The Aces on Bridge by Bobby Wolff

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World-renowned bridge champion Bobby Wolff writes The Aces On Bridge, an insightful column designed to help readers improve their bridge game. The Aces On Bridge was started by Ira Corn, founder of The Aces, the first professional bridge team. Wolff, one of the original Aces, took over the column in 1982. In it he reveals the secrets of a championship bridge player to both tournament and at-home players.

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Bobby Wolff

Bobby Wolff is a ten-time World Champion, most recently at the Marlboro World Team Bermuda Bowl in Beijing, China in 1995. He is former president and chairman of the board of the American Contract Bridge League, and was the 1992-1994 president of the World Bridge Federation (WBF), only the third American to hold this office. Wolff is currently chairman of the WBF Appeals Committee, which helps settle disputes in tournaments.

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  • Dear Mr. Wolff:

    I dealt myself this beautiful hand: SPADES K-7-2, HEARTS J-6, DIAMONDS A-K-9-6-3, CLUBS A-Q-J. I opened one diamond, playing a 15-17 no-trump, and my partner responded one spade, whereupon our opponent bid three hearts. Was I wrong to bid three spades? It worked extremely badly when my partner had king-queen-third of hearts. We went down in three spades with three no-trump laydown.

    -- Embarrassment of Riches, Vancouver, Wash.

    ANSWER: While you were surely unlucky that you had neither a heart stop (when you could have tried three no-trump) or better spades to make the raise more palatable, I believe you had a better choice. The double of a preempt in this position should show extras, with no clear direction; so it would have been my preferred choice.

    We had a hand last week that has sparked a bit of controversy as to how to reach the optimum contract. I heard my partner open two clubs, and with SPADES 3, HEARTS 5, DIAMONDS A-Q-J-8-5-3, CLUBS A-Q-J-7-4, I responded three diamonds, then bid four clubs over my partner's three spade bid. Now my partner bid four hearts and I bid five diamonds, passing my partner's six diamond bid. We were cold for seven no-trumps facing a powerhouse 5-5-2-1 shape with both minor kings.

    -- Love in Bloom, Bristol, Va.

    ANSWER: Your partner's four heart call looks wrong. Had he simply bid four diamonds, you can jump to six clubs and he can do the rest. Even Blackwood might get you there if you can bid six clubs after finding the key-cards are all present.

    When your partner opens a weak-two bid, should new suits by you be natural and forcing, or can they be passed by a minimum pre-empter?

    -- Force of Nature, Dodge City, Kansas

    ANSWER: This is to some extent about partnership agreement, rather than a rule of law, but having said that, it would seem normal to play a new suit as natural and forcing, but not necessarily forcing to game. After this start to the auction, anything by either hand that sounds non-forcing may almost certainly be passed.

    I picked up SPADES J-2, HEARTS K-J-8-5-4-2, DIAMONDS Q-2, CLUBS Q-4-3 and heard my partner open one diamond and the next hand overcall one spade. Clearly, I had enough to bid one heart over one diamond, but is this hand strong enough to bid two hearts here? If not, what call is best?

    -- Keeping it Real, Peru, Ind.

    ANSWER: A free bid at the two-level should guarantee 10 or more high-card points, but you can shade the requirement with a strong suit or good controls, or even with fit for partner. This hand feels too scrappy for a direct call in hearts. If playing negative doubles, I would double and hope to back into hearts later.

    Do you think that four-suit transfers over a two no-trump opening are a good idea? If so, how exactly would you play them?

    -- Truffle Hunter, Woodland Hills, Calif.

    ANSWER: While that system works well over one no-trump, there is not quite enough space over two no-trump. One simple solution is to use a three spade response as one or both minors. It forces a three no-trump rebid by opener, whereupon the minor suits now show single-suited hands, while four hearts, four spades and four no-trump show both minors, with 5-4 pattern and 5-5 respectively.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Sunday, November 30, 2014

    "When people come and talk to you of their aspirations, before they leave you had better count your spoons."

    -- Logan Pearsall Smith

    .....................

    If simple arithmetic tells you that your partner is unlikely to have an entry, there may be a better defense than trying to set up his suit and hoping for a miracle.

    Against three no-trump, West led the heart 10 and East overtook with the queen. South played low on this trick and ducked again on the continuation of the heart king. East now continued with a third round of hearts, and South won and set about the diamonds. East was able to come to his ace and queen, but that was all; nine tricks made.

    By adding up declarer's and dummy's high cards, East should know that West can have a jack at most. Since the spade or diamond jack cannot help the defenders' cause, the only suit in which the defenders might be able to establish an extra trick is clubs. For this to transpire, West must be assumed to hold the 10. Accordingly, leading a third heart could accomplish nothing, and, more important, it was a waste of a tempo.

