Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

A man must make his opportunity, as oft find it.

Francis Bacon

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


At work today from the Providence Nationals last fall is Steve Garner, who took his best chance on this deal from a pairs game early in the tournament.

After East’s opening bid, West decided to try to construct an auction to allow himself to buy the hand in five clubs doubled. As you can see, this was well-judged, up to a point, since five clubs doubled goes for 500, less than the value of his opponents’ game.

But having unsuccessfully tried to walk the dog, West then continued his imaginative play by leading the spade jack. This was indeed the most effective start for the defenders.

Garner won the spade ace, cashed the heart ace and king to get the bad news, ruffed a club, then led a diamond to the ace. A second diamond picked up that suit without loss, then he carefully exited with a spade, not a trump.

East won the trick but had only clubs to lead, and had to concede the ruff-sluff. Why was it important to lead a spade, not a heart? The point is that East could have set five hearts by pitching his spade honor at trick three on the second trump. Although he had failed to take advantage of his first opportunity, had Garner played a third trump, might East have woken up and taken his second chance? We’ll never know!

Double-dummy experts might care to look for the line to make five hearts by force after a spade lead. Hint: don’t draw all the trump.

Were you tempted to jump to four spades, or make an even stronger call of four clubs? That last call shows short clubs and at least a raise to four spades. Both of those calls should be reserved for stronger hands (a balanced 18-19 count, and the same hand with an extra king, respectively). This is a raise to three spades; if partner passes, game is highly unlikely to be good.


♠ A 7 4 2
 A K 9 7
 A 8 5 3
♣ J
South West North East
1 Pass 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


jim2December 9th, 2015 at 11:48 am

Double dummy? I am no expert, but double heart finesse and diamond Q drop. I do not understand the column hint about not drawing all the trump.

That is:

– AS
– C ruff
– H finesse (covered/split, overtake)
– KD
– H finesse
– draw last trump
– diamonds from the top
– concede 2S at end

= 1S + 5H + 5D = 11 tricks

(And if East fails the S unblock, 12 tricks by throw-in and ruff-sluff after second diamond)

I suspect the column “Hint” was how to make SIX hearts double-dummy. In that case:

– AS
– C ruff
– H finesse
– Both top Ds
– xS for throw-in, ruff-sluff

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

I’m guessing that the hinted column line is to cash 1 top heart (weaken the N/S trumps slightly if you want, so the double trump finesse isn’t available), ruff a club, cash 2 diamonds and then throw East in with the spade K/Q to give a ruff and discard.



bobby wolffDecember 9th, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

Yes, between the two of you, all the bases are covered and the riddle proposed answered. Iain directly answers the question but then Jim2 goes one step further with an extra trick, but of course runs a risk of failure by losing to unwelcome trump combinations.

The ultimate magic of sensational declarer play, as divined out by Steve Garner, is not so much scientifically mastering card combinations, but rather fitting the guesses of specific cards and sometimes even more important, distributions, both fitting the live bidding and the players involved.

The crucial step is then having the courage to back one’s judgment in then executing those assumptions. Here, as pointed out in the column is the determination by declarer as to the likely club distribution (8-4, as opposed to 7-5 or even 9-3) followed by after the 3-1 hearts then diamonds breaking 2-2 or if not, East having the length.

Finally when the column refers to West as after leading a spade, “his imaginative play”, the opening lead (with the queen dropping from East) turns out as nothing positive for the defense as the then sleuthing by Garner was helped along to an excellent result.

At least to me, the very best players can be linked to these super guesses as opposed to just relying on excellent scientific technique. It has to do with always thinking of the 13 card layout of both opponents hands as the play progresses. Matching those possibilities as likely, when the hand is unfolding.

Thanks to both of you (and others) for your constant sophisticated effort to explain the dynamics of very high level bridge.

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Hi again Bobby, Jim2,

If East were a slightly different shape (e.g. 2 hearts but still KQ of spades) the endplay in spades would still work to avoid a trump loser. So shouldn’t East drop the DQ under the Ace on the first round? OK as a genuine double dummy problem this makes no difference, but imagine the effect at the table.



Jeff SDecember 9th, 2015 at 5:43 pm

I was a little surprised that West didn’t immediately bid 4C (or even 5C) in an effort to keep the opponents out. I guess he was hoping the points split evenly enough that 3C might be allowed to stand, but that seems to be wishful thinking.

