Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.

Neal Boortz

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


Most US experts play two over one as game forcing. But in competitive auctions two over one at the two level should not be forcing to game. It should show values but does not guarantee a rebid – anything that sounds non-forcing thereafter should be non-forcing.

Thus in today’s auction North’s raise to three hearts could be passed. South might well bid three no-trump over three hearts, (though it isn’t clear which game is best – it depends on who has the diamond ace).

Against four hearts West leads a top spade, and South has to guess whether to win or duck. He does well to hold up, to cut the defenders’ communications. If West continues spades, declarer wins, and lead a diamond to dummy’s king and comes to 10 tricks relatively easily.

But West does better to shift to a club at trick two, attacking declarer’s late entry for the diamonds. Declarer wins in hand and leads a diamond to the king, ducked by East. Now declarer draws two rounds of trump with the king and ace and leads a diamond to the 10 and jack. Back comes a second club, and declarer must win in dummy and lead a third diamond, subsequently using dummy’s last trump as the entry for the diamonds.

If East plays back a spade not a club after winning the diamond jack, declarer takes this in hand and must draw the last trump – if he plays the third diamond before doing so, West ruffs his partner’s winner to cash a spade for down one.

Your partner’s double is value showing, maybe in terms of high cards, a minimum of an eight-count? He typically has a doubleton heart and suggests length in the other suits. I would pass and lead a trump; where are the opponents going to score tricks except from the trump suit?


♠ A 10 5
 A Q J 9 3
 8 6 2
♣ A 5
South West North East
2 3 Dbl. 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


Bruce karlsonJanuary 25th, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Declarer “knows” from the shift at trick two that LHO does not have the D ace. Does that make playing to the D 10 first a better play?

Patrick CheuJanuary 25th, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Hi Bobby,Not much point in South’s bid of 3S,if 3H is limited,it only gives the defense more info..a direct 4H? regards~Patrick.

jim2January 25th, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Bruce –

I am not Our Host, but playing the 10D on the first round risks instant defeat, as East could win JD, cash AD, then give partner a diamond ruff.

In other words, the defense will always get two diamonds and a spade. Declarer’s task is to find a line that limits the defense to just those three tricks. Personally, I would have expected West to hold the AD, meaning my best line would be two leads towards the dummy’s KQ. Thus, once the first diamond held, I would draw two rounds of trump just as the column declarer did.

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, it certainly does and primarily for the reason you gave.

At least to me, these types of hands, both when declarer and, maybe even more so on defense separates the skill of the top players, by not technical excellence being the more important distinction, but rather guessing exactly where the important cards are located, and the evident specific distribution, often first determined by the bidding and then confirmed by the tempo of the defense. (hitches as well).

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Hi Patrick,

While your comment is on point, by first bidding 3 spades, it may allow partner to choose 3 NT instead of 4 hearts, which sometimes turns out to be superior when partner has raised hearts with only a doubleton and also a good enough spade holding to warrant bidding 3NT.

Nothing terribly wrong in bidding 4 hearts (the suit is good enough) but 3NT may be superior in case of a very poor heart break. Also in most good player’s bidding system, 2 diamonds, in competition, is not forcing to game so both partners need to now search more diligently for the safest one.

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Hi Jim2,

It is always both kind and efficient for you, the voice of reason, and thus always very rational to cover the bridge waterfront with your practical suggestions.

Always feel justified and very helpful to speak your opinion, since sometimes there arises undue time delays in my answering. I, and certainly all others, should and do appreciate your efforts.

jim2January 25th, 2017 at 5:02 pm

I should perhaps add some more explanation.

Declarer cannot risk losing 2 diamonds before either winning one him/herself or drawing trump.

That is, if declarer wins one early, then a third round diamond ruff does not become a third trick but merely exchanges the ruff for a diamond loser. If declarer draws trump, then there is no ruff. (as Our Host said in the column text, it could be an entry, but NOT an extra loser in itself)

Thus, risking losing to the JD early (before the AD is taken or a declarer winner scored) adds a way to go down w/o equivalent additional gain.

Note that the diamonds could also be:

Axx – Jx

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2017 at 5:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Will those accurate explanations ever stop?

If we continue to insert coins into the nickelodeon
will that beautiful bridge music continue?

Mircea1January 25th, 2017 at 9:06 pm

On this layout ducking the first spade is the key to making the contract. Even if West started with a small singleton diamond declarer can still bring home the bacon as long as the first spade is ducked. But what if East started with a singleton spade (and West with 6)? In that case, ducking the opening lead is a disaster. So, should we assume that West has only 5 spades for his non-jump overcall or is it more of a guess?

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2017 at 10:56 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No doubt your post will result in the keys to the winning bridge universe.

For example, if West started with six spades and the ace of diamonds, definitely a possibility down you will surely go since West will continue the queen of spades (denying the ace, while holding the jack, but also announcing to partner that he has the ace of diamonds (conceivably a diamond void, but VERY unlikely).

However that would mean that the defense will take the first 4 tricks and thus before the lead is lost down will go the contract. Ipso facto, the contract will depend on declarer doing the right thing at trick one.

Therefore all average to world class declarers will know that the fate of this contract may (and likely will), depend on what he does at trick one.

Therefore a worthwhile declarer will have his antenna tuned to his opponents at trick one, and anyone who has not had enough experience in concentration will be doomed to then use amateurish judgment in making this critical play.

Five card suits (even with a one level overcall) are more likely than six, but more than that the declarer’s RHO will likely be a tell by his manner (however almost never against a top defender).

The rules of our beautiful game allow opponents to take and then act on table action by their adversaries, but not their partners.

My guess is that a top player will be 90% sure, before he commits as declarer what to do at trick one. Yes, there is real evidence besides table action. For example, if the defense is playing normal count signals (high low, even) then the deuce (or the lowest spot) by RHO would deny two/ However, yes, it is possible that LHO had only a good 4 card suit, but in that case it would not matter whether the declarer took trick one or not, but, if so the likelihood of West having the ace of diamonds (to compensate for his only having a 4 card suit) would go up exponentially.

Therefore, table presence is what it takes for an aspiring player to become effective in achieving consistently superior results. That quality is, at least to me, a 100% requirement
before that wannabe player can achieve the spurs he needs to be a winner. However, experience and nothing else will allow him to get much better as time goes by.

Meanwhile on this hand declarer needs to duck the first spade (since both the ace and jack of diamonds are both offside). And that would apply to even AJ doubleton diamond, as the elusive jack will undoubtedly be lost by the declarer for every reason, unless, of course if the declarer goes right in his earlier plays.

Therefore the direct answer to your question is, yes to others it is a guess, but a really good declarer will make this hand (when it is make able) perhaps 90% of the time.

This is the part of the game (psychological) much more than technical excellence where the great players shine, similar to poker where the superior psychologists, rather than the technical nerds, win the major tournaments.