Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 14th, 2017

What is a better way to prove that your methods work than by winning? I have proved that my methods work.

Bela Karolyi

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


North-South certainly had the values for slam in today’s deal, but the two flat hands and duplication of values in diamonds made the contract touch and go. When declarer played on his suits in the wrong order, he could not recover.

The bidding was over quickly. South opened with one no-trump and North used Stayman to investigate for a heart fit (though one could make the case for not looking for a fit, because of the balanced nature of his hand) then jumped to six no-trumps when he did not find one.

Let’s revert to the play of the slam. West led the diamond nine, and South won in hand, and tried a heart to the jack. When this lost, he now needed both major suits to break 3-3. Hearts did not behave, so down went the slam.

Declarer’s mistake was to play on hearts rather than spades. If you test spades and they don’t break 3-3, then hearts will need to supply four tricks, with the queen onside. There is the slight extra chance of a club-heart squeeze, so declarer ducks a spade and takes a heart finesse, then runs his winners and hopes for the best.

But if spades behave, then you only need three heart tricks, and you can afford a safety play in the suit. Instead of finessing, take the king and ace of hearts to pick up the doubleton queen offside. If no queen appears, a heart towards the jack brings the slam home if West started with the guarded queen, or the suit breaks 3-3.

In unfamiliar partnerships there is often a question of what is forcing here. A simple rule (if not playing the Wolff signoff) is to play that the only way to stay out of game is to pass two no-trump. So the three spade call is forcing; if you play new minor, or the like, it would show six. With a balanced minimum, despite your great trumps, I would simply raise to four spades, rather than cuebid four diamonds.


♠ K Q 3
 K J 7 6
 A Q 4
♣ K 7 5
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 NT Pass 3 ♠ 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


Mircea1September 28th, 2017 at 6:31 pm

Hi Bobby,

1. Let’s say that the spades don’t break and West started with J842. Is the finesse in hearts still the percentage play? I remember reading in one of your former partner’s books (Mike Lawrence) that he would be a rich man if he had a dollar for every time he lost a trick to a doubleton queen.

2. I’m glad to see the Wolff signoff mentioned in the BWTA. I’ve been scouring the Internet and all my bridge books (quite a few) for a thorough description of the convention and so far have not had much luck. Is there a way that we can get it from the author?

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Hi Mircea1,

The correct declarer play on today’s hand starts with winning the diamond and then testing the spades. If and when they break 4-2, a 4th one needs to be played, giving up the trick, but setting the stage for a squeeze, if only one opponent had both 5 clubs and 4 hearts.

A fundamental rule on effecting a squeeze is to lose the trick(s) necessary to still make one’s contract, but to “rectify the count” in order to be in the final position of playing a final winner and catching one of the opponents with 2 suits to hold and only being able to, of course, protect only one. So if East held. s. xx, h. any 4. d. xx, c. any 5 and the declarer was thoughtful (or talented enough) to understand squeeze play, he could easily pull it off.

However one needs to study why and what happens, which to me, is the purpose of devoting time to the game, or learning it in school, because by doing so, the student begins to better understand the importance of numbers relating to many aspects of real life.

Yes, the finesse in hearts is the best play if and when the spades do not break, but if they do (after being tried initially) then a safety play of king, ace first allows the contract to succeed even if the queen is offside, but of course, only doubleton. Try it and you’ll understand, but it may take a few minutes for what happens to an opponent to sink in.

The playing of high-level bridge is oft involved with card combinations which include both normal ways to play (ace of hearts and then a finesse to the jack) and then, when only three tricks to be enough, the safety play (king, ace first) and then a low one to the jack being superior when only three tricks are required.

Therein the best and brightest students of the numeracy required will begin to understand that matchpoints (where overtricks are ultra important compared to rubber bridge and IMPs where only a made contract is the goal) makes matchpoints themselves an inferior competition, by following a frequency of gain principle rather than the amount of gain which contract bridge has always, since its inception, represented (making contracts, rather than failing, and even successful, but risky attempts for overtricks).

Finally #2, regarding Wolff signoff, yes it is a decent convention, basically creating a way to sign off short of game when the responder is weak, but wants to play in his trump suit because of excessive length (e.g. s. Jxxxxx, h. Jxx, d. Qxx, c. x) opposite a balanced hand and having kept the bidding open over partner’s 1 of a minor but then strong 2NT rebid. WSO allows the weak hand to sign off, where normal bridge, without that convention would not.

