Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

But knowledge to their eyes her ample age
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll.

Thomas Gray

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


On this hand from the quarter-finals of the 1995 Marlboro Bermuda Bowl Joey Silver of Canada combined technique with gut reactions to produce a game swing. Like everyone else, he reached four spades after East, who was known to be an aggressive player, had opened the bidding with a weak two bid in hearts. When East overtakes the lead of the heart jack with the queen, the natural thing for declarer to do seems to be to win, lay down the spade queen, then play another spade and hope to guess well! The odds are very close between playing for the drop or the finesse in spades, but virtually everyone in this position played for the drop, and went one down.

Silver found a significant improvement on this line when he ducked the first trick, leaving East on play. He was hoping that East would reveal a little more about his side-suit shape. For example if East had shifted to a club it would have been a fair bet that he had a singleton there, and thus not a singleton trump. Similarly it would have been tempting for East to shift to a doubleton diamond, which would also have given Silver valuable information.

When East actually continued with a second heart, Silver inferred that East had at least three diamonds and at least two clubs; thus the spade finesse became the indicated play. He won the heart ace, cashed the spade king, then finessed the spade 10 to make his contract.

It looks simple enough to raise to three clubs here – and no one could really argue with that. But if you consider, as I do, that you are top of the range for that action, you can bid two spades instead to show that you have a maximum club raise with a spade feature. The point is that your partner will then know how to evaluate his major-suit cards better.


♠ A 10 6
 9 7 4
 8 7 6
♣ K Q 5 4
South West North East
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


ArunJanuary 6th, 2015 at 11:22 am

It is so valuable to understand what the declarer was thinking – in this case probably the stunned defenders must have asked for an elaboration on how the declarer had arrived at the conclusion that he did. So now we know.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Hi Arun,

Yes, Joey’s play on this hand showed not only what it takes to go against the herd, but why it is not anti percentage to follow one’s instincts and “go for it”.

First, with the above reasoning, assuming East is a good player (and anyone representing his country in a bridge World Championship should fit that mold) Silver’s conclusions would indicate that East would have no more than 2 spades. Obviously 6 hearts, at least 2 clubs (didn’t try for an immediate ruff) and, if holding any doubleton diamond, why not switch to that suit. but if not, 3+ would always be the reason. Therefore, while holding only 2 spades, chances are they do not include the jack, since West will then hold either 3 or 4.

Presto, magico, it becomes the percentage play for a bright (and bold) declarer to act on this knowledge, and, of course, gets rewarded by making a game that others may not.

At the very least, he will be written up as imaginative enough to follow through with his inspiration.

Try it, you may like it. However, if it fails, your personality will have to absorb the being thought of as unilateral, but what’s a fella to do?

jim2January 6th, 2015 at 1:31 pm

If I had done that play, East would have bid with a 5-card suit, with the JS replacing the heart five-spot.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Hi Jim2,

Absolutely and no doubt that would have happened.

The one good educational fact we can now learn is that you were in a zero % game, impossible to make, regardless of what you, as declarer did.

I once woke up from a deep sound sleep screaming, of course while dreaming about you and your affliction, TOCM tm. Of course, while having this disease toughens your resolve and improves your concession manners, it does take away at least some pleasure from playing.

However, the good news is that when others either contract the disease, or in some cases, only think they do, the result does provide some balm to the ego.

Good luck, and never forget the value you contribute to your opponent’s self-esteem. It is, indeed, a rare event for an ill wind not to blow some positive vibes.

Iain ClimieJanuary 6th, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Hi Bobby, Jim2,

If Jim2 had been declarer, the rueful rabbit might have been east and switched to a diamond. The cards would have been sticky (rubber bridge being the name of the game) and he’s have managed to get the club 3 on the table instead, an obvious singleton…

The rest can be imagined!


Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Brilliant, as usual.

Both the rueful rabbit (RR) and your superior sense of humor would have immediately appreciated just how often the game of bridge, both declarer’s play and the defense against it, lends itself to who the RR represents himself to be. Ditto, Skippy Simon’s Futile Willy, Mr. Smug, The Unlucky Expert and Mrs. Guggenheim consistently showing their flawed personalities at the bridge table.

Turning to serious bridge talk, some of the plays depicted from the above cartoon characters can actually be made at the table by super experts, and for the right reasons.

However they are few and far between, and, for sure, never mentioned or even implied for fear of losing the intended humor involved.

A good rule of thumb for those interested in rising high on the bridge ladder of success is when considering what to do, whether as declarer or defender, do not overlook unusual plays which might either force or only contribute to allowing a worthy opponent into misreading the overall layout and fall into the trap of making a fatal (for them) mistake.

Yes, our truly exceptional game of wits, also sometimes provides for such potential of brilliance, with today’s hand a worthwhile example.

Iain ClimieJanuary 6th, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

Far too kind, as ever.


jim2January 6th, 2015 at 5:52 pm

The cards are merciless enough on their own! Adding RR against me ….

— shudder —

Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2015 at 11:18 am

Hi Jim2,

True, and I sympathise.
Forewarned is forearmed, so check RHO at the start of the hand for long ears, twitching nose and/or relevant surname (including lapin in French etc). If it is a Mrs. J. Rabbit, however, concentrating on the cards may be tricky. I once disgraced myself at a tournament in 1978; I noticed a devastatingly attractive young lady playing in an adjacent section and tried to walk through a wall instead of an adjacent door. I’d like to pretend it was like Michael Corleone in the Godfather (when he’s in Sicily ) but a cross between Mr. Magoo and Wile E Coyote was probably more like it.


Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

What’s Up, Doc?

Why would any random devastatingly attractive young lady drive anyone bugs, especially either of you? It’s whats up front that counts and that doesn’t mean only opening leads.

And Iain, do you really have to go back 37 years to remember being disgraced? At that rate it won’t happen again until 2052 when Robert Darvas plans on again returning to “Right Through the Pack” with a 2nd reprisal, proving that all good things come in threes.

Since Mr. Magoo might have trouble distinguishing Wile E Coyote from the Road Runner, he would have to be farsighted to recognize them from either one of the long eared, small tailed Rueful or Bugs and, of course all females who adore carrots or is it carats.

“That’s all folks”! Please say hello to Tom & Jerry. Yaahayaaha, Yaahayaaha, sheeeee.

Iain ClimieJanuary 7th, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Should “up front” be “up top” in the last post? They could hit trouble too, mind you, and I fear a female finger beckoning one or both of us. “We need to talk” then tends to follow, surely the scariest words that a man can hear from a member of the fair sex (note pre-emptive whimpering here, or a cartoon character’s gulp).

Bobby WolffJanuary 7th, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, “up top”, of course translated, to “breasting one’s cards”.

Also, both of us know that “We need to talk” is always a direct reference to “I am going to tell you how the cow ate the cabbage, the reason for it, and what you now are going to do about it”.

Finally the cartoon character’s gulp, apparently just like the landing on the moon, “a small step for man, but a giant step for mankind” is an insignificant acknowledgement by a bemused male, often representing a momentous inconvenience, and sometimes an inglorious embarrassment to him.

Woe is life, but if one hasn’t experienced it up to now, just like in bridge, going set in a “cold” contract, if he lives long enough, he WILL!

Cultures sometimes are quite different, especially now, with people losing their heads, but I suspect, concerning the above, the battle of the sexes will always remain the same.