Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.

Albert Einstein

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


At the Summer NABC in Chicago last August this deal came up in a Spingold Knockout Teams match.

You play in three no-trump with a surplus of high cards but, alas, without nine tricks. After a heart lead, you would have to guess diamonds, of course, since the opponents would have already established the danger suit. You would have no reason not to play for the drop in diamonds – unless you thought East had five-plus hearts, and maybe not even then. However, West actually led his fourth-highest spade, the three. This went to the six, queen, and ace. Does that alter the odds?

I don’t know for sure, but the spade lead suggested West had four spades and no more than four hearts. At trick two, declarer tried the club queen, then a club to the ace. West followed up the line in clubs, using upside-down signals, his second club suggesting an initial holding of a doubleton. Meanwhile East echoed in clubs, looking like a man with five.

All the clues strongly suggested West had diamond length, not shortage. If you know East has even one more card in the sidesuits than West, the finesse in diamonds is even money. Here East appeared to have five cards in each of hearts and clubs, and a doubleton spade, thus a singleton diamond.

On balance it feels right to play the diamond ace and a diamond to the jack; and so it proved. This was worth a game swing when three no-trump went down at the other table.

Your partner’s action shows 18-19 points or the equivalent (since he cannot hold 15-17 or he would open 1NT, and with a balanced minimum he would pass). While you could jump to six no-trump, I think five no-trump to offer a choice of slams might get you to an eight-card minor fit. That might well play better than no-trump, given your exposed heart holding.


♠ A 10 2
 Q 5
 A 10 8 6 4
♣ K Q 5
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 2 2 NT 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


Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2016 at 9:29 am

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, is there a case for bidding 3H just in case partner, cursed by TOCM has KQJ J10xx KQJ AJ10 or similar. LHO may well double holding HAK (or anyway) and partner could then redouble or bid 3N as per agreement about how good the H stop is. If LHO doesn’t hit it, I can feel happier about not being ofc 2 quick losers.

At rubber bridge, the likes of Mollo’s Hog might bid 6N and tell his LHO it was his lead, finding partner with A10x in hearts.



Shantanu RastogiAugust 24th, 2016 at 9:45 am

Hello Mr Wolff

Just adding to Iain’s comment. A trump contract at 6 level may result in Heart Ace and ruff if 2 H bidder has 7 carder suit headed by Ace and partner has King third or even 6 carder heart suit headed by Ace with partner holding King fourth. I feel No trump contarct is superior provided there are no two fast losers in Hearts. Do you suggest opener to pass with Jack fourth Hearts or even cue bid hearts rather than purchase NT.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiAugust 24th, 2016 at 10:07 am

Hi Iain

I feel there is very low probabilty of two fast heart losers. As 2 H bidder is a passer. And with AK sixth heart he might have opened eak two. The only worry is that someone has bid 2 Heart with AK fifth. Unlikely but possible.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 11:51 am

TOCM ™ 🙂

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 11:53 am

On BWTA, would North bid 2S with: 4-4-K-4 and 1N opening strength?

Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Good point, clearly need to tweak the problem and change the dealer!


Shantanu RastogiAugust 24th, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Hi Iain

Another point is sometimes even with AK sixth of major one may choose to pass as sometimes I do if dealt with a void or there is 6511 distribution so the possibility is there. If partner is dealt with 18 then AK heart are the only HCP that are out. But this auction doesnt give feel of that kind of distribution. Between NS cards there is no singleton or void so one can assume as Mr Wolff has done that 6 of minor in trump would play well. But can we scientifically be sure whether NT would play better or trump would play well ? My gut feel goes for 6 NT.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 1:40 pm

I confess that I would not expect slam to be obvious. Thus, I might bid 4N to invite, or I might even decide to go conservative and simply raise to 3N.

Wish I knew for sure what 3H would mean.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Hi Iain & Shantanu,

Yes, there is always the possibility of a statistical disaster and your above example hand might rear its ugly head. However to plan for it, or worse, to expect such a thing is just too self-defeating to pursue, making my advice be “Full speed ahead and let the devil take the hindmost”, 6NT.

