Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 19th, 2016

My rubber bridge partner and I can never agree about the responses to a strong two-level opening. He would like to play that the opening is not forcing if we have a partscore and it would complete the game. I maintain that a two-opening in a suit, when played as strong, should be forcing.

No Pasaran, Jackson, Miss.

It seems best to me to play strong jump shifts and strong twos are forcing for one round, even if they give you game. If your partner won’t do that, then you should agree that after a strong artificial two club opening, the next response IS forcing for one round. At least one of those sequences ought to be played as forcing.

I have seen your comments about leading top or bottom from three small at a suit contract but not middle. What do you lead from a bad suit at no-trump, with a holding such as 8-7-4-3? I can see cases for both the eight and the seven here.

Dum-dum, Hartford, Conn.

My policy is to lead second from non-touching cards in a four-card suit – so I would lead the six from 8-6-4-2. But I would always lead top of a sequence. This may occasionally lead to ambiguity – but I’m not sure that any method is completely safe here.

My partner opened one diamond and I responded one heart holding ♠ A-Q-7-3, J-9-5-2, 5-4, ♣ K-10-3. When the next hand doubled, my partner redoubled, showing a good hand, and my RHO bid one spade. I doubled for penalty and my partner retreated to two hearts. What would you do now?

Calling a Halt, Pueblo, Colo.

Your partner should have real extras with three hearts. I’d close my eyes and bid three no-trump, the contract I think we can make. Your partner would have raised initially with four trump.

Facing a strong no trump, what would you consider the right way forward with this hand ♠ K-3, J-9-5, K-Q-8-4-3, ♣ A-K-J? At the table I just jumped to six no-trump, but there were only 11 tricks in no-trump, while diamonds would have played better.

Patted Down, Augusta, Maine

At matchpoints your decision was entirely reasonable. At teams I’d transfer into diamonds and then bid five no-trump to offer a choice of slams. If partner bid six clubs I’d let him play there – I can see how a 5-3 club fit could easily be best facing a doubleton diamond.

When your partner opens with a strong no-trump, and the next player doubles for penalties, should Stayman and Jacoby Transfers still be in place? What should you do with a good hand to penalize the opponents?

Glass Slipper, Corpus Christi, Texas

This is more a matter of partnership agreement than of right or wrong. I suggest you play redouble is the way to escape into one minor or the other, forcing opener to bid two clubs, whereupon you can bid or pass. Transfers and Stayman remain in place by the partner of the no-trump bidder. The no-trump opener is permitted to run, if he feels like it, after a pass by his partner.

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


David WarheitJuly 3rd, 2016 at 10:19 am

The hand posted by Peter Peng last Sunday was brilliantly solved by both Jim2 & Clarksburg, namely: give declarer a ruff-sluff. There are, I believe, 2 situations where giving a ruff-sluff can be correct. One is where declarer is 2 tricks shy of his contract, as in this hand, and he can without any help make one of them but only by giving up a trick in the suit where the extra trick will come from. Here, if N were to have returned a H after winning the HQ at trick 6, declarer now wins the second H trick, which he otherwise could not do on his own, then he wins the HA and the fourth round of H, all of which were his to begin with. If N returns a D, E wins the J and then can squeeze N. Note that E can always make 3 D tricks on his own (start by leading small to the J), but in so doing he must lose a trick along the way. Note also that even if E did not have either the H10 or DJ, so that either a H or D return by N would have been perfectly safe, the ruff-sluff still works.

The other occasion where giving declarer a ruff-sluff pays off is actually not that uncommon. Declarer is playing, say, a S contract, he draws all the opponents’ trumps, leaving at least one in his hand and one in dummy and eliminates 2 side suits, throwing in an opponent with the last card in those 2 suits. In the fourth suit, declarer has A10xx in his hand and K9xx in dummy. If the opponents’ holding in this suit is 3-2 with the Q & J split, and if the opponent who won that trick returns this suit, then declarer can play to lose no tricks in the suit. But if declarer is given a ruff-sluff, he still has a loser. Note that declarer always has 3 tricks in this suit, but left to his own devices he must lose the 3d one in order to win the 4th.

Iain ClimieJuly 3rd, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Hi David, Bobby,

As a further point, not really relevant to the hand David mentions, nother case for the ruff-sluff is surely where declarer is struggling for trump control. Suppose West holds 108xx in trumps, North has KQJ, East x and South A9xxx. Here a ruff-sluff either promotes a trump trick or forces South down to trump parity. Yet how often do players shy away from such defences on purely dogmatic grounds?



