Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Earn well the thrifty months, nor wed
Raw Haste, half-sister to Delay.

Lord Tennyson

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

*Game-forcing spade raise


This deal came up in a regional tournament earlier this year. Let’s consider it on the most challenging defense of the club jack lead, which says nothing about holding a higher non-touching honor.

Best is to duck the trick in dummy, win the ace, draw trump then play on hearts. If West can win the heart ace, you may have to guess clubs. But as the cards lie, when East wins the heart ace he can do no better than shift to diamonds. Now you rise with the ace, eliminate the hearts and play a second diamond, hoping it will be East who wins the trick.

The only defense is for West to win the diamond king and play a top club through. At this point you appear to have a guess to make the contract: if clubs are 3-3 with the king wrong you cannot succeed, but if West started life with precisely the doubleton J-10 of clubs you must duck. It might also appear that you have a guess when the cards lie as they do in the diagram, with East having begun with the doubleton club king – but that is an optical illusion.

In the ending you will reach, you can’t go down whatever you do. Even if you misguess and cover the club queen, since East’s club king is doubleton, he is endplayed when he wins the trick. He has no club left to play, and whether he leads a diamond or a heart, you ruff in dummy and pitch your remaining club loser from hand.

Did you jump blindly to three no-trump? If so, you are indirectly telling your partner you know better than he what is in his hand. Use the fourth suit and bid two hearts, to set up a game force, then raise clubs at the three-level. You can always get back to three no-trump, but if you bid three no-trump directly you may miss a cold club slam opposite a minimum hand with nothing but a little extra shape.


♠ A K 4 3
 K Q 2
 8 2
♣ Q 7 6 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ 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


Patrick CheuSeptember 1st, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Hi Bobby,On balance..declarer seems more likely to cover second club,than play for West to be doubleton club..but at least the elimination of hearts n diamonds allows declarer a second bite of the the unlikely event of West holding KJT9 clubs and being crafty.regards~Patrick.

jim2September 1st, 2016 at 2:27 pm

A curious alternate line for unwary defenders would be:

– JC – Q – K – A
– AS
– QS
– 3C

West might assume East has 8C, but probably will win 9C and lead 9H. (If West did play the 2C, winning the 6C would be a fun way to make the contract!)

Now, declarer could play low from board, tempting East to withhold the AH from playing it “on air.” If so, then win JH and lead 8C and then pitch JD on the good club.

Alternately, esp if West led a low heart, declarer could play KH, tempting East to win the AH and continue the heart attack with the same results.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Hi Patrick,

Yes, crafty is a good word to use. These are the hands that the best players will almost always make, unless, believe it or not, while playing against their equal.

A very good defender will know early that the one holding declarer does not hold is 3 small hearts, because otherwise he would never (or almost), after drawing trump, lead a heart, without first testing other lines, to facilitate discarding a heart in case the ace is offside for him. (perhaps a heart play while holding 3 small could be the best line, but intuitively that looks doubtful).

From there, the hand, both offensively and defense, appears relatively mundane, only causing the column hand to appear.

Alll high level play and defense is based principally on discovery, by both sides, with the evidence presented by means of the bidding (or lack of by the defense, “the dog who didn’t bark”), the choice of opening lead (with sometimes attached convention to which, Jack denies is among the very worst), the ordering of chosen plays by both sides, and finally the tempo, especially by those of the lower 99.9999% of the world’s bridge players.

Slowly but surely, my hope, with much to verify that fact, and, of course, on this site, I definitely feel more sophistication coming this way, in simply the quality of the specific questions asked and the enthusiasm with which the answers are accepted.

To only suggest that this is gratifying to me, is, indeed, a supreme underbid.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, thanks for your always thoughtful and consistent attempts to offer alternate methods of either defense or declarer’s play which, in turn, becomes a provocative source to exchange hoped for high-level back and forth, which almost never fails to go so far as enchant some usually quiet (to us) readers, who then look forward to reading the column along with drinking their morning coffee.

However, the declarer line which you suggest, would then switch the control of making the contract or not to the defense, and while playing against competent defenders (and that used adjective, at least to me, is directed toward what others may then be correct in describing him or her as a superlative bridge star) compared to the huge populous who simply play the game. IOW, be prepared for the diamond switch which you will immediately, like it or not, get.

However, I am not saying, in any way, that in a random game you won’t steal that contract, but merely stating that the high-level game of bridge (and, of course, the one which needs to be perpetuated forever), while what is left, contrary to what the ACBL does, not so much.

In both golf and tennis the same situation applies and the elephant in that room is what appears on TV and in the newspapers represents the vast difference, while in bridge one is stuck reading bridge columns, keeping up with social and intellectual bridge websites (Bridgewinners), or watching World or National Championship bridge on Bridge Base Online in order to see the greatest bridge, in action.

Always strive for and watch the best one has to find in order to satisfy what life has enabled us to seek. IOW, do not sell yourself short!

And BTW for my money, you never have, nor ever will, TOCM TM, or not!

Patrick CheuSeptember 1st, 2016 at 7:05 pm

Hi Bobby,How likely is it that West will switch to a diamond after getting in with a club,rather than a heart, following Jim’s line?As with a heart switch he plays East for AJ hearts or A or JT,hopefully not costing,whereas a diamond switch into declarer’s AQ…is it a case of not right or wrong but depends on the hand layout?

