Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 31st, 2016

Knowledge must come through action; you can have no test which is not fanciful, save by trial.


S North
None ♠ 9 7 4 3
 A Q 3
 10 5
♣ A J 9 5
West East
♠ K 5
 J 9 4
 J 9 6 4 2
♣ 7 6 4
♠ 10 8 6 2
 8 6 5
 K Q 3
♣ K 8 2
♠ A Q J
 K 10 7 2
 A 8 7
♣ Q 10 3
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


When South opens a strong no-trump, North has no reason to preclude a suit contract, so he uses Stayman. But when no spade fit comes to light, he will head to the no-trump game.

After a low diamond lead, South must employ a relatively straightforward hold-up play to make his contract. He refrains from taking his diamond ace until the third round of the suit, then plays hearts from the top. The reason for tackling the suits in this order should become clear when South next loses the club finesse to East. The defenders would prevail if East could reach his partner’s long diamond suit, since they would then take a total of four diamonds and one club. But thanks to the hold-up, East is out of diamonds.

East does his best, by returning a spade. Now if playing rubber bridge or teams, South must not risk the finesse – though at matchpoint pairs the problem might be a slightly more challenging one. Since declarer can take nine tricks by putting up the spade ace and cashing out his top winners, he should do so.

Note both that South would go down if he took the diamond ace prematurely, for then East would have retained a line of communication to his partner upon winning his club trick. Equally, had declarer not tested the hearts early, he would not be sure if he needed to take the spade finesse or not, since he would not know how many heart winners he had, and thus how many spade tricks he needed.

It doesn’t feel right to lead trump, so the choice is whether to lead from length and whether to attack or go passive. A club is the most passive, a heart the most attacking, and while I can’t give any great reasons for my choice I think a heart is more likely to set up cashable winners for our side than the other options. A diamond combines both safety and aggression. It is a very close call.


♠ Q 4
 Q 10 2
 J 9 5 4
♣ 10 8 4 3
South West North East
      1 ♠
Pass 2 ♠ Dbl. 3 ♠
All 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


jim2November 14th, 2016 at 1:39 pm

I held the East hand when this was played in a recent tourney in Lower S.

The bidding was the same as in the column, but declarer failed to test the hearts before losing the club finesse to me.

I returned a spade and declarer went up with the AS and took 9 tricks when hearts behaved. I gritted my teeth and stayed silent, but North inquired as to why his partner had declined the spade finesse in favor of hearts splitting 3 – 3.

South replied loftily that the 10H made all the difference, because the JH could fall doubleton or, should only small spots appear on the first two rounds, he could finesse for the JH just as easily as the KS.

All I could do was get up and moce for the next round.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes In Lower S. the players play about the same as in all other parts of the world. That is, they either only think of what may happen next, and when that club finesse crosses their radar, they become confident to take it immediately, since they are losing to the non-danger hand, and if lost, will not be down yet.

It is only then that their minds address the next step .. when East will always switch to a spade as to whether to gamble that out or then play for four heart tricks and their contract. Some — more advanced players, look for evidence whether the opening leader is signalling for a spade switch, not considering deep enough that it is only spades where West may have his only likely entry. Of course, a good West may feign a spade entry in order to confuse the declarer in deciding on the right line of play.

All sorts of thinking (some of which leads to slow play) now occurs, somewhat aggravating the moods of all the players including the following EW pair waiting to come to that table.

However, after bridge in the worldwide schools becomes available and then popular, play will markedly improve to the point of declarer planning the overall play, first certainly ducking the first two diamonds and then testing the hearts before either then rapidly either making the hand or then falling back on the necessary spade finesse.

One might think that more players would see the right order of declarer's play but in Lower S. or anywhere in the world, bridge is just not so easy, allowing sloth to rule. Until then, neither good play being rewarded, nor not so good play being punished will anywhere near always be the norm.

However, people like bridge columnists will always have something to write about and players will always have fodder for the bridge mill to have discussions.

Unfortunately for those afflicted by TOCM TM, will have to adopt the famous position of "good things will always come to those who wait", but, to them, that will only be theoretical never to be rewarded by scalps on the wall.

slarNovember 14th, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Here is a general question unrelated to either part of today's column. Given the auction:
(1m)1M(3m)-?? what are the sorts of hands you would consider to bid 3M? 4M? You don't have 4 of the other major so presumably a negative double is off the table, or is it?

