Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

The challenge is high. The stakes are important. I think it's manageable.

William H. Webster

West North
Both ♠ A Q 10 9 7 2
 K J 2
♣ A 7 3
West East
♠ K 8 5
 A 7 5 4 3
♣ J 8 6 2
♠ J 4 3
 9 8 6 3
 Q 10 8 6 2
♣ 10
♠ 6
 A 10 7 5 4
 K J
♣ K Q 9 5 4
South West North East
Pass 1♠ Pass
2 Pass 4 Pass
4♠ Pass 5♣ Pass
5 Pass 5♠ Pass
6 All pass    


This hand arose on the last round of the 2010 European Championships for the Open Teams. Poland, a contender for the gold medal, faced Germany, which was no longer in contention.

North’s jump to four diamonds showed short diamonds and set hearts as trump, since three diamonds would have been forcing. It got South, Michael Gromoller, to a delicate slam.

The heart suit needed to be played for no losers, and even if clubs produced five tricks, one more trick would still be needed – either from an accurate diamond guess or a diamond ruff. If all else failed, the last chance would come from the spades.

West helped by leading ace then another diamond. A low heart toward dummy garnered the queen – one more problem solved. Declarer drew the rest of East’s trumps, then started on clubs. Gromoller was careful to cash his king and queen first, in case clubs failed to break. He had realized that he would then need to turn to spades and would need to preserve the club ace as a late entry.

His care was rewarded when clubs failed to break. Now came a successful spade finesse, then ace and another spade, ruffed. The 3-3 break saw the slam home.

If Gromoller had gone down, Poland would have taken the Gold Medal, rather than the Silver. Israel failed in the slam against the eventual winner, Italy. Had they made the slam, they would have been second, relegating Italy to the bronze position.

In situations of this sort, simple diamond raises are limited in high cards. So to show a good hand and short hearts, your choice is two hearts (showing an invitation or better) or three hearts, promising very short hearts and a good hand. This second call should help partner judge how far to go on.


♠ K 8 5
 A 7 5 4 3
♣ J 8 6 2
South West North East
1♣ 1 1

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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonMay 14th, 2013 at 10:55 am

Re: West’s opening lead: Hard for me to understand leading the D ace, given the auction. North is known to have shortness and East is very unlikely to have the king as there are barely enough unaccounted HCP left. Further, if North’s shortness is a void and declarer holds the king, it is a disaster. Obviously the black suit leads are unappealing to say the least. Ergo I would close my eyes and put the trump queen on the table. It is almost certainly dead meat and gets me off lead. I have tried leading stiff trump 10,J,Q as a passive opening with decent results. Thoughts, maestro??


jim2May 14th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I have two bidding questions, one on the column hand and another on the BWTA.

Column – what did South’s 4S call mean? It certainly was not the AS. Is it now the fashion to show the cheapest first OR second round control (including singletons in pard’s suit) with one’s first cue bid?

BWTA – as an unpassed hand, I would be very reluctant to claim strength with a 10-pointer that includes a singleton Q in one opponent’s suit and Knave-fourth in another’s. South’s hand is essentially the KS and the AD with 5-card support and a singleton. I find that holding tough to claim strength or make some sort of invitation to an 11-trick game when facing a one-level overcall (and not a TO double). I think I would make a diamond raise of some sort and await developments.

bobby wolffMay 14th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Hi Bruce,

I wish this type of opening lead was as simple as many of us make it to be. From my perspective it is a total guess, and believe it or not, in spite of what you are saying is true, I would probably lead the diamond ace as well.

At least that figures to be one trick in the bag, with possible 2nd tricks in all suits. Whatever the distribution and layout of the other 39 cards, at least to me, is impossible to predict who has what, and although the queen of hearts is far from my last choice, I would rather sit and wait with it still in my grimy little paw.

Keep in mind, one inalienable fact and that is playing 1st and 3rd on any one trick is a marked disadvantage so when defending a slam it will happen on opening lead, but when leading a live ace, chances are the leader will be able to search out a safe 2nd lead and sit back and wait.

Do not try and outsmart the cards, since that cannot be done, but rather accept this part of bridge for what it is and lead what is in front of one’s nose (the ace of diamonds is certainly that) and wait and hope.

Sorry for what may be thought to be unhelpful advice, but bridge is the master and we are its servants.

bobby wolffMay 14th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, partner’s 4 diamonds, shows shortness in diamonds 2nd, but establishes hearts as our trump suit first. Ergo, all future bids become what are now known as control bids (formerly cue bids). Imagine partner having 5 or 6 spades to the ace nothing and hearing his partner control bid spades (1st or 2nd round control). It would be helpful, but that doesn’t mean I would bid it, since the king in this case, even the singleton king would, at least, then create the source of tricks usually necessary for a successful percentage slam.

Partner’s now control bid of 5 clubs was very helpful to South, since with partner being short in diamonds looks like he is probably creating 5 clubs tricks (which would take spade’s place as the primary source of tricks. However South’s mediocre heart holding caused him to sign off (temporarily), but partner’s ace of spades plus, and just as importantly his KJ of hearts optimistically egged him on.

As a concerned and interested bridge learner about the high-level game, you can easily see the danger of jumping around with only 3 card support instead of 4 and very often makes the difference between a percentage slam instead of a far fetched one.

