Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, June 11th, 2016

Those who talk about the future are scoundrels. It is the present that matters. To evoke one’s posterity is to make a speech to maggots.

Louis Ferdinand Celine

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


Today’s deal was played in four hearts at both tables of a team game. In one room West led his top club, and the defenders set up a winner there to go with their two diamond tricks. Declarer won the opening lead and could see the possibility of four losers: two diamonds and one trick in each of the black suits. He decided that his best chance was to find East with the doubleton diamond ace, so he crossed to dummy and led a diamond to his king.

Although West could get in with the diamond ace to cash a club and lead a spade through dummy’s tenace, the 7-1 spade break meant he could never put his partner in to cash a spade, and so the contract came home.

In the other room the defenders led spades, which seemed little better. Declarer followed the same approach of crossing to dummy in hearts to lead a diamond to the king. West could see no future for the defense if he won the trick, so he ducked smoothly.

Declarer was not up to working this out. He assumed that East had the diamond ace, so he ducked the next diamond to East, who cashed his spade winner and shifted to clubs, setting up the fourth winner for the defense.

Of course if declarer had led to the diamond queen at trick four he would have come home with overtricks, but I think West deserved to defeat the contract – don’t you?

You were planning to respond two hearts and support spades later — but East has spoiled your fun by preempting. Give up on showing hearts and simply support spades. Your choices are a four-diamond cue bid, suggesting game going values with a fit, and a jump to four spades, which tends to be more about fit than high cards. Your hand falls between these two actions; I’ll go for the cuebid.


♠ A 6 2
 Q 10 9 5 2
 K 7 5
♣ A 3
South West North East
    1 ♠ 3

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


slarJune 25th, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Regarding BWTA, where is this hand going? You probably need partner to show up with 3 kings, the SQ, and another A to make 6S. I think the cue bid most likely sends you to the 5-level for no reason. I agree you are a bit too strong for 4S even if it is wide ranging. However, if you double (negative) you can have your cake and eat it too. If you find a 5-4 fit then suddenly things have gotten much more promising. On the other hand if partner bids a black suit you can bid 4S which suggests more than a minimum (slow arrival).

Bobby WolffJune 25th, 2016 at 4:16 pm

Hi Slar,

While you are well intended and certainly right about some judgments with your suggestion of double instead of blasting 4 spades or a potentially stronger cue bid, but still only describing a full throated game bid rather than a possible lighter hand first doubling and then converting a 4 club response by opener to 4 spades. When one doubles first and then returns to the major, it is usually (while playing a 5 card major system) based on only two trumps and is a default bid aimed at finding the right contract, rather than being reasonably sure of strain, but only showing doubt in case partner was able to offer another response.

If the above is true, and at least I think that thought is universally accepted, since a double is hinting at a choice of strains, that double would then be no higher than 3rd choice behind the aggressive cue bid and the conservative 4 spades.

Keeping in mind that slam bidding, especially with questionable strength, needs more care and nurture so sometimes we must accept an opponent’s preempt for what it does to our auction and although effective for us losing bidding room we do not want to go past our likely final contract (on this hand 4 spades) in order to only just keeping alive the possibility of a slam.

Of course, the aggressive cue bid also does that, but at least partner will judge his hand with the assurance of spades as trump, so in most ways he will be a better judge of his hands worth, rather than being 5-5 in clubs and spades (a possibility and expecting good club support, with the negative doubler only having at most 2 spades when he returns to that suit after doubling first.

Good response by you, and I hope my retort will help many understand that the major focus of a negative double is to find other strains rather than the first one offered.

ClarksburgJune 25th, 2016 at 8:39 pm

First let me say I hope there are many intermediates lurking around this blog and benefiting from the generosity of your time and advice on subjects like this. Thank you!
Given the recommended call of the 4D cue bid (“Partner I have enough that we can play for game in your suit, and it is better than just shape-based”), suppose Opener has enough to want to explore for more.
Assuming 4NT would be asking for number of key cards, what would would you suggest 4H and 5C mean?

slarJune 25th, 2016 at 9:35 pm

While I understand what you wrote, I am not convinced that it all works in the context of this hand.