    Having taken his two heart tricks, and with the confidence of two more tricks to come from diamonds, East should have switched to his low club at trick three. If South held the club 10, along with the ace and queen that arithmetic tells you he possesses, then nothing has been lost -- even assuming declarer guesses to put in the 10. On the actual lie of the cards, so long as East returns a club each time he comes on lead in diamonds, he can defeat the game.

    NORTH 12-1-A

    SPADES K Q 10 9

    HEARTS J 5

    DIAMONDS K 10 9 6

    CLUBS 9 5 4

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 8 7 4 SPADES 6 5 3 2

    HEARTS 10 9 8 3 2 HEARTS K Q 4

    DIAMONDS 2 DIAMONDS A Q 3

    CLUBS 10 8 7 3 CLUBS K J 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES A J

    HEARTS A 7 6

    DIAMONDS J 8 7 5 4

    CLUBS A Q 6

    Vulnerable: Neither

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Heart 10

    LEAD WITH THE ACES

    12-1-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A 7 4

    HEARTS Q 10 5 3

    DIAMONDS K J 6 4

    CLUBS J 8

    South West North East

    Pass 1 HEARTS Pass 1 NT

    All pass

    ANSWER: Dummy rates to put down a 5-3-3-2 pattern, or perhaps a hand with four spades and five hearts, the latter being far less likely. In these situations, while one can make a case for leading spades -- in that your partner may well have four of them -- the lead is also quite likely to cost a spade trick. I'd settle for the fourth-highest diamond. Even if partner has no honor in diamonds, the lead may not cost a trick.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Monday, December 01, 2014

    "O monstrous! But one half-pennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack."

    -- William Shakespeare

    .....................

    In today's column, we feature a deal from the latest book by Augie Boehm, a noted bridge player and pianist. The book is "Big Deal" -- both a memoir and a teaching tool.

    During the auction, South made a cardinal error when he pre-empted then bid again in competition. He might have done better to open one spade, but having initially underbid, he endplayed himself into a later indiscretion. Of course, if he had passed five hearts, North would have happily collected a sizable penalty.

    Against five spades doubled, Boehm's famous pianist partner Leonard Pennario led the heart jack. If South had routinely covered with dummy's queen, East would have been compelled to win, and with an easy shift to his singleton diamond queen, he would have collected his penalty of plus 300.

    But when South didn't cover with dummy's queen, Boehm had a problem. Overtaking to shift to diamonds would work poorly if West held the diamond ace. If so, dummy's hearts could be established for discards of South's losing diamonds.

    At trick one, Boehm therefore discouraged with the heart two. Pennario realized that Boehm must have both top hearts when his jack held, but he must have discouraged the continuation for a reason. He therefore accurately shifted to the diamond ace and gave his partner the ruff for plus 500.

    Boehm comments sagely that average opponents usually assume an expert knows what he is doing, hence South's sacrifice over five hearts. This is one of the reasons bridge experts often excel at poker; they play the opponents, not the hand.

    NORTH 12-2-A

    SPADES K 8 7 6 4

    HEARTS Q 10 9 5

    DIAMONDS J 3

    CLUBS A 4

    WEST EAST

    SPADES --- SPADES 5 2

    HEARTS J 3 HEARTS A K 8 6 4 2

    DIAMONDS A 10 9 8 6 5 4 2 DIAMONDS Q

    CLUBS Q 7 5 CLUBS K 6 3 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES A Q J 10 9 3

    HEARTS 7

    DIAMONDS K 7

    CLUBS J 10 9 8

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    2 SPADES 3 DIAMONDS 4 SPADES 5 HEARTS

    5 SPADES Pass Pass Dbl.

    All pass

    Opening Lead: Heart jack

    BID WITH THE ACES

    12-2-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A Q J 10 9 3

    HEARTS 7

    DIAMONDS K 7

    CLUBS J 10 9 8

    South West North East

    1 DIAMONDS

    1 SPADES Pass 2 HEARTS 3 DIAMONDS

    ?

    ANSWER: Despite your lack of fit for diamonds, I would compete to three spades. Yes, your red suits might argue for defense, but your black-suit holdings have a lot of actual and potential tricks. Game might easily be cold if you are facing a hand with a void in spades!


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Tuesday, December 02, 2014

    "Great abilities are not requisite for an Historian ... Imagination is not required in any high degree."

    -- Samuel Johnson

    .....................

    Yesterday's deal from Augie Boehm's excellent new memoir, "Big Deal," saw a successful bluff. Today's deal shows Boehm using poker skills again, but this time drawing the right conclusion from the "tell" that only an expert can detect.

    At the table, the auction went as shown, but Boehm sensed that East had flickered before passing, and inferred that he must have been contemplating doubling three no-trump to call for the lead of dummy's first-bid suit, hearts. This conclusion was one Boehm drew at his own risk -- if he was wrong, he would have no recourse.

