Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Success always occurs in private, and failure in full view.


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



The Gold Coast congress is very different from a US event, in that they have separate categories of open, novice, intermediate and seniors but everyone plays the same deals.

In round eight of the Intermediate Teams qualifying, Ian Lisle sensed that his foursome was behind in the match against the squad captained by Margie Knox. The action he took here made the difference between winning and losing. Lisle was playing with his wife, Vicky.

In six diamonds he took the opening spade lead with dummy’s ace and ruffed a spade. He played a diamond to dummy’s queen and ruffed another spade. He then cashed two more trumps, leaving dummy with one.

The contract makes with a successful heart finesse, but Lisle didn’t think that this would work. There were only 11 high-card points out and West was likely to have most of them for the two spades overcall, which was known to be on only a five-card suit.

Lisle decided to forget about the heart finesse and hope that West held a singleton or doubleton heart king. Accordingly, at trick seven, Lisle played a heart to the ace and followed with the heart queen.

West won the heart king and had two bad options: to lead away from the club queen or give declarer a ruff-sluff. He chose to play a club, which Lisle ducked round to his jack. Slam made for plus 920 and a big swing to his side instead of an equal swing away, since the other table played the diamond game.

This is as much a tactical problem (how to make the opponent's life hard) as it is a constructive one of getting to your side's best contract. My inclination would be to respond with a call of one no-trump, planning to raise hearts at my next turn. This typically suggests weak preference; your hearts are better than partner might expect, unlike the rest of your hand…


♠ 6 4 3 2
 7 6 4 3 2
 J 7
♣ 5 2
South West North East
1 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 28th, 2015 at 11:22 am

You say that after 6 tricks, W was known to have only 5 spades. If so, what must have happened is that E discarded his last S on T6. Surely, though, E discarded a H. No matter what either opponent had discarded, technically, then, S should have cashed one C trick at T7 and then play on H. So I guess my question is: How did S know that W had only 5 spades?

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Hi David,

Did east helpfully echo in spades? Helping wbo(m) though?



bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Thanks for including an unexpected topic.

At the table, and while playing a certain ilk of player, usually part of a serious partnership, who, by force of habit, has unwisely learned to describe his complete distribution to partner, as an aid for partner to count the hand.

My guess is that for every time partner is helped, a very good declarer, of which in bridge there are more than imagined, especially when compared with defense, bidding and judgment, is now allowed, at least for distributional purposes and likely for high cards as well, to play hands worth inclusion in bridge columns.

Show me one or more of those kind and I’ll show you, such as baseball batters, batting against batting practice pitchers, players who continue to knock pitches out of the park.

My guess is that it is better for most defenders, while playing against an expert (or close) to NEVER signal rather than to get into the awful habit of giving one’s hand away to all who are interested.

That is, unless those players love to see their names sometimes casually mentioned as playing against a player such as the hero of today’s hand, Ian Lisle.

There are no rules in neither war nor bridge which demand enlightening their enemies and I can tell you from experience, my overall winning ratio would have gone down exponentially without those accommodating opponents alive and well.

At least to me, a worthwhile subject not oft times discussed.

slarJanuary 29th, 2015 at 2:56 pm

I would like to see an example of a hand where defensive signaling proves damaging to the defense.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Hi Slar,

A good example might be this hand, where many experienced (but unwise) partnerships carefully signal distribution to partner (such as possibly at trick one. for East to signal count (even number therefore four) to partner as to number of spades held.

At a certain high level, with only good to better players participating, signalling distribution and sometimes, for that matter strength or weakness, allows a very good declarer to play double dummy and guess the whole hand (such as, on this hand, playing West for a doubleton heart king). At high levels, unlike playing in the local duplicate, the worthy opponents, usually a declarer, is always trying to piece together the exact hands (or close) the opponents hold so as to make maximum use of his ability as declarer, often producing the contract trick through his acumen achieved through observation.

“Loose lips sink ships” in war as do signalling one’s detailed hand to partner in bridge, when the only player who needs to know is an opponent, not a friend.

angelo romanoJanuary 30th, 2015 at 6:28 pm

You win also after the heart finesse, because W controls spades and clubs (5 spades/ 2 hearts/ 1 diamond so 5 clubs. You discard a club on the last diamond, then heart for the Ace in hand squeezes W. Of course this would lose with S10 in E …

bobby wolffJanuary 31st, 2015 at 5:30 am

Hi Angelo,

Yes sir, between suit establishment, tricks with trumps, throw ins (aka end plays), coups, smother plays (very rare), dummy reversals, and the squeeze you point out (as well as other varieties), there are many weapons in declarer’s quiver.

Learning them one at a time and understanding why another trick is on its way is the quickest and the easiest way to advance through the ranks. From that then comes the detective work of learning where the defensive cards figure to be from first the bidding (or lack thereof), the choice of opening lead, sometimes helpful signals from too trusting adversaries, gleaning what is probably on each opponent’s mind, and, of course, continuing to reconstruct each opponent’s original hand and matching it to both the bidding and the previous defensive play. Then sometimes a dash of telltale tempo from an enemy sometimes precedes the final choice of “guessing cards”.

It sounds much more difficult than it really is, but one can never be ready to rumble without the experience of playing against very good players. Yes, it takes time to reach one’s peak, but once there, the only noticeable difference will likely be that both more and more end plays and guessed situations will emerge. Try it and every one who eventually succeeds learns to love the challenge.

Thanks for your educational comment.