At higher levels, a negative double only promises an unbid major and two places to play. Consider a hand with 2=4=3=4 distribution and reasonable strength after 1C(2D)???. Here you have to double and will retreat to clubs if partner bids spades. You want to play in a major but will settle for the minor.

Is the case above really much different? You have two places to play. If partner bids 4C, you can raise to 5C or cue with 4D if you really like that suit (or even pass). With so many second bids to choose from I don’t see how 4S could be misread. Even if it is misread, there are so few hands that make 6S when responder has a 13-count and 5-3-3-2 distribution that it is hard to imagine taking a minus on the hand.

Bobby WolffJune 25th, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, thanks for the kind words and much appreciated. Also, do not think for one solitary minute I could even get out of the batter’s box if it wasn’t for your, Slar, (to mention you two on this subject) and many others giving their time and effort in order to promote our game to so many who for many reasons have never taken it up.

Now to bridge business. Yes, basically for simplicity sake 4NT still means (in the absence of a complicated but usually well thought out other meaning, but to do so risks complications which require both study and back and forth to allow partners to profitably adopt them.

Bids such as 4H and 5C are control bids and a good enough hand to go past the safer level of 4 spades, but thought to be worth the risk.

By way of illustration when holding s. KQ10xxx, h. A, d. xx. c. KQxx and having partner bid 4 diamonds I would then cue bid 4 hearts to show what could be a key control allowing partner to then offer 5 clubs and then after a re-cue bid of 5 hearts a bid of 5 clubs would certainly be asking for diamond control and holding the king would likely cause to to bid 6 spades.

Finally if the opener held s. KQJxx, h. Jxxxx, d. A, c. xx my clear choice would be only to choose 4 spades as my rebid, although my distribution is positive my high cards are lacking and everything then considered I prefer to remain conservative, until and unless my partner continues with a cue bid of 5 clubs. Then, and only then would I cue bid the ace of diamonds and hope partner can use that information to bid the slam.

Note, of course, these cue bids have no bearing whatever on the length of suit, but only for a combination of control of that suit (not two immediate losers) and most importantly an experienced feel for what is necessary to bid and make a slam.

The only positive I can add is that the more experience a qualified player gets, the better his or her judgment becomes with the specific bridge aptitudes of both partners a vital factor.

Never forget that bridge is not now, nor ever has been anywhere near an exact science. Others prefer such an attribute, but not I, since the wonders of bridge are similar to physical talent in sports only it has to do with fearful, though logical minds, rather than perfectly formed athletic bodies.

jim2June 25th, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Sadly, 6 spades goes down on that first hand, as well as the second.

slarJune 25th, 2016 at 10:15 pm

@jim2 how does 6S go down on the first hand? Is it just if the DA is offside?

jim2June 26th, 2016 at 12:00 am

Count the diamonds. East has announced 7 and N-S are 3 – 2. West will lead his/her singleton 175% of the time to East’s AD and get a ruff at Trick #2.

slarJune 26th, 2016 at 12:26 am

Duh, right, thanks. All the more reason to be careful about pushing to the 5-level – if you are missing a second prime card you may just have a dumpster fire on your hands. The teammates won’t be impressed with 5S-1.

In my mind I had upgraded the hand by a point but the DK probably being onside but having three in the suit instead of two does increase the risk significantly.

ClarksburgJune 26th, 2016 at 1:46 am

With North Declaring Spades, West’s opening lead would be out of turn.

jim2June 26th, 2016 at 1:53 am

Then East goes AD , xD all the same

Bobby WolffJune 26th, 2016 at 5:00 am

Hi Jim2,

Here ye, here ye, the Surgeon General has just announced that TOCM TM has become contagious and all potential slam bidder must beware.

Obviously, if that virus is caught the diamonds will, in fact always be 7-1. However since we bid that aggressive slam TOCM indeed created, especially at our table the dreaded 7-1 division, but our current bridge hero, Boye Brogeland from Norway, arrived in time to make the ace the singleton.

Just to prove that justice is alive and well and not only do good guys catch cheats, but they are also the chosen antidote for sad endings.

And all the chosen players lived happily ever after, practicing Sharif law. Omar, indeed bridge misses you.

jim2June 26th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Sharif law — that’s good!

Bobby WolffJune 26th, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes most of the women involved likely enjoyed Sharif law, but probably not the other one which sounded similar.