Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 7th, 2016

First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.

Dale Carnegie

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

*Two keycards plus the trump queen


The auction in today’s deal saw North taking control when his partner showed extra values and an unbalanced hand. He was looking for the grand slam, but when his partner bid six diamonds in response to his ask of five no-trump, it showed the diamond king while denying the club king. Now North could only count 12 tricks unless his partner had the spade jack, so he settled for the small slam.

West led the heart king to the ace. Before reading on, you might consider what you would do, bearing in mind that if trumps broke 3-2 you would have tricks coming out of your ears.

At the table South took the essential first step of ruffing a heart with the spade four. Then he played off the spade ace and king, getting the bad news. Now dummy’s trump spots came into their own.

South next led a diamond to the ace, took another heart ruff with the spade queen – thereby stripping the East hand of hearts, he knew, because of West’s overcall. Then declarer led a diamond to the queen, and advanced the spade 10 to drive out East’s jack, throwing the club four from hand. He could win the club return in dummy with the ace, draw the last trump with the spade nine, throwing his club queen from hand in the process. His three high diamonds in hand were enough to take the last three tricks. Contract made.

As you will discover, if you do not ruff a heart at trick two, the slam cannot be made.

This hand is far too prime to give up on slam immediately. A sensible approach is to bid three diamonds, planning to raise clubs, even if partner bids three no-trump. It is hard to imagine that five clubs isn’t cold here, so I can afford to take an indirect route, going past three no-trump. At pairs, the problem is harder.


♠ 10 9 7 5
 A 7 5 3
 A Q 4
♣ A 7
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass
1 Pass 3 ♣ 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Yasser HaiderMay 21st, 2016 at 11:14 am

Hi Bobby
What if East has 3 diamonds and 3 clubs? Then when the 10 of spades is played from dummy, East wins and plays a diamond. Now there is no way back to declarer’s diamonds after the last trump is drawn.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Hi Yasser,

Yes, you noticed a key holding which would scuttle your, what started out to be, a very good slam.

However, can you see a better way to play this hand? Obviously if spades are normally split, there would be little to discuss, but the high-level technique required to ruff a heart as trick two, just in case, is a lesson worth learning and by so doing, and at the same time realizing why doing it, is so very necessary, can lead to future happy days while at the table.

No name (that I know) for it, but is all involved in what could be labeled declarer flexibility, in the event of a dreaded 4-1 break.

Thanks for your eagle eye, which required proper analysis.

Andrea BurgdorfMay 21st, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Hello. In your column from May 19 you said that if a low club was led, the contract couldn’t be made. Please explain.

jim2May 21st, 2016 at 3:50 pm

The on-line version lags two weeks from the printed version.

Nonetheless, the answer is East wins and shifts to a heart. If declarer wins, loses 2 hearts when East gets in with AD. If declarer ducks to West, defense resumes club attack and declarer cannot make the heart discard as in the column line as that would be the setting trick.

jim2May 21st, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Apologies to Our Host for my presumption, but I thought to encourage a new reader to return.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Hi Andrea & Jim2,

First Andrea, thanks for your inquiry and thus your interest in our great game. Although Jim2 saved me having to do back flips to merely get to the “real” newspaper column from that day, I’m appreciative of your taking the time to get your bridge question answered. And now, don’t be a stranger, but keep in mind that if reading the actual column in the newspaper, exactly two weeks later, that column will appear on this site, usually with at least several “twists” to be discussed by our illustrious panel of experts (or so they think) which inhibit, no, inhabit, very learned and creative ideas of what may or may not have transpired.

All in all a very terrifying, no, I mean enlightening, experience.

Hey Jim2, I do not accept your apology (well maybe I will) for intervening, however since you indeed saved me from the horror of engaging my file system (worst ever constructed) I do owe you a significant debt of gratitude, and so promise I will overlook, without so much as a whimper, if you should be so callous as to ever miss analyze anything bridge (although, to my knowledge, it hasn’t happened in the last five years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible).

jim2May 21st, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Sadly, it has indeed happened here, and you are kind to overlook it. In particular, one reader (Mircea? Ohana?) caught something I had missed and I disputed it until I realized my blindspot and posted again ‘fessing up.

bobby wolffMay 21st, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Hi Jim2,

You have arbitrarily shrugged off the mantle of the majority, Deny, Deny, Deny until one begins to believe it himself/herself.

Do we actually see a truth teller among us or is it just a mirage? Pity the thought and I so want to believe the world as I see it. Flat and very honest.

Patrick CheuMay 21st, 2016 at 7:43 pm

Hi Bobby,Is there a ‘sensible’ auction on this hand:South AQ8632 J AJ9862 void-West KJ1097 K62 3 K986-North 5 743 K7 AQJ10543-East 4 AQ10985 Q1054 72? Pairs South(Acol) 1S W pass N 2C E 2H-South?Most pairs got to 5C 5D 4C 4S 4H off 2,3 4,etc.How would you bid it?Is it possible to stop in 4C or 4D? regards~Patrick.

ClarksburgMay 21st, 2016 at 9:43 pm

To Patrick and others interested.
To hopefully save you some time, I ran this through an analyser for Double Dummy makeables.
NS can make 1S, 2D and 2C.
EW can make 1NT and 2H.
So, assuming none VUL, the Double Dummy “optimums” are 2SX, 3CX or 3DX by NS all off 1 for -100.
About the auction: seems to me that whether and what artificial conventions are being played or not played can get in the way on this one, i.e. Bergen Raises, weak or strong jump shifts, 2/1 and 1NT forcing etc. But it seems NS should have a reasonable shot of landing safely in 2S.

