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:

    If you pass in first seat, when should you double an opening bid to your right? If fourth hand opens a minor, should you strain to come back into the auction with a maximum pass?

    -- Comeback Kid, Memphis, Tenn.

    ANSWER: Beginners (and even some experienced players) frequently err here by entering the auction unnecessarily, doubling with off-shape hands to show their points. If your partner passes in third seat, especially when nonvulnerable, why would you come into an auction where you know you are outgunned? Only double with classical shape, not just the excuse of "11 points, partner!"

    As West, I held SPADES A-K-10-7-2, HEARTS ---, DIAMONDS A-5, CLUBS K-J-10-8-7-3. I opened one club with nobody vulnerable, intending to bid spades twice. My RHO overcalled one heart, and my partner bid two clubs, natural and nonforcing. My RHO jumped to four hearts. What should my next bid be?

    -- Much the Miller, East Brunswick, N.J.

    ANSWER: I'd bid five spades over four hearts, and if they sacrifice in six hearts, I would make a forcing pass. A call of four spades by me may never be passed out, but that doesn't get my slam-going values across. Freak deals don't help you judge all that much in real life, but here you should appreciate that this hand rates to offer excellent play for a black-suit slam facing as little as four clubs to the ace.

    Should you use Stayman in response to a one-no-trump or two-no-trump opening whenever you have a four-card major and the values for game? Or should you reserve it for use only on unbalanced hands?

    -- Question Mark, Portland, Ore.

    ANSWER: It is true that when you are balanced with surplus values for game and a poor four-card major, you might consider playing in no-trump, not a suit. Similarly, with secondary honors in your short suits, there may be no value in taking a ruff, because your holding may solidify partner there. Otherwise, Stayman tends to be the percentage action.

    I opened one spade in second seat with SPADES A-Q-8-7-3, HEARTS K-5, DIAMONDS Q-9-8-5, CLUBS K-J, feeling that my 5-4 shape was unsuitable for opening one no-trump. After a two-club overcall to my left, my partner raised to two spades, and RHO joined in with three clubs. How would you rate my options of passing versus bidding three diamonds or three spades?

    -- Sail Away, Bellingham, Wash.

    ANSWER: Three diamonds is a game-try for spades -- your badly placed club honors make you just a little short of the values for that. Your slight extra distribution makes bidding three spades as a purely competitive maneuver logical enough, though. I think most experts would take the push here -- and very few would open one no-trump. Try to avoid taking that action with most 5-4-2-2 patterns and decent suits, especially with a long major.

    Given that it is traditional to play a response of four no-trump to an opening no-trump call as quantitative, what is the consensus on using Stayman, then bidding four no-trump over a major-suit response? If that is quantitative, how do you agree on partner's suit and ask for aces?

    -- Reach for the Stars, Willoughby, Ohio

    ANSWER: If you use four clubs as Gerber after finding a major opposite, a direct four-no-trump call remains quantitative. A call of three of the OTHER major by responder after Stayman can sensibly be subverted for use as a balanced artificial slam-try, agreeing partner's suit. That allows a subsequent call of four no-trump to be Keycard Blackwood. Direct new-suit jumps remain splinters agreeing partner's suit.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Sunday, October 12, 2014

    "The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction."

    -- William Blake

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

    Last month, we looked at some deals that had cropped up in the early stages of the world championships in Bali in September 2013. This week's deals all occurred toward the end of the championships.

    The first deal exemplifies the concept that defensive signaling cannot be reduced to a simple question of attitude -- whether you like or do not like partner's lead. A thoughtful defender will signal by reference to the whole hand and what partner is likely to switch to if given the chance.

    Today's deal comes from the last qualifying match of the Senior round-robin, with Netherlands needing a big win to qualify, as they duly managed to do. This board helped their cause.

    In one room, where Bep Vriend was declarer, West led a top diamond against four hearts, and East contributed the jack, suggesting a sequence but denying the queen. West naturally switched to a heart, and now the contract came home. Vriend won the queen, cashed the ace and queen of trumps and pitched a diamond from dummy on the third heart. West's defense was unsuccessful but well-reasoned, since if East had had the heart king rather than the jack, this is exactly how he would have defended, and the heart shift would have been mandatory.

    In the other room, Chris Niemeijer led a high diamond as well, and when Louk Verhees Sr. signaled encouragement, West continued diamonds. Now four hearts had to go one down, losing one further trick in each black suit.

