Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace.

Eugene O’Neill

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


Goldilocks was at home preparing the porridge for the next day when the three bears trooped in from the local duplicate.

It did not take much perspicacity on her part to note that both parents were exhibiting even more angst than usual, while Baby Bear was beaming all over his face. Consequently, Goldilocks contented herself with a neutral greeting. But 30 seconds later, Papa Bear thrust a handwritten sheet of paper under her nose.

Showing her only the North and South cards from today’s deal he asked her how she would play three no-trump on a fourthhighest spade six lead. When Goldilocks put up dummy’s queen, it held the trick. Now she tried to sneak the diamond jack past East. No luck: East won the ace and put the spade jack on the table. Cover or duck?

Goldilocks conscientiously did the math: “Spades cannot be 6-2 on the lead of the six, since I can see the five four and two – so I must cover in case the spades are blocked.”

“My partner missed it!” huffed Papa Bear. “They covered the jack against me” said Mama Bear. “So we both scored terribly on the deal.”

Meanwhile Baby Bear, who had kept silent for 30 seconds – thereby beating his own world record by 25 seconds – could not contain himself any longer. “When I was East I unblocked the spade jack at trick one, and now when I won the diamond ace and put the spade 10 on the table the contract was dead in the water”.

“Just right,” said Goldilocks approvingly.

Without the intervention you would have bid one no-trump. Here that would be most unsound, so the question is whether to raise to two hearts or pass. Some people play the socalled ‘Support Double’ where a double here would show precisely three trump, and a raise to two hearts shows four trump. A good hand for the convention? Maybe; as far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on it.


♠ Q 8
 A 8 4
 K J 10 9
♣ A 10 9 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 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


David WarheitDecember 28th, 2016 at 11:39 am

3NT makes if a) S aren’t led, b) S are 4-4, c) W has both aces, d)E has SAxx and DA, e) S block or they block by misdefense. Overall, I’d say something like 55-60%. On the other hand, 5D is close to 100%, yet I can’t see any reasonable way to get to 5D. Also note that if S has the same distribution but without HQ10 and CJ but with S10, he now has a 4-3-3-3 aceless wonder and only 13 HCP, far short of an opening bid of 1NT, but 3NT is cold, if played by S. Your thoughts.

bobby wolffDecember 28th, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Hi David,

First, you, as usual, are up to highly aesthetic reasoning about our greatest game.

By that I mean, you deal with the underlying texture which concerns to me, a series of attributes, but to others (certainly including those who prefer chess) weaknesses, which can be thought to take away pureness, therefore and no doubt adding, at least some luck, to the overall assessment.

However, to me, it adds excitement, adventure and requires both numeracy and what top line makers in sports betting have in abundance, percentage judgment and the ability to estimate how the various abilities of that player or those teams, will adjust to the next test.

Furthermore, at least to me, even when the best percentage line is taken (often among the best, in bids made, partnership system and talent and, of course, both declarer play and defense) it is not always successful causing the expected. Gloom and lack of justice (just like in real life) pervades, requiring a very short memory by winners, but by those who cannot adjust, often a downward spiral in effectiveness almost always causing or just merely contributing to losing streaks.

To me, to overcome the above described condition is a huge attribute, especially to a youngster starting out, since, as mentioned above, is almost always evident at various times during a long life and, if you’ll excuse the phrase, needs to be dealt with in a positive way if anyone is interested, for the long run, in living as happy as one can.

While your above analysis can be considered right on, perhaps a singleton (or even doubleton club lead or of course also a singleton heart might do in a diamond game, I would estimate that 5 diamonds as a contract would occur less than one time in a hundred in a game of even just barely average bridge players, but nevertheless your subject should be well discussed in any multi year bridge teaching process (for young students) which is now going on in much of Europe and all of China.

Some may think that this hand should be bid to that best contract (at least in rubber bridge and IMPs) but to do so, at least in my judgment, will only result in trying to fulfill an impossible dream, not accurately directed to our continued, but perhaps considered, imperfect game.

Thanks for your continued, what some may think, unusual research. I sincerely think your subject is worth more than just a glance since it goes to the heart and soul of what our popular game happens to be about.

I’ll take the liberty of asking those who think otherwise to speak up, when and if, they feel an urge to do so.

slarDecember 28th, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Note the vulnerability of the column hand. If E/W were non-vulnerable, a great many wests would come in over 1NT showing the majors with whatever system they use. This might lead to a 5D contract since they have the points and the spade stoppage isn’t rock-solid.

Also, if N/S play minor-suit Stayman it is possible that they end up in 5D although it is a judgment call because both majors have at least one stopper. Minor-suit Stayman seems to have fallen out of favor but I think it has a lot going for it. When 2C is used for most invitational hands, opener is forced to reveal a lot about major distribution. When 2S can be used for some invitational hands, opener can often conceal distribution.

For some reason contemporary thought is that it is more important to be able to super-accept or pre-accept a minor suit transfer. I don’t get it personally. Even more maddening, there doesn’t seem to be consensus on which shows good support – some say 1NT-2S;2NT shows good support and some claim that is the default response. Just another thing to remember for each partnership. Argh!

bobby wolffDecember 29th, 2016 at 12:07 am

Hi Slar,

Perhaps I have lost touch with the modern expert, when you suggest if not vulnerable there would be many Wests, who would show the majors with whatever conventional bid did so.

Not only is that hand scarce in high cards, the wrong major (spades) has 5 cards which easily could lead to a 4-3 fit when partner would prefer hearts with 3-3 (in my day almost an automatic assumption).

However, I do not for a minute doubt your contention, nor for that matter deny an advantage to prefer bidding rather than just to go quietly.

However, some old-timers or perhaps only more conservative thinkers will be surprised to learn what the other roosters in the barnyard are doing.

Finally, some argument can always arise about defensive bridge bidding (such as always opening third chair after two passes and when non-vulnerable, no matter how weak) but nevertheless those thoughts do not run through everyone’s mind and as many might say, “thank heaven for that”.

Somewhat counter to that old admonition which now instead may say while discussing modern bridge bidding, “The more things change, the more I would wish they didn’t”.