Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

The investigation of difficult things by the method of analysis ought ever to precede the method of composition.

Isaac Newton

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

*Two or more diamonds


One of the aspects of the game that defeats beginners and intermediates is the concept that every card should mean something. Take this deal from the second semifinal session of a recent Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs.

North-South were playing Precision; hence, they perpetrated this inelegant sequence. Using fourth-highest leads, West started with the club four to the jack, queen and six. The club two return went to the nine and 10, and West played back the club three to East’s king. When West let the club-eight continuation hold the trick, East had to decide how to proceed. Dummy had pitched a heart and two diamonds on the clubs. Declarer had thrown a heart.

Should East play a spade, in case declarer started with five solid diamonds and the spade ace, or a diamond, in case he had the hand shown?

There are several clues in these sorts of positions, which spring from a player’s choice when he could play one of two or more equal cards. Here, West had decided to win the club 10, not the ace, at trick two. (This may not be obvious, but remember: West knows East has the king from the play to trick one.) He had then returned the club three, not the ace or five.

In summary, West has played the lowest of equal cards at each turn — so he must want a diamond shift (the lower of spades and diamonds). At the table, East was not up to drawing this inference: When he played a spade, declarer could scramble seven tricks.

Rebid one no-trump, despite a hand that is not entirely balanced. You are far short of the values for a reverse to two hearts, and your clubs are too poor to repeat. You do have stoppers in the unbid suits and the right range for the rebid. It is the smallest lie to tell, and I’d advise the same if the heart queen were in the club suit (but not if the diamond king were in clubs, so that I had a small doubleton on the side).


♠ 9 3
 A Q 6 2
 K 4
♣ A 10 5 4 3
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 ♠ 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


Bobby WolffDecember 25th, 2019 at 5:03 pm

Hi everyone,

While I usually wait for some interested (and talented poster to which we are blessed with many) to either ask a question or bring up a worthwhile subject to be discussed, with this hand, and being aware of Sir Isaac Newton’s poignant quote, I’ll make an exception.

My subject turns to bidding system, to which like the brutal (and ugly) expression of “skinning cats”, there are many choices. Today NS were likely playing a common simple version of Precision, with a one diamond opening only promising, at least, only two cards.

Whether one noticed or not and while playing matchpoints, 1NT was reached with North deeming it not wise to return to 2 diamonds, by whatever method they could, because of their above stricture. Further and in practicality NS can do better with either spades, hearts, or diamonds as trump than their (should be, 1 down in 1NT or even, such as today’s defensive
flaw, NS scoring it up, although even +90 should be close to a bottom score (in a high-level event).

Yes, three clubs should probably be scored up, if bought by EW, but, no doubt, NS should and will make four diamonds, unless the EW opening lead and subsequent defense becomes double dummy or what could alternately be called, “lights out” where EW will be held to only nine tricks instead of ten even if they see fit to chance bidding that high.

What is my point, one may ask? Only though I consider simple Precision a much better than average choice of system, NO SYSTEM, (at least contrived up to now, and IMO) is markedly superior to the next, simply because in choosing basics (and details) there are simple (but ever present) flaws in all of them, again allowing Newton’s prophetic quote to reign supreme.

If anyone is interested, my favorite system, four card majors, strong club, usually strong NT (15-17) with rare, easily handled, exceptions, a relatively small amount of canape by opener, and some type of Flannery with still room for strong 4-4-4-1 hands (any and usually a 2 diamond opening) to be added.

The takeaways (losing a weak 2 heart bid including, a 2 over 1 GF, and, of course, the biggest disadvantage easily being the ability of clever opponents to preempt our forcing 1 club opening, when, of course, they are dealt the right hands to do it, but even then, the partner of the opening bidder will have the knowledge that partner has a very good hand (17+), usually allowing better judgment by him or her, after RHO clouds the issue with a dealt preempt.

However, my purpose for the above rant is only to suggest what I found to be, at least for me, the better system to choose, especially when playing against the world’s best.

Very simply, the above method described, often caused good opponents to guess what to do, rather than to be able to use their well-worked out system to arrive at the best contract and, over the long run (where the law of averages is at its best) often deprived them from getting in the bidding to secure the best opening lead, an advantage often overlooked by many as not thought to be of much concern, but IMO is vastly underrated.

The above will add better slam bidding especially after a one club opening, more natural preemptive value with four card major openings (often cuts out the one level defensive overcall), helping partner with his opening lead and above all, if immediately finding a major suit fit, will get to game before fourth hand has gotten a first chance to bid.

Please understand and accept what was said earlier, no bidding system is anywhere near the perfection we all seek, but only a case of choosing one which seems to work better than others (and all the time against much better than average competition).

Good luck and sincerely hope you made it this far in what I deem worth describing, just in case, you take playing bridge very seriously.

ClarksburgDecember 25th, 2019 at 5:19 pm

Good Morning Bobby
From a recent Club game…a hand with some awkward bidding issues…at least for me!
North KJ965 972 Q98 65
East 4 OJ J7532 J10987 (me,Dealer, passed)
South Q8732 A84 A4 K42 (opened 1S)
West A10 K10653 K106 AQ3
The auction: 1S X 4S ??(me). North’s 4S call made life difficult (weak? possibly making?)
In the auction as shown what call should East make?
If West had instead overcalled 1NT, then same 4S by North, what does East do in that case?

