Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday May 1st, 2017

A fool must now and then be right by chance.

William Cowper

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


In today’s deal South’s jump to three spades is invitational, and North has reasonable values for his initial response, so should go on to game. It is not clear whether North should try for game at no-trump, but if he were to bid three no-trump South would pass, of course, with no shortage. Since a club lead by East would give the defenders five tricks off the top, North’s decision to bid the suit game can hardly be criticized.

In four spades South must win the first diamond in his own hand, leaving dummy’s king as a later entry for a heart trick. He next draws one round of trumps, but must then try his luck in hearts.

When dummy’s heart queen wins, South can get back to his hand using dummy’s remaining trump. He then draws the rest of the trump and leads his second heart. West will take the heart ace, and must switch to clubs in desperation. This shift will defeat the contract if East’s clubs are good enough, and West can see declarer has 10 tricks if he does not make this play. The switch may surrender the overtrick, but it is surely worth the risk of investing an overtrick to have a shot to defeat the hand.

Note that West must shift to a low club in case today’s precise layout exists. If West plays the club ace and another club, declarer would survive today. As it is, though, the low club switch lets the defenders cash out the clubs for down one.

It certainly feels wrong to lead diamonds here. The question is if this double calls for a heart lead, or whether you must guess if partner has a solid suit —which would rate to be spades I guess. My best guess is to lead hearts; I’m prepared to look stupid. But the opponents might have run if they were off the spade suit – and partner might have acted at his first turn with good spades.


♠ J 4
 8 3
 A Q 9 6 4 3
♣ 9 5 4
South West North East
2 2 Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT Dbl. 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bobby WolffMay 15th, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Hi everyone,

Today’s hand, at least to me, represents an almost impossible matchpoint problem, (and thus becomes a poster child for it) representing a likely unsolvable problem for West who either sets the hand (with the above layout) or concedes an extra overtrick when declarer has the king of clubs instead of the queen.

However, some players (perhaps many) like these types of gambles, while others fret about the extreme luck element, so evident.

Perhaps a poll may shed some light:

Please vote:

1. Sort of like this matchpoint challenge
2. Love
3. Dislike
4. Abhor
5. Indifferent
6. Need more time to think about it

Since I do not see any logical way to change or even modify it, this poll is only informational.

Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Hi Bobby,

Put me down as a 1. With a partner I trust, his spade pips (2, 7, 10) would also suggest something decent in clubs although distinguishing between QJ10x and KJ10x would be tricky!

Bobby WolffMay 15th, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for responding.

In addition, you featured the difficult to impossible task of the limits of legal signalling
in bridge, particularly the high-level kind, which always will absolutely require sending no unauthorized messages via emphasis.

Accountability is ever present and should never take a back seat with our beautiful game.

David WarheitMay 15th, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Far from being “an almost impossible matchpoint problem”, this is a perfectly straightforward problem. If S has CK, don’t lead a C, else S makes an overtrick. If E has CKJ10, lead a low C and defeat the contract. In all other situations, it doesn’t matter what W does, declarer will make his contract with no overtricks. Therefore, the correct answer to the problem is not to lead a low C. My vote is therefore for 2, because this reasoning, while not that hard to go through, is quite hard for most just to realize.

Bobby WolffMay 15th, 2017 at 10:47 pm

Hi David,

Not so fast, my friend.

While you have perfectly described the stakes,
the lack of complication with the defensive reasoning, and your judgment about the difficulty of other pairs to absorb and act, I do not share your love of the matchpoint game.

When Bridge Whist (Contract’s grandfather) became Auction Bridge in 1904, the play became much more intelligible, but the bidding stayed in the dark ages. Finally when Contract Bridge emerged in 1927, credited to the industry of Harold Vanderbilt, the game, as we know it, made a huge step forward with only, at least according to many well educated bridge devotees, a few glitches in the scoring system (down tricks, doubled or not, being larger and the necessary table ethics required, not being well enough publicized, and therefore enforced).

Yet, and no doubt, the final product, as we experience it, has become a great mind game, still bordering on perhaps too difficult, but nevertheless IMO, still underrated as a sensational educational partnership contest which teaches qualities (pure logic, numeracy, competitiveness, psychology, grace under pressure, intellectual honesty, to mention just a few) all which blend with life’s reality. The above adds up, at least to me, as a beacon for all youngsters to embrace, but until we secure bridge in our educational scholastic system in the Western Hemisphere we will have not accomplished as have eleven countries in Europe (and counting) and all of China (with their 200 million daily students).

However, while repeating agreement with your opinions, will still rate matchpoints just too difficult a game to play, with inaccurate emphasis of scoring methods (frequency vs. amount) and choose my rating as a 4 (at least in comparison),

Again, I agree with your choice, on today’s hand, of playing passive at matchpoints and accepting the opponents making their game (finding exactly the Qxx in clubs with declarer’s hand is low percentage), rather than going all out to defeat it, but I do so grudgingly, wishing we were playing rubber bridge or IMPs.

Patrick CheuMay 16th, 2017 at 6:29 am

Hi Bobby,All things considered,whether it’s’s desire to defeat the contract is quite innate when playing this game..the cost benefit analysis may weigh heavy but similar to chess sacrifices the urge to do something different may be hard to resist..especially when there is light perhaps.. at the end of the tunnel..won’t you agree? Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffMay 16th, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Hi Patrick,

No doubt and I do agree, which perhaps explains why I psychologically tend to want to look for ways to defeat a matchpoint contract, rather than take the percentage view of preventing an overtrick.

That fact alone may explain why my personality, along with perhaps yours, prefer IMPs to matchpoints so that our preferences do not result in as many costly boards.

I once was playing against the late and great Paul Soloway, one of the world’s very best all time players and he was confronted on defense with a matchpoint decision to which he went for the set and as he was playing the key card, he said for all to hear, “I am playing the wrong card”!

Of course he was correct when he did, paid the price, but he did so proudly, and at least to me, honored bridge by doing so.

Sort of illogical and maybe even downright crazy, but glowingly illustrates your hypothesis.