I think South can guess at the 8-4 distribution as West’s bidding does not make much sense if he is holding five clubs. And it would be hard for East to sell either the KS or QS as a singleton (I supposed he could be leaving an option to later unblock from KQx). So, South can probably work out that East has three red cards. I think he did work it out and then guessed after the first trump to play a second one knowing it was a guess.

I think he had already worked out that if he guessed wrong, he would play East for exactly two diamonds and throw him in with the spade if that player failed to unblock. It seems there is almost no chance that East would fail to unblock a second time if all he had was clubs and one high spade when his partner was thrown in with a trump.

This is probably my longest comment ever. Fun hand!

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2015 at 7:07 pm

Hi Iain,

You are now delving into the mysteries of the supreme mind battles possible when the bridge competition reaches the absolute highest level.

Yes, by all means, the false card of the queen of diamonds, holding Qx, could indeed favorably for that falsecarder, win a bridge World Championship by the playing of that card and for the cogent reason implied, in your sophisticated bridge mind, cause the declarer to miss guess the location of either the heart queen or the heart ten (as the case might be), playing for East to have a doubleton rather than a singleton, not thinking it percentage for him to have two singletons in the red suits to match his KQ of spades doubleton.

Of course, that falsecarder needs to have courage, because sometimes, bridge being the game it is, that so-thought queen of diamonds
instead of being cannon fodder, on most other layouts of the cards (please do not make me produce that contingency) may come back to haunt the person who turns her loose.

And very top-level bridge does not provide thinking time when holding a singleton (as the queen is intended to convey) to simply play it.

Impossible (NO), very difficult (YES), but you show me any human being who can be confident when he (she) does do it and I’ll show you a contrived unrealistic story. To do it is to trade on the experience of an honor, lower than a king (in this case with the ace in clear view) is very unlikely, when held next to fall, to be of any real value.

Making the lesson today the incredible value of years of worthwhile high-level bridge experience in the making of a true bridge star, and therefore reinforcing the fact, why there are no very young bridge geniuses, as there have been in music and art.

There are indications of youths who have the capabilities to be one (revolving around high numeracy quotient), but, as is often said, having the potential only means, not there yet.

RyanDecember 9th, 2015 at 7:18 pm

On BTWA, is the hand strong enough to make the 2H reverse bid and support spades later? Partner likely does not have four hearts, but to me the final contract is likely to be the same as a 3S bid.

jim2December 9th, 2015 at 7:43 pm

What extra risk? Double-dummy is double-dummy?!

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Good news. Your first comment is that West is playing games with you since when the dummy comes down you will know immediately that EW have 12 clubs and yet West never tried to preempt you, likely (in some mindsets and in his opinion) that his preemption may force North to enter the bidding with your side finding their fit and thus likely a making final high contract.

It is that kind of information that makes winners out of the pair who is better suited for psychological games at a very high level of bridge. Since that was your very first thought it suggests that those sorts of mind games will fit very well within your talent to compete competitively in an intelligent manner.

Yes, it may have been your longest comment on this site, but by doing so, is an indication that you are well suited, by being a good bridge sleuth, to climbing the bridge latter to a very high plain.

BTW, since your parents named you Jeff, and you then decided to call yourself that, plus, little doubt, your last name initial, you should feel fortunate that they didn’t choose to name you Jack instead.

Yes! A fun hand and all that goes with.

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Hi Ryan,

While you are correct in that a rebid of 2 hearts is also a strong hand, at least the strength of a spade jump raise, it is an important bridge caveat to raise partner immediately, allowing both partners to now judge their hands knowing spades to be the partnership trump suit.

By doing so, often changing evaluations become fixed on the values of aces opposite singletons,, fitting honors in sidesuits and other up to then mysteries. Until that feature (naming trumps) becomes set in both partner’s minds bidding exchanges have lesser meanings. Never keep partner in suspense so that, if possible, choose that avenue when able.

The above then restricts South to choosing either a spade jump or 4 clubs which is an overbid, but does support spades.

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2015 at 10:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt double dummy is double dummy (seeing all four hands).

Which in turn emphasizes what works rather than what to expect without knowing where all the cards are dealt.

In reality, let the winners proclaim results, but for strict learning, we need to talk subjectively about what appears the percentage expectation.

However if all bridge table conversations were recorded, particularly right after the hand was played, no doubt the emphasis would be on the results. Not terribly logical, but, no doubt, the norm.

However, the old admonition of let the winner explain what to do, still applies, even though sometimes there is tongue in cheek.