ClarksburgJuly 3rd, 2016 at 12:09 pm

For the record, I did not “solve” it. I just ran it through the Deep Finesses analyzer and reported the result!!

ClarksburgJuly 3rd, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Good morning Mr Wolff
This hand from a recent Club game features some questions about bidding methods, hand evaluation and judgement.

North (Dealer) 109852 10732 A5 K3 (passes initially)
East AKQ4 K6 KQ AJ762
South J73 A95 J7 Q9854
West 6 QJ84 10986432 10

Should East open a strong 2C, or is 1C better (planning strong JS rebid in Spades) ?
How would / might your auction go, to reach 5D ?
Partner and I fumbled via the following auction:
P 1C P 1D 1S 2S P 3H P 3NT P 4D P 4NT P P P
(Partner, for whatever reason / lapse thought my 2S cue bid was a Double hence his 3H call with little strength). Putting the (lack of) merits of this auction aside, my 4NT was intended as a key-card ask assuming Diamonds trump. Was that clear in context?

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Hi David & Iain,

First David, you seem, subject to later scrutiny, likely your own (at least in the beginning), to have hit a positive button in your technical description of when sluffs and ruffs while defending, seem profitable to make, for one reason or another, therein producing an extra trick against certain later layouts.

If so, or even just in line for debate, you should write an article, probably for the American Bridge World (Jeff Rubens) to publish.

AFAIK and through many years (likely 60+) nothing whatever has been written on that specific subject which can be revolutionary, at least for the serious students of our game (of which there are more than most of us might think). Add that to the possible additions of what Iain has proposed (and thus suggested) and you have the making of what could be proclaimed an award winning article, long overdue, to pass on immediately to not only the original readers, but also add to the bridge for school credit now going full steam in eleven countries in Europe and all of China. IOW, BINGO, since I think, that subject is or has been a virgin one for real discussion, perhaps the time has come to categorize when to think about it and exactly how to go about determining what needs to be present in order for it to succeed.

No doubt it would have to be written to appeal to only a very high-level set of bridge analysts, but since there are not that many practical subjects which meet that qualification it, IMO will be well received, and above that, extremely valuable to be taught to would be bridge thinking youngsters who become vitally interested in ultra sophisticated bridge learning.

I’ll be happy to proof read and/or do anything else I can, to further this project (talk to Jeff) and certainly at no cost. You’ll likely run into some unexpected hurdles to overcome, mostly in the presentation and, of course, will need to reach an accurate learning process without too many exceptions which, I guess, could make its value less, but without trying to get it done, may forever cause it to be lost in future bridge lore. And because of what is going on in Europe and Asia, no doubt to me, that bridge is here to stay in this world for many centuries, but perhaps not, unless things change, in the Western Hemisphere.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Hi Clarskburg,

Regardless of your modesty and refreshing honesty,, you were certainly an important cog in this above discussed process, running it through Deep Finesse, so like other worthwhile potential prospects, “those also serve who only stand and wait”, John Milton

Segueing to your principle subject, I would open your East hand 2 clubs (making a complicated hand such as EW here much more difficult, but such is bridge life in the raw). To that with the 1-4-7-1 West hand merely respond 2D, usually artificial and negative (but specifically what any individual partnership agrees to play), then 2NT by opener, followed by 3 clubs Stayman, of course hoping to find a 4-4 heart fit, but when East responds 3 spades, showing 4+spades but fewer than 4 hearts, West, because of his distribution should then only offer 4 diamonds (disdaining 3NT). East, then realizing that partner must have had 4 hearts and a long, but very poor diamond suit (if not he should have probably responded 3 diamonds immediately (positive and decent diamonds in both length and strength. disdaining Stayman). However East should then merely cue bid 5 clubs showing a satisfactory hand opposite long diamonds with his controls plus the every present KQ in diamonds. However West should sign-off in 5 diamonds and get the respect from East by his passing that final contract.

Declarer needs the jack of diamonds to fall doubleton or singleton, but reaching 5 diamonds is its own reward since many others (even World Class partnerships) would not be that adept.

Finally it would probably be easier if East had only opened 1 club and have his partner not pass, but instead respond 1 diamond, then 2 spades followed by 3 diamonds and then 3NT by East, forcing West to make an excellent decision of again rebidding 4 diamonds (with his what Terence Reese used to describe as a giraffe distribution 7-4-1-1). Again then East would raise to 5 diamonds and that would be OK. However and no doubt, West may pass 3NT for fear of partner being very short in diamonds but great clubs enabling enough tricks, but that discussion is for another time and place, so better to dwell on success than failure.

