Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 14th, 2017

History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.

Abba Eban

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


In today’s deal from a team game, both declarers reached four spades and received a trump lead.

At one table South decided to play for club ruffs. He won the first trick with the jack from dummy, and played a club to his queen. West returned a second trump after winning the club ace, East pitching the diamond two. South won in hand and ruffed a club, then had to decide how to return to hand.

Believing his opponents’ signals, he crossed to the diamond ace, then ruffed his last club, and now carefully played ace and a second heart. Had he played a diamond first, West would have won his king and led a heart, and could not then have been denied a diamond ruff. As it was, South could subsequently ruff a heart high to hand and draw the last trump, for 10 tricks.

South was optimistic about his chances of a swing, but in the other room declarer won the first spade in hand and ducked a heart. East won to play a diamond, and declarer finessed unsuccessfully. That let West play a second trump. South won the spade in hand to play the heart ace and ruff a heart high, then used the trump entry to dummy to ruff out hearts. He could later ruff one club loser in dummy and pitch one on the fifth heart, to score six trump tricks, two hearts, and two diamonds.

If defenders had won the diamond king to play back a club instead, South could have ruffed two clubs in dummy to come to 10 tricks.

This is the perfect hand for Crawling Stayman – also inelegantly referred to as Garbage Stayman. Your plan when you bid two clubs is to pass a response in a major, or to correct two diamonds to two hearts. That shows both majors and a weak hand, with something less than invitational values.


♠ J 7 5 4
 A 9 6 5 2
 8 6 3
♣ 9
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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I pose a question from a friend (call her GB) who I’m trying to talk into reading the column regularly and contributing to it. Imagine you hold:

S K J 9 3
H A 8 3
D Q J 3
C 10 7 2

Partner opens 1H (4 card majors) and rebids 1NT (15-16) in reply to your 1S response. Playing pairs would you go straight to 3NT or explore the possibility of a 5-3 heart fit? Also, would your answer be different at teams?

I’ll send you the other hand and what happened next later.



Jane AJanuary 28th, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Hi there,

What is the agreement if opener holds five hearts? Would she always open a heart holding only four with a balanced hand and 15 to sixteen points? I assume she does not have four spades or she would support spades, right? Would you support hearts if you held four and not bid spades? Since I don’t play four card majors (used to many years ago), I don’t know the system agreements.

Without knowing what she plays, it looks to me like three NT is the right spot. Bobby can shine his guiding light down on us however. Not sure how it would matter much at teams with this hand since getting to a game is what counts, and the opener sounds like she has a balanced hand. Could just as easily make four NT as four hearts. Does the scoring matter much in this case?

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes I would go straight to 3NT with, of course, my being 4-3-3-3 (any) primarily the reason.

No doubt, if partner is 3-5-3-2 I likely will have made a critical mistake, but even then, possibly only if the opening leader chooses to lead a club, rather than anything else. BTW, in spite of clubs figuring to be the opponent’s longest combined suit, for one reason or another I still think it is less than 50% a random respectable player will even then, choose to lead one.

Following the above, if I, as the responder, check back for primarily a 5 card heart suit, his response will likely lionize that opening lead choice as well as the follow-up entire defense, making my hoped for attention to detail more helpful to the wrong side.

At least for me, my experience (unless illusory), is a winning habit to be a tougher opponent than it is to be an extremely detailed partner. That is, if not playing against cheaters, (and I suspect that applies to an infinitesimal tiny sample) who in spite of the lack of telltale bidding, already know (or close) partner’s distribution.

Conclusion: 3NT at either pairs, IMPs, board-a-match or even rubber bridge, but especially pairs (and BAM) where overtricks, and that extra 10 points are ultra important.

Also, keep in mind that normal opening leads vs. NT are much looser, simply because in their zeal to set the contract, single tricks on lead are given away more often than against suit contracts.

The only exception to not bidding 3NT immediately may be while playing against relative beginners in the hope of not just being a victim of my own habits by an unfortunate lie of the cards for our side together with not being privy to allowing those opponents to show, in this case, their defensive naivety later in the hand.

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Hi Jane A,

Of course your post was not up when I was answering Iain, so some of your same questions were answered, at least in my judgment.

Basically, any time a 4-4 fit in a major is discovered, more so than a 5-3 fit it is almost always superior (except of course in two unlikely scenarios) when mirror distribution appears eg. exact same distribution in both hands, or sometimes, but not always, when a bad break in the chosen eight card trump suit occurs and there are not other real or potential other tricks available in the side suits to make up for that abnormality.

Yes, since, do doubt, Iain’s example included playing a weak NT system where 1NT is opened with 12-14 hcps, causing the 1NT rebid to occur with 15-17, but, of course, not with 4 spades after partner has already bid them.

However the 1NT rebid after opening 1 heart can hold either 4 or 5 hearts, making his query simply ask, “is it better to then check back for a 5-3 heart fit with his example 4-3-3-3 hand or simply blast to 3NT”? Also and of course, if the original responder started with 4 hearts he would (should) show that support immediately allowing partner to get a much better fix on the value of his specific hand.