    West led a low spade, and Boehm captured East's king with his ace. To make the contract, Boehm apparently required East to have been dealt queen-third in diamonds and West three small diamonds -- no better than one chance in six. The normal line of play would be to lead to the king and finesse the jack on the way back.

    But now remember East's tell. He was surely favorite to hold both top hearts, as he would scarcely consider doubling three no-trump with less. The spade king was already known, and if he had also been dealt the diamond queen, he would have opened the bidding. Thus Boehm posited West with the diamond queen. Reasoning this way, Boehm decided on a backward finesse -- leading the diamond jack and planning to run it, finessing against the diamond 10 in East if necessary. In fact, when West did not cover the jack, Boehm let it ride; result, happiness!

    NORTH 12-3-A

    SPADES 7 6 4

    HEARTS Q 8 5 2

    DIAMONDS K 7 6

    CLUBS Q J 8

    WEST EAST

    SPADES J 9 8 3 2 SPADES K 10

    HEARTS 10 4 HEARTS A K J 9

    DIAMONDS Q 8 2 DIAMONDS 10 5 3

    CLUBS 10 4 2 CLUBS 9 7 6 3

    SOUTH

    SPADES A Q 5

    HEARTS 7 6 3

    DIAMONDS A J 9 4

    CLUBS A K 5

    Vulnerable: Neither

    Dealer: East

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    Pass

    1 DIAMONDS Pass 1 HEARTS Pass

    2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Spade three

    BID WITH THE ACES

    12-3-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A Q 5

    HEARTS 7 6 3

    DIAMONDS A J 9 4

    CLUBS A K 5

    South West North East

    1 DIAMONDS Pass 1 HEARTS 1 SPADES

    2 NT Pass 3 CLUBS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: The three club call is forcing. (It makes sense to play anything but a pass of two no-trump as setting up a game force here, in the absence of any conventional agreement.) The issue is whether to show your three-card heart support or make some other rebid. Despite the weak hearts, I would bid three hearts and let partner decide what to do -- he knows much more about our hand than we do about his.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Wednesday, December 03, 2014

    "Life teaches us to be less harsh with ourselves and with others."

    -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    .....................

    The Spring Foursomes takes place over a single weekend every year in England. Most of the best British teams and an increasing overseas contingent take part in a double-elimination format. This is like a normal knock-out, but you have to lose twice in order to be out of the main competition.

    Today's deal is from the first round of a recent event, where West chose an unfortunate low club lead against four hearts. Declarer now led a sneaky low diamond toward the king, hoping that it would hold, and that dummy's other diamond could be discarded on a club. However, West rose with the diamond ace to play a second club, and declarer won dummy's king.

    Next came a trump to the 10 and ace, followed by another trump. West won his queen and was faced with the critical decision on the deal. When he compounded his earlier error by continuing with a third round of clubs, declarer took the club ace, discarding dummy's diamond king, then ruffed a club in dummy.

    Now, knowing West had long hearts and long clubs, he simply needed to work out how many spades West had. When he cashed one top spade and saw the queen appear (yes, this would have been a fine false-card from queen-doubleton), he reverted to trumps. West could do no better than win his king and then give declarer access to his hand. That let declarer draw trumps, cash his minor-suit winners and take trick 13 with a top spade.

    NORTH 12-4-A

    SPADES A K J 9 3

    HEARTS 9 8 5 3

    DIAMONDS K 7

    CLUBS K 4

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q SPADES 10 7 6 5 4

    HEARTS K Q 7 2 HEARTS 10

    DIAMONDS A 9 5 2 DIAMONDS J 10 8 6 4

    CLUBS Q 10 7 5 CLUBS 9 8

    SOUTH

    SPADES 8 2

    HEARTS A J 6 4

    DIAMONDS Q 3

    CLUBS A J 6 3 2

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass 1 SPADES Pass

    1 NT Pass 2 DIAMONDS* Pass

    2 HEARTS Pass 4 HEARTS All pass

    *artificial and forcing

    Opening Lead: Club five

    BID WITH THE ACES

    12-4-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 8 2

    HEARTS A J 6 4

    DIAMONDS Q 3

    CLUBS A J 6 3 2

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS 1 SPADES Dbl. 2 SPADES

    ?

    ANSWER: Your partner's negative double shows four hearts and at least 7 HCP. Where you have a little extra shape and a suit you want to introduce, you should generally be guided by the idea that, with any reasonable excuse, you can bid one level higher than you initially intended, but not two levels. Here, your 5-4 pattern with values in your long suits makes a call of three hearts just about acceptable.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Thursday, December 04, 2014

    "What Englishman will give his mind to politics if he can afford to keep a motorcar?"