There are usually many constantly moving parts in slam auctions and feel for it, ALMOST ALWAYS DETERMINED BY EXPERIENCE WITH THAT PARTICULAR PARTNER, resulting in a developed talent not a God given one. I would give this partnership perhaps a 30% effort, somewhat on point, but all over the place with random control bids (witness the 4 spade bid with a low singleton).

Bridge is now and always has been a very difficult exercise in numeric logic (especially in tackling bidding slams), with playing luck usually an integral part.

As to the problem of the BWTA, never forget the following almost always present fact. Sometimes (perhaps well over 50% of the time) an advantage of bidding them up with big fitting, but short high card hands, is that even if our side gets one trick or so too high, chances are very good that the opponents (who are also sure to be good fitting hands, because of their likely combined heart length and at least one of them very short in diamonds) will be able to take more tricks than usual (using their distributional tricks rather than their point count) so that our eventual contract if we wind up as declarer, may turn out to be a very good sacrifice.

Never underestimate two shots at the apple, which is what competitive high-level bidding is almost always about.

jim2May 14th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Thanks for your reply!

Okay, on the column hand, I knew hearts had been set as trump with short diamonds, etc. (the column text even confirmed it). What I took from your reply was that the 4S call was probably systemic to that partnership. I’m okay with that.

On the BWTA hand, I defer to your expertise and experience, but I hate telling the opponents how to play their trump suit.

bruce karlsonMay 14th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

BW – Thanks and I am always happy to have your thoughts even though it would be nice if they more often coincided with mine. One lives in hope…. I can think of a ton of reasons why I still do not like the lead, but I asked for an expert opinion and got one. I will henceforth lead an unsupported ace against a confidently bid slam if nothing else jumps out…


Patrick CheuMay 14th, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Hi Bobby,As regards the BWTA,South’s hand is essentially 11 or 12 count(10HCP minus 2 pts (QH)plus one point for extra diamond,and 3 points for singleton,and the JC may be wastage pending what West n North’s clubs are..South is looking at the bigger picture when bidding 3H with a view to sacrificing and or bidding on,it allows North to make as far as possible a constructive decision based on South’s hand shape.Let the opps have the last judgemental call in a competitive auction!Theory being nobody gets them right all the time,bridge history is littered with examples of that.Regards-Patrick

bobby wolffMay 14th, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hi Jim2 & Bruce,

Every hand is different with evidence all around (tendencies, tempo and of course, the bidding) but not all cogent to the problem.

My answers are clothed in doubt and sometimes ignorance. However, until I see first the dummy then the play to trick one. it is an educational experience for me, at least on that particular hand.

Probably the great unwashed wannabe high-level player is not as far away from being the expert he wants to be, that is.. until he first realizes that a blind opening lead with only the bidding and his experience to guide him is indeed a daunting task, made no easier with clever opponents intended obfuscations.

As Sherlock Holmes might want to say to his sidekick, Watson, regarding the great game of bridge. “Ah Watson, in most cases when one eliminates the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is the answer” does not apply to bridge because 52 different cards all shuffled and dealt out (whether by hand or by computer) cannot be predicted or even rationalized, and although the bidding helps some, it certainly doesn’t keep the exact other 39 unseen ducats from being closer to random than they are to gospel”. Therefore judgment, determined by experience of playing against the best, is really the only real guide to a high batting average and, Watson, I do allude to the American game of baseball to draw a proper analogy, where batting 300 is a good batting average (akin to being very good at bridge), but in reality it only means being right 3 out of 10 times.

And Jim2, you are right in that a shortness jump may create the winning guess for your hated opponents in a close contract which only means that your side has to weigh the advantage verses disadvantage (as it so often has to do) in describing one’s hand.

All in a hand’s worth and multiply that by 52, the average number of hands in a 2 session day at a bridge tournament, and one begins to see and better yet, feel, the problem.

bobby wolffMay 14th, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Hi Patrick,

I appreciate and agree with your bridge philosophy on this current subject.

Also this is where the law of total tricks, as inaccurate as it sometimes is, comes into direct play. It looks as if both sides have trump fits ranging between 19 and 20 tricks available depending on which side buys the hand. Remember the LOTT is only a guide not a god, but at least it is something to go on, if nothing more than an excuse to offer partner when it doesn’t work.

My insistence of why the game of bridge requires tolerance to play it well is only based on the wide spectrum of various results probable.

Love thy partner and it will be returned, but it may be noted that there are usually more partnership changes than there are broken marriages.

Now, I am off for my weekly Tuesday duplicate game with my keen wife, Judy. We usually get along quite well with almost no mistakes until sometimes the 2nd or 3rd hand when all hell often breaks loose.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 14th, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hi Patrick:

He’s only kidding or I’d make him look for a new partner (which wouldn’t be hard for him to find).



Patrick CheuMay 14th, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Hi Judy, I am sure you are his perfect partner in all ways possible, but its hard to play with a perfectionist! Lots of laughter-Patrick(I for one being most imperfect…).

Jane AMay 14th, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Yesterday, I had a bridge lesson on competitive doubles. It was a terrific lesson and our instructor brought up an important point. Know who your opponents are before looking at your cards. Bobby’s name came up- our instructor told us it would not normally be a good idea to double someone like Bobby Wolff who can play the dummy cards with the best in the world. He mentioned all those world championships, etc. I can’t remember once when your answers were clothed in doubt and ignorance. And I don’t think I would double you holding the AK of trump if you were in a slam, thinking I must have missed something.

I figured you and Judy would make it until at least half way through the game before all hell broke loose.