While either game,(8 card major suit fit and also 3NT when holding enough hcps and both balanced) with normal breaks appears to be the favorite to make, the importance in exact tricks made in both pairs and board-a-match scoring insist on as many tricks as possible and thus assume a critical role for results.

My above opinion is to tell very good opponents as little as possible during the auction in close hands, therefore making it tougher to defend correctly, starting with the opening lead.

Nothing revolutionary above, but perhaps a slightly different approach to which top players will not necessarily agree.

Good luck in whatever you personally agree, together with your favorite partner, as to your approach to Iain’s example hand. However since you probably do not play weak NT your problem hands will come up in different ways, but at the death, all thoughtful bridge players will be, at the very least, sometimes faced with the overall concept.

jim2January 28th, 2017 at 5:30 pm

I waited to reply to see what Our Host would say, and I certainly agree with all of what he did say.

One point not yet addressed (but has been alluded to) is just HOW a partnership would go about exploring for a 5-3 heart fit at this point. The tool available may help resolve the question itself.

Specifically, would the check back tool be a new minor? Or, would it be a raise to 3H?

You see, if the contract is hearts or notrump, the defender bidding behind “us” will be the partner of the opening leader. If we bid 3C/3D, that would provide a easy chance to make a lead-directing double or — by NOT doubling — provide a potentially equally informative pass (and NOT a double). Thus, if our “tool” is a new minor forcing variant, I would simply bid 3N.

However, if 3H shows game going values (and NOT merely invitational ones) with this sort of hand, then that option is more attractive.

Now, we can all sit back and await “Paul Harvey.”

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Hi Bobby, Jane,

Thanks for this, What happened was that partner held Axx KQJxx Kx QJx so 4H will always make unless there is a ruff and 3NT could struggle if clubs are 5-2 and a hand with CAKxxx leads low or if a hand on lead with CKxxxx (say) also has the DA unless spades behave well enough. If clubs are 4-3, the defence may also be holding declarer to 9 tricks with 4H making 10.

You will have guessed that the spades were 3-3 with the Queen onside, so 10 tricks were trivially easy in 3N as the cards lay. Her partner gave some thought to bashing 3N but decided to check out the 5-3 heart fir so they played in 4H. The opening lead was the diamond 10 from 109x, taken by the Ace, and that player then switched to the CA from Ax. Two clubs and a ruff followed for minus 100 but +620 would have been a bottom with everyone else in 3NT, probably having not bothered to look. I felt that was rather unlucky, I must admit, although I’d probably have bid 3N at pairs or Board-A-Match (rare in the UK).



ClarksburgJanuary 28th, 2017 at 8:59 pm

Hello Mr Wolff,
I just added a supplementary question on yesterday’s blog (Jan 27)

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2017 at 9:01 pm

HI Jane A, Jim2,

Sorry for the imcomplete reply. The 1N rebid this side of the pond is played as 15-16 or 15-17 with a weak NT and 2C is often used as a checkback; it also uses to be used after 1x – 1y – 1N being 12-16, an approach named after the England player Eric Crowhurst but the wide range rebid has now been largely ditched. So here it would be possible to check if partner had 5H, 3S or both as there might be a 5-3 fit in either major looking at the opener’s hand.

I think Bobby’s point about defence to NT frequently going wrong is important though, while plentiful points (as here or if the responder’s hand were a little stronger) are only vulnerable to a major weakness in one side suit or a bad trump break if a 5-3 fit is found. In similar vein, a hand like Jxxx AK Kxx J10xx could be asking for trouble opposite a strong NT if it used stayman.


jim2January 28th, 2017 at 9:07 pm

I suspected 2C was the checkback. Lacking a good club stopper, I would be reluctant to bid 2C as I said above, and would have just bid 3N. Even switch my minors and I also would be somewhat reluctant as my next opponent’s pass would encourage a diamond lead.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2017 at 1:17 am

Hi all, including Clarksburg, who usually serves, but this time, waits,

It seems right, or possibly better expressed, more right than wrong to just play two way Stayman as a checkback over a 1NT rebid. IOWs, 2 clubs is only used as an invitation to game artificial checkback for either a 4 or 5 card suit already opened (works well with 4 card major openings) or as responder to an opening bid and now to answer to this form of checkback, which often is used to determine 3 card support or not.

Sometimes one has both a 5 card major and 3 card support for his partner which, though an excess of riches, sometimes enables him to take credit for all good results and at the same time to diminish his ox’s role, for all to hear, in their success.

Two diamonds, then is also artificial but GF and allows below game slam inferences as well as insuring at least eight trump for play, when that major suit wins the day.

Sure it may allow the partner of the eventual opening leader to help his partner’s lead, but as we all know, winning bridge is far from a perfect science and thus having to deal with the flaws.

The above is not only effective (at least it appears to be by me) but it is very simple, a quality that grows in importance as we reach middle age. (yes, it has been growing for me a long time).