We all know or should, that bridge is far from an exact science so be optimistic but always prepared to be surprised with what Dame Fortune may concoct.

And regarding the Hideous Hog, perhaps 45+ years ago the Dallas Aces bridge team were invited to be the guests of honor in St. Louis at a rubber bridge tournament put on by the St. Louis Globe Democrat (in which the Aces on Bridge column was auditioning), with me playing with the beautiful and charming wife of the editor.

That session proved indeed, “luck could very much be a lady” and the two of us were blessed all night and were in fact leading going into the last round (Barometer type rubber bridge scoring where after each round every partnership knew their plus or minus total).

On the very last hand, my partner opened 1NT and I needed to and actually bid 6NT (though not now remembering my hand from so long ago, but not having a long suit, although I was very worried since my partner though very bright, but not exactly a skilled bridge player, made her not a great candidate to be declarer at that moment.

However my LHO, her RHO, suddenly led out of turn. My partner’s beautiful face looked up at me, seemingly pleading for advice as to what to do, whereupon I made my best move of the night (perhaps the only one) by moving my head up and down in a very positive motion, exhorting her to put her dummy down. This she did (with an accompanying smile) and that magic evening ended quite happily for us, because of it…..Unconditional Victory!

Sometimes luck knows no bounds when she is determined, and this was a once in a lifetime experience, but even so, and being so rare, in this case, once is so much better than never.

bryanAugust 24th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

What does TOCM mean?

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Theory of Card Migration ™

Look here at second answer:

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Hi Shantanu & Jim2,

Shantanu, all of what you say is worth considering and advice which I believe stands up to scrutiny.

Also Jim2, what you are implying is that the 2NT may be a lesser number of HCPs but by holding a singleton K the opener did not choose to open 1NT.

However for many years now that singleton king or sometimes but not as often, singleton ace or even, on once upon a midnight clear, a singleton queen, would not prevent a very experienced player from deciding that opening 1NT was still the best bridge bid and thus so chose.

Some players and sadly also some administrators (as well as possibly some TDs) mistakenly surmised that it was not cricket (legal) to so open, but that thought (to my knowledge) has never been a law (thank goodness) and recently has been discussed publicly and so officially authenticated.

Jim2, your question does go to the heart of the manner when, after not opening 1NT because of the singleton, now is not well placed to overbid by bidding NT with fewer HCPs than advertised, but having the opponents suit well stopped.

No one should ever forget that the logic of bridge does not always lend itself to perfect application in having the bid available to perfectly describe that hand. With that as a backdrop it is now much easier to understand that at the top in bridge among the elite players the ones who can improvise more successfully than others are also the ones who win MUCH more often than ones who do not.

Finally, Jim2, a cue bid is only in context, a request to partner to do something intelligent implying, of course, a hand good enough to reach a higher level, but needing direction as to strain with the proper level to be determined later, after a trump suit, (or possibly NT) is first determined. Even then when NT appears the choice, that, too, can be later overruled when an eight card fit (usually 4-4) is then discovered.

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Dear Host –

1) I take your answer to be that North would not bid 2S w/o five of them (presumably Double would show four).

2) As to whether North would open 1N with the right HCP count and the KH singleton in a 4-1-4-4), I think your answer was somewhere “maybe” and “probably.”

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Hi Jim2,

Sorry for not answering your direct question, but yes I would bid 2 spades with a 4-4-K-4 with 15-17, after opening one club having partner bid 1 diamond and RHO preempting 2 hearts, and me having hearts stopped.

First things first and trump exploration ranks ahead of eventual NT, but the gods of bridge do not always think kindly to such priorities and find their own brand of TOCM TM to interfere with bidding precision.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Hi again Jim2,


Suit exploration being paramount usually only applies to the major suits, with minor suit length being often swallowed up with NT preferences early, obviously because of the two trick differences between 3NT and 5 of a minor for game, especially when slams were not in the offing.

