Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 18th, 2018

People say that life is the thing, but I enjoy reading.

Logan Pearsall Smith

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


The defense have a number of tactics and strategies available to them in trumps — for example, the ruff and the uppercut. It is rare for one and the same defender to get an extra trick from both strategies, but today’s deal from the second qualifying session of the national Open Pairs at the Philadelphia Nationals showed the defenders scoring well by doing just that.

In third seat, South opened one spade — after all, most macho men believe in four-card majors in third seat! West overcalled two hearts without much enthusiasm, but pairs events require you to do this sort of thing, and North had an easy bid of two spades. How bad can it be to finish up at the two-level here? Plenty bad, as you’ll see.

West led a diamond to the 10 and queen, and East cashed his diamond ace and gave his partner a ruff. Now the heart ace and a heart to the king saw declarer run the club jack to West’s king. West cashed the heart queen, then led another heart. Dummy ruffed with the six, and East over-ruffed with the eight, forcing declarer to over-ruff with his jack.

South next cashed the club ace and ruffed the club queen in dummy. He then led dummy’s last trump to the queen and West’s ace. Now West led his last heart at trick 12, and East ruffed in with the 10. When declarer over-ruffed, West’s spade nine took the contract down three tricks for plus 300 and 90 percent of the available matchpoints.

It is difficult to know how to handle a hand like this. My view is that jumping to four hearts and forcing the opponents to make their decision at a higher level is likely to be the best approach. Had partner opened two spades instead, you might simply raise to three spades, since your trumps would be weaker and your defense higher.


♠ 6 4 2
 K 6 5
 K J 10 5 3
♣ J 6
South West North East
    2 Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 1st, 2018 at 12:30 pm

HI Bobby,

On BWTA aren’t vulnerability, partnership style and form of scoring relevant too? At adverse, I’d be wary of bidding 4H as LHO will surely do something and it’ll probably be double. Given the tendency now to open any old rubbish with 6H with a weak 2, this could get painful. Even opposite (say xx(x) AQJ10xx xx(x) xx where the pointed suits are 3-2 one way or the other, this could be expensive and that is a sound one instead of some of the dross I sometimes open.

I suspect there is potentially far more money available from axing pre-empters than gets taken in practice.



A V Ramana RaoFebruary 1st, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Perhaps South should have seen the writing on the wall after west shifts to A of hearts and another heart. Surely west has five card heart suit and with the vulnerability, odds are against club finesse. So south leads third heart himself after winning Heart King and reduces the penalty by a neat 100 points . Whatever west does, south must come to six tricks which could be a consolation after excellent defense by EW. And anyway they were making two hearts as the cards lay

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 1st, 2018 at 12:52 pm

What I meant but did not elaborate is , if west continues hearts after winning third heart, dummy ditches club. East needs to ruff, south overruffs and leads A of clubs and ruffs a club in dummy and ruffs a diamond winner with a honor in hand and whether west overruffs or not, has tempo to ruff third club in dummy.
And if west leads spades, south develops two has two natural club tricks . So south should resign himself two down

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 1st, 2018 at 1:38 pm

An afterthought
Considering the event is a pairs match
a) NS pairs who bid 2S and find club finesse favorable ( for which chances are remote) go one down and score about average
b) NS bid 2 S and go two down – ( probable result as the cards lay) . below average but perhaps not too bad.
c) NS bid 2S and go three down. Rock bottom score
P S : sorry to have bothered you with these details

Iain ClimieFebruary 1st, 2018 at 1:54 pm


The trouble is that minus 200 at pairs on a part score hand is generally “The Kiss of Death” and rarely worth much at all except in very random fields containing some pairs with lemming-like tendencies. So case b) above is much more likely to be 10% than (say) 35%.



A V Ramana RaoFebruary 1st, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Hi lain
But having gone overboard, do you have an option. You are already one down and with west’s defense, you are staring at three down . So curtail the damage and if you are in bad company of many pairs who bid 2 S with NS hands , indeed it becomes good company ironically

Iain ClimieFebruary 1st, 2018 at 3:49 pm


Maybe worth a try although you can understand South. If the CJ is covered, he can ruff a club quickly, then play a diamond shedding a heart to weaken opposing trumps a bit (although not enough here). Depends on whether you think West would have overcalled without the CK given that East has HJ10, DAQ and hasn’t bid. You’ve got a point there!



A V Ramana RaoFebruary 1st, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Hi lain
Thanks and as I said that NS has gone overboard ( proving to be lemmings – if only south opened 1 club) and I sincerely assume that we have the permission of our kind host for our cross communication

Bobby WolffFebruary 1st, 2018 at 4:58 pm

Hi Iain & AVRR,

First, Iain’s question about the BWTA. No doubt, the vulnerability usually plays a crucial part in making bidding choices, especially when mainly considering further preemption, in order to take away bidding space, which, at least in theory, may tend to interfere with your worthy opponent’s accuracy in just competing.