    NORTH 10-13-A

    SPADES A 9 5 3

    HEARTS Q 9

    DIAMONDS 7 6

    CLUBS A Q 10 7 6

    WEST EAST

    SPADES J 10 6 SPADES K

    HEARTS 8 5 4 3 HEARTS J 10 7 2

    DIAMONDS A K 2 DIAMONDS J 10 9 8 3

    CLUBS J 8 4 CLUBS K 9 5

    SOUTH

    SPADES Q 8 7 4 2

    HEARTS A K 6

    DIAMONDS Q 5 4

    CLUBS 3 2

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 SPADES Pass 2 NT* Pass

    4 SPADES All pass

    *game forcing, with spades

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    LEAD WITH THE ACES

    10-13-B

    South holds:

    SPADES Q 7 2

    HEARTS K 9 6 4 2

    DIAMONDS 9 8 2

    CLUBS A J

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS

    1 HEARTS Dbl. Pass 2 CLUBS

    All pass

    ANSWER: With neither a heart nor club lead seeming to be in the slightest degree attractive, the question is whether to attack with a spade lead or go passive. The main strike against a spade lead is that it may solve an ace-queen guess for declarer, but then again, to defeat two clubs, we do need to find our partner with quite a good hand, and yet he never bid. I'll opt for the relative security of the diamond sequence.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Monday, October 13, 2014

    "Truth and facts are woven together. However, sometimes facts can blind you from seeing what is actually going on in someone's life. "

    -- Shannon Alder

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

    In the quarterfinals of the world championships, the U.S. and Canadian teams met up in an elimination match. In a seesaw event, the U.S. pulled away at the end, winning comfortably.

    Both tables played four spades here, and against the Canadian declarer, Bobby Levin led the diamond king, which was ducked. A second diamond went to dummy's ace, and Daniel Korbel pulled trumps in three rounds before taking the heart finesse. Now the club jack went to the eight, three and queen.

    Korbel ruffed the diamond return, then played a low club from hand, Levin playing the ace. Had Korbel unblocked the club 10 from dummy, he would still have had a chance to make the contract. (He could guess to enter dummy with the heart ace and play a low club to his seven.) However, with the blocking club 10 still in dummy, declarer had no chance after ruffing the diamond return with his last trump. He cashed the club king and had to concede one down.

    In the other room, West also led the diamond king, which was ducked, and continued the suit. The American declarer, Kevin Bathurst, won and played the spade 10, then a spade to the jack, before judging very well to advance a low club from hand. West could do no better than win the club queen and cash the club ace before continuing with the diamond queen. The ruff-sluff allowed Bathurst to discard a low heart from hand and claim his 10 tricks.

    NORTH 10-14-A

    SPADES 10 9 7

    HEARTS A Q 6 5 3

    DIAMONDS A 4

    CLUBS J 10 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 5 2 SPADES 8 4 3

    HEARTS K 10 8 7 HEARTS J 2

    DIAMONDS K Q J 6 3 DIAMONDS 10 9 7 2

    CLUBS A Q CLUBS 9 8 5 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES A K Q J 6

    HEARTS 9 4

    DIAMONDS 8 5

    CLUBS K 7 6 3

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: East

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    Pass

    1 SPADES Dbl 2 HEARTS Pass

    2 SPADES Pass 4 SPADES All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-14-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 10 9 7

    HEARTS A Q 6 5 3

    DIAMONDS A 4

    CLUBS J 10 2

    South West North East

    Pass 1 DIAMONDS Pass

    1 HEARTS Pass 1 SPADES Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: This is insoluble in Standard American, since the fourth suit, two clubs, sets up a game force. You can overbid with that call (which at least gets you to the right strain), underbid by raising to two spades, or jump to two no-trump to invite game. This last call overstates your club stopper and might wrongside no-trump, as well. Your useful club 10 may make the overbid of two clubs the least lie.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Tuesday, October 14, 2014

    "If we think (the people) not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion."

    -- Thomas Jefferson

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

    Today's deal was played in three no-trump or in six diamonds at every table. Whatever contract was attempted came home in some comfort -- since if North played three no-trump on a heart lead, he would take the spade finesse as his extra chance before going after the ninth trick, which he needed from the club suit. Of course, had he played on clubs before spades, he would have risked going down as the cards lay.

    The play in six diamonds followed a curiously similar general pattern. West led a heart, and declarer tried an early club to the king and ace. Now South knew he needed a discard from dummy to take care of the losing club, so he also led a spade to the jack. When the finesse succeeded, he had a straightforward route to 12 tricks.

    Only one East-West pair went plus; here is how they did it (on the auction shown).

