Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 17th, 2018

Just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, now turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it … so too man’s mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.

Basil of Caesarea

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


Almost a decade ago, the European Open Championships were held in Sanremo, Italy. These events are open to players from all around the world, and there are mixed, women’s and open teams and pairs, competing over the course of two weeks. These events are truly open to everyone — as shown by the fact that today’s deal was played by both Ton Bakkeren of the Netherlands and Eric Rodwell of the U.S.

Each of them declared four spades from the South seat; neither received the killing club lead, which would have allowed the defense to obtain an immediate ruff. Both of them remembered to stay vigilant after the mildly favorable lead of the heart jack. (You could make the case that more contracts go down unnecessarily because of premature euphoria than for just about any other reason.)

Each declarer made the extra effort required to work out that the only danger to the hand was to run into a club ruff. So they both won the heart ace and crossed to the diamond ace to pitch their third club on the heart king.

Then they drew trumps and were in no danger, since the possibility of a club ruff had been eliminated. In the round of 32, a surprising (and disconcerting) number of declarers were defeated in four spades when they neglected to take precautions and received the punishment they deserved. Those declarers won the heart lead and played a trump, but West dashed up with the ace and shifted to the club king to get his ruff.

On lead, do you play for your own hand or partner’s when this weak? I’d lead the spade 10, which combines offense and a reasonable degree of safety, hoping not to give too much away if I’m wrong. Leading a four-card suit might let you develop a trick or two if you hit reasonable luck in partner’s hand. But the spade has a better chance of finding partner with five — and that way, you might actually beat the contract.


♠ 10 9 4
 K 9 5 3
 J 7 3
♣ J 4 3
South West North East
  1 NT Pass 3 NT
All 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 ClimieDecember 31st, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

I was just wondering what (if anything) was going through other declater’s heads here. There might be a sliggt concern about trumps being 4-0 or 3-1 and a cross ruff might run out of steam but there are 4 rex winners a slow club and 4 spades so it takes effort to go off unless clubs are 5-2.



bobbywolffDecember 31st, 2018 at 3:51 pm

Hi Iain,

Without meaning to do so, your post is just a product of your table confidence, a quality not all, in fact, likely many fewer than you suspect, possess.

The lesser experienced player first sees, only three potential losers (2 clubs and the trump ace), similar to the confident but somewhat unwise boxer feels as he enters the ring, “I am gonna give him a left jab, then a right cross, followed by a haymaker punch to the jaw and it’ll be over in the 1st round”, failing to think about what his wily opponent will also be doing at the same time.

Yes, and no doubt, it is declarer’s duty when thinking before playing to trick one (I hope), as to what dangers lurk to which I can eliminate.

Failure to employ that caveat has (as a Brit or a Climie would agree) put paid to many contracts there for the taking.

A famous former US President, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “speak softly but carry a big stick” how about, “think broadly but always toward making one’s contract” before playing to trick one as declarer?

Easy for me to say before realizing, through the years, all the contracts I have had swept away by not doing.

jim2December 31st, 2018 at 5:08 pm

I suspect the answer is implicit in the last words of the column’s second sentence.

As one famous expert said (Sheinwold?), if an alarm bell rang when a key decision point arrived, almost all would get it right. The problem is that every bid and every play over 24 – 28 hands per session, 2 – 4 sessions per day, over the course of a tournament could be just such a decision point. Unlike programmed algorithms, humans have limits and triage their attention/energy to points where the decision points are clear or, at least, more easily recognized.

This hand is deceptively simple yet, w/o seeing all four hands, it is probably easy to get wrong when nested in amongst (~5 bids per hand) x (12 card play decisions per hand) X (24 hands per session) X (2 sessions per day) X (3 days per tournament min) = ~9,000 other decisions.

bobbywolffDecember 31st, 2018 at 7:24 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, many of our regular posters have at least suspected, that you tended to be numerate.

