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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Meet the Cast of The Aces on Bridge

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  • Dear Mr. Wolff:

    How do I learn to keep track of the cards? I find myself forgetting the missing spots, or even misremembering the count at the critical moment.

    -- Mind Gamer, Duluth, Minn.

    ANSWER: When counting trumps, look at your own hand and dummy's and remember how many are missing. Then don't think about your own trumps anymore; just tick off the opponents' trumps mentally as you go through the hand. You do not have to count all the suits all the time, but on each deal focus on the suit or suits you think of as critical.

    Would you consider overcalling one heart over one diamond with: SPADES J-3, HEARTS A-J-8-3-2, DIAMONDS J-5-3, CLUBS Q-10-4? My partner told me afterward that while he respected my right not to do so, it was normal, if aggressive, to act. Please clarify for me how the form of scoring and vulnerability might affect the decision.

    -- Staying Mum, Honolulu, Hawaii

    ANSWER: With the heart 10 instead of the two, I would overcall at any vulnerability or position. With the actual hand when vulnerable, no matter what the form of scoring, it is reasonable to pass this hand rather than make an overcall that consumes no space. However, I suspect that when non-vulnerable, it would be the majority expert position to overcall. One should also be a little more prudent when partner is a passed hand.

    In a match where I was playing at the other table, one of our teammates picked up a one-count with the spade jack and 10 and 4-3-3-3 shape. He responded two diamonds to two clubs and passed his partner's two-spade rebid -- making five facing a 29-count. How far forcing is the two-club bid, and what should one do with a bust at one's second turn?

    -- Hero to Zero, Ketchikan, Alaska

    ANSWER: Two clubs is a game force except on two well-defined auctions. These are when opener rebids a major and repeats that major over a second negative -- I advocate using three clubs to say that, so this is what I would have rebid with the one-count. A two no-trump rebid by opener shows 22-24 points and is also nonforcing. Note that responder can jump to four spades over two spades with a very weak hand and a doubleton plus three or four trumps. I wouldn't do that with this flat hand.

    What is the best plan for a rebid with the following powerhouse? When you open one diamond and your partner responds one heart, how do you describe this hand at your next turn: SPADES J-3, HEARTS A-K-6, DIAMONDS A-Q-9-5-3, CLUBS A-10-4? Are you supposed to rebid two no-trump with the spades wide open, raise hearts, bid clubs -- or do something else?

    -- Missing the Mark, Torrance, Calif.

    ANSWER: A vote for three hearts, or even for two clubs, might represent a minority position. But I'm guessing most would opt for a semi-practical rebid of two no-trump, getting the hand strength and nature across while ignoring the lack of a spade stopper. Nothing's perfect, but this is less intellectual and more down-to-earth than anything else.

    Yesterday, we played a bridge hand that caused controversy. Holding: SPADES A-9-4-2, HEARTS A-10, DIAMONDS 10-8-6-5, CLUBS 9-5-3, my partner responded one spade to one club, then had to decide whether to raise my two-club rebid to three or pass. Is this a close call? For the record, opener had a minimum hand with 1-5-1-6 pattern and very weak hearts plus very good clubs, so five clubs, not three no-trump, was the place to play.

    -- Minority Report, East Brunswick, N.J.

    ANSWER: The hand is a toss-up between passing two clubs and raising to three clubs. I'd probably bid because of the aces, but also to keep the opponents out. Now the 6-5 hand will surely bid three hearts, but I'm not sure if he will drive to five clubs over the weak hand's sign-off in four clubs.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Sunday, November 09, 2014

    "The wise through excess of wisdom is made a fool."

    -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

    If South had planned ahead properly, he might have brought home his contract of three no-trump here. When West led the spade seven, dummy played low and East allowed South to win the trick with the jack. Now the contract was destined to fail. Declarer tried to sneak an entry to dummy by leading the heart jack. But West was on the ball and hopped up smartly with the ace to play his spade back, allowing East to run the suit for down one.

    By contrast, try the effect of playing dummy's spade 10 at trick one. If East ducks, declarer is in dummy and can take an immediate club finesse. If East now cashes his top spades, South has little choice but to play West for the heart ace, hoping East has no further entry to his hand. That way, South can engineer an entry to dummy with the heart king for the club finesse. When in dummy, he can afford to play East for king-third in clubs by leading the club 10, thereby blocking the suit, since four club tricks will suffice.

    Should East allow the spade 10 to hold at trick one, South must play East specifically for the singleton or doubleton club king by leading low from dummy and finessing the queen, then cashing the ace, thereby leaving an entry to dummy with the club 10. If clubs behave, declarer unblocks his diamond honors and runs dummy's club and diamond winners for nine tricks.

