Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, September 24rd, 2014

There is no fool like a careless gambler who starts taking victory for granted.

Hunter S. Thompson

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


At the World Championships last September, USA had two teams — the women's open and seniors categories. The experienced USA1 women's squad coasted to a high qualifying position in the round-robin phase of the Venice Cup. On this deal from the early stages of the event, Kerri Sanborn showed that, like Yogi, she is smarter than the average bear.

Her four-spade contract would have been defeated immediately on a diamond lead. However, just as in the other room, East had intervened with a call of three clubs, so West led the club three. Sanborn won the ace and cashed the ace and king of spades to find the bad news.

In the other room, after the top spades the Swedish declarer continued with a heart to the jack, then two more rounds of hearts. West could see the diamond discard coming on the fourth heart, so had no problem in ruffing and returning a low diamond for one down.

Sanborn, however, found a much stronger line. She went after hearts by leading the ace and king, then a low one. It seemed to West that her partner was about to win the queen, so she failed to ruff. The heart jack won the trick in dummy, a club ruff put Sanborn back in hand, and the heart queen was played for a diamond discard. There were now only two diamonds to be lost, and the vulnerable game was home for a big swing to the U.S. team.

Your partner has extras in both high-cards and shape. (With a 5-4 pattern and a good hand, he might have doubled one spade rather than bid diamonds himself.) I'm not sure if a jump to four diamonds is enough, but it gets the basic nature of your hand across — and will let you pass partner's rebid of four hearts happily.


♠ Q 7 6
 7 5
 K Q 8 6 4
♣ 10 4 3
South West North East
Pass 1♣ 1 Pass
Pass 1♠ 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieOctober 8th, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Bobby,

Well played Kerri, less so EW. Could east not throw the C2 on the second trump, suggesting a diamond honour as the club position is clear? Can the contract fail if east doesn’t have DA, as south with AK10xx AKxx Axx Q would surely have bid 4S instead of 3H while east’s bid would be skimpy? What hearts did east play under the HAK as with Q109x east could play the 10 on the second round while declarer holding HAKxxx is making this easily. Should east bother bidding Vul with broken clubs and it hardly takes up space? If partner has Qx or Ax it works well, not always otherwise.

It was still good play, but EW’s postmortem might not have been pretty! In similar vein on BWTA, I suspect east isn’t going to be pleased with west not leaving opponents in 1H. As you said the other day (tongue in cheek), you have to get these decisions right.



bobby wolffOctober 8th, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Hi Iain,

First, thanks for applying your usual strong bridge bent, to accurately describe the thought procedures necessary to get those decisions right.

It seem that these days, while everyone appreciates and enjoys short cuts to the right answer, IMO the only successful road to world class defense is to:

1. Indelibly remember the bidding, complete if they occur, with tempo breaks by the opposition.

2. At least have some working knowledge, particularly during a World Championship, of the bidding tendencies of the pair you and your partner are playing. And, because of its practical application, this is every bit as important as their particular system and its nuances. Usually for the team’s coach to provide.

3. Kerri has been a great player for many years, with her shrewd cleverness (legal deception) among her biggest assets.

4. From the beginning to the end of every hand, concentration (particularly while defending), must be intense and no excuses available for failure.

5. As the play begins a mental note needs to register, both as to the declarer’s distribution (unfolding during the bidding and play to that point from both sides) and, of course, climaxing when the flag is up and waving (when Kerri led a 3rd low heart toward the jack).

6. While the above may seem next to impossible for some, equate that thought along with many other events in one’s lifetime, (walking, talking, thinking, speaking, reasoning) and presto, magico, my guess is that a relatively large number of our population is blessed with the ability to so do, but many live their whole lifetimes without so much as even trying.

7. You, Iain, have analyzed the thought processes you suggest, and I agree, but others need different prompts to adequately perform. This inviolate process becomes a different regimen for many, but whatever the form, without it, that bridge player has set a ceiling on his (her) game, never to rise above.

8. Is playing high-level bridge the most important thing to consider? Most would say obviously not (and I agree), but it does represent an organized, productive mind, one which should experience and benefit from the process, especially when they are young enough to appreciate its challenge and above all, its brilliance and sheer beauty.

The above can only be adequately accomplished by having bridge (as an elective subject) in our school systems. As we speak, many countries in Europe have it, as well as 200 million young students in China experiencing it on a daily basis, with rave notices to read from those involved.

Iain ClimieOctober 8th, 2014 at 1:32 pm

PS Despite the risk of missing a 4-4 heart fit, is 3D a better bid by S or even 4S directly, giving the oppo as little info as possible?

bobby wolffOctober 8th, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Hi Iain,

I think yes, since when within range, just do it.

However trying to obfuscate (bidding 3 diamonds instead) is a two edged sword, sometimes if West has the hand to bid 5 clubs (unlikely but possible), partner will be operating at a disadvantage for showing judgment, and when given the opportunity will politely (who is kidding who) inform me.

Also shrewd opponents may see through an attempt to cloud the opponent’s mind and instead use it to their advantage.

My experience suggests to just bid it and then play it (like good chefs cook) to perfection.

However, in my case, sometimes my best laid plans, come up on the short side, only beckoning me to attempt to improve.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, as the case may be) I have nothing more profound to contribute.

Iain ClimieOctober 8th, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for all this although our earlier posts crossed. I think my only concern, though it will seen absurd, is your point 4 on intense concentration. I’ve frequently found that it is possible to think too hard (!) and that relaxed concentration works better for me. What this says about how my brain works (or doesn’t), I’ll leave you to decide, but playing almost by “feel” works absurdly well for me now and even did so in the past.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had a successful partnership with a very intelligent Cambridge chemistry graduate who was intellectual, cultured and a serious student of the game. A hand came up in a reasonably strong competition where I was having a hot streak. I played the first few tricks quickly, had a brief think, and then played the next few at similar speed before giving RHO an apologetic smile. Perhaps more by luck than judgement, I’d played a stepping stone squeeze from Reese’s “The Expert Game”. I didn’t get praise, though, but a tongue in cheek query about my parentage. I couldn’t even have the decency to think about what I was doing.

To be fair, thee have been days where the laid back approach has misfired horribly, but I suspect it is possible to overdo the thinking. Feel free to shoot me down!


bobby wolffOctober 9th, 2014 at 12:03 am

Hi Iain,

I would if I could, but I can’t so I won’t.

By intense concentration, I suppose I mean attention to the specific hand being played, trying hard to not miss a tell or an opportunity to be as tough an opponent as possible.

Opportunities in bridge, whether as declarer or in a partnership defense, somehow abound more often than suspected, so whether (when defending) a declarer BIT suggests something positive or even perhaps rules out certain card combinations, file it mentally, to later reappear in a telling way (like a brief look by a worthy opponent at the vulnerability before passing perhaps suggesting that his relatively poor hand did include some unbalanced distribution or when declaring, keeping track of which opponent is more interested in what is going on (sometimes, in the absence of a poker player’s mentality) indicating holding a key card rather than it being held by his bored partner).

However all the worldwide really good players learn early not to give their opponents much more than what they can glean from the bidding, lack of bidding, or play up to that point.

While trying to play in a consistent manner and not going too far in playing mind games, I do think a herky jerky style rather than an ultra smooth never varying tempo is, in the long run, harder to read, if only to balance what may happen if something unexpected is played which, by its surprise appearance, might cause you to help the hated opponents score up that hand.

In other words, I agree with you, that all wannabe good players should develop their own tempo and concentrate in what is for them the most comfortable competitive mindset.