Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

He ventured neck or nothing – heaven’s success
Found, or earth’s failure.

Robert Browning

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


This deal from the von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs in Chicago last summer presented a typical matchpoint choice of games.

Three no-trump needs the opponents’ spades to be 4-4, less than a 50 percent chance. Five clubs needs the clubs to break — call it a 70 percent contract. That leaves the Goldilocks contract of four hearts. Not too low, not too high – just right.

Incidentally, had East not doubled two spades, South would have had a very awkward call. As it was, though, he could pass and let his partner show delayed support. Against four hearts West led the spade king then the spade eight (in case declarer had a doubleton spade jack and his partner overtook the spade queen). South ruffed the third spade, and cashed the heart king, then the ace and queen. What next?

Playing a fourth trump would be undignified if West had a spade left to cash, but playing on clubs would require West to follow to three or more clubs. Which line is better?

Playing the fourth trump looks best to me. It loses only if West has precisely four hearts, four spades and three clubs (if he has precisely 4=4=3=2 shape, nothing works). Another big advantage comes if West is 4=4=4=1 or 3=4=5=1, since playing the fourth heart now saves the undertrick. Also, East’s double of two spades as a passed hand is surely more likely to be based on a five-card suit than only four.

However, at the table, declarer chose to play on clubs and went down a trick.

Despite your limited values, your fifth spade should persuade you to compete to two spades here. It is not the job of the take-out doubler to bid his values twice. He can raise you in competition with extra shape or find some other call with extra values. But even if you are facing three spades and a minimum opening, no harm will come to you in two spades.


♠ A J 7 4 2
 9 8
 10 8 7
♣ 10 4 2
South West North East
  1 ♣ Dbl. Pass
1 ♠ 2 ♣ Pass 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


slarAugust 23rd, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Yuck, I think I would have messed this hand up. Ruff the third spade, cash two diamonds, ruff a diamond, cash the HK, and run three clubs, tossing a diamond. If my opponent ruffs in, I claim but If my opponent refuses the trick, I’m stuck on the board. I’ve made the auto-squeeze before (a sure way to impress your partner), this one is the auto-uppercut!

Do I have that right?

T GatesAugust 23rd, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Would not ruffing a diamond in dummy before cashing trump have been a good piece of insurance before taking the spade gamble described by leading out the last trump?

jim2August 23rd, 2016 at 3:29 pm

slar –

If no opponent ruffs, you have won 8 and still have AQ hearts.

jim2August 23rd, 2016 at 3:30 pm

T Gates –

Transportation — the diamonds and the small Board trump are the only closed hand entries.

jim2August 23rd, 2016 at 3:32 pm

T Gates –

(so declarer could not get to hand to lead trump)

jim2August 23rd, 2016 at 3:38 pm

slar –

BTW, your line was my alternate line, also. With the 10H, it might even be the best line. Even with the 9H, it would be very good. Unfortunately, declarer’s best trump spot is the 7! 🙁

Consider, West must now ruff with natural trump trick and has only red cards left. If the return is a trump, declarer has 10 tricks. If it is West’s last diamond, however, declarer will have to over-ruff East’s middle trump. This restores West’s trump trick for down one.

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2016 at 4:08 pm

Hi Slar, T Gates and especially Jim2, for assuming my sometimes unpopular role of informing, though when he does it, he is always wearing “kid” gloves and is undoubtedly more gentle,

All I can add is the 100% subjective assessment of East’s choice to double North’s artificial 2 spade bid (4th suit at the time).

Experience will IMO conclusively suggest that anyone holding AJxx instead of at least 5 of them would not do such a thing, particularly when that suit, among choices, would normally seem to be the opening lead anyway. Then add on the strong likelihood of in order to compensate for the missing spaces in the defensive hands, that West rather than East will have the length in trump if they are not 3-3.

Therefore the column line not only makes sense to me, it then becomes perhaps pretty much mandatory to choose.

No doubt, it takes a significant amount of experience to arrive at this subjective plateau, but all that means, is to play more bridge and at the highest level possible, in order to make one healthy, wealthy, wise and to be feared.

TedAugust 23rd, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Hi Bobby,

If East does not Dbl 2S, what would you (as South) bid? For that matter, if playing 2/1, what do you bid over 3C from partner instead of 2S? As soon as partner responds 2C, you know your 3rd bid may be a problem.

On the play of the hand, it should be fairly safe to play West for 3 spades. Would East be likely to Dbl with a 4 card suit AJ7x?

slarAugust 23rd, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Thanks for the clarification. I’m glad I asked.

slarAugust 23rd, 2016 at 5:36 pm

@Ted I think I would try 3H over 2S. It is the closest you have to where you live.

TedAugust 23rd, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Thanks, slar. Probably what I’d do, too, although I think there’s a case to be made for 3S. Definitely so if partner had bid 3C instead, now that I consider it further.

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Slar & Ted,

On the actual column hand and focusing on the bidding, after the early bidding it then becomes up to the responder to offer 3 hearts, allowing his partner to choose hearts if his 5 card suit appears respectable, which it barely does.

slarAugust 24th, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Are you saying that after 2S (4SGF), opener is supposed to just bid 2NT (essentially bidding out his pattern, not necessarily promising stoppers)? Then responder bids 3H offering a choice of games?

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 6:54 pm

Hi Slar,

No, I am saying that since 2 spades 4th suit GF, does not necessarily show a spade stop then if 2NT by the opener, he clearly has one, even if it is only Qxx.

Here, since 2 spades was doubled, the opener had no obligation to bid and thus his pass suggested no spade stop. If spades had not been doubled, the opener would have been faced with telling the least lie, which likely would have been either 3 clubs, an artificial preference to responder’s first suit or 3 diamonds, only four, but decent ones.

Declarative bids such as 2NT should almost never be chosen as that could lead in itself to an uncalled for disaster of the opponents immediately running enough tricks to defeat 3NT..

However the above does show the weakness of bridge bidding and accents the art of navigating through the many pitfalls to success. However the realistic double by East of 2 spades, did lead to both the best contract of 4 hearts by his opponents, plus the added knowledge of likely enabling its make.

Proving, in giving to get (spade lead), sometimes one gives too much. To now understand what really happens, and very few do, (my guess is less than 1% of all the world’s bridge players, many millions, ever get past the above), it is only the beginning of what a wonderful game we all try and play well.