Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.

W. H. Auden

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


The main difference between pairs and teams is that at teams or rubber bridge you always try to make your contract, or defeat the opponents, without worrying too much about overtricks or undertricks — if the contract isn’t doubled.

South forgot that instruction when he declared four hearts. West led the spade queen, and East did well to withhold the ace. Declarer won with the king, played the diamond seven to dummy’s jack, then called for the heart jack. East rose with the ace, as the bad trump break came to light, and returned a diamond. Now he could put his partner in with a spade for a diamond ruff, and that was the setting trick.

In the other room, after the same start, South appreciated that he could afford to lose two trump tricks and a spade. So at trick two he led a low heart from hand. The jack lost to the queen, but now declarer was a tempo ahead. He won the club switch in hand and continued with another low heart, to the 10 and ace. After winning the club continuation he was able to enter dummy in diamonds to finesse the heart eight successfully, then cash the king. Had the defenders shifted to diamonds at trick three, declarer would have won in hand and remained a tempo ahead in the race to draw trump.

Even if West had held the four trumps, the second declarer would have been home, whereas leading the jack from dummy would immediately have been fatal.

A simple raise to two hearts would show real extras in an uncontested auction, so a jump to three hearts should suggest something like a 20-count (give or take a little for additional distributional values). You may not have much, but your cards seem to be working as well as you could expect. So raise to four hearts – assuming you trust your partner.


♠ 9 4
 J 10 4 2
 K J 6 5
♣ 10 7 3
South West North East
Pass 1 ♣ Dbl. Pass
1 Pass 3 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


jim2July 20th, 2016 at 11:12 am

Note that the column line fails if East has a minor suit singleton.

I think a superior line of play would have been for declarer to return the 3S at Trick 2 — Scissors Coup.

jim2July 20th, 2016 at 11:18 am

(Declarer would still go down if East won the spade return and led a singleton diamond, but no line seems to work then.)

bobbywolffJuly 20th, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

What if, upon winning the 2nd spade (declarer exercising your scissors coup), East continues spades each time, which when no side tricks appear in the offing is often a somewhat surprising winner.

Can he survive it, and which hand does he take the first ruff?

However, with that defense, it might be pleasing for declarer if he had picked that hand to open 2NT with a singleton king. Especially at matchpoints and against a hated opponent, who, no doubt would still be shouting fire and brimstone against “cheating pairs” who abuse the rules. What rules?

Reason being is that it takes a long and strong combined trump suit indeed to withstand constantly having to spend trumps (in one hand or another and especially with only moderate value) to turn the tide.

jim2July 20th, 2016 at 4:57 pm

It seems pretty straightforward.

Long hand first ruff, then to JH.

East wins and fourth spade, ruffed on board, then 10H.

East wins and fifth spade, ruffed on board, then last small trump towards hand towards declarer’s K8 through East’s 97.

jim2July 20th, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Ulp, wrong key, that was to delete not post.

At the end, Board is out of trump and declarer would have to try to cash minor cards to leave Board on lead at Trick 12.

That is, declarer will have to guess or reason out East’s 4 minor suit cards and cash winners in the right order.

Mircea1July 20th, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Hi Bobby,

I’m trying to find a complete and detailed description of your Signoffs but the various sources I have found on the ‘net don’t seem to have a thorough version.

Is there any way that Author can share this with the mere mortals? Perhaps in an article on Bridge Winners or a blog post. I’m sure I will not be the only one thanking you for that.

bobbywolffJuly 20th, 2016 at 7:13 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, in that tedious process (which I hate) of attempting to arrive at an accurate conclusion, I undoubtedly stumbled on the same ending as you.

Then, if you re-read my post to you, I was evasive to the answer, not seeking to say yea nor nay, an answer which, at least to me, fits the occasion.

While sometimes discussing bridge I sometimes cave to what Jimmy Durante used to espouse, “I’m surrounded by assassins”.

However your gentle and unassuming nature becomes a huge asset with dealing and BTW, thank you.

bobbywolffJuly 20th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Hi Mircea1,

My guess in coming up with what is now called “Wolff Sign-off” was developed perhaps 55 years ago in the very early 1960’s when I played quite a bit with Oswald Jacoby.

