Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 10th, 2014

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman where the self-help section was. She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

George Carlin

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


The hallmark of a well-constructed problem is that it resembles the sort of deal you face in real life. If you were to look at today's deal and remark with raised eyebrows, that the blockage in the heart suit and the lack of entries to dummy in the trump suit seem rather artificial, I would be hard-pressed to argue with you. But that is not the point. Having reached six spades, and having found dummy with a tantalizing collection of goodies that appear to be just out of reach, how are you going to make best use of its assets?

Let’s assume you win the diamond lead and play the trump ace, West showing out and discarding a diamond. If West holds the club king, you can draw the last trump, cash the heart ace, and play a diamond, forcing West to give you an entry to dummy with a club, heart, or diamond.

However, East is surely the favorite to hold the club king because of the theory of Vacant Spaces, which tells you that West has six cards outside of diamonds and spades, while East has 10 such spaces.

If you believe, as I do, that West would be equally likely to open a three-diamond pre-empt with or without the club king, then the way home from here is to cash the heart ace and exit with the trump five. As the cards lie, East is forced to bring dummy back to life and allow you to make 12 tricks.

Your partner has shown six diamonds and five spades and not a huge hand. (He could have bid two spades at his second turn or jumped to three spades over one no-trump.) My best guess would be to let sleeping dogs lie and pass two spades. Correcting to three diamonds might improve the contract — but you really do not want to hear partner bid again!


♠ 8 6
 J 9 6 4 3
♣ K J 9 5 3
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
1 NT 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Howard Bigot-JohnsonOctober 24th, 2014 at 10:49 am

HBJ : What I love ( and hate ) about these hands is the challenge of finding a solution which in this case is an entry to dummy , but not having the wit at the table to find the answer.
The idea of giving up a trump trick seems absurd but not if it gives you two tricks in return to see the contract home.
This hand is simple case of card reading and counting. All that is required is for West to have his 7 diamonds and East the king of clubs.
All to often players ( like me ) fail to see the wood having been blinded by trees. All to often we spend too much time cursing the fact that there is no obvious entry to dummy, when in actual fact there is. So will somebody help me take my blinkers off.
A lovely instructive hand.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2014 at 12:58 pm


Many thanks for first your closing compliment.

Second, more thanks for your self deprecation, while others may throw brick bats (or maybe something even more destructive) at the messenger for contriving such a far out scenario, complete with not giving East the deuce of spades to go with his higher one.

Hopefully, rather than to try and show up victims of this sort of bridge ruse, our intent is only to render our beloved game as one of problem solving, based on puzzles which have positive solutions available.

Finding them helps to stimulate ways to so-called bridge think, which in this case is trading one non-losing trick for two winning ones in return.

Your response, at least to me, shows enormous character, a trait which through my long time experience has shown mightily, particularly among the very top world players I have played against, who in actuality, vitally love the game, instead of, in this special case, feel duped into feeling bad about oneself.

I only wish I had been a better sport about all the many bridge matches
I have lost, wherein if I had played better, the result likely would have been different.

Our game is the thing, to be cherished for sure.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Hi again HBJ,

And for those who ask, “how does declarer know that spades are not 1-1 with East having the 8 and West the 6” my planned reply is that our unlucky very good friend Jim2 supplies the answer, since his Theory of Card Migration (TOCM tm)) never lets his opponents trump break evenly.

Besides, and providently, declarer didn’t think about how to play the hand correctly until he had drawn one round of trumps.

jim2October 24th, 2014 at 2:50 pm

No such luck, Dear Host! In this hand TOCM ™ would have His Majesty of Clubs switch from the Realm of the East to the Kingdom of the West depending upon the line I chose.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Hi Bobby, HBJ and Jim2,

Vulnerability may be relevant here too. If EW were Non-Vul, some might open the West hand 3D with a diamond less, espeically if playing either strong 2s or or Benjamin 2s (very popular here). West leads the DK and, if east plays the lower card from his doubleton, it would be very tempting to endplay East – who then gleefully leads back his 2nd diamond. TOCM here would definitely give West the CK!

Given the reckless tendency to pre-empt on less and less (as everyone uses TO doubles nowadays) this might even happen at Game All, especially if West has (say) 0364 shape and some club intermediates or possibly the King. I’d condemn such tendencies as shocking examples of modern day ill-discipline and near depravity in the bidding, except that I’m a culprit too.

