Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

The first blow is half the battle.

Oliver Goldsmith

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

*Natural but might have a longer

20 years after losing the semifinals of the 1996 US trials, some deals still haunt me. This is one of them, where in the last set of the semi-finals, one of the early boards saw my partner Bob Hamman having to figure out how to beat a slam on opening lead.

Normally it is a good idea to pre-empt to the limit, but on this occasion that strategy did not pay dividends. In the other room, my team-mate as South heard West jump to three hearts, over which North’s bid of four hearts was not an unequivocal slam try, but rather simply a suggestion of at least the values to expect to make four spades. South had some extras, but decided to settle for four spades. This did not seem such a bad idea when the defense started with three rounds of clubs, holding declarer to 10 tricks.

However, at the table where my partner was West, he logically enough imagined that declarer had hearts under control. He also expected dummy to produce a side source of tricks, which meant it might be critical to set up his own side’s source of tricks. Since I could have held a longer minor with a four-card major, Hamman chose to lead a diamond.

As you can see, that cleared up the guess declarer would otherwise have had on a major suit lead as to how to play diamonds for his contract. This cost us 11 IMPs where we might have gained 11, and was the first in a series of results that cost us the match.

In response to your partner’s game-forcing fourth-suit enquiry, you have no particularly accurate call, but rebidding a chunky five-carder is not too far off the mark. It is consistent with a six-carder but does not guarantee it, and by virtue of being the most economical call it leaves room for your partner to describe his hand accurately.


♠ J
 K Q 10 8 3
 7 5 4
♣ A K 10 6
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 ♣ Pass 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMay 30th, 2017 at 11:34 am

HI Bobby,

What should double of 4H mean on this sequence, given that you probably don’t want a heart lead after the cue-bid and definitely don’t after South’s jump to 6S when he clearly can cope with a heart lead? I suspect a double of 6S is not worth considering as partner will assume you have a void and will surely lead the wrong suit here. One rather worrying point based on recent events is that some pairs would double 4H by placing the bidding card in a particular way for suit preference purposes; fortunately a fair number of such characters have been banned.

On the subject of Bob Hamman and unlucky leads, I saw a reference recently to a hand (perhaps in a Bermuda Bowl) where he was on lead against a grand slam with 2 Aces and led the wrong one. Can you furnish any details (assuming he won’t mind)? Ideally if you could first just give the hand he held and the bidding he faced, so I can get it wrong too!



Bobby WolffMay 30th, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Hi Iain,

A pair of heartaches from the distant past, (21, and then 37 years ago first 1996, in San Francisco at the USA Bridge team trials and then Valkenburg, the Netherlands in 1980 , the World Team Olympiad where every bridge playing country was entitled to one team)) like the phoenix, rising from its ashes appear in my most unhappy dreams to recreate a torturous episode which helped change the results of bridge championship history. (not to the liking of me, my partner Bob Hamman, my teammates and Captain and worse, my memories).

In reference to today’s hand, a double of 4 hearts (since Bob and I played Canape style, sometimes bidding at least a 4 card+ suit ahead of a longer one) a double by me would only confirm that I had good hearts and a hand worth competing further should his hand be suitable to do so. Yes, we also played a Lightner double vs. slams which would ask partner to not lead our bid suit, but, at least to me, it almost always involved an undisclosed side void since the ace, much less an ace king had absolutely no guarantee of cashing, if the opponents now just took off and volunteered to bid a slam.

However, the bidding does rather strongly indicate that the slam bidder is prepared for (in this case) a heart lead, so Bob’s inclination would be,what he did do, lead one of the other two suits in hopes of striking the right nerve for a set. Alas, Bob tried, (did not lead a heart) but guessed the wrong minor suit, so only kudos should be extended to our very worthy opponents from us for his risky but very successful venture..

BTW, their team went on to win the USA team trials, beating a favored team in the finals.

Now to 1980 and in Holland where the opening lead of the following hand, Board #52 provided a swing of 19 IMPs to the French instead of 9 IMPs to the Americans. The match resulted in a 20 IMP overall victory for the French and if everything else would have stayed the same (and why wouldn’t, it since the match was close throughout?) a different winner might have resulted.

However, this championship and many like it although this one would have been hard to duplicate) have resulted with many factors to determine a possible other winner and this truism applies to many of the other matchups, not just the finals.

It also proves as you inject, just how HORRIBLE it is for someone to cheat (certainly none in this match) where the prime ingredient stolen is just the pride of winning (but now, of course, dirty filthy money enters the equation, in one way or another).

When others speak, emphasizing forgiveness for everyone and everything involved, what about the suffering by the losers (and believe me it is as real as it can be) leaving a desperately hollow feeling even when all is on the up and up and knowing full well that not everyone can win, only one team (or pair).

But when there are cheaters involved it is difficult to consider a worse insidious and very personal vice, than what contributes to that.

The full hand: with Hamman: East, Paul Chemla: South, Wolff: West and Christian Mari: North.

East: s. AKJ876, h. A107632, d. void, c. 2, South: s. 4. h. void, d. KJ75, c. AQJ106543, West: s. Q9532, h. J854, d. Q64, c. 7 and North: s. 10, h. KQ9, d. A109832, c. K98 with the bidding at my table:

West North East South
Pass 1 D 2 D 2H
4 S 4 NT 5 S 6C
Pass 6 D 6S 7D
Pass Pass Double All pass

The opening lead: (Drum roll) The Ace of Hearts)i

The bidding at the other table:

West North East South
Pass 1D 1S 2C
4 S Pass 5S 6C
Pass Pass 6S Dbl. All Pass

North & South were I. Rubin and P. Soloway with West & East, M. Perron & M, Lebel Down 1.

Iain ClimieMay 30th, 2017 at 9:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the gruesome details and I fear I might have led the HA too. 7S as a save with the benefit of hindsight would have hurt rather less but that feels like a losing option – you can’t keep on sacrificing. The advice to “if in doubt bid one more” shouldn’t keep on applying. Having occasional resort to tantrums in such cases, I think I’d have taken the HA outside and burned it, possibly not even waiting for the end of the set. Obviously Bob Hamman is a better person than I am.