    NORTH 11-10-A

    SPADES 10 2

    HEARTS K 5 4

    DIAMONDS Q J 2

    CLUBS 10 9 8 4 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 7 3 SPADES A K Q 9 8

    HEARTS A 9 8 3 HEARTS 7 6 2

    DIAMONDS 10 9 8 5 3 DIAMONDS 7 6 4

    CLUBS 6 5 CLUBS K 3

    SOUTH

    SPADES J 6 5 4

    HEARTS Q J 10

    DIAMONDS A K

    CLUBS A Q J 7

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass 3 CLUBS 3 SPADES

    3 NT All pass

    Opening Lead: Spade seven

    LEAD WITH THE ACES

    11-10-B

    South holds:

    SPADES Q 8 5 3

    HEARTS 10 4

    DIAMONDS K 9 4 3 2

    CLUBS 3 2

    South West North East

    Pass 1 CLUBS Pass 1 HEARTS

    Pass 2 HEARTS Pass 4 HEARTS

    All pass

    ANSWER: I wish I could give you a convincing reason for whether to go aggressive with a spade or diamond lead, or passive with a club or even a trump lead. My instincts are strongly against a trump lead, and the danger of leading a bid suit is that your partner will play you for a singleton, not a doubleton. A diamond looks more likely to be effective to me than a spade; but it is a close call.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Monday, November 10, 2014

    "The gods are on the side of the stronger."

    -- Tacitus

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

    When North set spades as trump after South had shown 12-14 points and a balanced hand, South had enough to show slam suitability with a cue-bid of four diamonds. That was enough for North, who checked on aces using Keycard Blackwood and drove to slam after hearing the response of two aces and the trump queen.

    Slam would have been excellent on any lead but a diamond; however, that was West's natural lead. South ducked the diamond king and won the continuation of the diamond jack with the ace. He then ruffed a diamond high in dummy, cashed the club ace-king and ran all the trumps.

    This is an example of a Vienna Coup, since it transfers the club menace to the South hand and produces a three-card ending where declarer has three hearts in dummy and two hearts and the club jack in hand. As the last trump is led out, East has to discard a small heart, and declarer now has to guess whether East has come down to the heart 10-x or Q-10. If the former, South must run the heart jack; if the latter, South must play hearts from the top, and the nine will be good at trick 12.

    There is no correct way to play the hand; South must gauge from the players' demeanor at the table and the ease with which they make discards how likely one position is compared to the other.

    NORTH 11-11-A

    SPADES Q 10 2

    HEARTS A K 9

    DIAMONDS 5 2

    CLUBS A K 6 3 2

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 7 5 4 SPADES 8 6

    HEARTS 8 7 3 2 HEARTS Q 10 5 4

    DIAMONDS K Q J 7 DIAMONDS 10 9 6 4

    CLUBS 10 8 CLUBS Q 7 5

    SOUTH

    SPADES A K J 9 3

    HEARTS J 6

    DIAMONDS A 8 3

    CLUBS J 9 4

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 SPADES Pass 2 CLUBS Pass

    2 NT Pass 3 SPADES Pass

    4 DIAMONDS Pass 4 NT Pass

    5 SPADES Pass 6 SPADES All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    11-11-B

    South holds:

    SPADES Q 10 2

    HEARTS A K 9

    DIAMONDS 5 2

    CLUBS A K 6 3 2

    South West North East

    Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: There are players who will not be able to look beyond the small doubleton diamond and the relatively weak spades, and who will open one club. I strongly advise against that if you are playing a 15-17 no-trump, as most do nowadays. This is, in essence, a balanced hand, as are most hands with a 5-3-3-2 shape. So open one no-trump, announcing the strength of your hand at one go.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    "The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate."

    -- J. B. Priestley

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

    Sometimes, you have to take a chance to compete effectively. West's decision to make a third call is risky, with no guarantee of a fit, but the aces and trump intermediates offer some protection from a double. North's final call is a difficult decision: He has trump tricks, but no aces. Indeed, even after we see the full deal, it is hard to tell how East-West would have fared in three hearts doubled.

    After leading the club ace, West can see that dummy's hearts and clubs will eventually provide discards for declarer's diamond losers. No special measures are necessary if East has the spade king or diamond king. But if East's only significant value is the diamond queen, more work is needed. Passive defense will not suffice: West must try to find a way to put East on lead to give a club ruff. Leading out the diamond ace would fail because East will never get on lead, so a low diamond is the best chance. If East has the diamond king, the defense can cash out.

    If declarer wins the diamond shift, West can learn that East doesn't have the spade king by taking the second round of that suit and underleading his diamond ace again to get East on lead for a club ruff.

