Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave a paradise for a sect.

John Keats

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


In today’s deal North-South had plenty of high cards and controls but no intermediates and no fit. When South bid his long suits and heard his partner revert to hearts, he expected to find a doubleton heart opposite. Still, since he might have been facing as much as a 10-count, he felt obligated to make one more try for game. He showed his extra values and bid out his pattern with his two spade call. Over this, North might have invited game with a bid of two no-trump, since he had some high-card extras and the fourth suit under control. Instead, he made a repeat game-try by bidding the fourth suit, and respected his partner’s sign-off.

West was optimistic that the bad trump break would be enough to sink the game so long as he could kill ruffs in dummy. So he led a heart, and when South took this with the ace he counted only seven top tricks.

The easiest way home was to maximize his use of trumps. He started by ducking a diamond, and when West won and pressed on with trumps, South realized he would not have time to set up diamonds. (Had both hands followed to the second trump the way forward might not have been so clear).

As it was, declarer led a club to the ace and ruffed one of dummy’s clubs in hand, then came the diamond ace, spade king and spade ace followed by another club ruff. When both opponents followed suit, South had nine tricks, graciously conceding the last three tricks to the high trumps, spades and diamonds.

That two spade call should be natural – you cannot afford to have the opponents stealing your suits with little or no excuse. You do not really care if your RHO is playing silly games, you should raise to four spades, and let your partner worry about that.


♠ A 7 2
 4 2
 9 7 4
♣ A J 6 4 3
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1 ♠
2 ♣ 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


A V Ramana RaoJune 28th, 2016 at 11:19 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Since south bid only for nine tricks, why ducking a diamond at all? Win the first trick and cash two more high hearts. If the suit breaks south has nine top tricks. When the suit doe not behave- as in the hand, cash spade K, play aclub to A and ruff a club, cash diamond A, play a spade to A in dummy and ruff another club scoring ninth trick and fold the tent. The chance of west ruffing second spade or getting over ruffed in clubs is negligible and if you get over ruffed, you would never make the contract anyway.

bobbywolffJune 28th, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Somtimes by ducking a diamond or at least attempting to troll for an extra trick, one appears, for example 3-3 hearts and diamonds.
Always the key, is whether the danger of not attending to business could keep the contract from making, and it is possible, but whether it is likely enough to not explore that opportunity is for the declarer to decide.
At matchpoints I tend to be fairly conservative, searching for plus scores rather than endanger the contract, but others go all out to score up maximum.
Chocolate or Vanilla? It is up to the declarer, usually the person in control.
However your above analysis is right on target.

Jeff SJune 28th, 2016 at 4:00 pm

I am trying to figure out what my partner is holding in BWTA. My initial reaction (before reading the answer) was that since he didn’t start with spades, he doesn’t have five spades so 2S was a cue-bid showing strength and (maybe) club support or spade shortage. So I was way off.

Does 2S show in this case that he does hold five spades, but wanted to show he has a strong hand before showing his spades? That would make sense then with East presumably holding four of the missing spades spades for his bid (or possibly all five?).

In that context, I would guess the remark about RHO playing games would indicate that there just aren’t enough points available for it to make sense for him to show spades with only four and, say, five points or so.

Or am I still way off?

Thanks for your help!

bobbywolffJune 28th, 2016 at 5:27 pm

Hi Jeff S,

You are not, by any measurement, way off, but instead, ready to grasp a bit of bridge logic, not to be forgotten later.

In the earlier days of contract bridge and frequently occurring, a player in East’s position, after his RHO had made a TO dbl of 1 heart (usually showing good support for the other major, spades) might psyche one spade (holding two small or some such) as a bold move to keep his opponents from getting together in that suit.

Some years later that type of psychic became rare since the player behind him, if he had a normal spade response to his partner’s dbl would then make a penalty double, uncovering the ruse. In addition the TO Dbler, if he then had 5+ good spades and after his partner had either bid another suit or passed then bid spades it was showing that suit instead of being treated as a cue bid.

However that practice, because of the missile defense described, basically went out of sight
since it just, then, didn’t fool anyone.

More needs to be described. When a TO doubler in this case wanted to show a very strong hand, but not the suit, he should then choose to bid 2 hearts, his RHO’s opening bid.

The bridge logic involved is simple and to the point. If 2nd seat had very strong hearts and his RHO opened one heart, the last bid he should take is some number of hearts, but rather just pass and await developments.

The above is important bridge logic, rarely taught but still necessary to understand. A key is that a cue bid at those lower levels do not, in the absence of a conventional meaning (Michaels or top & bottom) show anything pertaining to 1st or even 2nd round control, just whatever the convention means, but never showing length since by doing so nothing is gained and a great deal, instead lost.

Thus, once the bidding goes in the way it did, the TO doubler should show a very good spade holding by bidding 2 spades, but instead, if he had a big club fit and only 3 spades to perhaps the KQ he should then cue bid 2 hearts, NEVER TWO SPADES, or otherwise our bidding code language becomes not worth learning.

