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:

    What sort of values would you associate with the advance to one no-trump facing an overcall? Specifically, with: SPADES A-5-3-2, HEARTS A-Q-9-8-5, DIAMONDS K-2, CLUBS J-4, would you overcall one heart over one club, or would you double? And if you overcall and your partner responds one no-trump, what should you do next?

    -- Entry Level, Pueblo, Colo.

    ANSWER: I don't hate doubling one club, but I would overcall and hope to find a way back into spades if appropriate. Your partner's one-no-trump call could be anywhere in the 7-11 range. I would guess to pass now, but if I could bid a second suit economically, I would do that.

    Say you hold decent values and three-card support for your partner, the opening bidder, after a double to your right. Should I redouble, or make some other call? With: SPADES 7-6-2, HEARTS A-6, DIAMONDS A-9-8-4-2, CLUBS K-9-3, what is your best call after your partner opens one spade and your RHO doubles? Do you raise partner, bid your suit or redouble to show strength?

    -- Call Waiting, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

    ANSWER: Without the double, I'd go through the forcing no-trump (if I had it available) to show a limit raise rather than force to game. My bad trumps mean I should pull in a notch here. Over a double, redouble shows 10 or more, tending to deny spade support. So I would redouble, then raise spades -- indirectly suggesting good values but bad trumps.

    What is the difference between an Eastern and a Western Cue-bid? Are both methods still in common usage -- and are these still the common names for these calls?

    -- Bicoastal, Worcester, Mass.

    ANSWER: Before I answer, I remember the days when cue-bids below three no-trump showed a control in the opponent's suit and a slam-going hand! These days, most cheap cue-bids are attempts to reach three no-trump. Western Cue-bids are attempts to get to no-trump by asking partner for a stopper or half-stopper in the opponent's suit. Eastern Cue-bids are less popular in that they actually suggest a stopper.

    My partner and I play weak-twos and are wondering whether we should play a convention recommended to us called McCabe, after the opponents double or overcall our bid?

    -- Gas Fitter, Saint John's, Newfoundland

    ANSWER: After a double of a weak-two, but not after an overcall -- since you now rate to be on lead -- one can play a redouble as strong, with raises natural and pre-emptive. New suits are natural and to play at the two-level, but lead-directing at the three-level, guaranteeing at least a partial fit, while jumps show decent suits together with a real fit for partner. To bail out into your own suit, bid two no-trump to puppet three clubs from your partner. Then you can name the final contract or show a high-card raise in your partner's suit.

    I would like our partnership to have a simple rule to the effect that all doubles of our opponents' artificial trump raises (such as Drury or Bergen) request the lead of that suit. But is it ever better to play such doubles as takeout of the opponent's known suit?

    -- Whacked Out, Charleston, S.C.

    ANSWER: You should double an artificial no-trump response for takeout of the bid suit, but the blanket rule for all other sequences might well be to use value-showing doubles as lead-directing. The only exception might be to use the double of an artificial call that shows a raise with less than limit values as takeout of the agreed suit.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Sunday, October 05, 2014

    "We should look long and carefully at ourselves before we pass judgment on others."

    -- Molière

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

    On the lead of the diamond queen against three no-trump, South correctly assumed this would assure his side of three tricks in the suit. A moment's less euphoria and a little more thought would have brought his contract home.

    But without giving the matter enough thought, South made the play that most of us would have made when he won West's lead of the diamond queen with the ace, removing his only sure entry to his hand.

    He continued with a low heart from hand, West playing the queen, and dummy's ace winning. Next, declarer unblocked the spade ace and king and followed with the heart jack from dummy, hoping to create an entry to his hand with the 10 -- but West thoughtfully held off. Declarer played another heart, and West won and exited with a diamond. South duly made three diamond tricks, but now there was no way to reach the spade queen, and the defense ended with two clubs, two diamonds and a heart trick.

    As West was known to hold all the high cards, South should have won the opening lead with dummy's diamond king, cashed the two top spades, then led a low heart to the 10. If West ducks this, declarer can now cash the spade queen, then continue playing on hearts. Should West take the heart, he can do no better than exit with one. Now declarer takes the heart winners, pitching a spade from hand, and runs the club jack, forcing West to give declarer a trick and an entry.