Good luck and again thanks for your being who you are.

jim2July 3rd, 2016 at 3:36 pm

On bidding Clarksburg’s hand, I am neither a World Champion nor even an expert, but I would bid the strong hand in a fashion that let me make a limit NT bid as soon as possible. That is, open 2NT if the partnership HCP ranges allowed it, and a 2C – NT rebid auction otherwise.

As Our Host related, a hopeful Stayman would then be followed by a diamond bid once no 4-4 heart fit was found. At this point, however, I think I differ from our World Champion Host. Once the strong bidder has made a limit bid, bidding on after 4D seems to go against captaincy. Thus, I might bid 5D over 3S, trusting that the strong balanced hand w/o four hearts would show up with diamond cards and an ace or two across from my black singletons.

Iain ClimieJuly 3rd, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

I wrote an outline article on ruff and discards for the Hitchin club website this side of the ditch. It was all a bit basic but I’d be happy to supply it for anyone to use and expand if desired. The featured hand actually involved the defence mistakenly giving a ruff-sluff after one partner had led Q from Qxx in partner’s suit. The said partner tried for a trump promotion much to declarer’s initial glee but he walked into a losing option he wouldn’t otherwise have had. What is a good E-Mail address to send it to, please?

I’m on if you want to let me know directly rather than via the column.


Iain Climie

slarJuly 3rd, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Regarding that last question, I have a partnership where 1NT(x)p is forcing – opener must redouble or bid a five-card suit. Responder can sit for business or pull to scramble. The theory is that n80 isn’t usually that good a score – you either have 3NT or a penalty double somewhere.
It doesn’t come up much because most people use a convention against 1NT but it is still useful to know right away if either partner has a five card suit.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2016 at 6:18 pm

Hi Jim2,

While we agree about both determining captaincy and then allowing it to interact between the captain and, at least for this hand, his subordinate, we seem to be at odds over what I consider a detail but in reality, it needs to be discussed and finalized.

During the bidding discussed, starting with a strong and artificial 2 clubs and then on the next round becoming game forcing, the usual routine of that partnership either then using a double negative (which can be passed short of game) or the strong hand reverting to a NT rebid which also can be passed or transferred to a suit and then passed, but once Stayman is used the general theory is that it is now GF.

Next, when after the wrong major is bid (no 8 card fit) or neither major then bids become natural, but still under the theory of GF.

Now, while it is somewhat fashionable to play a jump to game suggests no more, I think it more prudent to play, in this case, a 4 diamond bid by the responder is still GF, but a jump to 5 diamonds showing (again this case) a better diamond suit, perhaps 7 to the ace but nothing else, while then reserving a later rebid of 5 diamonds as the real sign-off.

The reason being is sometimes a player could hold a diamond club weak two suiter (6-5) with only a few hcps and want to follow 4 diamonds with 5 clubs if partner is busy either cue bidding in a major or returning to 4NT to play.

The above is only based on what I think is more effective realistically to try and honor the potential fairly larger number of possibilities which occur, and according to TOCM TM will likely do so only when a partnership has not discussed what they consider too trivial.

Not much to choose except in my example, the five club cue bid made by the strong hand was not nearly enough to persuade his partner to bid that what turns out to be a horrible slam.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Hi Iain and David,

Now learning that you, Iain, not only have attacked this unusual (at least up to now) subject of intelligently giving ruffs and sluffs in order to benefit from it instead of the usual emotion of apologizing for it, no doubt I am not, at least at this point, in the receiving line of gathering information in order to present in the way of enlightening the higher-level player to when ruffs, sluffs pay dividends.

Definitely David is your man and I heartily recommend you two compare notes and reach some kind of compromise how the almost final product will be produced and then if you feel it worth the gamble send it to me for an opinion which may involve some tweaking.

No doubt, your combined forces figures to present a more than worthwhile product suitable for presentation all the way up to the American Bridge World magazine, one which has stood the test of time, especially in developing successful bridge theories and ones which need to be, at the very least, carefully discussed.

Obviously logistics and time restrictions can temper both enthusiasm and performance, but let us hope that there is a positive mesh which leads to something good, not to mention somewhat momentous.