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Hi Slar,
Let's assume NV and spades are bid by partner after the opening bidder opened one club:
1. In favor of only a raise to three:
A. s. Qxx, h. KJxx, (your comment duly noticed) d. AJxx c. xx.
B. s. Kxxx, h. Axx, d. xxx, c. Axx
C. s. xxx, h. xxx, d, Axxxxx, c. A
D. d. KJ h. Jxx, d. Kxxxxx, c. Ax
E. c. KQxxx, h. xxx, d. Axx, c. xx
F. s. Axx, b. Kxxx, d. KJxx, c. xx
while 4 spades would be in order with:
A. s. QJ10xx, h. xxxxx, d. Qxx, c. void
B. s. Kxxx, h. A, d. KJxxxx c. xx
C. s. Kxxx, h. Axxxxx, d. xxx, c. void
D. s. KJx, h. A, d. KQJxx, c. xxxx
E. s. Jxxxxx, h QJ10xx, d. xx, c. void
F. s. KJx, h.AKQxxx, d. xxx, c. x
Yes, your partner does not know the quality of your hand, especially the defense against them, but if and when an opponent bids 5 clubs, he should have at least a good possibility of taking 2 3/4s tricks on his own to double. Don't just assume, but usually pass unless your hand stands out for either defense or (more likely) offense.
Negative doubles only should be used with:
A. s. Kx, h. QJ9xx, d. AQxx, c. xx
B. s. A, h. QJ10xx, d. KQ10xx, c. xx
C. s. xxx, h. KQ10xx, d. AJ10xx, c. void

Iain ClimieNovember 14th, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Hi Bobby,
On the subject of teaching bridge in schools, I remember a chat with a bridge teacher a few years back who reckoned that too much attention was paid to bidding and not enough to play. Is there any case for starting with whist, possibly tweaked after a while so that one hand goes down with a specified trump suit, and declarer is given a set target to make at least a certain number of tricks? This might develop card sense at an early stage, especially if preset hands are used, and the bidding could come in later. Any thoughts here?
All I would say is that I learned whist well before bridge and I've always felt comfortable with the interactions of cards as a result; some of my partners would rather draw a veil over some of my bids, though.

Bobby WolffNovember 15th, 2016 at 12:13 am

Hi Bill,

I guess it could, but the main disadvantage of Whist, and, in turn, causing the game to be discarded to only be remembered as the father of Auction Bridge and the grandfather of Contract Bridge is that the game had no dummy and thus was almost impossible to play well, but rather just to be basically guessed.

However, yes some of the end plays associated with the top level began in Whist as they then became more easily understandable with its children.

If I was ever granted a wish it would be to return as an important administrator in the first Western Hemisphere accredited bridge school for youngsters. I sincerely think that if our bridge retarded hemisphere would be able to keep up with much of Europe and all of China the learning of bridge and its necessary and applicable logic would be a cornerstone in learning numeracy by fast forwarding those numbers painlessly in a clear and helpful manner to solve problems, especially directed to our game, but in their way to many of both life's and career answers to how to get their from here, not to mention the advantage of partnership legal signals, competitive psychology, mathematical head to head competition and general creative thinking.

Also the ethics involved in our game may be the most important single lesson, in not taking undue advantage of rules nor information named unauthorized information (UI) acquired illegally and generally set in motion an extremely upright partnership game involving powerful and helpful forward thinking between hopefully intelligent and competitive people.

As the famous old time romantic song went, "But I can dream can't I"?

Bobby WolffNovember 15th, 2016 at 1:42 am

Hi Iain,

Please excuse me for directing your Whist reference to Bill Cubley who had written me a private note, to which I feel I never responded.

Whist, a game I never learned to play, with its early popularity even well before even I was born, in the late 1800’s through perhaps 1920, but no doubt still somewhat popular in Europe did feature the play and from that came some of the more exotic endings written about through the years in advanced bridge books (squeezes, end plays and coups).

Yes the play’s the thing (at least according to the Bard) in Whist with the final contract, if I remember correctly, already (or almost) ordained.

No doubt some of the early bridge stars including Eli Culbertson and several from Europe learned how to increase their trick totals by learning Whist as you did, but long after it had become almost extinct on this side of the Pond..

Iain ClimieNovember 15th, 2016 at 11:52 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that and no worries. Is Mini-bridge used much in the US or is it a European quirk? I’m not overly convinced that it is a great idea but others seem to swear by it.



Bobby WolffNovember 16th, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Hi Iain,

From my perch, I have never even heard, at least of yet, of Mini-bridge.

To not know of it, that in itself, is some additional evidence confirming your opinion, so swearing of it, is still miles and therefore at least one ocean away, at least to my nest.

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