Iain ClimieSeptember 1st, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Hi Bobby,

A stray query from a friend in Lancashire. You hold KQJ98xx Ax Kx Qx and pard opens a weak 2H but you may not have discussed whether 2S is forcing or just encouraging; you are playing Ogust. If anyone reading is unfamilar with it, 2N asks for more info based on codified replies which show upper or lower end of the point range and suit quality.

What would you bid here? I suspect I should bid 3S but the urge to just bid 4S is strong. Also, what would you recommend as a set of responses to weak 2s in terms of 2N and the meanings of change of suit or jump changes in suit? I always used to prefer 3M = Min, 4M = Max, 3N = AKQxxx and 3 suit = feature over 2NT but rarely discussed change of suit.



Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Hi Patrick,

You are definitely on target when you attempt to quantify which of the two defenses one chooses as the more likely one to succeed.

A diamond switch is just dependent on one card, partner having either the ace or queen of diamonds while a heart is dependent on finding both the ace and jack of hearts and South having at least three hearts.

The bidding suggests (from West’s defensive viewpoint) that the red aces are split, but whether the queen of diamonds or not is held by declarer, is totally speculative. Yes, at very high levels, likely the very highest, the following of suit to the two trumps drawn from East be a hoped for signal, but if so, it would probably be the jack first, in honor of the ace of hearts, but in retrospect it might be the six instead, because of the queen of diamonds a little, but also because of no heart spot of significance, especially of course, the jack or at least the ten since West may have the jack.

All the above sometimes becomes necessary to have a world class partnership, but it often is even more difficult than that since both partners have to be aware at all times and like the monkey (or perhaps duck) which came down from the ceiling with the secret word on (“You Bet Your Life”) the famous Groucho Marx TV quiz show, one never knows when or if it is happening.

Finally, some plays in bridge are still speculative, even after the evidence is mostly in, and the really best players often are the ones who get almost all of them correct.

Probably even more is at least somewhat involved, including the attitudes of both (in this case) East and West toward bridge perfection, but that discussion needs to be delayed until deemed appropriate.

Thanks for only just being interested in what the other roosters are doing, while cavorting around the chicken yard.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2016 at 10:06 pm

Hi Iain,

My choice is a simple 4 spades risking a void in spades, in return for a no holds barred, no information forcing a blind opening lead from LHO. Sure hearts could be the right contract but when hands dictate, and this one does to me, just do it.

Yes, I too like Ogust where 2NT by the responder asks and 3 clubs-bad suit, bad hand, 3 diamonds good suit bad hand, 3 hearts bad suit, good hand, finally 3 spades good suit good hand.

Preempts (even weak two bids) should be scaled down to less than an opening, therefore KQJxxx, Ax, xxx, xx is a total maximum and QJ9xxx, x, xxx, Q10x a NV minimum. I prefer changes of suit to be NF except 3 hearts over 2 spades in order to cater to a 2 suiter by responder and of course 3 spades over 2 hearts for the same reason.

A simple raise of the major is preemptive, and at the table I am more likely than most to jump to 4 of the major with: s. Kxxx, h, Qxxx,d. x and c. xxxx. I also like McCabe which merely means if it goes a weak two in a major by partner then dbl. by RHO my 3 level bid in another suit asks partner to lead that suit but return to 3 of the major if my LHO passes, example being. s. Jxx, h. Jxx, d. AQJ, c. xxxx. If I bid 2NT over my RHO’s dbl I ask partner to bid 3 clubs and then pass whichever suit I then bid.

Overall, I do not see much, if any, value in playing forcing responses except when holding a 2 suiter (apart from the WTB suit).

And BTW, I believe in preempting early and as high as is practical in response to any bid where that shoe fits, especially when the opponents are good enough players. My motive is to hope to take away their advantage gained by their likely declaring the hand. That is all a mule can do, especially one who plays bridge.

slarSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 3:08 am

Is Ogust compatable with 5-card weak 2s? Holding xx/KQJ9x/Axx/xxx, I would think you are forced to pass and hope partner can get into the action. I find that 5-card weak 2s play quite well opposite even two small. If the opponents don’t take you out of it, the suit often breaks well. If partner can push to the three-level, all the better. And every once in a while, an opponent who is diligently counting cards comes to the realization that he was working off of a faulty premise and throws away the hand. Sure there is some risk, but what is bidding if not an exercise in risk/reward management?

Bobby WolffSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 4:49 am

Hi Slar,

My grade to you for your overall assessment at the very least borders on an A.

With almost all 5 card suits which are opened with a weak two bid, while playing Ogust should be thought of as “bad suit” because of the absence of a sometimes key card, since the fewer one has the better defense he owns, making the main purpose of preempts devalued. However perhaps only AKQxx or better could be described as a good suit.

Perhaps some large percentage in judgment having to do with bridge bidding belongs in that risk/reward category which you mention.

When the shouting and the hoorahs die, how tough an opponent your partnership has become is at the top of the list for winning. Whatever is then in second place, from system, down through expert technique and even vital experience, while always important, still has to wait its place behind.

Iain ClimieSeptember 2nd, 2016 at 9:02 am

Hi Bobby,

My friend bid 4S and caught None KQxxxx QJxxx xx. Unlucky, but at least he’s in good company!