    NORTH 10-6-A

    SPADES A K

    HEARTS A J 6 4

    DIAMONDS K 10 2

    CLUBS J 8 3 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES J 2 SPADES 10 9 8 7 3

    HEARTS K Q 9 HEARTS 7 3 2

    DIAMONDS Q J 8 7 4 DIAMONDS 5 3

    CLUBS A Q 10 CLUBS 9 7 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES Q 6 5 4

    HEARTS 10 8 5

    DIAMONDS A 9 6

    CLUBS K 6 5

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: West

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 NT Dbl. 2 SPADES

    3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond queen

    LEAD WITH THE ACES

    10-6-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 9 8 6 4

    HEARTS Q 10 2

    DIAMONDS J 3 2

    CLUBS Q 7 3

    South West North East

    Pass Pass 1 CLUBS 1 NT

    Pass 2 DIAMONDS Pass 2 HEARTS

    All pass

    ANSWER: While a case could be made for a club lead, in a sense the only person who has bid clubs is East. North's one club didn't really show clubs here, so I would be tempted to lead the spade nine, on the grounds that this is the suit least likely to 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, October 06, 2014

    "I'm a misunderstood genius." "What's misunderstood?" "Nobody thinks I'm a genius." -- Bill Watterson

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

    The line between looking foolish and being a genius is a fine one. Today's deal comes from the Spring Foursomes, where South decided to take what she knew would be a relatively cheap sacrifice. Fortunately for her, North's values turned out to be extremely useful. West led a top diamond, on which East played the queen. Now what should West do? Switch to a club? Try to cash a second top diamond?

    Influenced no doubt by East's double, West decided his partner had a singleton and played a second top diamond. Declarer ruffed, drew trump, then played a heart to dummy's king, followed by a second heart. When West's ace came tumbling down, she had a parking place for her club loser. Yes, maybe it would have been right for West to shift to the club queen at trick two -- since unless declarer had both the king and jack of clubs, this would probably not let the contract through.

    In the other room, North did double five diamonds, and led a top heart. Now, although five diamonds by West appears to have three losers, the fact that North was void in spades meant there was plenty of time for declarer to establish a club or heart trick for a spade discard. Even if South had gone down in five spades doubled, she would still have gained a bushel of IMPs. As it was, our featured North-South pair had a double game-swing.

    NORTH 10-7-A

    SPADES ---

    HEARTS K Q 9 8 6 3

    DIAMONDS 9 5

    CLUBS A 10 8 7 3

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 7 SPADES 8 6 3 2

    HEARTS A 5 HEARTS J 10 7

    DIAMONDS A K 8 7 6 4 3 2 DIAMONDS Q J

    CLUBS Q 5 CLUBS K J 4 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES A K Q J 10 9 5 4

    HEARTS 4 2

    DIAMONDS 10

    CLUBS 9 6

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    4 SPADES 5 DIAMONDS Pass Pass

    5 SPADES Pass Pass Dbl.

    All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-7-B

    South holds:

    SPADES ---

    HEARTS K Q 9 8 6 3

    DIAMONDS 9 5

    CLUBS A 10 8 7 3

    South West North East

    2 HEARTS Pass 2 NT Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: You may not agree with the opening call of two hearts; but as long as the heart suit is good, you won't be at a disadvantage. The question here is how to show the hand now. The answer is to jump to four clubs, which suggests this pattern and lets your partner go wherever he wants.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Tuesday, October 07, 2014

    "Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful."

    -- Friedrich Nietzsche

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

    In this deal from a recent Gold Coast tournament in Australia, declarer observed that the opponents do not always defend correctly, but it is up to you to make them pay. Michael Prescott was South on an auction in which he sensibly came in over one no-trump, assuming that either he or his opponents would be very close to making their contract. In general, one wants to respond to a takeout double if one can.

    Equally, North should not have invited game by raising two hearts to three, thus risking giving up the plus score. One might compete to three hearts over three clubs, but a very different sort of calculation would be involved.

    Against Prescott's delicate contract, West led a top club and shifted to a top spade instead of playing a heart. Prescott ducked, won the next spade to ruff a spade, then trumped a club in dummy. Next, he played the fourth spade and pitched a diamond from hand, at which point West gave declarer his chance when he discarded a club rather than a diamond. East exited with a third club, and Prescott ruffed in dummy, then played the top diamonds and ruffed a diamond.

