Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Confidence is a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom; youth is the season of credulity.

William Pitt

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

*three spades and five hearts

**transfer to hearts


From last summer’s world junior championships came this elegant defense.

West, Oscar Nijssen of the Netherlands Youngsters team decided that since his partner seemed not to have very much, he would lead a low trump, against five hearts. This went to the six, five, and declarer’s seven. Declarer cashed his club ace and played another club to Nijssen’s king, while East signaled an odd number of clubs.

Clearly, declarer was threatening to draw trumps and run the clubs. But given the bad trump break, he would need a late dummy entry, which had to be the spade ace. To eliminate that entry, West boldly shifted to the spade king. South could not afford to duck, with the diamond ace still out. As it was, when South won the trick with dummy’s ace, he drew one round of trumps with dummy’s 10, and saw East discard a diamond.

Now declarer had to guess the diamonds, hoping to establish one winner there and ruff another in the dummy. When he tried a diamond to his king, Nijssen took the trick and led another trump. Declarer could try to pitch a diamond on the club queen, but West ruffed in and played a spade. East still had to collect the diamond queen, so the contract went two down.

Nijssen’s maneuver has a name. It follows an incident during the Spanish-American War at the turn of the last century, when the Americans scuttled the Merrimac to try to bottle up the Spanish fleet in their harbor. Hence the Merrimac Coup.

The philosophy of responding to one club is not a matter of right or wrong. I believe with limited hands one bids a major (no matter what quality) in front of a four- or five-card diamond suit. Here I bid one heart, since my partner would bypass a four-card heart suit in a balanced hand if I responded one diamond.


♠ K 9 2
 8 4 3 2
 A 7 6 4
♣ K 10
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ 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 WarheitSeptember 9th, 2017 at 10:03 am

Let’s see: Declarer wins the opening lead, draws trump and plays CA and another C. Making 5 if C are 3-2 & W has CK or W has Cxxxx (about 37%) or if E has CKx(x) or Cxxxx and either doesn’t find the D shift (unlikely) or he does but W doesn’t have both DA & Q and I guess which one he’s missing or he’s missing both. Overall odds of success about 56%. Seems simple enough; what am I missing?

Iain ClimieSeptember 9th, 2017 at 11:38 am

Hi David, Bobby,

How much of a clue on the diamond honours is East’s failure to double either 4D or 5D (assuming I’ve unravelled the bidding correctly) and West’s trump lead?



Bobby WolffSeptember 9th, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Hi David & Iain,

On this very difficult hand to determine exact (or even very close) odds on various declarer order of plays my first duty is to apologize for the confusion in the bidding diagram. It seems the type setter was confused as to the what’s obvious to us (East’s continual passes, this time on his third bid) with then the follow-up which only could lead to more chaos.

It smacks of a non-bridge player in control, but it is not clear to me who else contributed to the horror.

In any event the poor reader needed to have at least some experience in high-level bridge meaning to right this wrong and hopefully this problem did not occur when this hand appeared in print, 2 weeks before in many newspapers.

In any event, back at the (ranch) hand, it will take some doing to determine the difference between David’s proposed line and the one taken by this declarer (miss guess of the diamond was critical since the trumps broke 4-1 taking away the key entry to the good clubs).

Then, Iain, while your query about the failure of East to double an artificial diamond bid, for the lead to his ace is also a difficult task to judge, since, at that time he was not sure of the landing spot for NS and to want partner to lead a suit one has an ace in, while in front of a 2NT opening, is another subject, which, at least to me, may be worthy of a very high-level panel to discuss, since even attempting to draw a significant conclusion is just too complicated for a valid assessment (at least IMO).

Likely it depends on the cast of characters playing with the scientists (do double to help partner) and the pragmatists (do not double to not help an adept declarer). No doubt, holding only the ace rather than the KQJ (or even KQ10) does make an immense difference, but that only adds a tidbit to which way that discussion may go.

Perhaps the only fact which emerges is what a truly sensational game it is we play. Let’s do everything we can to not let it die in the USA and that, of course, is to make every effort to get it into our educational system so that other keen minds can experience just how far reaching constructive it will be, merely to just learn it.

jim2September 9th, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I might add that David’s and declarer’s lines can be combined. That is, declarer draws 2 rounds of trump, ensuring a high trump remains in dummy, but one that can be overtaken in hand. If trump split, then use the column line. If trump are 4 – 1, then shift to David’s.

Bobby WolffSeptember 9th, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Hi Jim2,

“Little by little we do (and say) great things”.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 9th, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Our Canadian savior (JRG) fixed the convoluted auction above. Thanks, John!

slarSeptember 9th, 2017 at 10:05 pm

Yet another convoluted Puppet variant. Ugh.

Bobby WolffSeptember 9th, 2017 at 10:34 pm

Hi Slar,

You are much too critical of Puppet, which though not very useful, should perhaps be rated just ahead of a too-late request to evacuate the vicinity.

slarSeptember 10th, 2017 at 12:19 am

I could get on board with Puppet if everyone played it roughly the same way. I can’t keep track of them all and it is far easier to screw up than to have it help you find that miracle 5-3 fit that is better than 3NT.

I got lucky one time – 1NT-3NT showed a specific 5-3 hand with no slam interest and 1NT-3S was a transfer to 3NT. (It is so easy to screw up that …3NT;4M-4NT is literally “oops”.) That hand came up in the first set and I got it right. The later in the session the hand came up, the more likely I would have forgotten.

One of these days I’ll have an auction like the following: 1NT-2C;2M-[2NT or 3m];3M-4M and someone in the room will be playing Puppet and end up in an inferior contract for one reason or another. And I will laugh.

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