Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

A straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows.

O. Henry

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


In this three no-trump contract, it might seem that declarer will likely come to either eight or 10 tricks, depending on how the clubs behave, since the defenders will be able to set up and cash spades if they can get in twice more.

After winning the first or second spade, leading a club to the king will need that suit to break 3-3, which happens only slightly more than a third of the time. Better odds are to lead to the nine — that succeeds whenever West has the club 10.

But here, South knows from the bidding that East has all the missing honors, and he can exploit this fact to give East an insoluble problem. After winning the spade lead in hand, he leads a low diamond to dummy’s jack and advances the club nine.

If East rises with the ace (probably his best move in abstract), he establishes the clubs for declarer, as long as the latter holds the queen-jack. Even if South has only four clubs, three club tricks would see South home. Conversely, if East covers the nine with the 10, then South’s queen wins. Now declarer abandons clubs and knocks out the heart ace as his route to nine tricks.

The Morton’s Fork position is named after King Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, John Morton. His novel approach to fundraising was based on the hospitality his potential victims offered him. Should the fare be uninspiring, his host must have salted some money away and must therefore be able to spare some for the king. If his host was generous, he clearly must be wealthy enough to pay his taxes.

If you were in direct seat, you would bid one no-trump, of course. But in balancing seat, this hand looks too strong for a call where the range is traditionally played as 10-15. Start by doubling, planning to rebid one no-trump over your partner’s cheap response in a major.


♠ A K 4
 K 8
 K 10 7
♣ Q J 6 3 2
South West North East
  1 Pass 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


Bob LiptonOctober 30th, 2018 at 11:20 am

Clearly a hand for a hold-up on the first Spade. It’s a safety play against East having taken a psychic bid.


Iain ClimieOctober 30th, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Hi Bobby,

I wonder how much Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was influenced by Morton’s Fork, although the circular aspects of the former suggest it is worse even than Morton’s ingenious exploitation of Lose-Lose situations? For that matter, how applicable would Catch-22 be to bridge dilemmas? Maybe an aspiring player won’t improve much playing with and against weak opponents but he won’t get better partners until his results improve.



Bobby WolffOctober 30th, 2018 at 2:40 pm

Hi Bob,

While it wouldn’t hurt, as far as making his contract, to duck the first spade, it just doesn’t seem necessary since, at least for this brief moment, the declarer might view himself as arriving in Camelot. Most of East’s hand, his 5 card spade suit and, of course, the two required aces, are as certain as would be playing with transparent cards.

Next, only the thought of overtricks should occur to declarer, to which grabbing the first spade may, in itself, cause East to rise with his ace of clubs at trick 3, facilitating 10 tricks to our hero instead of only 9. As to East making a psychic 1 spade opening, with West leading the spade 3, and the opponents playing 5 card majors the danger has been reduced to slightly less than zero.

However when declarer then executed his well known historical play, and East quite correctly (arguable depending on whether matchpoints or IMPs) went up ace, he was later heard to mutter, “Forked again”.

Thanks for your contribution. It never hurts including mention of safety plays, since at too many social bridge games going on as we speak, somewhere around the world, they are being overlooked, causing otherwise solid contracts to go South, instead of made.

Bobby WolffOctober 30th, 2018 at 3:06 pm

Hi Iain,

Your “square” talk rather than “circular” about the effects of Catch-22 is, as always, appreciated.

However its calibration can be controversial especially with your examples used. Look at all the happy politicians, not to mention government employees, living off the “dole”, principally caused by Lord Morton’s ingenuity.

Concerning your Catch-22 example of aspiring bridge players trying to both be noticed, but to forego critical high-level competition in order to do so, while no doubt being right-on,
however good or not so attempts, whatever they may be, have to rank far ahead of the instead decision, to stealthily cheat, an horrific
choice which has currently turned world bridge
into a quagmire of quicksand.

That above should turn its identifier into a Catch-22000, a thousand times worse.

Patrick CheuOctober 30th, 2018 at 8:24 pm

Hi Bobby,Could you please recommend a bidding sequence for this hand as regards getting to 6D,as only one pair did. north A7642 AQ2 KQ4 76 south 5 KJT AJ963 AK83.Playing Acol pairs,our auction went S 1D N 1S, S 1N(15-16) N 3C(5 + spades),S 3N..pass out. South thought about bidding 3D over 3C..but perhaps North(me) should make a further try with 4D..on the auction.Your thoughts would be much appreciated here.Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffOctober 30th, 2018 at 11:58 pm

Hi Patrick,

How about?
only NS bidding:
S. N
1D 1S
2C 2H (GF and artificial)
2NT 3D
4C 4H
4S 6D

4C, 4H and 4S are all control type cue bids

While 7 Diamonds is not bad, it is not quite to the percentage desired to be considered right
to bid, about 65%.

South’s initial rebid is OK, especially at pairs, where NT for games is so important, but that
type of rebid is not healthy for bidding proper slams since it is a slight distortion, meaning
not expected (holding only a singleton spade)
making partner not think in terms of shortness which either sooner or later in the bidding may pay a price. However on this hand it
balanced out and the probable right contract was reached, with 3NT a fairly serious mistake.

jim2October 31st, 2018 at 1:13 am

That’s a great sequence!

Let me see if I have decoded it right:

1) 2C – not only shows second suit, but confirms diamonds as a real suit
2) 2H – undefined GF
3) 2N – failure to raise spades suggests shortness there as well as heart stopper
4) 3D – shows that that the GF was due to diamonds being a real suit, thus good support/fit

Then cue bids as stated.

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2018 at 3:40 am

Hi Jim2,

“Right with Eversharp”, a commercial phrase heard often on 1940ish radio.

When playing a well worn old fashioned natural system a partnership sometimes gets in a good groove making it difficult, not to mention impractical, to change or even to severely modify.

Then along comes a modern treatment, often a strong club, where a one diamond opening shows 0 diamonds +. Others than flock to follow until someone mentions another disadvantage or two. Finally a cooling off process, leading to different strokes for different partnerships. IOW a full cycle of experimentation.

Finally I’ve found the perfect bridge job, showing the way to get to the right contract after being given both hands.

I’ll know its time to hang em up when I bid 2 or 3 in a row to the wrong one.

Thanks for the kind words.

Patrick CheuOctober 31st, 2018 at 7:24 am

Hi Bobby,My sincere thanks for your help.It’s so logical when you explain it. It’s good to hear from Jim2 backing you up with such alacrity.What more can one ask for in this wonderful game of ours? Best regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Hi Patrick,

Yes, Jim2 is someone really special, a real bridge lover, who also has the incredible ability to spread good feelings when, at the same time, better explaining, and from a clearer view, an entire bidding sequence, each bid and its contribution of course, leading to what most might say is the superior contract.

With my original suggestion my last sentence is both confusing and wrong since after re-reading it I inferred that your real life sequence reached the right contract, 3NT, but obviously that was incorrect since 6 diamonds should have been the target.

However Jim2, in his inimical kind and super accurate way, set it straight, without even implying anything wrong. Sensational, and if only the whole world would adopt those standards and habits, including the media, would not we all be better off, or if not, at least be happier.

BTW, Patrick, you are another one who generates both positivity and with it, love.

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