Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

I must have women — there is nothing unbends the mind like them.

John Gay

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

*Looking for a spade stopper


Over the last four years, an elite annual bridge tournament for women has been organized in Beijing. The Hua Yuan Cup is for eight national women’s teams, and today’s deal comes from the main event.

Poland’s Justyna Zmuda had the opportunity to find a sparkling defense after an unusual sequence. While the jump in a minor suit opened on your left can be played as natural, typically a jump bid in the suit the opponents have opened asks your partner to bid three no-trump with a guard in that suit. The call is usually based on a long, solid minor suit, plus guards in at least one of the other two suits.

On lead against three no-trump, Zmuda started with the spade ace in order to get a look at dummy. East followed with the spade five, and South with the three. The auction showed that South had started with a spade stopper — probably queen-third or queen-fourth.

Zmuda took heed of East’s five and decided that unless East had started with the doubleton 5-4, it was consistent with a suit-preference signal for diamonds, the lower of the red suits. And since she needed less from her partner in diamonds than she did in hearts, she made the killing switch to the diamond jack, though today the diamond king would have worked equally well. (That would not have been the case if partner had held the doubleton A-9 or A-10.)

The defenders could now cash five diamonds and two spades for three down.

If you wanted to drive this hand to game, you could bid three spades now. This is the Smolen convention, showing four spades and five or more hearts, game forcing. This transfers declarership to partner if you end up in hearts. But I think this hand is closer to a signoff in two hearts once it is clear that your side does not have a real fit. So I would bid two hearts, allowing my partner to choose a major at the two-level.


♠ Q 8 4 3
 A Q 9 5 4
♣ 8 6 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 NT Pass
2 ♣ 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


Iain ClimieJuly 4th, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA should partner really be choosing 2S with 3 spades and 2 hearts given the danger of being forced by repeated diamond leads? I quite like playing 4-3 fits but I suspect 5-2 might be a better shot on this occasion. Of course if partner is (say) 3-2-5-3, with decent minor suit strength, what do I know?



bobbywolffJuly 4th, 2018 at 7:20 pm

Hi Iain,

In regards to choosing a Stayman type bid when holding a 4-4-3-2 or any weak hand (less than enough strength to try for game) while holding 4-4 in the majors, there is a specific convention called “trash Stayman” to which after attempting to improve the contract to a 4-4 major suit fit, one gets the disappointing response of 2 diamonds (of course, denying a 4 card or longer major suit), then after the responder bids 2 hearts and expects his partner to either pass when holding 3 hearts, but if not, will then prefer 2 spades with his 3.

Therein it seems percentage to bid Stayman, both in the optimistic hope partner will have 4 of at least one major suit, but if not, will at least hold 3 in the final resting spot, making it a hopefully reasonable contract.

No doubt, you are alluding to the proper handling of such an enterprise, but it was meant to usually apply with only 4-4 in the majors. Of course with either 4-4-4-1 or 4-4-5-0 the responder may even increase his chances for finding his longest trump fit by passing his partner’s artificial response of 2 diamonds hoping that partner will not have 3-3-2-5 (the other balanced distribution).

Since only Jim2 will likely have that 3-3-2-5 distribution he, of course, is better off percentage wise to merely pass 1NT even though by passing, his partner will likely have 4-4 in both majors with the same doubleton in the same minor suit to which the NTer also has his doubleton.

But with today’s hand, my best guess is to still use Stayman but not worry when eventually partner will convert the 2 heart rebid to two spades when he has only 2 hearts and 3 spades. Sometimes it won’t matter which 7 card suit is trump and even on bright and sunny days the 4-3 fit plays a trick better.

Sort of “Much ado about nothing or at least, not much”. No doubt, your fears may come to pass, but it will only mean that the fickle Dame Fortune is working overtime to pass the dreaded TOCM TM virus to as many players as possible such as partner deciding to open 1NT with 2-2-4-5 or 2-2-5-4.

Ken BlundenJuly 5th, 2018 at 11:00 am

On BWTA, could south transfer to hearts and then bid 2S to invite game in a major? He does have 8 HCP.

bobbywolffJuly 5th, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Hi Ken,

Yes he can. However since major suits are usually handled through a Stayman beginning (2 clubs) both partners may think that 2 spades (after the transfer) may be forcing to game.

If that fear is not realized, then the only disadvantage might be, that after South rebids 2 spades, he, of course would like to play that as NF, but alas, North would be, (and should) regard 2 spades itself as forcing, then perhaps getting the partnership at least one level too high, especially if North held a 3-2-4-4 or any minor suit division.

Finally, my experience with these types of hands in either IMPs, rubber bridge or even more importantly, matchpoints, playing no higher than the two level (rather than the three level) without a good trump fit is more important than most think.

Consequently, that caveat would cause me to respond a simple Stayman and if partner bids a major invite with a one level raise, but if not, revert to only 2 hearts, therefore restricting us to no higher than the 2 level (either hearts with seven or eight or spades with seven).

Thanks for the very to the point, query.