Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 12th, 2015

The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.

Joshua Harris

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


Frank Stewart regularly donates the profits from his books to local causes. His most recent project, “Play Bridge with Me,” is available from the writer — $23.95 postpaid to the US (signed on request) from PO Box 962 Fayette AL 35555.

In today’s deal Stewart overcalls two hearts in fear and trembling, but it turns out well when his partner raises to four hearts. Everyone passes, and East (wrongly, it transpires) encourages on West’s lead of the spade king. West leads another spade to East’s ace for a third spade, and Stewart decides to ruff with the jack, since East probably has the heart queen for his opening bid.

Since East’s opening bid also marks him with the diamond ace and club king, Stewart leads a trump to the king, dropping East’s queen. Now when declarer leads the diamond seven from dummy, East is caught. If he takes the ace, Stewart can discard a club from dummy on the diamond king later; so he must play low, and declarer’s king wins.

Stewart then draws West’s last trump with dummy’s 10, discards a diamond from hand on the spade queen and leads the diamond queen. East takes the ace but is endplayed. He must lead from the club king or give declarer a ruff-sluff, and so the contract comes home.

The key in the play was not to take an immediate discard on the spade queen. If Stewart throws a diamond prematurely, East can grab the diamond ace and exit safely with a diamond, leaving declarer with a club to lose.

As a passed hand you have two sensible choices (pass not being one of them). I don’t like raising clubs, and bidding no-trump feels premature, so I have to choose between a two diamond cue-bid, which will get us to a major-suit fit but may suggest more club-tolerance than this, and two hearts, which over-emphasizes the major at the expense of the spades. I prefer the former, as slightly more flexible.


♠ Q J 7 4
 K 10 8 6 4
 Q 7
♣ Q 6
South West North East
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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitDecember 26th, 2015 at 11:19 am

You say that E “wrongly” encourages a spade continuation. Okay, but how is he supposed to tell his partner to shift to a C, rather than a D, at trick 2?

bobby wolffDecember 26th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Hi David,

You, as usual, bring up a provocative challenge, quite often evident, while defending in bridge.

The correct answer is simply that he cannot vocally or otherwise legally tell his partner to switch to one minor or the other. However since West held the diamond jack, but not the jack of clubs, he might then consider that such a negative spade signal (while, of course, holding the ace) should show a clear preference to the minor which looked the most likely to achieve the best result (the KJ of clubs) wherein he could not have that holding in diamonds. Yes bridge fate itself, provided the jack of diamonds to be with West enabling that winning decision (but, alas, not to be).

However, before we close our discussion, your above question reminded me of a “real” bridge story from perhaps 40 years ago and involved a true elegant lady, Judy Jacoby, Jim’s wonderful wife and, of course, sadly now his widow of many years, Jim’s death occurring in 1991.

Jim and Judy agreed to play with a good older player in a famous European bridge tournament, who while approaching the finish line in life and in a wheel chair was a fierce competitor, but relished the idea of one last chance for bridge fame. The scene now switches to the well-attended mixed pair in an exclusive hotel in which Judy was now playing with our hero.

Of course, though the English language was the official speak of bridge (and still is) and bidding boxes were not universally used (at that time and in this tournament) Judy & partner were playing against a somewhat arrogant local pair (at least the male) who only spoke his language (certainly not English) and with his partner effectively bid 1NT Pass 3NT (in their native language), leaving Judy on lead, but not without conversing with his wife in his language during the bidding.

Our hero then, after sitting upright in his wheel chair, said softly but certainly heard across the table, “Lead a diamond Judy!” since he no doubt, felt his opponents, by being somewhat rude and haughty in their behavior, while sensing he was looking down his nose in disrespect to these Americans, but likely didn’t speak English at all. He also figured to get away with it (rightfully so since no later complaint), although Judy, to this day, has never said whether she led one or not nor whether it made any difference in the result.

In any event, perhaps Judy’s partner found a more direct and therefore effective way to, at the very least, attempt to get the right lead and get it done before he left this planet.

slarDecember 26th, 2015 at 3:53 pm

This weekend I learned of an initiative in New York City called “Chess at 3”. Chess is obviously very big in NYC and apparently someone has come up with a way to teach chess to 3-5 year olds. This approach combines storytelling with incremental teaching of how the pieces move and, later, strategy. It seems quite innovative and I was wondering if there was an equivalent for bridge.

ClarksburgDecember 26th, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Hi Slar,
I have a board game called BIDittle. The suits have only 7 cards, Ace to eight.
The Board is two-sided. On the simpler side, the players just bid for tricks and name the suit; on the other side there is a simple auction. There is no storytelling feature.
It’s supposedly for 10+ age, but I’d think any bright and engaged 5-year old could handle it. The very first time my grandaughter (then a nine-year-old) played it, she recognized that on one hand she had an “entry problem” (She didn’t call it that of course, but “she knew it when she saw it”! Little brother, then 7, seemed to quickly learn to figure out what his hand was likely worth, trickswise.

Iain ClimieDecember 26th, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Hi Slar,

My grandmother taught me something called card dominoes when I was very small. It acted as a later introduction to whist (and basic numeracy) then bridge. The idea was simply to play cards making up all the suits from Ace to 2 in the middle of the table, with a player who runs out of cards first beign the winner. You got dealt a certain number of cards, the 7 of diamonds had to be played first (if anyone had it) then any 7 was played. Players then played another 7 (if held) or a card adjacent to any on the table or picked up a card if they couldn’t go. It is a glorified counting game but is a good way of getting numeracy into kids plus a little bit of basic tactics when you have a choice of plays. I reckon 4-5 year olds could cope.



bobby wolffDecember 27th, 2015 at 1:15 am

Hi Slar, Clarksburg, & Iain,

A virtual treasure trove of games featuring numbers.

Since IMO chess, because of the traveling of its pieces, is strategically ruled by numbers and the other games mentioned above, although unknown to me, at least up to now, seem to incorporate the same, we now have a natural competition.

Those who love words and their derivations and, of course, tradition vs. the random, but fairly simplified version of numbers and their application.

You show me a person of only average overall intelligence, but one who is ruled by numbers on a daily basis, and I’ll show you someone who could be really good at bridge, not to mention space, weaponry, arithmetic logic, engineering, architecture and even military strategy.

However the word merchants develop into writers, speakers, secretaries, teachers, historians, lawyers, and though sadly, politicians.

Who will be the first to develop a game which features a competition between those two talents? (with, of course, a betting line which will establish who will be the favorite, but, no doubt, will be rooting for the arithmeticians)