Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

I’m not big on reading directions. I can’t do that. I’m just not from that world.

Richard Dean Anderson

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


At the 1996 Macallan tournament in London Fred Gitelman and George Mittelman lost their first three matches, but then produced an excellent run which brought them as high as second place. They demonstrated a subtle point in signaling, as well as great partnership trust in defense here, against me.

Bob Hamman and I had done well in the auction to steal the contract in two hearts after Hamman had made our systemic opening with the South hand of one heart.

If East-West can find their way into the auction they can make at least three clubs, but it was hard (though perhaps not impossible) for West to balance with an unusual two no-trump call once the opponents had come to rest in two hearts.

It seems as if the defense can only get three trump tricks and their two club winners, but Mittelman led a spade, and when Hamman won this in dummy to play a trump, Gitelman took his king and played back his lowest spade for Mittelman to ruff. The combination of suit preference signals in trumps and clubs meant that George could confidently underlead his club ace and obtain a second spade ruff for one down.

The point about the play in trumps was that West knew his partner had the ace and king of hearts and had chosen to win with his lower honor. The reverse inference might not have been available had East won the first trump with the ace – he might not have had the king, and thus a choice of cards to play.

There are two schools of thought here. One transfers to two spades, one uses Stayman, planning to rebid two spades over two diamonds to show a shapely invitation with five spades. That is a fractional overbid, but I would be prepared to follow that route, to make sure we reached the best major suit for partscore or game.


♠ A J 9 4 2
 J 10 7 3
 J 4
♣ 7 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 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


jim2January 4th, 2017 at 1:18 pm

I wonder how winning the opening lead in hand and leading a low heart would have worked.

The trade off seems to be possibly clarifying the major suits a little more for the defense against preventing signaling in trump.

bobby wolffJanuary 4th, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, it is possible to let the spade ride to hand, but my guess is that by winning in dummy with the ace and tossing the queen from hand (I do not remember if that was precisely done, but likely was) gives Bob the best chance to muddy the waters.

However, likely after the 3 of spades immediately back, West responded by his club switch and now when his partner won the queen they found the maximum defensive solution.

However, perhaps the strategy may have worked if Bob would have won the first trick with the king or queen and then led a low heart, and when Fred wins his king he may have played Bob for a singleton spade, but sadly we will never know.

Since Bob could have no idea of the exact location of the defensive trump honors, there would be no telling who would win the heart and for that matter no way to tell which defender had the singleton spade, if either.

jim2January 4th, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Note that winning the trump king would carry no special meaning to either defender in this line.

bobby wolffJanuary 4th, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt, but winning the ace instead might dissuade his partner for even looking for one ruff, much less two. However, the lowest spade return for the hoped ruff becomes critical, not which heart is used to win trick #2.

The above becomes a heads up to chronic false carders on defense “fooling declarer is sometimes productive, but fooling partner can also then, sometimes, become devastating to one’s own cause”.

slarJanuary 4th, 2017 at 10:44 pm

RE: BWTA I have to admit that I am surprised you recommend inviting on a quacky 8-count with semi-balanced distribution. Maybe I’m not showing enough vision but my gut says to transfer to spades and go to game on a superaccept.

bobby wolffJanuary 4th, 2017 at 11:48 pm

Hi Slar,

It seems to me that the only real difference between the two actions (yours & mine) is that mine puts a heart game in view or even a superior heart part score in the case of partner having 2-4 in the majors.

Yes there are three jacks in the mix, but two of them are supported, one with the ace and the other with what could be worth a full trick or sometimes only the ability to lead from either hand. Picture partner with (Qxxx, K9xx, A9xx) or (AQxx, KQxx, AQ9x.

IMO, Culbertsons honor trick method (the togetherness of honors) is markedly superior to Goren’s commercial point count) although the skill of the play is often necessary to prove it.

At least what you say about a super accept is right on, but the same applies when an eight card fit is established in hearts (at least an invitation to three). Of course, you and I have both played with partners who we would just pass a response of two hearts, but, at least he or she should produce an extra trick with that suit as trump.