And yes, many significant sets are spared by those aggressive tactics by opponents, who take the bait, bid on, instead of penalty double, and wind up with egg on their face, instead of a great result they could obtain by merely doubling (or even sometimes, just allowing vulnerable opponents to think they stole the hand.

However, to be fair, we need to at least discuss. the other side of the dilemma. Let’s just imagine that the weak two heart bidder held: s. Kx, h. AQ10xxx, d. Qx, c. xxx it would be easy to see, that depending on which opponent held the ace of spades would very likely determine whether 8 tricks or 9 could be taken by NS. Furthermore that same key honor location may also significantly influence just how many tricks their opponents could take (together with how the other suits are split) with EW ranging anywhere between a maximum of 12 (practically assuming no opponent is void in hearts) to a minimum of 8 if, in addition to the ace of spades with West, but both red suits breaking 2-2 and 3-3.

IOW, 4 tricks may hang in the balance with the location of a single card, which although spectacular in scope, that theme, at least, seems to occur quite frequently (perhaps not that many tricks depending on only one card, but bridge being the game it is, not that surprising).

Therefore, with the above as a backdrop, does that take away from the skill in bridge and turn it to only a wheel of fortune? At least my answer, for what it is worth, is a rapid and forceful “NO!”, since the ever present Law of Averages which takes care of casinos in royal style also outranks Lady Luck in bridge and, in the long run (actually not so long) will always allow the better bridge partnership, based on only skill, but including many talents, such as mature bridge judgment, and keeping one’s head about them at all times. which are, to say the least, vastly underrated by almost everyone.

Summing up, bridge has now and has always had a very strong so called “poker” element which emphasizes at the table awareness, having nothing to do with table ethics (strict and must be followed) but rather people oriented, pointed directly at one’s present opponents and no one else.

Besides the above, all I can offer is what I think is the key to becoming a great and better described as a consistent winning player, is for his (or her) partnership to have a very disciplined and constant approach to every hand played, where every effort is made to be the best player he or she can be and therefore create the best partnership possible between the two partners.

Sometimes the above requires different strokes for different folks, but the above mentioned is critical and, of course, the talents always mentioned along with, numeracy, intense concentration, and a very strong sense of wanting their partnership to be as good as their talents can take them.

BTW, I agree to what you both have individually said about minus 200 often the kiss of death, but even if staring directly at that fact, still going all out to never let up with trying to save any trick one can. By so doing, one’s partner will respect how hard the other one is working and, although not showing up, on that hand, with anything but a bad result, still instills positive vibes, not to mention work ethic, for the future.

Not unlike partners in life getting to judge each other, and falling more in love, as time goes by.

Bobby WolffFebruary 1st, 2018 at 6:18 pm


Your last post crossed while I was writing my too long response.

With your positive approach, I would expect you, especially if a “like” partner is available, to, at the very least, be a formidable factor in your bridge community.

And as far as cross communications (cc), yes I welcome whatever you want to say and for as many want to be players who have the good sense to read it. Actually cc is what this site is all about, and especially as far as you are concerned.

Mircea1February 1st, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing 5-card majors, I suppose you approve bidding a strong 4-card major in 3rd seat? With that in mind, should North be reluctant to raise to 2S? I remember reading in one of your former partner’s books (Mike Lawrence) that the dreaded holding in bridge is the 3-card suit – which is what today North has in the overcaller’s suit. With a different hand, South can alway balance

Bobby WolffFebruary 1st, 2018 at 10:25 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, I do approve opening the bidding on a 4-card major, especially in 3rd seat, and to its strength, likely KJxx is good enough. IOW do not try to avoid both doing that and add playing a 4-3 suit fit as trump. Not ideal, but certainly not worth fearing to do so.

No doubt, and at least to me, opening decent 4 card majors, but still carefully raising with only 3 is winning bridge, since it not only works and against top players, but, if anything, it sharpens a player’s declarer play and offers the right kind of challenges necessary to rise above the herd.

Should we go out of our way to play seven card fits (whether 4-3 or 5-2), of course not, but when it occurs and it often will, hang in there, bite the bullet, and you will be rewarded with better results than you could ever imagine.

Also there is a bonus with it, being that even worthy opponents, when they cannot be aware of exactly how many trump declarer is holding, tend to make more mistakes while defending and, of course, during the bidding, not being sure of declarer always having 5+ when a major is opened.

In no way, am I suggesting that playing seven card trump fits is to be sought out, only that when it does happen, often the result turns out better than expected, and again, at the same time, forces more confusion for those opponents during the auction during both competitive sequences, on opening lead, and even when they no longer can count on anyone having more than 4 of a suit.

The above only represents my experiences with it, but over more years than I can count, and promising no commission to me for changing other player’s views.