Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.

Winston Churchill

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


In the 2004 Philadelphia Vanderbilt, the team captained by Richard Pavlicek took over the No. 1 seed in the event by defeating the Jim Foster team, which in turn had eliminated the defending Vanderbilt champions captained by Reese Milner in the previous round. Here, however, is one of the boards where the Foster team gained a game swing.

Against three no-trump, Mike Kamil led a heart in response to his partner’s bid. When Marty Fleisher as East correctly put in the jack, Allen Hawkins, declarer, took the trick with his queen. He led the club queen, which was ducked, but when he tried a second club to the jack, it lost to the ace.

Fleisher now thoughtfully tried to cut declarer’s communications by shifting to the spade jack, won in dummy with the queen. At this point, declarer seemed to be in rather poor shape. He could have cashed the second spade in dummy, but instead he decided to strand the spade ace by calling for a small diamond from dummy. When Fleisher rose with the king, Hawkins ducked. Fleisher switched back to hearts, leading the 10, and Hawkins took his king.

When declarer now cashed his three good clubs, he caught East in a strip-squeeze.

In the four-card ending, if Fleisher discarded down to two hearts, he could be endplayed with a heart to lead away from his diamonds. If he discarded a diamond, as he did, declarer could cash both the ace and jack. Either way, Hawkins would make his game.

Sometimes you have to settle for the best result possible, not the best possible result. Here my best guess is that two clubs is going to be a safer or better spot than any other contract you might finish up in, and that bidding on may turn a plus into a minus. Pass, and apologize to your partner if you guessed badly.


♠ A Q 8 4 3
 9 6 3 2
♣ J 4 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣ 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


JudyFebruary 2nd, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Bobby, I know that you are not in favor of support doubles, and this seems like the classic example where a penalty double would be preferable to 2NT. What say you?

Bobby WolffFebruary 2nd, 2018 at 6:24 pm

Hi Judy,

It, of course, gladdens my heart, to see South in this case, not be able to double 2 hearts for penalty, rather than bid 2NT and later 3NT, (a terrible contract), but magically made by stellar play and some luck (eg the jack of clubs in dummy and East holding both the king and queen of diamonds).

Of course, although I do not know, no doubt the featured NS pair were playing support doubles (doubling 2 hearts showed a 3 card spade holding) preventing a penalty double and settling for a very awkward 2NT and then 3NT final contract.

To make my disrespect for that convention even clearer is the fact that when and if a support double is used, causing a 4 card major suit responder to return to partner’s minor suit (the usual result, but any bid but that suit, except a cue bid, would deny more than 4) it allows the competitive opponents (who have already entered the auction) to know exactly how many of the known major suit his partner now holds, allowing them to make better bidding decisions later in the auction.

At least to me that immediately above flaw is the most serious disadvantage of that (at least to me) very poor convention (which many very good players now play).

A good primary bridge system, played by aspiring players, should always be aware of the huge plus of being very tough to play against rather then giving the show away for very little gain (characterizing support doubles, to be exact).

Thanks sweetheart for your question and now you should know why I do not like support doubles.

ClarksburgFebruary 2nd, 2018 at 7:34 pm

Would South’s penalty double be unambiguous penalty double, to be passed and to play?
Or could it be “cards” and optional for Partner to pass or bid on?

Bobby WolffFebruary 2nd, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Double by the person behind the overcaller and with his RHO already responding is a clear, unambiguous penalty double,

Iain ClimieFebruary 2nd, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Hi Bobby, Clarksburg, Judy,

I know my bidding may be a bit primeval after a 25 year break, but I do like being able to pull out and use the big stick (as discussed above) once in a while. The tendency to treat double as “stuff and I’d like to say something” or takeout / values is fine up to a point but we shouldn’t let the opponents off the hook when they take a risk too many – and that is the trend in the modern game. Mind you, I’d only have got a nice safe 300 today whereas declarer did really well to get 400.



Bobby WolffFebruary 3rd, 2018 at 12:43 am

Hi Iain,

Thee and me, only 300, assuming we don’t toss a trick.

However and probably through the next life, one has to score something special like +400 on this hand to be recognized by any bridge column, even a stupid one, like AOB.

BobliptonFebruary 3rd, 2018 at 1:45 am

I think, Iain, you need to mark your convention card in the Double section PDAMC, which holds the now-traditional meaning of “Penalty Double Against Marty Cohen”.

Bobby WolffFebruary 3rd, 2018 at 2:02 am

Hi Bob,

No doubt appropriate, but Marty’s name needs to be spelled correctly, Marty Cohn, who unfortunately died in 2000.

If I remember correctly Marty opened 3 hearts against Howard Schenken while NV vs Vul with something like a small doubleton in hearts and caught Schenken holding seven very good hearts, then having it go all pass, down 8 or 9 and picking up many points while playing total points, the forerunner of IMPs.

Back before that happened Harry Fishbein, another legendary bridge character, from NY, invented his system of penalty doubles of three bid openings with the next suit for TO (around the 1940’s). It lasted a few years until order was restored, and Fishy’s genius disappeared.