Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Every man is the maker of his own fortune.

Richard Steele

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




It is always hard to retain concentration when it comes to the very final deal of a match where you are eager to rush out and score up. However Ulf Nilsson, playing with Drew Cannell, in the Spingold last summer, provided this deal, the last board in Eric Leong’s team’s upset win over the Meltzer squad. Nilsson worked out the percentages, but decided to follow his own path.

In the auction shown, Cannell’s four club call was a serious slam try (he had already limited his hand to 13 HCP, so he had a maximum with great controls). That let Nilsson drive to slam.

He won the club lead, ruffed a club, drew trump in one round, ruffed a club and led a second trump up. West discarded a spade, East a diamond. Then came the third club ruff, at which point Nilsson found they were 4-4. When he led the diamond jack toward dummy’s king, West played a high spot card to suggest an odd number in that suit.

At this point, after cashing the diamond ace, the percentage play in spades in abstract is to lead to the queen and back to the 10. But Nilsson could sensibly reconstruct the West hand to be 5-1-3-4.

If East had only two spades, Nilsson could ignore the percentages and play the spade ace and another spade. He could put up the queen, not caring whether it would win or lose since East would be endplayed if he won.

At the other table, declarer followed the 75 percent line in spades and went down.

I would not double one spade, despite having decent values and the unbid major, since the risk partner will bid diamonds is too high. If the club opening were short I’d think more about the possibility – but even so, I believe pass is more discreet.


♠ Q 8 4
 K J 8 4
 K 6
♣ A 9 8 5
South West North East
  1 ♣ Pass 1 ♠

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 ClimieAugust 10th, 2017 at 11:28 am

Hi Bobby,

West’s length signal seems unwise and how can it possibly help partner when both defenders know declarer has 5 cards in the pointed suits and would already have claimed if holding (say) SKx and DAxx. He has to assume there is a hole in spades (likely on the bidding anyway) so might even be better dumping a diamond first, as the spade discard does hint at length. Unfortunately, when South leads the DJ rather than playing DA first and West later plays the 10, it will be likely that West hasn’t got the DQ although he might have D109, so South might trust his judgement over the odds anyway based on restricted choice. There’s no need to give him a helping hand, though, but a classic piece of table presence – or was he playing for a swing?



jim2August 10th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

The other clue is that defenders tend to discard first from their longest suit. Here, declarer was informed on the second trump lead that West’s longest suit was spades and East’s diamonds.

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

Should East therefore drop a club on the 2nd trump after West has dropped a diamond?


jim2August 10th, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Declarer’s line has been revealed by then to ruff out the clubs, so a club discard could create a threat against East. In other words, it might create a squeeze or endplay opportunity that was not there originally.

I think if West has a chance for mischief here, it would be discarding a diamond. After all, if declarer were 2-7-3-1 (or even 2-6-4-1), then a simple diamond ruff(s) would already have seen the contract home. Thus, West could see the critical suit must be spades. A diamond discard might lead declarer to deduce East was 3-1-5-4, making the standard spade play the better choice.

Bobby WolffAugust 10th, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Hi Iain & Jiim2,

Both of you, likely after your experiences and/or natural smarts, have uncovered, at least what I consider to be, the most significant difference between world class players and, “well”, not so.

It is, of course, the order of discards usually by the defense, and seldom but possible by the declarer,, particularly in close games or slams (part scores, being both less important and naturally more haphazard because of the frequency and randomness of both winners and losers).

Top players realize 100% that their worthy opponent or opponents are well on their way to counting both the distributions and the key high card locations with my estimations that when only above average players are participating the declarer, especially a wise one, will have a very good idea of both high cards and distribution (the bidding perhaps helping) by trick 3, 4 or 5, although often that will not be true as to a significant make or break vital card “guess” as to where the contract making (or in matchpoints particularly) merely an overtrick possibility whether it be a suit break or a key honor card.

Most somewhat inexperienced players (at least in the highly expert game) throw away their so-called obvious worthless cards first, not paying enough attention to at least keeping their attention focused on confusing a wily declarer as to the slam dunk way to play that hand to best advantage.

The above only reinforces the advantage of hopeful and wishful younger players (if there are many left, especially in the USA) to choose to play in the best tournament or rubber bridge game possible, if they possess any ambitions to come as close as possible to, at least attempting to master, this highly created and wonderful game they have chosen to play.

Back to the Ranch and the crucial mention of trying to mislead those talented opponents into not always playing a hand as declarer perfectly as they seem to, against others.

BTW, while some people feel that card playing is, at best a waste of time, in truth and at least as bridge is concerned, becomes a tremendous exercise in psychology; it delves deep into what adversaries (whether it be cards, business, or even love) are thinking and so (in old times during wartime) hastens one to build walls, moats, mined areas and barbed wire fences as well as to develop whatever amounted to counter espionage during those time periods.

Yes, today’s hand is a good example for West to not throw an immediate spade away, or for that matter for East to not even throw his worthless 6th diamond away on his first discard (perhaps a club instead, making it look like he started with five), since by instead doing the mundane, they are doing their best to direct what should be their hated enemy declarer, in the right path to his success, not yours.

Thanks to both of you for allowing us to discuss this critical aspect which being safe to say, perhaps the most “telling” difference between winning and losing.

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