    Of course, South can make West's task just a little harder by putting up the diamond jack at trick two, but West should risk donating an overtrick by underleading his diamonds a second time, whatever declarer does.

    NORTH 11-12-A

    SPADES Q J 6

    HEARTS K Q J

    DIAMONDS J 7

    CLUBS K Q J 10 6

    WEST EAST

    SPADES A 3 2 SPADES 5 4

    HEARTS A 10 9 8 7 HEARTS 6 5 4

    DIAMONDS A 5 4 2 DIAMONDS Q 10 3

    CLUBS A CLUBS 9 8 7 5 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES K 10 9 8 7

    HEARTS 3 2

    DIAMONDS K 9 8 6

    CLUBS 3 2

    Vulnerable: North-South

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    Pass 1 HEARTS 2 CLUBS Pass

    Pass 2 DIAMONDS Pass 2 HEARTS

    2 SPADES Dbl. Pass 3 HEARTS

    Pass Pass 3 SPADES All pass

    Opening Lead: Club ace

    BID WITH THE ACES

    11-12-B

    South holds:

    SPADES K 10 9 8 7

    HEARTS 3 2

    DIAMONDS K 9 8 6

    CLUBS 3 2

    South West North East

    Pass

    Pass Pass 1 DIAMONDS 1 HEARTS

    1 SPADES 2 HEARTS Pass Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Despite the fact that you have a minimum in high cards, you should be tempted to compete to three diamonds now. Partner will not go mad; he passed over two hearts, and he knows you are a passed hand. You'd like more assets than you have; but that's life.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    "Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth."

    -- William Blake

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

    The expert declarer knows the percentages, but may prefer to rely on deception rather than making the apparent percentage play. Let's look at a single-dummy problem -- just the North and South cards.

    Declaring four hearts in an unopposed sequence, you are treated to a fourth-highest spade-four lead. The natural play is to put in the jack and hope the queen is onside; if not, you have virtually no practical chance of finding a 10th trick.

    The psychologist plays low from dummy at trick one. East, holding A-Q-9-2 of spades, can't be sure if the lead is from two, three, four or even five cards, and will surely not risk putting in the nine and having it lose to the 10 -- that might lose at least two spade tricks on a particularly bad day, should South's spade losers vanish on a club or a diamond. Once the spade queen goes in, you can build a spade trick for a minor-suit discard. If worst comes to worst and East does insert the spade nine, you still have time to play a spade to the jack and enjoy your legitimate 50 percent chance, do you not?

    The key to making these plays at a suit contract is to appreciate that you can virtually ignore the possibility of West's underleading an ace at trick one against a trump contract; however, after the first trick, all bets are off.

    NORTH 11-13-A

    SPADES K J 6

    HEARTS Q 7 6

    DIAMONDS A 10 8 7

    CLUBS K 10 6

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 10 8 5 4 SPADES A Q 9 2

    HEARTS 3 2 HEARTS 8 4

    DIAMONDS K J 4 DIAMONDS Q 9 6 2

    CLUBS Q 8 5 2 CLUBS J 9 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES 7 3

    HEARTS A K J 10 9 5

    DIAMONDS 5 3

    CLUBS A 7 3

    Vulnerable: East-West

    Dealer: South

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 HEARTS Pass 2 DIAMONDS Pass

    2 HEARTS Pass 4 HEARTS All pass

    Opening Lead: Spade four

    BID WITH THE ACES

    11-13-B

    South holds:

    SPADES A Q 9 2

    HEARTS 8 4

    DIAMONDS Q 9 6 2

    CLUBS J 9 4

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Dbl. Pass

    1 SPADES Pass Pass 2 CLUBS

    ?

    ANSWER: You are, of course, far too good to pass. The simple choice boils down to doubling (which, I think, might suggest a 4-3-3-3 hand rather than this one), bidding two diamonds, which you would also do with a five-card diamond suit, or rebidding two spades. At matchpoints, a two-spade call is plausible, but here maybe bidding two diamonds is the best way to ensure you find an eight-card fit.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Thursday, November 13, 2014

    "What boots it at one gate to make defense And at another to let in the foe?"

    -- John Milton

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

    At a suit contract, when a defender leads a side suit bid by dummy, it is very often a singleton. Here West led the heart six to dummy's jack and East's queen. Declarer dropped the 10, trying to give the impression that it was he who had the singleton. But East knew that if West had started with a doubleton, he would have led the eight, not the six. Therefore, South must be concealing the missing card.

    At the end of trick one, East had to find a route to four tricks. There were two heart tricks and hopefully a heart ruff if partner could overruff dummy -- but where was the fourth? What other clues did East have from the bidding? South's bid of four spades had essentially ruled out slam. Since North had not yet really limited his hand, declarer surely did not have both a first-round diamond and club control.