ClarksburgDecember 25th, 2019 at 6:18 pm

forgot to include: Matchpoints NS Vul

Patrick CheuDecember 25th, 2019 at 6:52 pm

Hi Bobby, Wonder how the bidding would have gone in Acol: East p South 1N(12-14) West 2C*(Hearts n minor) North pass,E 2D* S p W 3C pass out? Or E p S 1N(12-14) W p N 2C*,E p S 2D W p N 2H passed out? Or South’s 1N passed out? More action likely in Acol sequence perhaps? MERRY CHRISTMAS to fellow contributors here and last but not least to you and Judy-Good Health and All The Best for the New Year! Thanks for all your help~Patrick.

Iain ClimieDecember 25th, 2019 at 6:53 pm

HI Clarksburg,

For what it’s worth I’m bidding 4N in either case, partly due to the vulnerability, although I’d be less happy if part had bid 1N when I could be turning a small plus into a fair sized minus. I’d be more inclined to double if pars bids 1N.

Sane answer from Bobby, though. I hope you’re having a good day with family and friends.


Bobby WolffDecember 25th, 2019 at 7:23 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, thanks for remembering to quote both the vulnerability and the specific form of competition, for without which, almost everything changes and I must say, markedly.

Please allow me to answer in a somewhat roundabout manner, dealing with all four positions while trying to create a scenario in which Jiminy Cricket, the animal which sat on Pinocchio’s shoulder, hopefully guiding him to straighten up and fly right.

Second to speak, South opened a normal 1 spade. Then West doubled, my choice, since having only 2 spades, not being AQ or possibly AK will not be best (remember, just my judgment with an exception of a very good almost solid 6 card minor suit, which, indeed, would encourage bidding NT even with only Kx in the opened suit.

Now to North and his vulnerable significant overbid by jumping to game. However and for
strategy sake, that bid, with the opponents NV, has a great deal to recommend it, since even good and especially experienced opponents will have no way of knowing that North doesn’t have a MUCH better playing hand, including short suit(s).

However, that doesn’t mean I heartily endorse such a thing, but it now matters who one’s opponents may be, and if I think they are timid in nature I would certainly not bid 4 spades, because it could easily then go all pass, down two (-200) with nothing very unusual held around the table.

Continuing and, of course, North having ventured 4 spades, I will take the bait and chirp 4NT since (being a minor suit TO) methinks by playing in our longest minor suit I doubt seriously that partner will not be able to take, at least 8 tricks, making it a winning sacrifice against a making game by those ugly adversaries.

Finally, yes I would expect North to have much more (wrong though I may be) and thus his incredible overbid became the 100% best bid
(by Dame Fortune) who sits above us, creating her results, this time with smoke and mirrors.

If West would have first overcalled 1NT, but North still bid 4 spades (even a more incredible overbid), and a decent player was sitting North, (who also heard the1NT bid, possibly causing him to be less bold) I would (by holding that East hand) make the same mistake and take the sacrifice.

Yes, I am that stupid, but I can rationalize it away, especially when I do not have to endure a dirty look from partner, not as bad as my result might effect me.

Truth hurts, but, in fact is, like always, by far the winning option, if future positive results are in the cards.

Bobby WolffDecember 25th, 2019 at 7:59 pm

Hi Patrick,

It’s guys like you, and many others, who inject good questions and do so with a wonderfully positive manner, who make our site worth following.

Merry Xmas, Happy New Year and much love to someone who deserves it. If only the whole world would follow suit and I do not mean only at the bridge table.

ClarksburgDecember 26th, 2019 at 3:04 am

Thanks for the response and reasons given.
Supplementary follow-up re West’s initial call:
How much “worse” is a 1NT overcall (with single Spade stop) versus the preferred TO Double?
(i.e. by accepting the “Spades” risk to overcall 1NT, West provides a nice description of strength range and shape to help Partner decide what to do).
Any relative merit for 1NT; or do you consider it a complete NO NO ?
Thanks again.

Bobby WolffDecember 26th, 2019 at 5:16 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Here is the breakdown by me, with no guarantees only experience.

A reason to overcall is a nice description of the overall strength, plus an underrated 10 of spades. which complies nicely with the Jxx or Qxx.

However (you knew that was coming), the 5 card side suit is hearts and although the hand in question may be able to get hearts in the game himself, it is more likely by choosing a double.

Also if combined with partner leaves only a total of 5 spades, it could be crucial to be able to duck two rounds. Having at least 3 of every other suit is a plus for double, in order to ward off the bogey man in case of catching him with very little, but a 5 card minor suit.

Although I would not regard 1NT as a NO NO and even recommend it when being a professional and playing with a client, it just seems a better percentage choice to double.

And it was purposeful that I didn’t mention only a single spade stop, since the 10 of spades being in my hand might be better for me to be declarer rather than partner when the opening leader (weak hand) is dealt the queen or the king of spades and partner the jack.

IOW, certainly not horrible, but IMO just anti-percentage.