Sure, possibly East had 4 or perhaps 5 spades but probably not good ones, since South has Axx, enabling the eventual spade declarer NS, to play the hand carefully and percentage wise will only hold four of them, all the way down to anywhere between 0-3.

The above is somewhat trivial advice, but the history of the last 85 years of Contract bridge helps an intermediate player learn the game much faster than one who is not familiar with its interesting past.

The lesson learned is not only above, but the necessity to discuss unusual bidding sequences when and if they appear.

Good luck!

AviJune 28th, 2016 at 7:17 pm

Hi Bobby

I have an unrelated question, regarding board 9 of match 29 in the recent EU championship (

Board 9. Dealer North. E-W Vulnerable.
♠ Q J 9 ————————– ♠ A K 8 7 6 5
♥ A 2 ————————– ♥ T 5
♦ A J 8 7 4 ————————– ♦ K 6
♣ A K 7 ————————– ♣ J T 4

opps make life easy and pass through out.
Is it reasonable to have west steer the bidding to 7s?
16/37 tables bid the grand.
I don’t see how to show that the K diamond is doubleton.
If it isn’t, then the slam is to risky (even with an upgraded pointwise hand like AKxxxx, QJ, Kxx, JTx)

Assuming a normal 1S opening, and 2/1 response of 2d.
I believe bidding would proceed 2s, and then 3s by west.
4d cue bid? even then, how to show exactly Kx?

as far as percentages go, It looks like a bad grand to me.
If diamonds were 4-2, and clubs 4-2 or 3-3 (North with the length and both honors) then 7 doesn’t make.

Bobby WolffJune 28th, 2016 at 7:58 pm

HI Avi,

The spade grand slam is pretty good. In addition to the possible 3-3 diamond break (36%) you have a chance for Qx which ups it to about 50%. If the diamonds break 4-2 with the queen not falling the declarer then has the club finesse which then is about another 25% (slightly less since diamonds could be 5-1) However, all in all I rate the spade grand slam in the high 60’s perhaps about 67% which happens to be the demarcation percentage line
for a vulnerable grand slam to be bid (the bidders pick up 750 (13 IMPs) if it makes and lose 17 IMPs if it doesn’t (1530). Since approximately 43% of the pairs bid it, it was hitting at just about the right realistic percentage figure.

Remember if the diamonds are Kxx instead of Kx and for the extra diamond take away the xc from W then play ace king of diamonds and if the queen doesn’t fall take the club finesse.

With your QJ of hearts added the defense would have to refuse to cover an early play of the queen of hearts if holding the king, giving an additional ploy for the opponents to throw at the defense.

After your suspected start to the auction, once East bids 4 diamonds and then after admitting to the queen of spades many roads lead toward the grand.

The EBL does generally show bridge at its almost best, which is a real compliment to how far European bridge has become (now IMO the best in the world and will remain so until, at the very least our top younger players will improve their slam bidding by adopting some European methods for relays).

However this example hand only shows general bidding features, of course, with some speculation, no guarantees, but still worth the gamble.

Thanks for your post, and trying to consider all the factors am slightly in favor of risking making all the tricks.

slarJune 29th, 2016 at 1:40 am

So to follow up on Jeff S’s comment, is KJTxx/Kx/AKx/Qxx sufficient for partner to make that bid? Once you establish a floor for what partner could have, the next bid is pretty clear.

Bobby WolffJune 29th, 2016 at 5:24 am

Hi Slar,

Yes, the hand you recited is about minimum for him to venture 2 spades. Because of spades being bid on his left the nine of spades would fit in nicely with his already decent 5 card suit, making the spade spots potentially valuable, possibly providing the contract trick.

Also, and sooner or later an aspiring bridge aficionado will acquire elite bridge detective characteristics as long as he takes off in an upward spiral to learn this sensitive, but ultra logical game.

All that above dribble means, is that when the opponents possess 9 hearts between them and the bidding starts out 1H Dbl 1S 2C P
2S which should mean to Sherlock Slar that the one spade bid is a psychic one, since if the opener had 6 or 7 hearts he would have slid with 2 hearts over 2 clubs and since he didn’t it means the 1 spade bidder had at least 3 hearts and no more than a minimum response so why didn’t he either pass or if bidding, make a simpe raise to 2 hearts instead of 1 spade, even if he had all 5 spades with then the opener being void, another almost impossibility because that dog, masquerading as the opening bidder did not bark in the 2nd round.

Yes, it is true that when not playing with transparent cards each player must then only go along with his “feel” which the partner of the doubler did when he leaped to 4 spades rather than pussyfoot around.

So, if you have that talent (somewhat born with it, but also easier to acquire than you possibly expect) bridge becomes so much easier to excel by just letting your nose do the dirty work which means allowing the opponents to sleep in the streets.

Agreed, the above is easier said than done, but at least you and others on this site and close by have the talent, if they (you) just concentrate on the melody of the game, rather than what they do on other bridge sites, bridge magazines, while playing socially or at tournaments or almost anywhere real bridge is thoroughly discussed, sometimes argue about which insect to bet on, as they crawl across the floor.

Good luck and if not available, just turn it around.

Ever onward, ever upward!