    By now Prescott was fairly sure that West, who had a balanced hand, would have opened a strong no-trump with the heart king. So he led his last club and pitched dummy's diamond when West produced the king. Success! East was forced to ruff his partner's winner, then lead away from the heart king. Contract made.

    NORTH 10-8-A

    SPADES A 9 7 5

    HEARTS Q 8 4 2

    DIAMONDS A K 10 5

    CLUBS 7

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q J 6 SPADES K 10 3 2

    HEARTS J 10 HEARTS K 9 3

    DIAMONDS J 8 3 DIAMONDS Q 9 4

    CLUBS A K J 9 4 CLUBS 8 3 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES 8 4

    HEARTS A 7 6 5

    DIAMONDS 7 6 2

    CLUBS Q 10 6 5

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: West

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Dbl. 1 NT

    2 HEARTS Pass 3 HEARTS All pass

    Opening Lead: Club king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-8-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 8 4

    HEARTS A 7 6 5

    DIAMONDS 7 6 2

    CLUBS Q 10 6 5

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass

    1 HEARTS Pass 3 HEARTS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: With a dead minimum and only four hearts, it looks normal enough to pass your partner's invitational call of three hearts. But if your partner has both clubs and hearts, as you would expect -- since the only other hand-type he might have is a balanced 18-count -- maybe your fitting cards in clubs make you just worth a raise to game.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Wednesday, October 08, 2014

    "The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first."

    -- Blaise Pascal

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

    At one table in a team game, West elected to lead a low diamond against three no-trump. East's eight forced the jack, and declarer now guessed to play in spades by leading low to the nine. East won the trick to return a diamond, and declarer took the trick, then ran off the spades while discarding a diamond and a heart from hand as East pitched a club. When he led a heart from dummy toward his hand, East ducked. Declarer took his heart jack and ace and his diamond winner, and East was then thrown in with a heart to give declarer his ninth trick in clubs.

    Since no lead appeared to give the defenders a sure set, East was philosophical about the whole thing. However, when they came to score up, his teammates announced, "Lose 13 IMPs."

    When East wondered whether the swing had been the result of a superior choice of opening lead, South confirmed that West had led a fourth-highest spade three. South had put in the nine, and East had ducked! Declarer led a heart to his jack, then played ace and another heart, and East won his queen to shift to the diamond nine. South went up with the ace, cleared the hearts, then took the next diamond with the king and cashed his long heart. East nonchalantly discarded his small spade, so can you really blame declarer for playing a spade to the jack now?

    East won his queen, and played yet another diamond, and the defenders had six tricks.

    NORTH 10-9-A

    SPADES A K J 9

    HEARTS 8 5

    DIAMONDS 7 2

    CLUBS J 9 7 6 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 10 6 5 3 SPADES Q 8 2

    HEARTS 9 2 HEARTS K Q 7 3

    DIAMONDS Q 10 6 4 DIAMONDS 9 8 3

    CLUBS 10 4 3 CLUBS A Q 5

    SOUTH

    SPADES 7 4

    HEARTS A J 10 6 4

    DIAMONDS A K J 5

    CLUBS K 8

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 HEARTS Pass 1 SPADES Pass

    2 DIAMONDS Pass 2 HEARTS Pass

    2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond four

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-9-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A K J 9

    HEARTS 8 5

    DIAMONDS 7 2

    CLUBS J 9 7 6 2

    South West North East

    Pass 1 DIAMONDS Pass

    1 SPADES Pass 4 CLUBS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: The jump to four clubs suggests a very strong hand with spade fit and a singleton club. It looks natural to bid four spades -- but just think how much better your trumps are than they might be. With nothing to cue-bid, maybe the best way to get the nature of your hand across is by jumping to five spades. Such jumps typically either show really bad trumps, or as here, very good trumps but nothing else.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Thursday, October 09, 2014

    "I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose."

    -- George Carlin

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

    The hallmark of a well-constructed problem is that it resembles the sort of deal you face in real life. If you were to look at today's deal and remark with raised eyebrows that the blockage in the heart suit and the lack of entries to dummy in the trump suit seem rather artificial, I would be hard-pressed to argue with you. But that is not the point. Having reached six spades, and having found dummy with a tantalizing collection of goodies that appear to be just out of reach, how are you going to make best use of its assets?