    -- George Bernard Shaw

    .....................

    In England, the Houses of Lords and Commons have an annual bridge match scored on total points. Recently, the closest finish in the series' 34-year history saw the Lords winning by just 110 points.

    This deal might have swung the balance, since the correct play was missed at every table. But would you have done better? Plan the play in three no-trump by South on the lead of the spade queen.

    It looked natural to win the lead in hand and clear the diamonds. East could win the fourth diamond and continue the attack on spades. Declarer ducked, then won the spade continuation, and could now cash the long diamond and take a heart finesse.

    That was the eighth trick, but since declarer could not take another heart finesse, there was no way home. Can you see how declarer should have done better?

    Declarer was correct to go after diamonds initially. However, when West shows out on the second round, declarer knows he cannot avoid a diamond loser and that entries to dummy for the heart finesse are at a premium.

    Instead of allowing the diamond queen to win, South should flout convention and overtake it with dummy's ace. After a successful heart finesse, declarer plays another diamond. As before, East wins and continues spades, but now declarer wins, then cashes the master diamonds and repeats the heart finesse. When East's heart king falls, declarer emerges with no fewer than 10 tricks.

    NORTH 12-5-A

    SPADES A 6 3

    HEARTS 8 3

    DIAMONDS A 10 9 6 4

    CLUBS Q 7 5

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q J 10 9 SPADES 8 7 4

    HEARTS 7 6 5 2 HEARTS K 9 4

    DIAMONDS 3 DIAMONDS J 8 7 2

    CLUBS K 10 8 2 CLUBS A 6 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES K 5 2

    HEARTS A Q J 10

    DIAMONDS K Q 5

    CLUBS J 9 3

    Vulnerable: Neither

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Spade queen

    BID WITH THE ACES

    12-5-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A 6 3

    HEARTS 8 3

    DIAMONDS A 10 9 6 4

    CLUBS Q 7 5

    South West North East

    Pass Pass 1 HEARTS Dbl.

    Rdbl. 1 SPADES 2 CLUBS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: This auction suggests a minimum or sub-minimum opener with either 5-4 or 5-5 pattern. Since the auction has suggested a possible bad break in hearts, and clubs rates to play as well as hearts, even in a 4-3 fit, I would pass now and simply try to go plus here.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Friday, December 05, 2014

    "One man is as good as another until he has written a book."

    -- Benjamin Jowett

    .....................

    Last year, Tim Bourke of Australia teamed up with Jason Corfield to construct a fascinating book, "The Art of Declarer Play." This consists of tough problems, together with a primer on how to think like an expert.

    Here is a deal from the book. Against four spades, West leads the diamond king and continues with a low diamond to the ace, for a switch to a heart. You rise with the heart ace; your move.

    If West has two clubs and one spade, you can unblock your club honors before leading a spade to the ace. Then, after discarding your heart losers on the club ace-jack, you go back to spades.

    However, if West has two spades and one club, West would ruff the second round of clubs, then cash the heart king and give East a heart ruff. (In this case, you should simply draw trumps, since you only need to take three club tricks.)

    Which line should you play? Neither -- the best (if surprising) line of play is to immediately run the spade nine or 10 from hand! If West follows small, you duck the trick into the safe hand. Now you can win the return, cash the spade king and then play the club king-queen. This play also succeeds when West is void in trumps.

    If West covers the spade 10 with an honor, you take dummy's ace and finesse East for the remaining trump honor. You lose to West's holding of Q-J doubleton of spades, but make the rest of the time.

    NORTH 12-6-A

    SPADES A 4 3

    HEARTS Q 10 6 3

    DIAMONDS 4 2

    CLUBS A J 6 3

    WEST EAST

    SPADES J 2 SPADES Q 8

    HEARTS K J 9 7 2 HEARTS 4

    DIAMONDS K Q 10 7 6 DIAMONDS A J 9 5

    CLUBS 9 CLUBS 10 8 7 5 4 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES K 10 9 7 6 5

    HEARTS A 8 5

    DIAMONDS 8 3

    CLUBS K Q

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 SPADES 2 SPADES 3 HEARTS* Pass

    4 SPADES All pass

    *limit or better in spades

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    12-6-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A 4 3

    HEARTS Q 10 6 3

    DIAMONDS 4 2

    CLUBS A J 6 3

    South West North East

    Pass 1 DIAMONDS Pass

    1 HEARTS 1 SPADES Pass Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: With these values, you have enough to invite game or defend a doubled partscore, but you do not have enough to drive to game. I would double, meaning it as cards, with the emphasis on takeout, planning to rebid two no-trump over a red-suit to suggest a single spade stopper. But if partner bid clubs, I will simply raise that suit.


    (If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, email him at bobbywolff@mindspring.com.)

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Saturday, December 06, 2014

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