However when slam suddenly (or sometimes early on) appeared on the horizon and thus to the consideration of those abused minor suits who seemed to be cheerful just to be back in favor of some love.

Back in the day, one of the often heard melodies was simply, “six of a minor always makes” with that song #1 on the up and coming young player’s hit parade.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

No, the part about the triple 4-1 hand when 2 hearts is overcalled and 2 spades is directly bid, that does NOT denote 5 spades (although with 5-6 it could occur) but in practice it is far more likely only to indicate 4. The double is for penalties since that player is behind the overcaller and also not so rare to happen.

A problem, at many player’s level in bridge, is the confusion that is now too common in the attempt to codify bidding and especially in the overuse of meanings to double.

Yes, it was probably systemically correct to expand the use of doubles to more flexible usage, but HEAVENS NO, it is much more harmful than helpful, if by doing so, confusion rather than confidence reigns.

The present day discussion is a long and tired process, and my opinion as to where it now stands is not 100% agreed on, although many players are much too proud to admit it.

One disaster is probably not worth 5 proper small advantages, so that caveat is enough to teach all of us to crawl before we walk and the simple necessary logic which follows that fact, in attempting to get to that higher level much too fast.

Patrick CheuAugust 24th, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Hi Bobby,Pard and I have a difference of opinion on this hand playing Acol-N K6 AKQJ9 7654 A7 E J2 T854 A92 T642 S Q873 763 J3 K853 W AT954 2 KQT8 QJ9. West 1S N X E pass S 1N-W p N p E p.1N+1.The room was in 2 or 3H,mainly 140s or 170s apart from one 110.Pard pointed out that 1N was best as 2H should only make 110.We score 2 pts for 120…in theory and in practice..Other question being if he had bid 2H,would you raise to 3H?4-1 trump break puts pay to 4H.regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Hi Patrick,

The good news is that the analysis was at least close to keen (but not really), since it would take a heart lead or switch by West after winning the first diamond, to hold hearts to -140 (the jack of diamonds in dummy will prevent East from getting in enough times to do enough defensive damage by leading trumps, while all logical NT defenses hold it to -120.

It is not surprising that the field is in hearts since, 1. they have eight of them, 2. North has a powerful suit which most would bid at some time during the bidding.

If partner had bid 2 hearts either immediately or the second time around after doubling and hearing me chirp 1NT I would not raise although some would, especially if he did so after doubling first, showing extra with most partnerships.

However, the fault, other than the analysis should have to do with the bastardization inherent in the game of matchpoints. These hands are so close as to whether or not they make 8,9, or even 10 tricks yet each trick is overemphasized by the scoring in matchpoints.

Sure there is a significant skill factor in duplicate bridge, but the amount of gain principle (IMPs and rubber bridge) instead of the frequency of gain relied on for matchpoints, is, at least to me, a far more accurate gauge of success.

In any event one, while playing duplicate at one’s favorite club, must rely on a sense of humor, plus a very aggressive style of play doing everything possible to coax the opponents to do the wrong thing (here possibly West, after giving his all by opening 1 spade, still bidding 2 diamonds at his next turn, hoping partner can compete driving the opponents one too high.

Bad bridge, but winning much more often than suspected by ordinary bridge players who are taught (correctly) to bid one’s hand and then stay silent and rely on partner. to compete. Sound advice, but sometimes a little too conservative.

“Little by little we can do great things” but helped along greatly, if, while doing so, we can spot the difference between aggressive opponents who always compete fiercely and weaker ones, who bow out earlier.

Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2016 at 8:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

I liked the lead out of turn story and your action, although fortunate, was perfectly acceptable, accepting the lead out of turn. I did recently have a partner who was happy to play 2-way transfers over 1NT. If she held a hand worth 4H or 4S over 1N, she’d transfer then raise me to game. If I had such a hand, she was pefectly happy for me to hog the hand by bidding game directly unless I thought her hand (12-14 1N) would be better concealed. We felt obliged to announce this, though!