    At the second trick, East cashed the heart ace, on which West signaled helpfully with the diamond nine. Now East knew which suit to play, but were two diamond tricks still standing? When East took his diamond king, West followed with the six, count, to suggest an even number of cards left. That directed East to play a third heart. South ruffed with the trump jack, and West overruffed with the queen. Note: If East doesn't cash his diamond king before attempting to give his partner a heart ruff, declarer simply discards his diamond.

    NORTH 11-14-A

    SPADES 4 3

    HEARTS K J 5 4 3

    DIAMONDS Q J

    CLUBS K Q J 9

    WEST EAST

    SPADES Q 6 SPADES 10 9

    HEARTS 6 HEARTS A Q 9 7 2

    DIAMONDS A 9 6 3 2 DIAMONDS K 10 7 5 4

    CLUBS 10 8 6 5 2 CLUBS 4

    SOUTH

    SPADES A K J 8 7 5 2

    HEARTS 10 8

    DIAMONDS 8

    CLUBS A 7 3

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: North

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 HEARTS Pass

    1 SPADES Pass 2 CLUBS Pass

    2 DIAMONDS* Pass 2 HEARTS Pass

    2 SPADES Pass 3 SPADES Pass

    4 SPADES All pass

    *fourth suit, a game forcing bid

    Opening Lead: Heart six

    BID WITH THE ACES

    11-14-B

    South holds:

    SPADES 4 3

    HEARTS K J 5 4 3

    DIAMONDS Q J

    CLUBS K Q J 9

    South West North East

    1 HEARTS Pass 1 SPADES 2 DIAMONDS

    Pass Pass Dbl. Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: Almost all low-level doubles in auctions of this sort are angled toward takeout, not penalty. Here you have a decent unbid club suit, and by bidding three clubs you suggest hearts and clubs and a minimum opening bid. Let partner take it from there.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Friday, November 14, 2014

    "Who can hope to be safe? Who sufficiently cautious? Guard himself as he may, every moment's an ambush."

    -- Horace

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

    Perhaps either North or South should have considered bidding the grand slam here, which looks to be about negotiating the trump queen. If you fail to do that, you strongly rate to go down in six spades on the predictable diamond lead.

    However, the problem today is to focus on the best line to make slam after the diamond lead. As a hint, you need to work out what else might cause you a problem in your slam, other than a bad trump break.

    The point of the deal is that after winning the diamond ace and negotiating the singleton trump queen to draw trumps in three rounds, you must focus on the quite real chance of a 4-0 club break. After all, West has three spades and at least six diamonds, doesn't he?

    What you must do next is to cash the heart ace and king, then exit with a diamond. If West wins, the club loser disappears on the forced ruff-and-discard. If East wins and returns the club jack, run it to North's ace. The next club goes to the nine and queen. Now you must return to the table with the spade six. It was vitally important to keep a trump entry to dummy by not wasting your spade five at any turn early on in the deal, or else to make your slam you would have had to guess that East has all four clubs. If you have kept your entry position intact, you can now cross to the spade six and finesse against East's club 10.

    NORTH 11-15-A

    SPADES A K 6 2

    HEARTS A Q

    DIAMONDS 6 4

    CLUBS A 7 6 5 3

    WEST EAST

    SPADES 10 4 3 SPADES Q

    HEARTS 9 7 3 2 HEARTS 10 8 6 5 4

    DIAMONDS K Q J 10 7 2 DIAMONDS 9 8 5

    CLUBS --- CLUBS J 10 9 2

    SOUTH

    SPADES J 9 8 7 5

    HEARTS K J

    DIAMONDS A 3

    CLUBS K Q 8 4

    Vulnerable: Both

    Dealer: North

    The bidding:

    South West North East

    1 CLUBS Pass

    1 SPADES 3 DIAMONDS 4 SPADES Pass

    4 NT Pass 5 CLUBS Pass

    6 SPADES All pass

    Opening Lead: Diamond king

    BID WITH THE ACES

    11-15-B

    South holds:

    SPADES J 9 8 7 5

    HEARTS K J

    DIAMONDS A 3

    CLUBS K Q 8 4

    South West North East

    1 SPADES Pass 1 NT Pass

    2 CLUBS Pass 3 HEARTS Pass

    ?

    ANSWER: This sequence suggests an invitational hand, with six hearts and a better hand than a two-heart call at this point in the auction would show. Though you have only a 14-count, your heart honors and weak spades (facing likely shortage) make this a clear raise to four hearts.


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

    COPYRIGHT 2014 UNITED FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC.

    published Saturday, November 15, 2014

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