The original version only extended to one sequence: 1 any suit P 1 any suit P
2NT as a rebid P 3 clubs (which demanded 3 diamonds, now called a “puppet to”…) so that if the original responder now rebid his suit, his partner (the opener) was then barred from continuing… something like s. QJxxxx, h. xx, d. xxx, c. xx.

From this point this treatment expanded in diverse, but certainly varied ways, and with these changes (99% of them not instituted by me) the original name of the beginning was then mentioned in the Jacoby daily newspaper column in a series of hoped for educational uses to that simple idea.

Yes, I did have a small hand in its expansion, but not a critical one, and while many of the world’s best partnerships do play their version of it, it is barely recognizable to the naked eye.

However, I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit to with time there is progress and anything now played by respectable bridge partnerships is an improvement over my original idea. Yes, I too have played certain “souped up versions” but rating its overall importance to give it as much as a C+ as a necessity is a decided overbid.

Mircea1July 20th, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for the reply, Bobby. I’m pretty sure there are no other bridge world champions who are more humble than you.

I’m a bit surprised about the ranking you assigned to Wolff Signoff, but I’ll go with it. Do you have an alternate treatment that you prefer instead?

bobbywolffJuly 20th, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No, not really, but I do believe that for most partnerships, even highly trained high-level ones, the simpler one can keep it, the more effective it will be. The reason is simply, for most less than world class players, trying to play well and expecting to win, there is just too much on the table to keep up with.

For example, and cutting to the chase, what if you and I are partners and agree to play Wolff SO. It goes, just with us (and the opponents always passing), 1 club, 1 spade, 2NT, 3 clubs (WSO), 3 diamonds (forced), 3 hearts, what should it mean?

Obviously the perfect hand would be s. Jxxxx, h. 10xxxx, d. x, c. Jx making the WSO a way to stop in whatever our combined longest major suit happens to be, with partner preferring either to pass or to convert to 3 spades with as many or more than hearts.

And then what if instead, it went (again the opponents remaining silent) 1 club, 1 spade, 2NT, 3C, demanding 3 diamonds, 3NT now by the responder?

Logically it should and does mean that you the responder had something like, s. KQxx, h. Qx, d. xxxx, c. AQx or perhaps, s. KQxx, h. Qx, d. AJx. c. Jxxx in other words a hand which likely could make at least 5 clubs, perhaps 6 when the fit is better than average, but at the same time not going past the cinch contract of 3NT if partner has pushed a little bit earlier.

Once a player agrees to get serious about bridge all the above becomes the same thing as waking in the morning, eating and sleeping.

Originally I have just mentioned the way WSO is supposed to be, although still keeping it simple. The only weakness is really the responder holding s. s. KJxxx, H. Ax, d. Qxxx, c. xx needs to rebid 3 spades (obviously 100% forcing) in order to get supported by partner if he holds three of them, otherwise he will rebid 3NT. However he has another option and that is bidding 4 of something, and if he does he will have 3 card spade support, likely a maximum for his 2NT rebid and first round control of the suit he is now cue bidding at the 4 level in hopes of a slam, but at the same time not going past 4 spades in case of that partnership declining to bid a slam.

J hope everything is reasonably clear to you, but the above is the haunting melody of the game, which is sometimes so daunting to others who regard playing good bridge taking enormous talent and worlds of experience.

Yes, one always benefits from good bridge experience, whether the results were learning what to do or just as important, what not to do.

Are you now ready for the big time, since only repetitions of the above and continued learning are separating you from getting there.

Maybe not to the top, since that is only reserved for people who think only in numbers, (numeracy) not letters (words) which if that is one’s talent he becomes better off being a writer or whatever else the meaning of words could mean.

Next question?

Mircea1July 21st, 2016 at 3:11 am

You are very generous with your comments and explanations, Bobby. I’m sure many here will join me in thanking you once again for it all.

Everything you’re saying makes perfect sense (at least to me). It is truly remarkable for someone with your achievements and experience to share their experience and offer free advice. Hats off, Mr. Wolff

Thank you,

bobbywolffJuly 21st, 2016 at 4:38 am

Hi Mircea1,

And it is people like you who make it so pleasurable for me to want to be the best friend I can be, both to you and to the game we both love.

If only this troublesome world could find their way to love rather than hate, both sides, no doubt, would all have better lives.