Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Aye, you're neither one thing nor yet quite t'other. Pity, but there 'tis.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw

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


Today's deal comes from a head-to-head match, where both declarers faced the identical lead in their game contract of four spades, after West had produced a vulnerable two-level overcall.

The unsuccessful declarer thought he saw the danger of this hand coming from the possibility that the defenders might get diamond ruffs — and he was right, but not in the way he had predicted. He imagined he was playing safely by rising with the diamond ace to protect against West’s having a singleton. He discovered his mistake when East ruffed away the diamond ace and led a heart to his partner for West to cash the diamond king and give East a second diamond ruff, for down one.

The second declarer knew that West was a heavy favorite to hold the heart ace, so he was not worried about East’s giving his partner two diamond ruffs. So he put in the diamond jack at the first trick. This turned out to be equally disastrous when East ruffed, crossed to the heart ace, and saw West play back the diamond king. Dummy had to cover, and East ruffed again, leaving West with the diamond 10-8 and a sure diamond winner. Down one again!

Declarer could have made all but certain of his contract by playing low from dummy at trick one. All he is relying on is that West has the heart ace. If that is so, then no matter how the diamonds lie, the defenders can take only three tricks.

With such soft cards – you have only one ace and two kings – you should pass two hearts and hope partner can make it. If your partner had a full invitation, he could have jumped to three hearts, so you should assume game is very unlikely to make.


♠ Q 10 9 5
 A Q J 7 5
♣ K 9 8
South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
1♠ Pass 2 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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMay 16th, 2013 at 9:20 am

Fascinating hand. With only 13 HCP, east-west can (but won’t necessarily) make 4H, meaning they have a good save over 4S, except, of course, they didn’t need to, since neither declarer was up to the task. And if east-west had the club king instead of the diamond king, they can (but won’t necessarily) make 5H while north-south can, assuming best defense, only make 4S.

Btw, you were a bit unkind to the first declarer, calling him “the” unsuccessful declarer. They were both unsuccessful, but I would give the first one slightly higher marks since he was guarding against a singleton lead, but the second declarer was guarding against–what?

Iain ClimieMay 16th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think the assumption about the HA location is safe – east would surely have doubled 3H if he held it. If west was messing about leading the D2 from 82 doubleton, then ducking twice still works. Even at teams though, I think your quote the other day on chances (slim or none, wasn’t it?) would apply to me getting it right at the table – unless the situation came up in the next week or so!

All the very best,


bobby wolffMay 16th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Between the two of you. probably all that needs to be said about this hand is said.

However, lets wax philosophically, at least for this moment in bridge time.

First, neither East saw fit to raise to 4 hearts over, at least what I think, (although not so much in this particular case) is a downright silly and losing convention, if, in fact, North’s immediate cue bid means what is fashionable now in high-level bridge, a limit raise or better which, at least to my way of thinking, is a distortion, because in a continued competitive hand the cue bidder cannot be sure of partner’s game bid, since it may be made with possible sacrifice intentions guiding it (more bad to it but I’ll leave that for a discussion at some later time). I prefer the cue bid to be used the old fashion way, an unequivocal GF.

Next, both opening leads at separate tables, were aggressive, leading from an unsupported king, with, alternately, leading a singleton trump (ugh) unlikely to cost anything since South may play West for a singleton anyway with the only possible holding of partner with QJx a likely disaster with South holding both the AK (and even with that combination declarer may fear Jx in the opening leader’s hand) or a less dangerous lead than from K108x, the unsupported doubleton Qx in clubs. At least on this hand, both of those safer leads do not get the job done, nor would the ace of hearts and a diamond shift, assuming South was a high-level player and, of course, the game is IMPs or rubber bridge, instead of the bastardized matchpoints, which so often is corrupted by impossible choices concerning the making of critical overtricks.

From the above paragraph, why then do many talented players opt for safety (better explained as comfort), rather than overt aggression, which, of course, does not always work, but, at least to me, is the way to bet? I think the most likely answer is highly psychological and while commonplace is hidden deep within those players psyche of not wanting to be criticized if their aggressive choices turn out wrong.

The same reason (call it lack of self-confidence) of confusing the simple ultimate goal of legally winning (without poor ethics including bringing highly questionable appeals as a final attempt) with, which may be considered worse to them, of losing and them then being blamed by mamby-pamby critics, often including their teammates and even sometimes and behind closed doors, his partner.

By mentioning the above, the greater god is winning, with all other imposters so far down the list as not to even be worried about, or, for that matter, to even be considered.

As a simple analogy for sports fans, isn’t that fact, (in my mind, almost alone) what made Lebron James jump from an extremely talented player who was perhaps only using 50% or so of his talent to being on his way to matching Michael Jordan (who, at least to my way of thinking) went through the same process later in his career allowing him to seemingly make every important game deciding shot to win everything as opposed to earlier in his career scoring 50+ points but just being somewhat ordinary at the end. Kobe Bryant, as he has aged, has somewhat lost some confidence also which hurts his game and therefore his team. The above also applies to many other sports wherein the stars involved, although supremely talented never reach their full potential of refusing to lose and proving it by their play (witness Mario Rivera of the NY Yankees, already in his 40’s but as good as ever, no doubt, because of his superior mindset which features supreme confidence).

All the above is intended to accent the mental aspects of competition which is true in almost all competitive endeavors, especially so in the mental grind of high-level bridge competition when one is expected to figuratively lace up his sneakers and outwit his worthy opponents, as well as outplay them.

Aggressiveness is a winning tool at the bridge table and not being aware of that, can be and usually is, extremely limiting.