I take your point about the sense of humour playing pairs at a regular club, though. Ironically the same partner mentioned above just couldn’t see the funny side of my doubling the oppo in a making part score early on and then putting on a “worse things happen at sea” expression and getting on with the next board. If you don’t double them out once in a while, you’re not doubling enough. Sadly, burying the axe in my own foot in the first 2 rounds didn’t seem to be a forgivable offence.


ClarksburgAugust 24th, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Speaking of bad bridge and winning results…
Recent Club game…
Partner opened 1D.
My RHO doubled. Seemed so “standard” I didn’t ask. Looked at my hand, nothing to say…passed, judging we could get by OK in 1D* if necessary.
Passed out. The “takeout” Doubler had seven Diamonds!
Didn’t work out to well for us!

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, a lead out of turn can be accepted by the declarer’s side, but AFAIK that rule does not specifically mention the procedure necessary to make that choice.

In any event I made a decision (by my head signifying acceptance) for the lead to be standard and just go from there. Call it a safety play against a bad ruling, or truthfully against whatever ruling may or may not be on the books.

What if the TD, after being called, merely for not having anything better (or legal) said, for the other hand to lead and for me to just put down my hand. No doubt Miss Manners or whoever would approve, but that is what is so HORRIBLE about TD’s who do not know the intricacies of their chosen profession.

In any event 45 years later only my partner and I are happy about the result, with whoever finishing 2nd not likely knowing what was transpiring with their competitor for 1st.

And while I have great compassion for your burying your hatchet in your foot (but because of your consistent modesty seem to be always taking the blame), as well as the time honored caveat, “If they never make a doubled contract against you, your side is not doubling enough” somehow, when and if, it does happen, no one on the doubler’s side has been photographed jumping for joy.

However I do appreciate and agree with the logic involved as long as I do not have to write up a score often ending with a 30 or 70.

Patrick CheuAugust 24th, 2016 at 10:00 pm

Hi Bobby,Many thanks for your thoughts on the subject matter,onward and forward..Best Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 10:04 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

As you were writing your sad tale, somewhere, likely close to where you live, another missive has just gone out stating, “Can anyone imagine after I doubled that bloke in one diamond and he had a chance to run (as did his overconfident partner) for both of them to not trust my judgment that they stayed right there and didn’t even try to save themselves”?
“Poor guys, but probably just beginners”.

jim2August 24th, 2016 at 10:36 pm

As for stories about our Dear Host, ask him about the time he tried to bid 8.


Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2016 at 11:10 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes it happened and although I didn’t make it (just missed) they, after the fact, did call the TD and had my honest effort thrown out.

However when doing so, some TD’s, on occasion, may accept that good sacrifice especially when NV vs. V.

The big gain possible though, is when aggressive opponents just persist with 8 of their suit. Yes declarer’s play is fun, but to take that kind of position is a bit excessive.

And as always another story, when very early in my bridge career I was playing with a lovely lady who was terrific in most difficult enterprises, but a little out of her element while playing bridge. Anyway she was dealt a hand with 10 solid spades and three losing singletons and opened the bidding with 4 spades (no criticism from me) although she was not totally equipped to play a dummy.

To cut to the chase, the opponents cashed two of their aces, but elongated the hand by trying to cash the king of one of the two suits they had started, but Miriam abruptly ruffed and started running trumps from the top. About halfway through the hand a trump from Miriam’s discard pile fell on the floor. She reached down and picked it up, but instead of returning it to the table she inserted it back in her hand. Thus before playing to trick 13 she had two cards left, a trump and her loser, but undaunted she played her trump and the ace and king of her last card harmlessly fell to the table. She then played her erstwhile loser but no one else had any cards left (the opponents had long since become aware of what happened). “Making five” I said and all three agreed.

Finally Miriam looked up at me and said, “Bobby, please confirm, but did I just execute a squeeze? If so it is my very first one”.

She is sadly no longer with us, but those were the days my friend, I hoped they’d never end.

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