Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Pride is a tricky, glorious, double-edged feeling.

Adrienne Rich

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


Two-suited openers and overcalls can jam the works, but they are a double-edged sword. If you become declarer they can help you to find the way home by drawing a road-map of the opponents’ hands.

East’s two-spade opening showed at least five spades plus a five card minor, and less than opening-bid strength. When South overcalled three hearts, North raised to game and East decided that at the vulnerability he could do no more.

Not knowing which minor his partner held, West led the spade 10 against four hearts. South took the ace and king, pitching one of the losing clubs from hand and now looked well placed, but the possibility of bad breaks in the red suits was a live one.

In an attempt to score his small trumps, South led a club from dummy at trick three. East rose with the ace and accurately switched to his singleton diamond. South played the ace, and followed with a successful finesse of the heart nine to maximize his entries to dummy. He ruffed a club in hand, re-entered dummy with the heart king as East pitched a spade, and ruffed North’s last club in hand, stripping West of all his black-suit cards in the process.

Declarer now cashed the diamond king, and when East failed to follow suit, South exited with a diamond. Although West could collect two diamond tricks, he was then forced to lead away from his heart queen into the trump tenace, and concede the rest.

Not every minimum 6-4 hand is governed by the same principles, but I do have strong opinions about this specific hand. Where you can bid both your suits, and your four-card suit is strong (at least two top honors, or one top honor and good intermediates) bid your second suit and show nine of your cards, not six.


♠ 5
 A J 10 8 5 4
 A K 6 4
♣ 8 3
South West North East
1 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


jim2September 14th, 2017 at 3:28 pm

This phrase struck me as odd:

“In an attempt to score his small trumps.”

Rather, I interpreted the play to be the standard and necessary preparatory step to allow the shortening of declarer’s trump length for the likely needed trump coup endplay.

bobby wolffSeptember 14th, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

Since you specifically bring up a case of “semantics” while applying it to bridge” methinks I will chime in with my opinion.

First, I agree with you, that the overall process of scoring up the game or, if you will, the making of one’s contract, is often the objective (as it is on today’s hand), if the process fits a name, thus, it probably is more educational to find one.

Second, the method is “an attempt to score his small trumps separately” by way of shortening the declarer’s trump length via a trump coup.

Finally, in and with the description of how to go about that winning process, lies the lesson to be learned.

Obviously you are well indoctrinated in doing such, mainly the conditions necessary to pull it off, the defensive hand with the longer trumps, not being able to overruff, as well as the entries needed back and forth, and, of course, the required final throw-in to the right opponent.

Result of the above, at least IMO, is that both descriptions are correct, one, yours, catering to a very advanced player (you) and the other, in its simplified version, merely stating the sometimes thrill of the inner workings of what it takes along the way to succeed (scoring the small trumps).

How does the above rank for diplomacy, by agreeing with everything and everyone? And then if I was a politician in control, doing everything I could to further my own interests.

In any event, when a hand appears, such as above, because of the bidding, replete with where the cards and distribution lie, it is indeed a fun exercise to take full advantage of it, which, with a bridge column, is sure to work, but in real life, sometimes East will have the singleton queen of trumps and everyone, especially the dummy, will no doubt think that yes he is technically the dummy, but in reality, his partner has played the hand like one.

Mircea1September 14th, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Hi Bobby,

Do you agree with West’s passive lead? It looks to me that from his perspective, holding good fitting cards in both minors he should either sacrifice (via 4NT) or take a chance in guessing partner’s second suit at trick 1. What do you think?

bobby wolffSeptember 14th, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, in retrospect I do agree with the lead of a spade, since it is the one suit which partner has length and, of course, is known.

Remember, West doesn’t have our privilege of seeing all four hands before determining the opening lead, and now to bid 4NT, asking partner to bid his other suit, since while being vulnerable vs. not, not only, IMO, unwise, but since, whatever minor suit partner doesn’t have is well held by West and likely to produce at least one trick and maybe two in defense, besides the holding of 4 trumps including the Q which may be a nuisance to the opponents.

