Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

Thou god of our idolatry, the press …
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies,
Like Eden’s dread probationary tree
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.

William Cowper

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


Do you always tell the truth at the bridge table? It may not be as much of a virtue as you imagine. Consider the following deal from a world pairs event at Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1994, in which giving partner the natural signal would have cost you blood.

It seems natural for West to lead a top club against four spades, but how should East signal? Although it may not be obvious, a little reflection will suggest that it can do no harm to discourage the suit, because you know that at best getting a ruff will break even, since you are ruffing with a trump trick.

As you can see, if West goes ahead and gives his partner a ruff, it will allow South to discard his heart loser on this trick. That allows him to escape for just down one — and minus 100 would represent a very fine score, since it beats all the East-West pairs making game or part-score in hearts, whereas minus 300 would not be nearly as good.

Of course, West might cash his second top club at trick two, in case East has a singleton club, though he probably should not do so. But in any event, the position at the end of the second round of the suit should be clear to West. If partner has a doubleton (which you now know to be the case) and has told you unequivocally that he does not want a ruff, he has his reasons — don’t try to overrule him. Just play a heart as directed!

Do you pre-empt here or not? The vulnerability may play a key part in your decision; vulnerable I would not act, but non-vulnerable I would open three clubs in first or third seat, though not in second. The absence of values in the majors is what should persuade you to consider action.


♠ 6
 9 6 2
 Q 4 3
♣ A K 9 6 3 2
South West North East

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


Bob LiptonAugust 17th, 2019 at 12:23 pm

The purpose of petering here — playing the high card first, and then the low one — is viewed far too mechanically by inexperienced players. I don’t recall who it was who said it, but the purpose of defensive carding is to help direct the play. It’s not to demonstrate our robotic devotion to the genius sitting across the table from us. We’ve watched him misplay too many hands for that.

So it’s up to East here to tell the player sitting opposite what to do, hoping that he doesn’t read the 7 as a singleton, and play a low club to call for a diamond switch.


Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Hi Bob,

Certainly agree with your lead in about not legally signalling partner robotically, but rather to suggest to partner how he preferred the defense.

However, I think the reason for it, is not because of how many hands partner has misplayed, but rather to call attention to what could be distinguished in bridge as an anomaly in usual defense, that we may lose a trick if we followed the norm in signalling distribution and then have our partner act on it (our fault, not his).

Delving deeper, this subject occurs often, since part of the story, part of the glory, is, while defending (and sometimes declaring) situations are different than what may be thought of as routine and thus require special handling.

Yes, for those serious bridge addicts (or, if you will, aficionados) out there sometimes, especially on defense (since declarer can take as long as he wants) a long study by a defender may allow unauthorized information (UI) to pass between defenders as the partner of the hesitator becomes privy to partner’s likely problem.

No doubt this twist is often difficult to decide, first by a TD and then possibly a committee later, assuming that the partner now cooperated with what partner’s legal signal had told him.

If so, my long time experience as a committee chairman allowed the player receiving the information from partner then followed his suggestion, but, if he did not, was open to reasons why and tried to keep an open mind to not only his reasons, but also (though rarely) the surrounding material facts, indigenous to that specific situation. After doing so, I tried to be careful to include that report as precedent for that decision, emphasizing why or why not I touched on additional facts, if any, which had an influence.

Sadly, those precedents, over the years, vanished from view, or at least, I think they have. So much for politics which, as all of us can see and feel, sometimes destroy truths which often emerge, but are left non communicated, to no one’s advantage except the politicians who want to influence their way without regard to other capable (I immodestly surmise) opinions.

Finally, yes, intended signals can be misread. However, the usual reason for that is the inexperience of the player doing the misreading. Live and learn!!!! no self-respecting wannabe teacher of bridge (and at every level of the game), will deny and, of course, that error may be made by either the sender or the receiver.

Thanks, Bob, for tackling this sophisticated subject.

Iain ClimieAugust 17th, 2019 at 5:26 pm

HI Bob, Bobby,

Which C did South play at T1? If the 10 then West knows the 4 hasn’t been played so either East has C74 or stiff 7. If South plays the 4 the C7 could be from 1087. Reverse signals have their uses.



Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2019 at 9:19 pm

Hi Iain,

Questions such as yours originate from dramatic interest in advantages and disadvantages of choosing one method (convention) or the other. Many of those choices are indeed within a whisper of one another and yours IMO, is one of them.

One can almost always tell a player’s sophistication by what subjects he is interested
in and why he needs to know.

Without that quality one limits himself to being
told by others what they think best, rather than a first hand knowledge of been there, thought about that, decided on this.

In the task of improving, age being 8 or 88, (with mental health) getting better at bridge is within everyone’s capacity, only the effort and determination to do so, is up for grabs.