Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Switzerland would make a mighty big place if it were ironed flat.

Mark Twain

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


Jean Besse was Switzerland’s greatest bridge player, who wrote intelligently about the theory of the game. In one article he referred to the irrelevant small cards as neutrinos and explained how you had to be careful not to give away unnecessary information to declarer to allow him to count out your hand by voiding yourself prematurely in a suit.

This deal from the 1993 Epson Simultaneous Pairs (held at the top of the Post Office Tower in London) demonstrates the principle to good effect.

When North-South reached six no-trump, West elected to make a passive heart lead. Declarer cashed the club ace and king, then ran the hearts as East discarded diamonds. West threw three diamonds, and now declarer played a spade to the queen and king. West carefully returned a low club and declarer misguessed by inserting the queen, East throwing a spade, and South a diamond.

So far so bad, but at this point the diamond ace forced a spade out of West. Declarer now knew that both defenders only had one spade left, since East was guarding diamonds and West clubs. He could thus play a spade to his ace in complete confidence, and drop West’s jack.

Did you note West’s error? Since she was going to have to pitch a spade sooner or later, it would have been right to discard it on the sixth heart. Then declarer does not get the complete count on diamonds and eventually has to guess spades.

This is a hand where slam might be laydown or 10 tricks might be the limit. You have too much to go quietly and settle for game, but start with a game-try of three diamonds (yes this is forcing) to see whether partner can co-operate. If not, settle for game.


♠ A Q 10 3
 J 6
 Q 9 4 2
♣ A K 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ 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


David WarheitAugust 17th, 2017 at 9:19 am

I believe that N should have bid 6H (instead of 5N), thinking that any line of play that might work in 6N would also work in 6H and there might be more. In fact there is more: draw trump, take a losing S finesse, then cash SA and ruff a S. The K drops, end of hand, but even if it doesn’t there is still the C suit and various squeeze possibilities.

Iain ClimieAugust 17th, 2017 at 11:15 am

Hi Bobby, David,

The possibility that the slam is off a cashing AK (or even 2 Aces!) didn’t seem to worry North unduly here, although I’m afraid I like making bombshell bids like that too. Any ideas on whether a more cautious sequence would be more sensible than the leap and what it should look like?

I had the pleasure of playing against Jean Besse in Switzerland in 1979. He was an absolute gentleman, even managing to cope with a rather odd language problem. The tournament language was French (no bidding boxes then) so bids, explanations and discussions with opponents (apart from passing Brits) gave me the chance to practise my rather basic school French. My accent (I was brought up in England’s Midlands) massacred this beautiful language so badly that many French and French-speaking players preferred to converse in English. At least it was better than the common and embarrassing British tourist idea that everyone understands English if you speak it loudly and slowly.



Bruce karlsonAugust 17th, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Another view of West’s discards: in the 3D then S sequence, a club player of questionable numeracy could wonder why no C discard? Also, if holding nothing in spades, why not pitch one early? Further the S hook is 50/50 while the C dropping under AK or being onside is more (lol). Hardly scientific but works under the time exigent rime constraints of a typical club. Please be kind with comments…

Bruce karlsonAugust 17th, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Apologies for the typos…also, obviously I would not cash the AK of Clubs prior to embarking on the Hearts,

Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Hi David,

No argument from me, only a rousing agreement with you concerning North driving to 6 hearts (and the various ways to virtually insure making it) instead of asking his partner which slam (5NT bid) he prefers. Holding a 6-4-2-1 looks much more suit oriented than NT causing me to think that North’s motivation for doing so was hoping his partner would chirp 6 clubs (showing 4+) in order to have his super hearts to serve for his getting rid of losers while allowing clubs (AKxx or also including the jack, preferably) to act as trump (especially for grand slam possibilities TBD).

BobliptonAugust 17th, 2017 at 12:54 pm

HJ, HA, then spade to the Queen. If it loses, get back to the board with the DA, Run the hearts, playing east for the Queen in a double squeeze, west for SJ and CJ.


Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, Jean Besse was always considered among the very best ever, especially for analysis, in addition to being a very kind and ethical man.

Your bridge history, particularly your European exploits, enabled you to have a long career of both playing and observing the best bridge has to offer, while at the same time, being also able to not be so enveloped by it, so as to also lead a life which others would love to emulate.

However, I would like to describe a “told” story to me which involved two friends of mine from yesteryear, (Judy Jacoby, Jim’s widow and still alive and kicking and her partner, the late Cy Strouse, a wealthy and clever American, who, at that time, because of age, was confined to a wheel chair, who were playing in a French money tournament, my guess in the late 1970s.

