Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

What a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!

W.S. Gilbert

South North
North-South ♠ 10 5 4 2
 10 6 3
 Q J 10 2
♣ A 3
West East
♠ —
 J 8 7 5
 K 8 5 4
♣ Q J 7 6 2
♠ J 9 8 7 6
 4 2
 A 9 6
♣ 10 9 8
♠ A K Q 3
 A K Q 9
 7 3
♣ K 5 4
South West North East
2 NT Pass 3♣ Pass
3 Pass 3 NT Pass
4♠ All pass    


The 1st World Mind Sports Games included three youth categories: Under 28, Under 26 and Under 21. The International Mind Sports Association was the brainchild of former World Bridge Federation President, Jose Damiani. The hope is that Mind Sports will form a separate Olympic category.

In the under-28 category Steven de Donder of Belgium had to deal with a tiresome trump break in his contract of four spades. West led a diamond to East’s ace. Back came a heart, taken in hand, and given a reasonable trump break, 11 tricks seem plain sailing. Even if one defender holds four spades to the jack, 10 tricks would still be there with the minimum of inconvenience.

But when de Donder cashed the spade ace, the 5-0 break meant that even game was in danger. However, he handled it like a veteran: he played a second diamond, won the heart return, then took the club king and ace, and cashed the diamond queen, discarding his heart nine from hand. On the diamond jack, which followed, East chose to ruff — and South overruffed. (It doesn’t help if East discards his last nontrump — a club — because then declarer pitches his last heart.) In the three-card ending, declarer has a high and low spade and the heart queen, dummy the spade 10-5 and a heart, and East has the spade J-9-8. De Donder exited with his heart, and East was forced to ruff, thus leaving himself endplayed in trumps.

It takes an initial heart lead to defeat four spades.

It is a little tempting to bid more than two spades here, but your partner's double, while not in the balancing seat, does not necessarily promise a great hand. With a doubleton heart and an opening hand, he should double here, in what has been referred to as the "pre-balancing" seat. In other words, he assumes that his LHO will pass two hearts, and balances in expectation of that.


♠ 10 5 4 2
 10 6 3
 Q J 10 2
♣ A 3
South West North East
Pass 2 Dbl. 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJune 26th, 2012 at 9:44 am

You state that at the end, South exits with the heart queen. But he already had discarded it. Actually he exits with his losing club which west apparently wins, but east is forced to ruff and endplay himself. South could have discarded his losing club instead of his winning heart, however, in which case things develop as you say. How truly weird that south can discard a winner instead of a loser, but it doesn’t matter a bit.

South can also, at trick 6, play ace, king of clubs and ruff a club, then cash a diamond, discarding a heart, and lead a heart at trick ten which east must ruff, and there’s the same endplay.

bobby wolffJune 26th, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Hi David,

Yes, of course as you undoubtedly know, have it all analyzed, complete with specificity and bridge philosophy.

To take a short cut, this hand deals with the wide compass of “tricks with trumps” which started for me in the late 1940’s while playing autobridge (a wonderful tool for learning). I then got to know the difference between a coup (trumping losers in order to shorten one’s own trumps to effect a similar endplay featured in the above column) as opposed to trumping good trick(s) (known as a “grand coup”) in order to arrive with the same result.

Of course, for bridge lore, the grand coup was always known as a superior achievement, but in actual effect was only a byproduct of understanding what was happening.

The history of bridge is worth learning (especially for those born with natural talent for numeracy), but will never reach the pinnacle it deserves until it is allowed to be taught in our primary and secondary schools as a course for credit. IMHO, no greater course could be offered if logic, psychology, legal communication through a limited vocabulary (bidding), competitiveness and creative originality as well as concentration with a large dose of discipline are qualities worth mastering.

At least to me the ACBL BOD’s MUST take it upon themselves to see that we follow the lead of many European countries and China and follow suit.

It also would be very helpful if educators here in the Western Hemisphere would take it upon themselves to verify the above and start the movement to get it done because then others like you and I will be able to contribute to the process, each in our own way.

jim2June 26th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

This hand fascinated me in the “what might have been” sense.

In the column, declarer endplays East to make 4S.

If North had decided the weak spades and the ace in the doubleton argued for 3N, it would be WEST that got endplayed (after a squeeze). That is:

– small club led by West and won in dummy with AC,
– spade to ace (Ack! – West pitched diamond),
– diamond towards board with East winning ace,
– club return ducked,
– club won (perforce) by South’s KC,
– KS (West pitches second diamond),
– QS (West squeezed out of a club winner),
– AH,
– KH (pitching 10H from Board!),
– diamond to West’s king,
– West club winner for defense’s fourth trick,
– West must lead heart into South’s Q9 at Trick 12

Next, if N-S had an accident leaving South declaring the WRONG major suit game, NEITHER opponent has to be endplayed (or squeezed):

– 4D (fourth best) to East’s AD,
– 2H returned (AD no longer an entry for a second ruff) to AH,
– diamond towards Board, East winning,
– club return won by AC,
– QD pitching 3S,
– KC,
– club ruff (10H),
– heart to KH,
– AH,
– top spades

With hearts 4-2, no matter when defense ruffs a top spade, the 9H will win the return and let the other spade(s) cash.

Michael BeyroutiJune 26th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
I see that you have your hands full with David’s and Jim2’s comments – all so pertinent – but I need to ask you this about pre-balancing since you brought it up in BWTA. About two weeks ago, just two days before the above column appeared in newsprint this incident happened at my table.

I (South) opened 1H, West passed, North responded 1NT and after East passed I rebid 2H. At this point, North issued a tonitruant Double but East bid 2S nonetheless and I was off the hook. No sooner did the Dummy hit the table that an explosive discussion erupted. West argued that his double was for penalties while East retorted that he would never interpret it as something other than take-out.

