. We can make 4C. He took my 4D as control showing, as was his 4H, all in support of clubs. Ugh!

Totally irrelevant matter but one that is very disturbing for me, someone who has returned to the game in the last 18 months after starting out in the later 1960s and early 1970s: Our team did not qualify for the final as the Director made a scoring error, keeping us out of the final by reducing our VP total by 11 (!), that was only picked up the following Monday night — inadequate posting of results meant that I for one was unable to check results and standings. Other unfortunate problems had preceded that rather gross error, none of which appear to bother D18 authorities.

Thank you so much for anything you might be able to contribute here. I have been reading your column for years, and have been studying it since I have returned to playing serious bridge up here in Calgary, having started out in Montreal with some of the old greats and aware of some of the about-to-be greats, then in Poughkeepsie in 1974 against the likes of Allan Stauber and as a partner with Stephen Sanborn where he and I had some good success.

Richard Bickley

bobby wolffMay 18th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Hi Iain,

Sure there is usually at least a case for making an artificial bid, which unequivocally forces to game.

However, by doing so and of course, the bidding progressing higher after partner then bids again, one often regrets losing that important round of bidding, especially when only the right game appears in sight with slam then doubtful.

Thus I certainly prefer the responder’s preference for the strong hand’s first suit to be a one round force. The reason being is to likely establish strain, at least the one to prefer playing slam, in case we get that high.

With higher level bridge bidding, we often have to give to get, therefore finding a potential weak bid such as 2NT to then announce weakness and to only head for that hand’s best strain at the lowest level (usually three of opener’s minor) and be done with it.

Not perfect, but I believe in this area, nothing is, nor ever has been.

Always thanks for your pertinent questions.

bobby wolffMay 18th, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Hi Dr. Bickley,

No doubt your letter is a plaintiff wail asking “what is going on with the so-called “high-level” game” which appears both misdirected and an attitude of, “I have this hand and therefore I want the bids I make to be understood the way I want them to be”?

To me your partner has a choice of three alternatives: 1. an overbid of 4 clubs, 2. an underbid of 3 clubs or 3. a slight overbid of 3 spades with the idea of living with your choice of rebid. A double by you (which BTW, not too many years ago would have been regarded as penalties) but now to merely mean considerably extra values but gladly willing to accept your judgment which your next bid would indicate, but not, like this hand, an enormous fit.

Therefore, while my choice is 3 spades, which likely, in addition to that super fit, has a spade stop, where a second one by you will also be necessary to make 9 tricks as long as an extra trick or so, making your 13 cards not qualifying for anything but a return to 4 clubs.

Perhaps you can now see clearly how our beautiful and enchanting game is nothing close to an exact science, but only one which requires sophisticated judgment and a thick skin to making errors in judgment.

Your story about a TDs error is so very sad and to say the least, unspeakable, but becoming a TD, while subject to some learning discipline, will always get total support from their higher-ups when mistakes are made.

While this discipline leaves much to be desired (and I tried my best to expect more when I was young enough to do something about it) never succeeded as much as I had hoped, but the only advice I can give is to accept it and look out for yourself (by always checking out everything you can for errors), but then bug off, otherwise you could become then even worse treated.

Richard, good to hear from you and the best of luck in resuming your bridge career. With some good luck you will resume loving our great game (assuming it does not cease after all the recent worldwide cheating scandals.)

Michael BeyroutiMay 18th, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
when I saw today’s AOB hand I thought of a different line. Ruff the spade lead, take a first trump finesse and at trick three play the diamond jack overtaking with the king. If East has the DA declarer is home free. Ruff the spade return, discard the club 8 on a high diamond and repeat the trump finesse.
There is a hitch in this project: If West has the DA he can take it and (maybe) give East a club ruff!…
Which brings me to my question: The line taken by declarer fails if East has the DA. But, I suppose, declarer gave himself the best chance given the unexpected turn of events. Which line do you think is preferable, a priori? My initial gut reaction was to play the diamond jack ASAP, totally oblivious to the possibility of a club ruff…
By the way, did the 6H response to 4NT show/indicate/hint a club void?
Thanks and best regards,

bobby wolffMay 18th, 2016 at 10:50 pm

Hi Michael,

Your line appears to be as good as the column line since West could be as void as East in clubs, with of course, the hearts being 2-2.

In any case, the lines are pretty much identical as to estimating the chances of success. Of course the circus nature of the splits make this hand an unusual one and more suited to bridge columns, than to at the table happening.

While a jump to 6 hearts is standard procedure with a void in a higher ranking suit (in this case, spades) but also showing one ace. I guess North was fearful of South not knowing about his void instead of singleton spade and so just wanted to gamble it out, but in actuality South had a right to play him for the ace he didn’t have and on other layouts bid seven and either make it or not, depending on fortune.

Michael BeyroutiMay 18th, 2016 at 11:09 pm

Thanks Mr Wolff.
Sorry, I meant spade void. But you understood me and your answer makes perfect sense. Now it’s the double by East that shows a club void…

bobby wolffMay 19th, 2016 at 12:37 am

Hi again Michael,

Yes a double by the partner of the opening leader vs. a slam (of course, not if the opponents are taking a sacrifice, but instead bidding to make) calls for an unusual lead, most of the time a void and asks partner to look at his hand and decide what that suit might be.

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