However, now slightly over 100% of them have seen that fact confirmed and in NT.

However most pair tournaments consist of 26+ hands, not 24, at least 2 sessions per day and usually more than 3 days (I’m not touching your 5 bids per hand, even with a 10 foot pole).

You have probably been ultra conservative with your estimates and to follow through with the blockbuster question, How many of those 9,000++ decisions do the top world bridge players get right?

My guess is, and I certainly do not know, but I would guess no more than a ratio of 1 in 3 since, when merely basically following suit with a low card there has to be one of several which could be played (usually for deceptive purposes, others for some sort of legal signal) which, in fact, are not.

So that in conjunction with deciding on lines of play there probably are many hands which even good players do not play a single correct card (at least in the proper order) so while I agree with your basic thesis, I think you are much too kind to everyone to whom you inferred.
(of course, present company is always excepted).

Finally and in regard to your over the top handling of numbers, I will expect you to never lose another bridge World Championship, but will, of course, not consider the logistics, of you having an opportunity to play in one.

ClarksburgDecember 31st, 2018 at 8:43 pm

Hello Bobby
First, Best Wishes for 2019 to you and Judy, and to all those who drop in here to learn, to help educate and often entertain!!

Now, about dropping Transfers and begin playing Two-way Stayman over 1NT:
Could you kindly make summary comment on:
(1) the expected benefits, and
(2) would it be appropriate for those playing a typical 2/1 system and strong 1NT (i.e. not playing a strong club and weak 1NT).
Having answers in your words will help me in discussions with some current Partners.

bobbywolffDecember 31st, 2018 at 10:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I’ll try to give a non-biased view for preferring 2-way Stayman over 1NT (15-17 or its environs) to Jacoby Transfer (JTB). (However I suggest transfers over 2NT or, of course, NT which starts with 2 clubs.

Advantages to transfers over 1NT: 1. In the absence of interference it will likely get the play from the right side of the table with the opening lead coming up to the strong hand.

2. Certainly more tournament players are familiar with JTB allowing less forgets with non-established partnerships plus the advantage of not having to learn a new method.

Advantages to 2 way Stayman TWS:

1. It immediately tells both partners the expected strength of the responder to 1NT. 2C=0-9, 2D=10+

2. It takes a full round of bidding away from the opponents, since transfers require at least 2 rounds, but an immediate sign-off at 2 of a major could and often does, end the bidding.

3. It prevents a lead directing double by the LHO of the partner of the 1NT opener and also forces a higher level for him to have to bid at the 2 or 3 level.

4. I believe that the opening lead advantage by Jacoby players is significantly overrated. (only by my experience, not anything to offer scientifically).

5. Also when playing JTB and partner responding 2 clubs Stayman, if the 4th seat bidder intervenes, it is nice to know the type hand partner has (F or NF) for the NT opener.

When going to game anyway it is OK to bid 2 clubs when holding a game hand, if one is very weak in diamonds and prefers to not allow his LHO to double 2D for the lead (needs to be alerted).

Finally much more (not necessarily pluses or minuses) science which can be added such as 4 level transfers and 3 level major suit bids to show shortness (with either JTB or (TWS).

#2 above is likely the greatest advantage since the defense often has only one shot at the apple, giving advantage (one way or the other) to the side preventing the calibration of the defensive hands. Experience has indicated to me that perhaps while playing against very good players the simple 1NT P 2 Spade sequence has provided substantial gains since the 4th seat player cannot now pass and expect another chance, causing him to make more mistakes than against JTB.

In answer to your specific request 2 way Stayman IMO is even more valuable while playing a weak NT since its frequency occurs more often offering more opportunities to take advantage of less bidding room for those worthy opponents.

ClarksburgDecember 31st, 2018 at 11:39 pm

You hit the bull’s eye, with great clarity, on the target of my ask.
Many thanks!!

RudolfJanuary 4th, 2019 at 10:28 am

As awarded to members of the King’s German Legion.