Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

Laurence J. Peter

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


Today’s deal comes from last year’s Gold Coast pairs tournament in Brisbane, Australia. It is not easy for North-South to bid to their best spot, the 4-4 fit in diamonds, where declarer can use the hearts to discard spade losers. With all the suits breaking in friendly fashion, nine tricks appear to be relatively straightforward. Should North have bid at all at his third turn? I’m not sure. Raising hearts with two doesn’t feel right, while bidding diamonds on such a weak suit also seems too committal.

Hearts rate to be a tougher place to play than diamonds, particularly if hearts were going to break 4-2. After the lead of the spade queen, declarer could see that he was going to be exposed to the risk of a force on repeated black suit leads. He had only seven top tricks and needed to develop diamonds to make his contract.

Declarer David Lilley neatly avoided this problem with the help of an intra-finesse in diamonds. He ducked the spade lead and, at trick three, after winning his spade ace, he led the diamond nine from hand. When West went up with the diamond queen and cashed a spade winner, then played the club jack and another club, Lilley ruffed, crossed to the heart queen and advanced the diamond jack, pinning West’s nowbare diamond 10 and making no fewer than nine tricks.

Had the diamond 10 not dropped, declarer would have given up a diamond and ruffed the next club, playing for hearts to be 3-3.

Those controls make the hand almost worth forcing to game with a jump to three diamonds, but you do have only a 16-count, no matter how you upgrade it. I think a simple call of two diamonds should suffice, planning to raise spades at your next turn if partner corrects to two hearts. Over any other continuation but a pass, a spade call at your third turn will be natural and game-forcing.


♠ A 6 5
 A K J 8 7
 A 9 8 4
♣ 6
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ 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 ClimieApril 25th, 2018 at 11:09 am

Hi Bobby,

Can I recount a hard luck story on a (slightly tweaked) hand form last night. I actually played in 4S at pairs but one look at dummy showed 6S would have been good after partner opened 1H on AQ10x A1098xx x xx and I bid 1S on K9xxx K 10xx AKQx, LHO bd 2D and we rapidly reached 4S. The DA was led and a small club was led to the 10 and Ace. If spades are 2-2 12 tricks are easy but 3-1 is more likely and I can cope with that provided the hearts aren’t 5-1, while LHO hasn’t switched to a heart which might have happened holding a singleton. I don’t want to risk walking into a diamond overruff or even LHO having a singleton club and RHO messing around with CJ109xxx either.

So, I cashed HK, played a spade to the Ace and ruffed a medium sized heart (RHO playing small on the H9) with the S9. My LHO had Jx x AKQJxx Jxxx! AARGH! Other players just bashed down two top trumps or even got a heart at T2 played the 10 from dummy and saw it pointlessly covered, then everything dropped into their lap. It wasn’t quite 0% but felt like it was negative. I’d even have been OK if the spades had been 2-2 with xx on my left.

There again, hard luck stories are part of the fun of the game (perhaps). At least I wasn’t in 6S at Teams with the other room in 4 when. Apart from that it was a highly enjoyable session with a very pleasant partner.

The tweak? Actually dummy had C10x and if I’d put the wretched C10 up (unlikely to cost) I’d have been gifted the 12th trick straight away. Lesson: take all the chances, even if you think you’ve found a better line.



Bobby WolffApril 25th, 2018 at 11:41 am

Hi Iain,

Sympathies are totally in order, especially at pairs for your odds on attempt at almost guaranteeing 12 tricks, rather than settling for only 11, by not catering to 4-2 hearts and or 3-1 spades (onside). However not playing the jack of clubs is somewhat careless, but even that gaffe may (with 10x in dummy, get East to fly with the jack (not, of course possessing the nine) when you instead (somewhat carelessly) didn’t rise to the occasion.

All of us long time (or should we say long term) bridge players develop habits and one good one (though perhaps more difficult than it should be) of ever attention to detail. IOW it could be said that hastiness (or, in simple terms, being antsy) is an enemy of that attribute. Usually not costly, but when it is, particularly so by a close loss, we tend to remember, but that alone is not likely to result in a cure.

The immediate above is another advantage of going through the learning process under strict discipline, not good time Charlie leadership. Of course, of the 99+% world bridge population it would be in casual English, (“no never mind”), but in reality and over a long career, does hurt when it happens.

During my early years of teaching bridge at the table (now called professional bridge playing) I emphasized not being careless which is only a euphemism for not having as many “damn it” plays (and bids) worth taking back.

However the good news is that up to my knowledge no one has officially died from that malady, although when it happens at the wrong time, one makes himself very popular, but not with his own partner nor team.

Iain ClimieApril 25th, 2018 at 12:05 pm

HI Bobby,

Many thanks for that. The lady in question (another Judy) sympathised although I owned up to what I’d missed later on. A very pleasant and successful evening though, which outweighed the pain.


ClarksburgApril 25th, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Hello Bobby
Matchpoints, all VUL.
Partner (second seat) opens strong 1NT (15-17)
You hold:
Q9863 Q10 Q8652 J
How do you rate:
Passing, leaving Partner to play in 1NT
Getting to 2S to play

jim2April 25th, 2018 at 3:40 pm

I think in the column hand that I would have bid 2D over the Double (instead of Redouble).

I would rather them not have an easy chance to bid clubs, and pard can easily correct to 2H. I also think the Double promises spades more than it does any other suit, which somewhat increases the chance of a diamond fit.

Bobby WolffApril 25th, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Prefer to immediately getting to 2 spades to play by bidding same while playing 2 way Stayman instead of the very popular transfers: 1. Transfers give the opponents two cracks instead of one to enter the bidding (obviously in a rounded suit) without any real advantage with opening leads coming up or through and

2. Camouflages the distribution of the often non-balanced weaker hand instead of full view instead of the more predictable balanced one with specific points already known within an usual 3 point radius.