Still, my parrtner the other night opened a ropy wek 2H (1st in hand Game All) with a broken suit, found me with a 3-1-5-4 9 count and the auction went 2H P P X All Pass. The hand on his left had 5 decent trumps so that was -1100 on our first hand. Justice is sometimes done, although it was only pairs, so no team mates were harmed in the concession of this number.



SlarOctober 24th, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Yeah, I did the same thing last night with a 2=6=3=2 quacky 5-count. LHO was planning to open 1H which partner would have doubled for takeout. RHO failed to balance with a double but -150 was still not a good number in pairs. OK fine yes I should have done a loser-on-loser play to keep it to -100. Oh well. Bad bridge is still fun.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Hi Slar,

Interestingly, what would you have done if you’d passed instead and RHO had passed partner’s double of 1H (or redoubled)? Sounds like 1H X would be making or even an overtrick, 1N might not have been successful and 2D could easily have misfired. Maybe things could have been worse ….


SlarOctober 24th, 2014 at 9:12 pm

No one in my flight made 1HXN but double-dummy it does make. No one in my flight pulled the double and won (?) the auction. It is a tricky hand no matter who is declarer – scores are all over the place. I can’t seem to find what happened in the other sections at the moment.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Hi again Slar,

Have you got the whole hand? I’d be interested in the details and Bobby’s views.


SlarOctober 24th, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Sure. No idea how well this diagram will come through.

Board 1 North
Matchpoints S KJ9
N-S Vul H K9843
West C Q96 East
S Q42 S A85
H JT7652 H A
D Q3 D 9754
C 75 South C AJ842
S T763
D KJ862

SlarOctober 24th, 2014 at 10:23 pm

So that’s west dealer, favorable vul, next 4 lines are N cards. I take no pride in my decision to open 2H. It was too weak for our agreements but I was feeling plucky.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I sympathise, but the hand is a bit of a quagmire both ways. One for the cautious, for a change.

Bobby WolffOctober 25th, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hi Slar & Iain,

Sorry for not getting back sooner.

While I do not have anything important to add to whatever you guys have discussed, there could be a couple of useful admonitions.

Opening 2 hearts, especially at favorable vulnerability often wins the race, and I would never criticize going after the opponents by throwing tacks in the road. Also feeling plucky is a reasonable mindset while competing, but I do not want to overrate that controversial bridge strategy.

However, another discipline comes into play, this one primarily at matchpoints, and at least IMO deserves at least, some attention:

1. Even when playing a very distasteful contract, 2 hearts EW, (although NV) full effort is required by those few who have the determination to leave nothing on the table, and that means giving oneself on every hand and for all 13 tricks.

2. With some hurried analysis by me, it seems that this hand was laying sort of favorably for declaring 1NT by NS, particularly by South after West would normally pass and North would likely open 1 heart. Therein, if South played a normal forcing 1NT (but with my preferred exception of allowing his partner to pass it with a minimum (12-bad 14 with a likely 5-3-3-2) I, for one, would choose that response. Then, of course depending on the exact defense, but with most suits being favorable for NS, I might guess the normal number of tricks taken NS, would be 8 with 9 more often than 7,

3. If so, it then became important to hold the EW deficit to only down 2 instead of 3 which might make as much difference as a full 1/3+ of a board.

4. While declaring 2 hearts EW, he must fight against the very normal agitation which always is present when one is unhappy, and therefore try to save the ship as best he can.

5. The above pluck is reserved mostly for winners and must be learned since emotion (the oft felt significant enemy of most competitors) continues to work against.

The good news is that all players will deal with this threat in almost every duplicate game ever played, and so it is an opportunity to sway dame fortune into winning bigger scores for those who overcome.

All of us play great when our finesses work and our bidding is consistently on target. The cream of our crop do not let adversity bury them. Sure all of us, when that occurs, would rather be some place else, but that will not happen, so make the best of what one has to work with.

Daddy has spoken. (I just wish that I would have been a whole lot better at that than I actually am).

slarOctober 27th, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Thanks for that analysis. I think part of my problem was that I didn’t realize I was in a bad contract until it was too late. I should have gotten the wakeup call when LHO led A-x and I will be alert to that in the future.