    Mike Passell as West did very well to stay out of the auction. (Had he overcalled one heart, East would have shown a pre-emptive raise in that suit, and declarer would have known to take the spade finesse rather than play on clubs.)

    Against six diamonds, Passell selected the heart lead, which gave declarer nothing. Declarer, Jerzy Russyan, won the heart and led a club to his king, smoothly ducked by Passell, persuading declarer to draw trumps and lead a second club toward his hand. Down one!

    NORTH 10-15-A

    SPADES A J

    HEARTS A J 5 4

    DIAMONDS K 10 5 3

    CLUBS 9 5 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q 9 5 SPADES 10 6 4 3 2

    HEARTS Q 9 8 7 3 HEARTS K 10 6 2

    DIAMONDS 9 8 DIAMONDS J 6

    CLUBS A J 3 CLUBS 10 8

    SOUTH

    SPADES K 8 7

    HEARTS ---

    DIAMONDS A Q 7 4 2

    CLUBS K Q 7 6 4

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 DIAMONDS Pass 1 HEARTS Pass

    2 CLUBS Pass 2 NT* Pass

    3 CLUBS Pass 3 SPADES Pass

    4 SPADES Pass 6 DIAMONDS All pass

    *forcing

    Opening Lead: Heart seven

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-15-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A J

    HEARTS A J 5 4

    DIAMONDS K 10 5 3

    CLUBS 9 5 2

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass

    1 HEARTS Pass 1 SPADES Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: When you hold the unbid suit well-stopped, you should only use fourth suit if you are in any doubt as to what the best game is, or if there is a possibility of slam. Here, while partner could have as yet unshown extras, your balanced minimum opening bid heavily suggests that three no-trump is the best game. So bid it.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    "Charlotte, having seen his body Borne before her on a shutter, Like a well-conducted person Went on cutting bread and butter."

    -- William Thackeray

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

    In today's deal from the Bermuda Bowl semifinals in Bali, John Kranyak for USA1 declared four hearts. West led the spade queen, and declarer won in dummy and played the club jack next. East took the ace, and instead of playing a spade to ensure the defeat of the contract, exited with the club two. Declarer ruffed and ran the heart jack to East's queen. The diamond return went to dummy's jack, and declarer unblocked the heart ace and played a spade to the jack, followed by the heart 10. East won, but declarer could claim the balance -- he had his 10 tricks.

    In the other room, Claudio Nunes took the spade lead, cashed the heart ace, then continued with a second round. East took the king and switched to a diamond. East was now threatening to underlead his clubs and get a diamond ruff. However, declarer won the diamond with dummy's queen, played a spade to the jack, overtook the spade 10 with the king and played the spade six, on which he discarded the club six from his hand -- a classic example of the Scissors Coup. With the link to his partner cut off, East could now take only his master trump.

    At double-dummy, though, an initial diamond lead defeats the contract. Declarer does best to win, cashes the major-suit aces, then continues with three more spades, throwing the club as before. East can win the spade and force declarer with clubs at every turn to establish a third trump trick.

    NORTH 10-16-A

    SPADES A K 6 4

    HEARTS A 4

    DIAMONDS A Q J

    CLUBS J 7 4 3

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q SPADES 9 8 5 3 2

    HEARTS 6 HEARTS K Q 5 2

    DIAMONDS K 10 8 4 3 2 DIAMONDS 5

    CLUBS K 10 9 8 5 CLUBS A Q 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES J 10 7

    HEARTS J 10 9 8 7 3

    DIAMONDS 9 7 6

    CLUBS 6

    Vulnerable: Neither

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    3 HEARTS Pass 4 HEARTS All pass

    Opening Lead: Spade queen

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-16-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A K 6 4

    HEARTS A 4

    DIAMONDS A Q J

    CLUBS J 7 4 3

    South West North East

    Pass Pass 1 DIAMONDS

    Dbl. Pass 1 HEARTS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Any action that the doubler takes now shows extra values. Specifically, a rebid of one no-trump in this auction shows a balanced 18-20, since you would already have overcalled one no-trump with 15-17 and would have passed now with a balanced 13-14 count. While your diamond honors are well placed, that is not enough reason to upgrade the hand to a call of two no-trump, so the bid of one no-trump looks perfect.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Thursday, October 16, 2014

    "Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others."

    -- Amelia Earhart

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

    The Venice Cup is the world championship for women, and in Bali last year it was won by the Americans, who narrowly defeated the English in the final. Today's deal comes from England's victory in the semifinals against another of the world's powerhouse women's teams, the Chinese. In today's deal, though, the Chinese came off best, with Yan Liu at the helm in a delicate no-trump game.

