Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 16th, 2019

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

Benjamin Franklin

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


This week’s deals are all linked directly or indirectly to the use of the cue-bid in modern bidding.

In days of yore, cue-bidding the opponents’ suit was typically the first step in a slam try, and the call promised a control in their suit. These days, as jump raises of partner’s suit are used to pre-empt rather than to show values, the cue-bid must be subverted to promise fit and values. Hence the use of the term “unassuming cue-bid” — the call does not promise a control in the opponents’ suit.

Today’s auction sees North promise fit and values, and when South denies any extras, the partnership can stop in two hearts. However, even that may prove to be too high after the lead of the diamond five.

Imagine declarer ducking East’s diamond 10 at trick one. He wins the diamond return with his ace and next crosses to dummy with a trump to lead a club toward his king. Whether East plays high or low, South can establish the 13th club without letting West on play for the killing shift to the spade jack.

That looks straightforward enough; can you see the defensive wrinkle that might lead to the defeat of the contract if you aren’t careful? If you play the diamond four from dummy at trick one, East can figure out to play low. (His partner has either the doubleton five or his actual holding.) Now you can no longer keep West off play, and if he can find the top spade shift, it will defeat the contract.

When is it right to open light in third seat? Normally, with an obstructive call or a lead-directing suit, you can step out of line — either a little or a lot, depending on your temperament. For me, this hand meets neither requirement, since I don’t really want clubs to be led, and such a call hardly gets in my opponents’ way. So I’d pass here.


♠ K 8 4
 A Q 2
 J 7 4
♣ J 6 4 2
South West North East
    Pass 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 30th, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Hi Bobby,

Swap the C8 and C9 and East can star by playing the CQ when South leads the Cx off table. OK, TOCM would then give South CK10 alone but I wonder how many cases there are where second hand should be playing the middle card from a broken honour sequence (at least with the sight of all 4 hands) but nobody realises, perhaps not even in the post mortem.



bobbywolffMarch 30th, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Hi Iain,

To only generally and sort of quote Charles Dickens meaning “This is the best of our game, this is the worst of our game” might be considered valid when discussing aspects of what is often called “double dummy” play, meaning perfection when looking at the 52 card layout.

Yes East, using the 3rd best principle, (and knowing partner will not be leading away from his diamond ace king) can then play only his four, strongly suspecting partner to hold the K95 (and declarer failing to play the seven from dummy). That unlikely play (brilliant to say the least) would be the double dummy effort by East which would lead to the set of 2 hearts by NS.

Yes, East, to say the least, would be congratulated or even memorialized for ducking (instead of rising) to the occasion.

However, if this hand would be played perhaps 5000 times, that IMO would not happen even once, nor would declarer seek the remedy of inserting the seven (or this time the jack) to keep such a far fetched event from occurring.

Why? Simply because the game is just too difficult to relatively waste brain effort in common situations which so often are just taken for granted.

Yes, fun (sort of and only for some) to discuss it later, but realistically just too trivial (not for result) to even consider. Perhaps what bridge will achieve in the 30th Century AD but just too far away from even a very keen bridge mind who just a second before was shown his partner’s dummy and was welcoming his anticipated play TBD, but not before going through the formalities of playing to trick one (at least the first three plays) leading up to declarer’s crucial duck at trick 1 when East has volunteered his ten.

Are we ready for the above type discussion? Most definitely yes, but only in the post mortem when both the two errors, declarer not playing the seven (or the jack) and, of course when he doesn’t, East inserting his three.

Again, fun? Yes, practical?, No. However. for a newbie to first point this out, at least to me, is a positive and certain signal that a new bridge genius may be on his way to a great career in bridge, if in fact he chooses to devote the time and effort to make use of his natural numerate talent to take it with him and start running.

All the rest, with not such blatant and manifest numeracy, will have a more difficult time to achieve, but, with the fates willing, can also get there from here.

David WarheitMarch 30th, 2019 at 2:23 pm

Iain: nice play, but all S has to do is duck the Q and W never wins a trick, and S eventually gets to cash that 13th club.

bobbywolffMarch 30th, 2019 at 2:57 pm

Hi Iain & David,

First, I apologize to Iain for ignoring his 2nd hand high pleas. And where there are exceptions to old bridge tales, they, more often than not (which is not saying much) do apply.

However David has suggested the first rebuttal which takes into account the actual column layout, but may not be effective for the declarer at the table, as he has to counter an unusual defensive play with a counter intuitive response.

And so it goes, cat and mouse, mouse and cat. In the old movie cartoons the lesser fierce animal (mouse) usually won, suggesting brains defeat brawn.

In real life, I suspect it still will, but what allows a fellow having neither (me), to do the predicting. However, somewhere in this world, a cry of table up has been heard and they will soon find out.

Robert LiptonMarch 30th, 2019 at 3:47 pm

I find that in matches of moderate lengths — a 7-board round in a Swiss Teams event, for example — playing the second hand middling — especially when there is no obvious reason, may leave the opponents so exhausted from trying to figure out what the can about your hand from that, that they miss obvious plays.


Iain ClimieMarch 30th, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Hi David, Bobby

Nice one, David! I suppose South could now take the D switch and play the club K (ducking another club would be embarrassing as the defence now have 2S, 3C and 1D available after a spade switch) when he is home as the cards lie.

The column also reminded me of a hand a few months back where we defended 3H X after (P) Wk2S (P) P (3H – unwise) P P X. I kicked off with my singleton D6, dummy had DK10874 and declarer D32 alone. Declarer unwisely didn’t bother to play the 7 so a gleeful partner followed with the 5 from AQJ95 and I had to do a major double-take before switching at T2.