If however the opponents do come in the bidding, I, of course with the 5-5 responder’s hand would then, if possible, bid 3 diamonds.

Passing and thus allowing partner to play in 1NT if opponents acquiesce, is very strange indeed, and subject to scrutiny if done by an experienced pair. Overwhelmingly likely to just be done because of being new to the game, but nevertheless worth noting by the bridge police (especially if partner’s specific cards tend to make NT a very playable contract such as strong intermediates, kings and jacks in hearts and kings queens and tens in clubs, along with a doubleton spade.

Nothing to be done then, just noted and recorded and, of course, by whom. However if the NTer turned up with a singleton spade, honor or not, some official of the game might ask the pair who did it, why and let them know someone is interested in, at the very least, how they view the game.

FWIW, my guess on players who have played bridge for at least a couple of years would seek out play in 2 spades, instead of passing to the rate of the high 90s%.

Bobby WolffApril 25th, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, 2 diamonds instead of redouble is a practical application of making sure biddable suits are introduced into the auction when they still can be done so conveniently along with the strength to contract with at least 8 tricks.

However, a redouble should immediately alert partner that he has a very sound defensive hand which needs to be considered as the bidding takes off. In both cases, information is gleaned and a partnership would be wise to discuss and then, of course, agree to which method they prefer. Just to give readers some way to measure, South might hold s. K, h. A10xxxx, d. KQxxx, c. x and still be justified (at least for my taste to still bid 2 diamonds at this point). Of course the hand I just gave is an opposite extreme of the hand held, but just saying….. Truthfully I do not have a preference except to say I would definitely bid 2 diamonds with the hand I just gave and have no real opinion on the column hand whether to redouble first (confirming with partner a good defensive hand) or just chirp 2 diamonds instead.

Yes, that choice can easily produce a different result, as it probably would have positively on this hand, playing a diamond contract with 8 trump, instead of hearts with only 7.

GinnyApril 25th, 2018 at 6:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

In the auction today, after P, 1C, 1H, P, P, is East obligated to reopen holding ANY hand, with the key point that West had not passed before the overcall?

Does anything change if the auction is P,1H, 2C, P, P?

This question came up in a BBO hand postmortem. I had a variant of East’s hand but QX, AQXXX, AX, XXXX and passed 2C out.

Bobby WolffApril 25th, 2018 at 7:41 pm

Hi Ginny,

Thanks for exploring a bridge bidding complication, one which as of now has been at least a small mystery for almost 60 years, the beginning of the negative double, a convention which meets with almost 100% approval by the bridge elite.

The key with reopening, when holding only a minimum in high cards for your first bid is the length of the opponent’s suit. With short hearts and with today’s hand East had only two, making it highly likely that partner did in fact have a penalty double. He did not, but instead the overcaller had a very good hand, but instead of doubling, settled for a very strong 1 heart overcall, which at least partially explained why, when it got back to East he felt his relative heart shortness enticed him to reopen.

With your example it is clear cut to do exactly what you did, pass, since your 4 little clubs strongly dictated against your partner having good enough clubs to even consider a penalty pass of your possible reopening double. Therefore it almost cries out to you that here is a hand, not worth competing further, since the opponents definitely have our side outgunned, if for no other reason than if partner had 6-7+ hcps he would likely have not passed, but competed in some other way, eg. a raise, new suit or a negative double.

When I used the word mystery, I was referring to the logic involved with the answer, something the expert community has taken advantage of for years, but since it is not now often discussed it gets lost in (if you will excuse me) the shuffle.

Bobby WolffApril 26th, 2018 at 5:44 pm

Hi again Ginny,

Yes, I still hope you are tuning in, so in case you are, let me add one other caveat to consider.

Suppose, instead of a minimum type hand with shortness in your LHO’s suit, you instead, hold the following:

s. AJ2
h. KJ94
d. QJ
c. AQ103

and while playing 15-17 opening NTs and being vulnerable your 18 hcps cause you to open 1 club (to which I hope everyone would agree and not downgrade the QJ doubleton).

Your equally vulnerable LHO then overcalls 1 heart, passed back to you, what would you now bid and why?

While most players would reopen with 1NT I think pass is a better alternative. Your 18 hcps have now shriveled to much less since, after a vulnerable opponent has now bid positively, especially hearts your honors are not nearly worth what you originally credited them with, nor the other high cards (except for the 2 aces, so why should you go set instead of allowing your LHO to try and guess his way as declarer, especially when his trump suit is likely splitting poorly.

IOW, your hand has been severely downgraded in strength by the subsequent bidding after your opening shot together with the 1 heart overcall and significant pass by your partner (not even a raise to 2 clubs). It is very possible that your RHO is short in hearts, often a singleton, with a scattered 4 or 5 hcps (or less) since between both him and your partner they will be dividing up about only 8 or 9 hcps between them.

So with a minimum opening bid, but short in hearts it is OK to reopen with a double, but with 18 hcps and both long in hearts and other offside high cards simply, let it go.

Now at matchpoints it may be right to reopen with 1NT, the bid perhaps 90% of the bridge world would make, but maybe trying to be a bit smarter and most important, a thoroughly modern bridge thinker, that step ahead may allow you to gain a significant winning advantage over others.

The major point to be made is the evaluation of the bidding after it comes back to you should determine your action, not the exact number of hcps you possess, especially when we are thinking and talking about balanced hands instead of distributional ones where there is a possibility to find a significant trump fit, sometimes diminishing the disadvantage of adverse high cards not being where you would like them to be.

Thanks for your attention, if and when you have tuned back in.