    Susan Stockdale led the heart nine to the two, 10 and queen. Things didn't look that good for declarer, since a lot had to be done to be able to scramble nine tricks together.

    At trick two, Liu made the natural play of the diamond jack, which went to the king, ace and seven. Liu's key play came at the next trick when she led a club to the nine and West's jack.

    Stockdale now shifted to a spade, and Liu won the trick with her king. The club queen followed, and when that wasn't covered and the 10 appeared from East, declarer was able to repeat the finesse in clubs. She ended up scoring one spade, two hearts and three tricks in each minor. This technique in the club suit is called an intra-finesse, and it involves finessing against a doubleton honor, then pinning it on the next turn.

    Incidentally, had West won the first club and returned the suit, declarer would have cashed her club and diamond winners, then endplayed West with the fourth diamond to lead spades for her.

    NORTH 10-17-A

    SPADES J 9 5 3

    HEARTS 2

    DIAMONDS A Q 5 3

    CLUBS A 8 5 4

    WEST EAST

    SPADES A 7 6 4 SPADES Q 10 8

    HEARTS 9 HEARTS K J 10 8 6 4 3

    DIAMONDS K 9 8 4 DIAMONDS 7

    CLUBS K J 6 3 CLUBS 10 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES K 2

    HEARTS A Q 7 5

    DIAMONDS J 10 6 2

    CLUBS Q 9 7

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: East

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    3 HEARTS

    Pass Pass Dbl. Pass

    3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Heart nine

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-17-B

    South holds:

    SPADES J 9 5 3

    HEARTS 2

    DIAMONDS A Q 5 3

    CLUBS A 8 5 4

    South West North East

    1 HEARTS Pass Pass

    Dbl. Pass 2 SPADES Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Had you doubled one heart in direct seat, you would be minimum in high cards, even though your shape was attractive. Your decision to bid on or pass would be a close one. But as a balancing hand, you should consider that you are in no way ashamed of your values. Your aces and singleton give you full value for a three-spade call -- an aggressive player might simply bid game.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Friday, October 17, 2014

    "More brain, O Lord, more brain! Or we shall mar Utterly this fair garden we might win."

    -- George Meredith

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

    This hand is from the world championships held in Bali last September, where Italy won the Bermuda Bowl, defeating China in the quarterfinals.

    When Chuangcheng Ju declared three no-trump, Antonio Sementa led the diamond king. Dummy's ace won, as East showed an even number of diamonds. At trick two, West captured the club king with his ace.

    West could see that cashing his diamonds would give South his ninth trick, so he shifted deviously to his low spade. When declarer finessed, the roof fell in. Giorgio Duboin took the trick and returned a diamond, letting Sementa cash out for down two.

    In the other room, East had responded two spades at his first turn -- weak and natural. Again the defenders led a top diamond, won the club ace, and shifted to a spade (this time the 10) at trick three.

    Declarer Norberto Bocchi now knew to win the spade ace and run all his club winners. When the last club was played, East could discard a spade safely enough, and South could shed another diamond. But what was West to do? If he threw a heart, declarer would play the heart ace to drop the king. If he threw a diamond, declarer could play the spade jack and take two more tricks with the heart ace and spade queen. And if West threw his spade, declarer could exit with his diamond, end-playing West to cash his diamonds, but then lead a heart away from his king at trick 12.

    NORTH 10-18-A

    SPADES A J

    HEARTS Q 9 7

    DIAMONDS A 8

    CLUBS K Q J 10 7 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 10 3 SPADES K 9 6 5 4 2

    HEARTS K J 5 3 2 HEARTS 8 4

    DIAMONDS K Q J 9 6 DIAMONDS 5 2

    CLUBS A CLUBS 9 4 3

    SOUTH

    SPADES Q 8 7

    HEARTS A 10 6

    DIAMONDS 10 7 4 3

    CLUBS 8 6 5

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    Pass 1 HEARTS Dbl. Pass

    2 DIAMONDS Pass 3 CLUBS Pass

    3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-18-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A J

    HEARTS Q 9 7

    DIAMONDS A 8

    CLUBS K Q J 10 7 2

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass 1 DIAMONDS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Jump to three no-trump, suggesting a solid or semisolid club suit plus extra values. With a strong, balanced hand, you would either rebid two no-trump, or would have opened either one or two no-trump. Hence, you must have a long suit and guards in the majors.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Saturday, October 18, 2014

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