Patrick CheuMay 22nd, 2016 at 7:16 am

Hi Clarksburg,Only two pairs were in 3D and 3S,one in 4H their way,this seems to be one of those hands that if you can stay low in 4C and 4D you ‘cut your losses’ by going minus two and get average plus,even minus three gets just below average.Sadly we went minus four..Nevertheless I much appreciate your thoughts on the hand and taken the trouble to run it through your analyser.Best regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffMay 22nd, 2016 at 11:22 am

Hi Patrick,

I had just finished writing an answer to your giant misfit hand and was finally, after well more than an hour in the making, posting it for all to see and opine, when computer gremlins just intercepted and destroyed it in cyberspace.

When I regain my lost energy (it is 4AM where I am) I’ll have another go at it, and hopefully not overlook what may need to be said. Or perhaps forget, and instead offer some contradictions.

Patrick CheuMay 23rd, 2016 at 4:26 am

Hi Bobby,Look forward to hearing from you again,your thoughts are much appreciated here.Today is a new day..we will try to do better with the next hand.Best regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffMay 23rd, 2016 at 11:09 am

Hi Patrick,

First, thank you for your patience.

Your combination of bridge lover extraordinaire together with a very sunny and positive disposition, is indeed a powerful tool for success, whether immediate or eventual.

While I was disappointed in losing my original answer yesterday morning to cyberspace, perhaps it was too long and should just be summarized, as I will attempt here.

Proper discipline is of major importance, especially in the bidding, when a partnership commits itself to wanting to improve, somewhat like a spaceship in search of the great beyond, starting a journey.

One of the first necessary caveats to learn is when a partnership has a rule, such as game force after a 2 over 1 response, it means exactly that, neither partner is allowed (supposed) to pass his partner’s bid short of game.

However, there could be an exception, which is written in no bridge books, nor even discussed in self-respecting bridge circles, just shrugged off as too plebeian.

Misfit hands and their care and nurture is the main heading and your example strikes home.
Let’s review: South with his 6-1-6-0 opens 1 spade (as would most). After West passes, partner responds with 2 clubs, theoretically forcing to game (at least with today’s most popular American and French bidding system), and perhaps with even greater ambitions, East injects a 2 heart overcall, followed by South’s rebid of 3 diamonds. Then after West’s supportive 3 heart raise, North rebids 4 clubs.

At this point it becomes wise for South to understand that partner did not merely just pass, at least to him still forcing to game, but took the time out to suggest that he had something to tell, not just wait till you on the next round of bidding would clarify what your hand suggested you do.

Ah, by his bid he is showing a very good suit and then add that to the other dogs at the table barking (instead of like most 2 over 1 auctions staying clear of entering an auction in which they are usually overpowered into remaining quiet).

And what is more, partner did not jump to 5 clubs, implying a two suiter, but both suits being clubs (a little humor to get you through this). IOW’s, if he had bid 5 clubs it would look like 8 or even 9 clubs, mostly solid but with still hopes for game, especially if you could contribute an ace or two among your pointed suits.

Back now to the ranch, which at this moment is your bridge hand. You started out loving this group of 13 cards with two very biddable suits, but alas what you have now heard at the table should bring a combination of sad, but more to the point fear. The bidding up to now reeks from a more than likely complete misfit. For example if North had the same club suit but an honor doubleton spade or perhaps 3 diamonds he should have passed his RHO’s intervention, giving you a chance to further describe your 13 ducats.

Now life at the bridge table is hardly ever a perfect experience, so if you rebid 4 diamonds even after partner’s 4 club bid, you, of course, could not, nor would not in most circles be blamed, but such is life while trying to bid to the right contract even at the highest levels of the game.

If so, then partner would probably choose between raising you to 5 diamonds or instead rebid those clubs again, but now the hope for a plus score has vanished and worse the opponents will now become aware of your misfit and produce the dreaded double card.

While there may be much more to say about partnership confidence including passing short of game in GF auctions, but you are then talking about teaching the game, not attempting to win against excellent competition and understanding just when to take advantage of the vibes of the bidding at the table, (not illegal emphasis) but rather the likely meanings of the bids themselves.

Finally and in some ways most important to glean from this discussion. Substitute only one card in your hand the jack of hearts for the king of clubs and presto, your partnership will have a very good play for a club grand slam, and considering your hand would look strangely almost the same at the beginning, its utility could match the beauty of those gorgeous showgirls who appear in chorus lines on stage shows.

None of the above is intended for anyone who is not interested in achieving great heights in competitive bridge. For those sensible people in that category, just play as well as you can by following all rules you learn.

However sometimes the famous character of the Shadow of long time ago radio fame often said when asked the question “Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men”? The reply, “The Shadow knows”.

Patrick CheuMay 23rd, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Hi Bobby,Firstly thank you is in order,I think there is humour and tremendous knowledge to be gleaned from all that you said,which I shall put to good use when and wherever I happen to play-tonight would be a good start..Ha. I think it is harder for 2 over one bidders to stop below game on this hand,whereas it should have been easier for us..Our bidding went 1S p 2C(9+) 2H–3D(overbid)p/3H(cannot remember)4C p–4D p 5C pass out. Pard thought I should bid 2S not 3D and 5D over 5C.. which I do not disagree,but I had the chance to pass the way we you agree? Thanks again for enlightening us here. Very Best Regards to you and Judy~Patrick.