Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face.

W. H. Auden

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

*Forcing, with diamond support


In three no-trump on a heart lead, South’s first plan is to develop the spades to make his game. If he can set up three spade winners, he will then need only one more trick; and he may then try to get that trick in clubs.

The first step is to win the first heart trick in dummy in order to play on spades. When West wins his ace, and returns a heart, declarer can see that two additional tricks will be needed, and the clubs don’t rate to do the trick. Hence South must try to develop two diamond tricks.

South should try to make West win the first diamond, to knock out the danger hand’s entry before the hearts are established. If East wins the first diamond, he will establish the hearts; and West will eventually get in with his top diamond to run the hearts.

South must tackle diamonds by leading a low diamond from dummy, since East should be given the chance to err by ducking. If East slips up, West will be forced to duck the first diamond or his hand will be dead, and South will make the contract without further difficulty. Having stolen a diamond trick, declarer can succeed by changing tack again, by playing on clubs. He emerges with two spades, a diamond, and three tricks in each of the other suits.

Had South led the first diamond from his own hand, West would let East win the first diamond. Now the defense would clear the hearts while West retains his entry.

I’m often asked what to open with 4-4 in the minors and 12-14 points. My rule is that I bid the better minor, because if I end up defending and partner is on lead, I want him to lead my better suit. Many people will quote you hands where one minor works better than the other – but they miss the point. It is basically a wash: sometimes one suit works, sometimes the other, but good suits never go out of style.


♠ 6 3
 A K 10
 J 9 7 3
♣ A J 9 4
South West North East

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2March 3rd, 2016 at 1:01 pm

How should declarer proceed if the first spade honor holds? The second?

bobbywolffMarch 3rd, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

I’ll start with a likely bridge filibuster, yes, you ask an excellent question.

If the declarer thinks the ace of spades is with his RHO (East) and that RHO’s first heart the deuce shows an odd number (of course, not four and then logically only three, assuming EW are leading 4th highest), I would then lead a club to the jack, giving up on trying to slip a diamond past East (attempt to destroy later entries for West).

Bridgeology (coining a word meaning something similar to bibliography) the diamonds are unlikely to be a source of tricks unless deception plays its magic act, which first must start with a diamond from dummy rather than hand.

If the jack of clubs would win, I, of, course would then lead another spade tempting East to rise with his phantom ace. Then of course, the clubs might furnish 4 tricks for contract or even if East had then only started with Axx in spades I could, based on table feel, make nine tricks the hard way, by obligating (another English obfuscation, but not a bridge one) the spade ace on air.

Remember the Ancient Mariner and, “Water, water, everywhere and oh the boat did shrink, water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink”. How about in describing you, “tricks, tricks everywhere, but not there for Jim2’s sake, tricks, tricks everywhere but not for Jim2 to take”?

Iain ClimieMarch 3rd, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Hi Bobby,

From the same poem, there is the feeling we’ve all had when our mistake has been blamed (rightly or wrongly) for losing a bridge match:

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

OK, the Albatross is just a metaphor for a double, bad switch or taking the push once too often (there could be a market for wearable plastic birds, I suppose), but even a player of your quality may have felt like this on occasion. For the rest of us, it is more of a regular event, tantamount to being given a bell to ring to warn others away from us or being left to wander the tournament room like Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in a doomed search for sympathy and understanding. I did once see a cartoon of a bridge hand engraved on a tombstone with the extra words “He was sitting West and led the 9 of diamonds…”

Maybe the ‘high card wins brigade’ are spared this but I suspect they’re just as vulnerable on occasion.



bobbywolffMarch 3rd, 2016 at 7:18 pm

Hi Iain,

Happiness in life seems to be rooted in expectations. For the casual bridge player (no doubt the majority of those who play) nothing about the game seems to result in your description of the sorrow to which Wagner’s Flying Dutchman felt so keenly, simply because that much was not expected.

We all go through various mood swings as we glide down the Yellow Brick Road to hoped for Nirvana and other fulfillment. Serious bridge aficionados feel the pain often associated with losing when winning was there for the taking.

Without such a thing or at least a highly emotional substitute, many of us would miss the thrill of what life can be about.

My guess is that you are one of the fortunate ones where, even with albatross attached, some feeling even melancholy, may be better and thus necessary, than none at all.

I, for one, appreciate your insight since, in at least that respect, we are of the same feather.

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