I would very much appreciate your opinion on this as I would like to report back to my friends with the preface “Bobby Wolff settles the argument”.

bobby wolffJune 26th, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Hi Michael,

There is not a doubt that a double by a person who had passed the opening bid, but when his RHO had rebid, whether it was his first suit or, for that matter a second suit (in response to usually 1NT, but could be 1 of another suit) that it was a PENALTY DOUBLE). End of story and was that way for many (perhaps 40 years).

However, although it still may be that way, the modern view may have changed its meaning to takeout, at least interpreted that way by a supposedly high-level group, who thinks that take out has more utility than does penalty.

For what it is worth, I belong to the old school and think it is more useful as penalty. Trying to be honest about it I have never seen an article which either made or inferred that change was in the wind and that takeout has now won the day.

The sad practical fact is that modernists are really not qualified (some may be exceptions to that) to voice opinions without having at least some knowledge of why it was played for penalty. Anyone who says he made a study of it, I would tend to believe him (or her), but still reserve my own opinion of it being better for penalty until I, at the very least, would require a complete discussion, not just a shoulder shrug, on this important subject.

Whether you preface my name about settling the argument is up to you, but I would prefer instead a comprehensive point by point argument before arriving at a changed opinion.

Good luck, and keep the blows above the belt.

bobby wolffJune 26th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Hi Jim2,

You continue to deal with unusual applications, possibly indicating a marked loving of tricks with trumps. At the very least, would you consider being renamed, JimBTZ standing, of course, for bridge twilight zone?

Seriously (I hope), but if bridge ever starts to be taught in our public school system, should we have a course called, Contracts to stay out of, Contracts I have played, or just the powerful nature of making full use of one’s trump suit? The proper teaching of bridge might dwell on declarer play in two totally different environments, one with a trump suit, and the other of no trump.

I know, if by some quirk of fate I was called upon for an opinion, I would go directly to you to set me straight, if maximizing trump tricks became an issue.

Thanks for your input and creativity, not to mention imagination.

Bob MacDonaldJune 26th, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I also played autobridge in the early 50s! I was 5 and the family needed a fourth! Re bridge as something to be taught for credit, it is very true that the limited language teaches the patterns of word usage. It is very like theology – to much information and too few words to be able to have mastery of the subject. Of course it also teaches partnership and emotional self-control, and it is a grand escape when times are tough.

I played for points last in 1967 at Expo 67, playing Roth-Stone and learning from Kaplan about partnership. My partner was Vern Smits, the pro at the Vanderbuilt Bridge club on rue de la Montagne where I had been short order cook and frequent loser. Once I got married – no more playing for money! My wife and I play once every few weeks or so when we can – we have learned partnership over the last 43 years.

Thanks for all the columns

Michael BeyroutiJune 26th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Thank you Mr Wolff
for the unequivocal answer. I can see you have strong feelings about the subject.
I can also feel your strong feelings about teaching Bridge at the school level. Unfortunately, the only solution I can see is to teach Bridge to school teachers and administrators. Then and only then will they be able to understand the benefits you speak about and might become more open to the idea of a course.

bobby wolffJune 27th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Hi Bob and Michael,

What bridge has lost (over time) is the elegance it once possessed. Dressing up, The influential New Yorker magazine featured high-brow bridge cartoons by Webster, the NY Times started a daily bridge column, replete with current news on bridge goings on.

I’ve, of course, lost certain respect for our top level administrators for not demanding its continuation. In the past and across our tall and wide beautiful continent novice players who play for the thrill of winning master points, but not really appreciating the magnificent qualities of mental competition, game psychology, detective like problem solving, numeracy at a high level, legal partnership co-ordination, thinking faster and more accurately than one’s worthy opponents and contributing eventually to be less likely to suffer from senility in advanced age. Professional bridge players who regard money earned as more important than the game itself leave me cold, although I totally respect everyone’s desire to make a living.

We are now at probably the most important crossroads regarding the future of our game. We must encourage our young set to hear constant praise for the game itself and teaching it in schools such as currently is being done around the world, is the best and perhaps only way possible for its perpetuation.

Michael, on a less serious subject, pre-balancing is a term which is usually limited to a sequence such as: 1 of a major. pass, 2 of the same major, then with shortness in the opponent’s suit, such as Kxxx, x, Qxxx, KJxx to double without the required HC values usually expected, or with AQ10xx, x, QJ10xx, Qx to bid 2 spades immediately instead of perhaps leaving it up to partner to balance, since partner will usually have at least 3 of the opponents suit and will tend to be somewhat conservative. (Another disadvantage of 5 card majors since while playing 4 card majors the opponents cannot always count on the 4 card major players to have 8 cards or more in their supported suit).

Good luck to both of you especially in your obvious love of our game.

David WarheitJune 28th, 2012 at 6:34 am

Upon further reflection, I notice that not only can south succeed by discarding a winner instead of a loser, but the only successful defence involves west giving up a heart trick on the opening lead! What a great game we have!

bobby wolffJune 28th, 2012 at 11:34 am


I would like to offer you a permanent position of chief analyst of all formidable bridge problems (no small compliment) and PR director of world promotion of bridge itself (concentrating on convincing wannabe, but not yet succeeding bridge politicians in the USA, to get off their duff).

Look at the significant advantages:

1. Absolutely no pay cut.

2. Eventually for you to be called both our countries bridge savior and the unquestioned Pied Piper of bridge longevity.

3. I would offer my pro-bono services as your assistant, if you could tolerate it.