However the many nuances available will take me much too long to adequately describe, and since I do not want you to not know what is involved, and my explanation would take too long, I will implore you to seek another source of learning the entire convention with many varied possibilities, so that you will not be short changed (without which it may be better not being in your repertoire).

IOWs, my original idea has been greatly expanded and I am suggesting you hear the whole picture rather than just my propaganda.

Good luck and please forgive me for taking this shortcut (for me), but overall by doing so, will IMO be much more profitable for you.

Iain ClimieSeptember 28th, 2017 at 9:13 pm

Hi Bobby,

I know one club this side of the pond has a potential solution to the absurdities of pairs; every so often Preston BC in Lancashire play a pairs evening with Butler scoring. ou can still prise the odd IMP out of safe overtricks but making games (or not going for a number) become much more important. Worth adopting elsewhere, perhaps, at least if you can get the scoring softwware for it.



jim2September 28th, 2017 at 9:59 pm

Mircea1 –

I am not Our Host, but I could not resist chiming in anyway.

Let’s assume declarer cannot execute a squeeze if handed two lemon halves and an ice tea.

Instead, declarer counts tricks once spade fail to break: 3S + 3D + 2C = 8, so 4 heart tricks are needed to get to 12.

If the QH is doubleton, that is only 3 tricks because of the absence of good heart spots. The only way to 4 tricks is QH onside 3-3.

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, many years ago when I seemed to travel more often than I stayed put, Butler scoring was very common in many tournaments held throughout Europe.

No doubt much fun, and very challenging, but still not as pure as real bridge. However, to each his own and many players, both very good and some not quite so, preferred the more excitement that scoring produced.

No doubt, all players who preferred that method were by its very nature, offered many more excuses to their partners and teammates for overbidding, different leads, including aggressive declarer’s play and unilateral defense, features not to be underestimated for popularity, especially when it worked.

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2017 at 10:31 pm

Hi Jim2,

What if East had been dealt 4 hearts and 5 clubs along with 2 spades and 2 diamonds?

I know that TOCM would never allow you to have any suit break 3-3 unless you had underbid and not needed it. Therefore, the above distribution is what you usually receive, but this time you would be ready for it.

Celebration time!

jim2September 28th, 2017 at 11:14 pm

My point was that even w/o the squeeze consideration, that dropping East’s doubleton heart queen would not allow 6N to make.

Thus, the possibility of losing a finesse to such a doubleton was not worth worrying about.

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

Are you old enough to remember the phrase, “Right with Eversharp”, usually spoken on (I think) the radio show, “Take it or Leave it”, which asked questions starting at $1, finally raising to the $64 level and was sponsored, at least for a time, by “Eversharp Pen & Pencil Set”. Was the MC Bob HAWK?

jim2September 29th, 2017 at 1:55 am

I am old, but not that old … or maybe I am and simply have lost the memory! 🙂

Mircea1September 29th, 2017 at 3:40 am

Thank you all for your responses, sorry I couldn’t reply sooner. Yes, I totally get it with the squeeze but what if West’s hand is

J 8 4 2
10 8 4 3
9 8 6 2

Same lead, four rounds of spades and West returning a low heart? Is it a guess now to play the jack?

Mircea1September 29th, 2017 at 3:49 am

One more question, Bobby about the quote of the day: is the author the former coach for my fellow compatriot and top gimnast Nadia Comaneci? Sounds very much like him

Bobby WolffSeptember 29th, 2017 at 4:16 am

Hi Mircea1,

No, I definitely would not play the jack since why would West switch to a heart when all four players should know (after four rounds of spades) that the ace of hearts is in the declarer’s hand.

Even when declarer plays low from dummy, East would certainly not play the queen, but quickly the nine (lucky to have it). IOWs West should not lead a heart as there is no way it can win and it easily could give the hand away.

Yes, Bela Karolyi was Nadia’s gymnastic coach in 1976 when she won her Olympic gold metal, at the age of 14. Both Bela and his wife Marta are ethnic Hungarians from Transylvania

I remember watching that event all those years ago, totally awed by Nadia’s talent.

You’ve got a good memory, (as do I), and with it, you have a good chance to get really good at bridge. Stay with it and you will be surprised how quickly you will grow to even love it more and more.