While the above is in favor of deciding on going defensive, in practice it doesn’t always work that way, but my mind turns to “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet” (originally from Damon Runyon .. but I seem to remember a similar reference from ‘Guys and Dolls.’

Finally, trying to guess what other suit is held by East, shouldn’t cause West to risk leading either a club or a diamond, since leading the wrong one is just too likely to lose a “key” defensive trick.

Thanks for your question since I believe others who do not ask, are thinking exactly the same as you, so having the energy to just “ask” contributes to the cross discussion which later often becomes valuable to those who join in.

Mircea1September 14th, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Hi Bobby,

I learned a lot of things from your blog. Chief among them is the importance of proper analysis in bridge. I find it truly amazing what pertinent question the people contributing here are asking, revealing the many angles that one can look at a bridge problem. And of course, your generosity in answering them from your level makes this site one of my favorites. If I only have more time to read it and spend time here every day….

I’m curios how much time was devoted by the Aces to analyzing and discussing what has been played, back in the day. What happened when the inevitable disagreements occurred?

Bobby WolffSeptember 14th, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Hi Mircea1,

You are very perceptive, likely in bridge, but totally in life.

Yes, in the early days of the formation of the Aces in the late 1960’s (oh my, 50 years ago) the gathering of 5 headstrong players (later adding a 6th) from all parts of the USA in Dallas, Texas was quite an undertaking.

Soon after its beginning we dismissed our so-called “coach” who was supposed to help with acclimating our bridge theory to a retired officer in the Air Force (who had retired at age 39 from the Strategic Air Command and was very adept at discipline, but only a great aficionado of the game of bridge).

After that successful move we developed a routine of having week-end matches of 128 boards, (one Friday night, two Saturday and one final session on Sunday afternoon) against the best players in our country. Then on Monday and Tuesday our coach led us into a complete, detailed and brutal discussion of all hands played, assigning grades with charges for white, gray and black to each player. At that time, computers were just being developed and available which allowed us to run simulations as to what to expect, rather than just relying on our own opinions which, sadly, varied at least as much as the weather.

In about 12 months, after a “rocky” start we came together, however the ranks somewhat thinned out with the “natural” players (and harder working) staying the course, but others not making the eventual “cut”.

True, every player (especially talented ones) have different views as to what is important (likely influenced by their own abilities), but finally we came together and became enough of a force to win our first World Bridge Championship as a team in 1970, Stockholm, Sweden and then repeated the next year in Taipet, Taiwan.

It was really an interesting experiment which met with bridge success, but financial failure (sorry for the original benefactor, Ira Corn).

In addition to the weekend matches our partnerships met every day and, of course, we went to all the important tournaments and had a life which demanded at least 60 to 65 hours of bridge playing weekly and/or discussions.

Since then two players have died (Jim Jacoby and Bobby Goldman), also Ira and our beloved coach, Joe Musumeci,(the AF officer from San Antonio, TX, as was I, and a very long time close friend.

Mircea, all I can add is that to be good at bridge is very helpful in many endeavors in life as its logic is very similar to doing the right things in life, especially the necessary ethics involved, making it a very serious crime, whether in bridge or in real life to be unethical.

At least to me, a life’s necessary lesson, and since bridge is now in the educational school system in eleven countries in Europe and all in China (with 200,000,000 students, to which I was able to help get it started when I served my term as the President of the World Bridge Federation back in the middle 1990s).

It is so sad to me that the USA’s parent bridge organization the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) has made none to little effort to get bridge in the schools here, assuring it eventually dying fairly soon in my country since our beloved game has not been treated right over here, leaving it with a perilous future.

And now you know, at least some history (at least from my perspective).

I sincerely hope you find the time to remain a vibrant fan. I, for one, would miss your constructive questions and answers and think many others on the site would feel likewise.