Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

One was never married, and that’s his hell; another is, and that’s his plague.

Richard Burton

S North
None ♠ 6 5
 A Q 3
 7 4 3 2
♣ A J 9 5
West East
♠ K Q 10 9 3
 8 6
 K 9 6
♣ 8 7 2
♠ J 4 2
 9 5 4 2
 J 10 8
♣ Q 6 4
♠ A 8 7
 K J 10 7
 A Q 5
♣ K 10 3
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


South has an absolute maximum for his opening bid of one no-trump. North adds his own points to those shown by his partner, and since he has 11 points, he knows that his side has enough for game, but not for slam. Since North has no reason seriously to consider playing in a suit, he merely raises at once to game in no-trump.

When West leads the spade king it asks for the unblock of a high spade honor, or a count signal. This lead style is often called ‘strong king’; by contrast, one signals attitude on the lead of an ace or queen.

So East follows with the jack at trick one, and now South must employ a basic maneuver to make his contract — the hold-up play. He must delay playing his spade ace until the third round of the suit.

The reason for this play becomes clear when South next loses the club finesse to East. Declarer’s goose would be cooked if East could get to his partner’s long spade suit, for then the defenders would take a total of four spades and one club. Thanks to the hold-up, however, East is out of spades.

East does what he can, by returning a diamond. South must not risk the finesse. He can take nine tricks by putting up the diamond ace and cashing his good cards. South would go down if he took the first or second spade, for then East would be able to lead a spade to his partner upon winning his club trick.

In auctions of this sort, where everybody is bidding, I tend to assume that if someone is stretching, it is generally my partner. Had East not bid spades I might have tried two no-trump. As it is, I shall lurk in the bushes and bid just one no-trump, hoping to get a chance to double the opponents if they step out of line.


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

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


jim2December 13th, 2016 at 12:22 pm

In BWTA, what would a double by South show?

It it would show points and support for the red suits, would this be a viable option?

BryanDecember 13th, 2016 at 2:48 pm

If you are going to lurk in the bushes, why not pass?

bobby wolffDecember 13th, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Concerning the BWTA a double would definitely show spades and be for penalty. The good reason involved is that partner’s TO double is an attempt to show the majors and to not let partner know that the partner of the opening bidder may well be trying to steal their suit will roadblock NS from arriving at their best suit.

Think s. K10xx, h. Ax, d. Kxxx, c. xxx for a penalty double. Many years ago a psyche by the partner of an opening bidder after a TO double by RHO allowed a psychic response, usually one of a major he didn’t possess, to be effective.

Believe it or not, in a World Championship and back in the 1960’s a one spade psyche by Bob Hamman caused even the Blue Team trouble since the above tactic was not common on their side of the Atlantic.

Finally, a double by the 4th seat player after his partner has made a TO double is only for the unbid suits when RHO has raised his partner’s suit (called then and still, a Responsive Double).

bobby wolffDecember 13th, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Hi Bryan,

Pass by a hand anywhere near that good runs a major risk of getting shut out of the bidding, which figures to create a very poor result for the “trap” passer (and his partner).

Many partnerships across the ACBL do not play a positive response by the partner of the opening bidder, after a TO double, even forcing for one round, true with the early Goren and Culbertson overall systems. It was only a limit bid, something like: s. QJ10xxx, h. xxx, d. Kx, c. xx.

However, instead of a pass or a double, perhaps an alternative action of either 2 clubs or 2 spades should be bid, a cue bid showing a maximum pass and only notifying partner of decent support for the unbid suits, and, of course a maximum original pass.

A 1NT response keeps the bidding lower (with partner having the spades stopped), but is certainly not totally descriptive of just how good that original pass really is.

jim2December 13th, 2016 at 4:50 pm

I would note that some play the double in that situation as responsive (Larry Cohen is one) and others play it as optional (Bill Root and Richard Pavlicek, in Modern Bridge Conventions).

bobby wolffDecember 13th, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt, you are right on with your truths.

However, to do so and with it others subscribing to that treatment, there would soon be a return to the partner of the opening bidder then psyching a suit (especially when holding partial to good support for partner’s opened suit, along, of course, with limited values) which unless whole defensive systems were revamped would cause close to irreparable danger to the opening bidder’s side.

All successful bridge theorists are faced with the simple truth of not being able to have it both ways, and this subject is one of those.

However, as long as the specific opponents are not aware of that possible weakness, there will be no problem, since at a certain level (high), psychics have gone the way of all flesh, virtually non-existent.

Thanks for reminding us of so-called updated treatments, if only to remind us of what the ever changing notions might be facing.

Furthermore, both for practical, but no doubt, propaganda purposes, consider the following layout:

North: s. xxx, h. KQJ, d. KQJxx, c. xx. East:
s. KJ10x, h. Axxx, d. xxx, c. AQ, South: s. x, h. 10xxx, d. 10xxx, c. xxxx, West: s. AQ98x, h. xx
d. A, c. KJ109x

Only EW vulnerable With North dealer:

North East South West
1 diamond Double 1 Spade Pass??
Pass Pass

Result NS -350 (probably less) when they could be -2210.

Regards, or should I say checkmate but in reality, love!

slarDecember 13th, 2016 at 8:19 pm

In Bryan’s scenario (trap pass), I’ve found that opener usually bids 1NT. Why play 1NT when you can defend 1NTX? Of course you have to trust partner’s takeout doubles to be based on more than air. You also have to know that responder’s bid is forcing (standard, but not universal).

bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2016 at 2:26 am

Hi Slar,

Like some of the great speeches have accepted, “those truths are self-evident”, however one commonplace truism in bridge is that it is much easier to play the hand (declarer) where all of one’s assets are visible than it is to defend, where beginning with a blind opening lead, the defense is usually going uphill while the declarer is more easily on target.

What is more, the above is true regardless of the innate talent of the players or, at least my estimation, whether pairs or teams.

Of course, the long range prediction is obviously for the best pair and/or team to emerge victorious, but for one hand swings the advantage clearly goes, if there is one, to the declaring side.

BevDecember 18th, 2016 at 2:17 am

Mineral depletion.