Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 12th, 2016

The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.

William James

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

*Three-suited, short diamonds


During the 2015 US Open trials two teams playing Precision ran into one another. Both tables played an opening two diamonds to show a three-suited hand, with short diamonds.

In one room South took a very low road, selling out to three clubs and defeating it two tricks. In the other room Kevin Bathurst finished at the helm in three notrump. Vince Demuy led a fourth best club to the queen and ace. Bathurst played a heart to the king. John Kranyak won his ace, and the defense cashed out the clubs, then exited in hearts.

Bathurst now cashed the diamond king and queen and the spade ace. The diamond nine went to the ace, on which Kranyak was forced to part with either a heart or a spade. He chose a spade, so Bathurst finessed the spade queen and successfully fulfilled his contract.

East could have done better here had he simply returned a heart at trick three. I can understand why he would have been unwilling to do that, since if his partner had a singleton heart, this play would have given up the whole suit. But a safe way to set the game was to win the heart ace and club king, then exit in diamonds. Now declarer cannot exert any pressure.

Finally, note that because of the blockage in hearts, declarer can come home at double dummy by cashing a diamond winner from hand at trick two and exiting in clubs. The defenders now cannot prevent the squeeze from biting.

A key to accurate bidding is to define or limit your hand as fast as you can. Bidding no-trump with balanced hands, and supporting with support are key ways to do that. If you can limit your hand, by opening one no-trump or (as here) two notrump, try to do so. It is generally very hard to show a hand in the appropriate range if you do not do so at once. So open two no-trump and get your hand off your chest.


♠ A K J 10 6
 Q 4 3
 K Q 9
♣ A J
South West North East

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 26th, 2016 at 11:59 am

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, how far would you take the principle e.g. in terms of opening 2NT on semi-balanced hands such as 4-4-4-1, 5-4-3-1 or 6-3-2-2 shapes, with (ideally) stiff Ace or KIng if you’ve got a singleton. I’ve noticed a growing tendency this side of the pond for people to bid like this.

Stayman for 5 card majors is helpful on hands like today provided that partner doesn’t nod off with a hand like Qxx xx J10xx Kxxx and remembers to check instead of just bidding 3N.

Any more thoughts here, though?



bobby wolffMay 26th, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Hi Iain,

Your scattered thoughts, as time goes by, become more and more profound.

And although your 4-4-4-1 and 6-3-2-2 shapes have become somewhat commonplace, the 5-4-3-1 shape has not, because specifically that one distribution is thought to be much more suit oriented than the other two.

At least, in the high-level player group the world over, are aware that the 6-3-2-2 hands (almost always a 6 card minor) lacks the defensive value most 2NT openers exert on their opponents, making a then intervention overcall by brave adversaries much more likely than days of yore, but still indeed possibly more rare than it should be.

And of course Puppet Stayman (a search for 5 card majors by the responder) can be critical in finding a 5-3 major suit fit, particularly so when fate will deal partner a matching doubleton opposite the opener’s same doubleton. However, we must all keep in mind that Puppet Stayman, while being of aid to the players using it, also, almost in direct kind, often enables the opening leader to choose a better opening lead, but also helps a listening partnership to find the best defense and sometimes at an early enough time in the defense to occasionally show a set when in the past it would have been unlikely to almost impossible, to occur.

Obviously bridge, particularly at certain higher levels, is changing in scope, keeping in mind one side sometimes has to give to get. Not unlike running a business, hoping for a great personal life, or other important life items, therefore making bridge playing and its practical logic, much more of a positive in adjusting to what also one encounters along life’s highway.

No doubt, from your post, your bridge instincts are on target as to what is happening world wide in what has been a steady progression (hoped for) in the tactics and psychology of improving the playing of our game.

However, never forget or belittle, the possibility that the more things change does not anywhere near 100% mean the better they get.

It only likely indicates that some group or groups are currently involved by experimenting with new twists and mentees are then following suit, especially with this much smaller world (because of travel and communication) we are now living.

TedMay 26th, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing Puppet Stayman after 2NT opener, if responder has game-going values and a 5-card major with a doubleton in the other major, is there a standard way to proceed? If it is to first bid 3C, if partner bids 3NT, would you now transfer at the 4 level, or would you vary it by suit holdings?

bobby wolffMay 27th, 2016 at 4:09 am

Hi Ted,

It is somewhat illogical to not transfer immediately, if for no other reason, than to avoid a 5-2 fit and thus play 3NT. However, all experienced players are well aware that sometimes a 5-2 fit is preferable to a 3NT final contract, but the guessing involved in so determining, makes cowards of us all in making that unusual decision.

So, either play Puppet Stayman or instead just the regular kind, and be prepared to pay off occasionally when, at least according to certain players, bad luck was just then impossible to overcome.

And always remember which some bridge scientists always deny. When more science is added to the offense, the opponents are also listening and too much double dummy defense is then offered by those worthy opponents, making the gain not worth that price.

However it is similar to some liking chocolate and others vanilla, and never the twain will meet.