Midway during the tournament a haughty French mixed pair arrived at their table, speaking beautiful French, but likely not understanding English, The much younger French pair then bid, also before bidding boxes, raised up in their respective chairs and bid quite confidently, “un sansa tu, je pass, twa sansa tu” all pass (please excuse the French spelling since my French is for all practical purposes, non-existent).

Now please keep in mind that, no doubt in Cy’s mind the non-opening leader, he thought that the French pair was looking with disdain to whom their current opponents happened to be
and were expecting a very good round to come from it,

However, Cy, a small framed man, was lying back in his wheel chair, but somewhat quietly but distinctly calmly said to Judy, “lead a diamond, Judy”. The French pair heard, but, of course, didn’t understand the request.

However, Judy who later reveled this escapade, never told us, nor I expect anyone (but maybe Jim), what she did lead, nor the overall result, but it is a good lesson to be friendly to one’s opponents if you expect to be treated gracefully or more important at a bridge tournament, honestly.

Thanks for listening.

Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, I also agree with you (while not necessarily intending to just be kind) especially about not cashing the ace king of clubs, but when the players are all top drawer, you can be sure, that from the bidding, exposed dummy and early play, that both of them knew to not throw a club away, whoever held the jack. Also West would have thrown his small spade away early, accurately forecasting the ending.

Yes, that is life in the big time, but a very compelling reason to work hard on one’s bridge game, in order to get there from here.

Finally the only real objective of the declarer is to combine all his chances, if possible, to make the hand if it could be made and, of course, to play it in the most deceptive way possible.

No doubt, I appreciate your getting involved, particularly so, if you, as well as others, pick up another spur for your bow, along the way.

Bobby WolffAugust 17th, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, your plan is right-on, but if West has unguarded his spade holding early, declarer cannot be sure he has either black jack (the cards not the game).

Also, for what it is worth (certainly not much) declarer may run the risk of down two if he miss guesses, at the death, both spades and clubs.

BobliptonAugust 17th, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Oh, aye, Bobby. I’m just stating how I would play the hand. It’s as good as two finesses, better than one finesse and the clubs splitting, and is more likely to get in the paper if it wins!


jim2August 17th, 2017 at 4:35 pm

I am certainly not in Jean Besse’s class, but I think I may be able to engineer a similar inference without a defender error.

My basic plan for a 12th trick would be (in order) spade finesse, club split, squeeze a defender with both missing honors, and – failing all that – divine the spade situation.
So, lose a spade finesse early, test clubs, and then play off winners to reach the following position:





At this point, cash the Board’s last heart.

If East held both missing honors, s/he would have to pitch one or blank both. East plays a small card, so — if East DID start with both missing cards — pitching the QD wins because the JS will pop up on the next lead.

No matter which honor declarer pitches, West (who is known to hold the last club) must discard. If West has both missing cards as well, then pitch the QD can still win, just as before. Even if West pitches the KD, the spade honor will be blank.

So declarer pitches the QD and, in the 2-card ending, advances the 8S. When East follows small, declarer knows the missing honors are split and must choose between the spade finesse and the drop. At that moment, the defenders have precisely three unplayed cards: West’s JC, the KD, and the JS.

Because West did NOT discard the now-worthless KD on the last heart after declarer pitched the QD, there is the inference that West’s other card is the JS. In this line, West pitching the spade early would not help, because declarer would have seen the potentially useful to the defense spade pitch, and on the last heart West would discard the always-worthless JD instead (again revealing East’s last card to be the KD).

Bruce karlsonAugust 17th, 2017 at 8:24 pm

BW.. thnx for your as usual helpful thoughts. One can get away with a lot at a typical club game….and I try. Lol. As Mollo’s HH said, picking one’s opponents is more important than picking one’s partner.

Iain ClimieAugust 17th, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

Fascianting analysis all round but can I trot out another language story from my (sadly) only bridge trip abroad. We were playing an Italian pair and partner opened a multi 2D which was either a weak 2H / 2S, a strong 2 in diamonds (or occasionally both minors) or various stong 4441 hands. RHO uttered a cautious “Oui?” and out came the high speed strream of French explanation which I’d carefully prepared. LHO then said “Mais Monsieur, il ne parle pas Francais” (so much for my efforts) leading to undignified laughter round the whole table, funny looks from adjacent tables and out came bits of paper on which various symbols were scribbled before mutual understanding was reached.

It was also one of the last times I saw Harold Franklin, a famous TD at big tournaments but who had a florid complexion and a classic Walrus moustache. I’ve always wondered about whether Mollo’s WW was based on him, while a German player, listening to Harold talking to everyone at the start of the first session, smiled at my partner and myself before saying with a slight accent “Doesn’t he like the sound of his own voice?” I’ve always wondered about WW though; could you shed any light on this?