Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Business you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.

Jane Austen

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

*short spades with both minors


The parable of the wise and foolish virgins can be metaphorically extended to the world of bridge players. There are those players who go for instant gratification, while others plan ahead, and are prepared to trade off the delight of winning a trick for higher expectations further down the line. Today’s deal is a good example of how it can be worthwhile to invest a trick to good effect.

The hand cropped up in a team game, played for high stakes, with both tables reaching three no-trump on an unopposed auction and receiving a low spade lead to East’s 10. The first declarer won the opening lead and took a club finesse. East wasted no time in winning his club king and returning the spade eight. Whatever declarer did, he was fated to lose four spade tricks and to go one down in his contract.

By contrast, the second declarer was prepared to delay taking a trick to try to ensure his contract. He ducked the spade 10, and then went one further, ducking the second spade as well. East led a third spade, and West could win his ace, but now nothing could prevent South from taking a club finesse into the safe hand, East, and emerging with nine tricks.

The key here is that declarer can be reasonably sure West is the hand long in spades, while East is the hand with the potential club entry. If the club ace and king are switched, it may still be right to play for split aces, but the calculation is far more complex.

When the opponents intervene in a game-forcing sequence where your side has not found a fit, double by your partner should be penalty, a double by you should be defensive, not guaranteeing more than three trumps. That being so, you have a very easy double; since neither side seems to have a fit and your side has enough high cards for game, you should be able to extract a sizeable penalty.


♠ 5
 K 7 3
 A 8 6 2
♣ A Q 10 9 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 ♣ 2 Pass 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1January 17th, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Hi Bobby,

BWtA, vulnerable vs. not, teams, would you still double with South’s hand? Is North supposed to pull it with minimum, short hearts and no fit four our clubs (i.e. AK10xx xx KJxx Jx)?

bobby wolffJanuary 17th, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Hi Mircea1,

You ask a very tough but necessary question.

With your example hand, NS have 25 HCPs plus fillers (10,9 of clubs) but still no game is really good since even if the club finesse is on, if the king is held with at least 3 others, 3NT is still not the favorite, nor, of course any other game.

No doubt bridge requires good judgment, and is definitely NOT an exact science, so since subjectivity rules the day, all we can decide is to follow the guidelines. Those then, should state that a misfit for one side is almost always a misfit for both, which tends to restrict tricks if either side plays, especially a trump contract, but even so in NT.

Looking at the the defensive possibilities of today’s hand NS should likely take between at least 6 tricks ranging up to 8+ making a 2 heart doubled contract played by West very good for NS.

Adding to the above, West the 2 heart bidder passed originally limiting his strength, so pass would would be my choice with your example hand and since I am very conservative when thinking about leaving in a potential balanced hand double, this one I would have to agree is one in which I would chance it.

Thanks for writing since it represents what I think is proper reasoning regarding your subject.

ClarksburgJanuary 17th, 2017 at 10:35 pm

Hello Mr Wolff
A question unrelated to today’s column:
From a recent local Club game.
Matchpoints, VUL against not.
In second seat after a Pass by Dealer.
You hold:
A4 KJ1087 AK9753 void
Could you comment on what to open, and initial plan for bidding the hand.

jim2January 18th, 2017 at 3:29 am

Well, seeing no reply, I thought I might chime in even though I am not Our Host.

I would open 1D and be prepared to reverse in hearts over 1S/1N/2C. If pard answers 1H, then I would face a choice depending on our understandings between 2S (fit jump or advance cue bid) and 4C (splinter).

If partner raises diamonds, I would still want to bid hearts, but I would have to consider what our agreements would be.

bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2017 at 3:43 am

Hi Clarksburg & Jim2,

Yes, open 1 diamond with the intent to bid and then rebid hearts to show 5-6 om the red suits.

It then will become likely, assuming partner shows some support for one suit or the other to cue bid in spades, (should be read as a cue bid whether partner has bid them or not) since 11 red cards have already been announced by the opener, thus a bid would be a control, usually aces ahead of voids.

Even if diamonds are agreed it becomes trendy to show partner a 5-6 distribution for both final destination judgement and at duplicate and if possible to play the major rather than the minor for its higher trick score. Awkward, but surely still a consideration.

ClarksburgJanuary 18th, 2017 at 4:00 am

Thanks to both.
Reaffirms what I thought a very clear choice, and helps preserve my sanity!
At our local Club, mine was the lone unwavering voice for Opening 1D, and particularly so with a hand that strong and shapely. Everyone else, including Players seemingly much more accomplished than I, would open it one Heart !!

bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

The one advantage that opening 1 heart has is that if partner immediately raises hearts, your later bidding can then ignore your long side suit and sometimes coerce even worthy opponents into doubling you at that wrong time.

However, if good bridge is more important to you than possible deception then an accurate “tell” of your distribution will usually make for a more satisfactory ending.

At least “it says here”.