In any event, I (and certain other hopefuls) are pulling for you two to direct your keen bridge minds to presenting an idea, with at least some examples which adequately explains, what at least up to this point, has been a vacuum.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Hi Slar,

Usually your beginning of 1NT, dbl, Pass is forcing on partner to usually redouble only most of the time is restricted to a weak NT (12-14 or close) wherein the 1NT, having less than its big brother of strong (15+-18) will almost never allow the weaker NT opening to be the least bit confident that he can generate enough tricks to be confident of a make, unless his passing partner is guaranteeing at least something by passing.

Aside from the above I do not have enough to offer expecting a listen, so I will now bow out, although if anyone has any further questions I will be charmed to answer them.

Iain ClimieJuly 3rd, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Hi David, Bobby,

OK, let’s see how this works (sorry about formatting loss); if anyone is serious, please use it as you wish. I hope it is wortrh reading despite the mess!


From an early stage, most players are taught that ruff and discards are to be shunned as they often concede a crucial trick and hence the contract. Some players are horrified at the idea, but there are occasions where such play can be profitable. One obvious example is if declarer’s trump control is
precarious, as shown by the following possible holdings (assume spades are trumps):

♠ 5
♠ KQ10 (dummy)
♠ J 8 7 6 2 (declarer)
♠ A 9 4 3

♠ 8 6
♠ AK (dummy)
♠ Q J 7 4 2 (declarer)
♠ 10 9 4 3

♠ J 7 5
♠ 9 8 6 4 2 (declarer)
♠ K Q (dummy)
♠ A 10 3

In these cases, if the defence has the chance to concede a ruff and discard then declarer either risks losing trump control by ruffing in the long hand or sets up an extra trump trick for the defence.

In the last case (from an actiual hand added after the original article) we just kept bashing away with ruff and discards, eventually making 4 trump tricks, although declarer messed up badly.

Another case can arise if the defence need to avoid playing a side suit. If South is in 4 hearts (say) with a club side suit fit as shown below, it could be disastrous for the defenders to open up the suit if they are thrown on lead and South reads the position correctly; a ruff and discard here will retain a trick in clubs, although the defenders need to count the hand to be sure this is the correct defence.

♣ Q 2
♣ A 9 8 4
♣ K 10 5 3
♣ J 7 6

A further example is where there are no other potential sources of tricks. The following accidental defensive coup was very effective at Welwyn Garden City last October.

♠ A 7 5 3
♥ 5 4
♦ A 10 8 2
♣ J 5 2

1♣ Pass 1♦ 2♥ (Intermediate)
2♠ Pass 3♠ Pass
4♠ All Pass

♠ 10 4
♥ Q 9 8
♦ Q 9 7 5 3
♣ 10 6 3

♠ J 6 2
♥ A K J 10 7 3
♦ J 4
♣ Q 4

♠ K Q 9 8
♥ 6 3
♦ K 5
♣ A K 9 8 7

West led the heart queen and East, assuming a probable doubleton, overtook to cash a second heart and then play a third. Perhaps West had the spade 9 and could ruff in front of dummy promoting a trump trick? No, South gleefully ruffed with that card, throwing a club from table, while an
embarrassed West apologised profusely for not leading the more normal heart 8 at trick 1. South cashed the spade King, then the club Ace and King, then started to worry. Ruffing a club now could walk into a trump promotion out of nowhere. Even if East had the club 10 and had false-carded with
the club Queen, West could ruff in with the 10 and give declarer a possible losing option. He tried cashing the spade Ace and playing the hand on cross-ruff lines, but East made the Jack of spades, so the contact only just made where almost everyone else made 11 tricks.

If East had played (say) a trump at trick 3, things are very different. South plays for both black suits to be 3-2 at pairs, so just draws trumps, cashes the AK of clubs and is pleasantly surprised when the Queen drops and he makes 11 tricks. The defenders here got rather lucky, although it is clear to East from an early stage that South has most of the remaining high cards. Such plays are worth considering when there are no other avenues available – but don’t try them too often

bobbywolffJuly 4th, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Hi Iain,

With only a few typos and like to clean up, you are contributing greatly to an usually taboo subject to be discussed.

Obviously, there is more to say, and bridge mountains to climb, to fully cover this subject.
However, your effort is a start and worth an article, or a small series of them, to enable technical bridge lovers a better grasp of various card combinations to which serious bridge players can improve their defense.

However, the taking on this project, likely will only result in proving, “virtue is its own reward” since teaching in bridge is often restricted by not enough, if any, recompense to the sometimes giant effort it takes to merely get across a heretofore salient bridge lesson left untouched by others.

Thanks, Iain, for taking your valuable time to contribute quality ideas for review and continued discussion.