    Let's assume you win the diamond lead and play the trump ace, West showing out and discarding a diamond. If West holds the club king, you can draw the last trump, cash the heart ace and play a diamond, forcing West to give you an entry to dummy with a club, heart or diamond.

    However, East is surely the favorite to hold the club king because of the theory of Vacant Spaces, which tells you that West has six cards outside of diamonds and spades, while East has 10 such spaces.

    If you believe, as I do, that West would be equally likely to open a three-diamond pre-empt with or without the club king, then the way home from here is to cash the heart ace and exit with the trump five. As the cards lie, East is forced to bring dummy back to life and allow you to make 12 tricks.

    NORTH 10-10-A

    SPADES 4 3 2

    HEARTS K Q 7 5

    DIAMONDS J 8 2

    CLUBS Q 6 4

    WEST EAST

    SPADES --- SPADES 8 6

    HEARTS 10 8 2 HEARTS J 9 6 4 3

    DIAMONDS K Q 10 9 7 6 5 DIAMONDS 3

    CLUBS 10 7 2 CLUBS K J 9 5 3

    SOUTH

    SPADES A K Q J 10 9 7 5

    HEARTS A

    DIAMONDS A 4

    CLUBS A 8

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: West

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    3 DIAMONDS Pass Pass

    6 SPADES All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-10-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 8 6

    HEARTS J 9 6 4 3

    DIAMONDS 3

    CLUBS K J 9 5 3

    South West North East

    Pass 1 DIAMONDS Pass

    1 HEARTS Pass 1 SPADES Pass

    1 NT Pass 2 SPADES Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Your partner has shown six diamonds and five spades and not a huge hand. (He could have bid two spades at his second turn or jumped to three spades over one no-trump.) My best guess would be to let sleeping dogs lie and pass two spades. Correcting to three diamonds might improve the contract -- but you really do not want to hear partner bid again!


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Friday, October 10, 2014

    "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."

    -- Henry David Thoreau

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

    One of the top players in England is David Gold, for many years director of teaching at St John's Wood Bridge Club. Today's deal shows him in top form on a deal from a home international match against Wales.

    West's two-no-trump opening showed both minors and made it difficult for the English pair to reach four spades, but the bidding was more than helpful in the play.

    West led the club king, followed by the ace, East showing three cards in the suit. West then switched to the spade five, and declarer went up with dummy's ace, cashed the diamond ace and king, discarding spades, then ruffed a diamond to hand. Now he ruffed a club and ruffed a diamond, East discarding a spade.

    He next crossed to the heart ace and played dummy's last diamond. To prevent declarer from scoring another small ruff (which would have given him three plain winners and seven trump tricks), East ruffed in with the heart jack. Declarer overruffed with the queen and had to decide what West's last two cards were. It seems to me that he played the odds when he exited with a spade.

    When West followed suit, Gold knew that West was marked with precisely two spades and five cards in each minor -- thus only one heart, which he had produced under dummy's ace. Accordingly, in the two-card ending, with declarer holding the K-8 of trumps, when East led back a low heart from his 9-7, Gold could be completely confident in taking the finesse.

    NORTH 10-11-A

    SPADES A Q 9 4

    HEARTS A 10

    DIAMONDS A K 8 6 3

    CLUBS 7 6

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 5 2 SPADES K 8 7

    HEARTS 2 HEARTS J 9 7 3

    DIAMONDS J 9 7 4 2 DIAMONDS Q 10 5

    CLUBS A K J 9 3 CLUBS Q 8 5

    SOUTH

    SPADES J 10 6 3

    HEARTS K Q 8 6 5 4

    DIAMONDS ---

    CLUBS 10 4 2

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: West

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    2 NT* Dbl. Pass

    4 HEARTS All pass

    *minors, 7-11

    Opening Lead: Club king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    10-11-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A Q 9 4

    HEARTS A 10

    DIAMONDS A K 8 6 3

    CLUBS 7 6

    South West North East

    1 DIAMONDS Pass 1 HEARTS Pass

    1 SPADES Pass 1 NT Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: It is tempting to jump to three no-trump, but the absence of spot cards in your long suits suggests that caution would be wise. A simple raise to two no-trump is enough, since your partner has suggested values in the range of 6-10 HCP. Change the diamond three to the 10 and you might contemplate doing more.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Saturday, October 11, 2014

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