Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 18th, 2017

We are all strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.

Duc de Rochefoucauld

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

*agreeing hearts


How much respect should you give your opponents? Sometimes a false-card is sufficiently clearcut that your suspicions should be set to high alert. At other times you have to decide if it is a play you would have considered yourself. If it isn’t, maybe you should pay off to a brilliancy. If they have found a play you wouldn’t have, maybe they deserve to defeat you!

This deal came up in the women’s qualifying event at the Rhodes Olympiad from the Great Britain and Sweden match. The Swedes bid the hand nicely. After a 22-23 2 no-trump and Stayman by North, the latter could agree hearts. Now Blackwood by South found all the key cards and the diamond king, and she could count 13 tricks if trumps behaved.

Against seven hearts Nicola Smith led the spade jack and declarer won in hand and laid down the heart king, on which Smith smoothly played the nine.

As you can see, this is the only card to give declarer a losing option, since without that play declarer would have had no choice but to follow up with the heart queen, since she could not pick up a four-card heart suit in East.

West was aware of the possibility that Smith had made the technical play. But she eventually played a trump to the ace, and down went the slam. The final score in this match was a big win for Britain. But since they had missed the grand slam in the other room, they would have lost the match had the grand slam come home.

Spades seems to be our partnership’s long suit so I would lead that. But please, please, do not lead the eight or 10 here. With dummy quite likely to have a doubleton and declarer four, do not throw away your side’s assets to clear up hypothetical ambiguity for partner. Lead low from three unless you know it to be wrong – and you cannot be sure of that here.


♠ 10 8 5
 J 8
 K 8 4 3
♣ Q 9 5 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♣
Pass 1 Dbl. 1 NT
All 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 WarheitOctober 2nd, 2017 at 10:03 am

S had every reason to suspect W’s play of the H9. First, because W is known to be an outstanding player. Second, why did E play H7 on that trick? S should have crossed to dummy with a C at trick 2 and then led a H to her K. Now there is something very strange about the fact that the opponents have played H9 and H7, so strange that S should probably get it right.

And then there is the matter of the final contract. 7H will make somewhere between 70% & 75% of the time. 7NT will make well over 90% of the time and will make on this lie of the cards regardless of how S plays the H suit. So I think NS should have gotten to the optimum contract. But you say that S doesn’t know that N has the CQ. True, but she also doesn’t know that N has the H10, and N could have had the SJ and/or the HJ and/or the DJ with 4 D as well.

Iain ClimieOctober 2nd, 2017 at 11:05 am

Hi Bobby, David,

There are two relevant cases here J9xx and 9 alone; if West is playing around with H9x, so what. The lack of a trump lead (normally standard against a grand slam) says nothing because West wouldn't lead a trump form either of those holdings. There are, however, 3 cases of J9xx opposite x but only one of singleton 9 so I think South should get this right as a good West will always play the H9 from J9xx here.

David's point on the final contract is spot on, though. Apart from squeeze chances, if South cashes all here winners reducing to 4H in each hand, the signs probably point to West (if anyone) having long hearts. The obsession with 4-4 fits can rebound and did so here.



Iain ClimieOctober 2nd, 2017 at 11:13 am

Sorry J9xx on first line, finger trouble.

I fixed it for you… JRG

Bobby WolffOctober 2nd, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Hi David & Iain,

This defensive card combination in hearts (or any relevant suit) has been hashed and rehashed for many years among the world’s best. You two, no doubt being particularly familiar with it, are branching out into areas, such as the disadvantage of playing a suit contract with a 4-4 fit, although on this hand you are 100% right, since the distributional match-up on this hand would allow hearts to be played last while declaring 7NT instead of being necessary to be played first when 7 hearts has been realistically reached.

No doubt the 4-4 fit (where the suit breaks 3-2, approximately 2/3s of the time) will allow for an extra trick if the two hands high cards did not include both of the minor suit queens, but instead only one. Rarely, and perhaps only with very complicated relays, systems played by very few of even world class partnerships, can locate all side suit queens as well as all the other necessary information transmitted (specific distributions), allowing an intelligent (and percentage) grand slam to be ventured.

Here, of course, since both partners had extras the bidders of today’s hand thought it worthwhile to chance it, and only Nicola’s brilliancy stood in their way.

One word of interest, regarding the play while endeavoring the success of playing today’s gem. If, by chance, North would have been declarer in the heart grand slam, it would be best to first lead the king of hearts from the then dummy, putting irreconcilable fear with West (and even Nicola) by her not being able to first see that her partner’s known singleton heart was not the 10, since if it was, her teammates and other patriotic rooters for her country may have been more than a little disappointed with their result, caused by her devious false card. Of course, the declarer should be given the plaudits deserved for maneuvering that gambit, but since it didn’t happen then, but likely somewhere, sometime has occurred in perhaps other very high-level bridge games around the world from time to time.

Finally, is our beautiful game a great one or what? Bridgelovers in every continent, especially to me, living in the Western Hemisphere, should make every effort to keep it going for limitless years by getting it taught in our schools, instead of allowing it to vanish without a trace. No harm to me, who wouldn’t be around, but to all others who, no doubt, would love, just as I have, the inclusion of the ability to just play it.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 2nd, 2017 at 12:32 pm

David, Iain,
don’t be too harsh… the English pair missed the grand slam at the other table.

Iain ClimieOctober 2nd, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Hi Michael,

Fair point, and unlucky on the Swedes I admit although a combined 36 HCP has got to be awfully tempting. If North knew South had a balanced 23-4 points and 4 hearts, wouldn’t you want to be in some sort of Grand?

I’d be interested to know whether the team at the time was UK (aka Great Britain & NI) or England, though. Somewhere in the last 20 years, the sides fragmented back into Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland instead of the bigger picture. Any ideas when and why?

In similar vein, how long before Catalonia puts in a separate team from Spain? Mind you, GB & NI put a unified team into the Olympics but have totally separate football teams for FIFA / UEFA events; there is growing chaos in the world of sports and games.



Bobby WolffOctober 2nd, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Hi everyone,

Under the heading of fun & games, and to be specific, delving deeper into the specific trump holding being discussed, the following repertoire, some years ago (among experienced and well known players) did occur:

After setting the exact heart combination set up today with NS, but EW now closed hands,
First person: “What if West, after contributing the nine of hearts under the lead of the king from dummy, five from North, seven from East now leads the three from dummy, and the deuce of hearts is played by West, what should North now do? Second person “easy, finesse the eight”.

Try this challenge, but be sure to give East the jack, seven doubleton. You’ll destroy that person beyond description.

Just another episode with the unique back and forth player psychology, when good bridgers get together, always attempting to be one step ahead.

However, being two steps ahead will not work, since the result will be back to normal.

BTW, those types of bridge stereotyping were often used by both Victor Mollo and “Skippy” (SJ) Simon in their hilarious bridge books.

Iain ClimieOctober 2nd, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Hi Bobby,

Given the horrific news today, can I just end condolences to anyone affected. It puts bridge in strict perspective.


Bobby WolffOctober 2nd, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your very kind and feeling comment.

When I wrote early, it was early in the morning (4AM) here and I had no idea what had happened.

It seems so unnecessary and very surreal, since the theoretical gunman’s life offered no rational explanation for his horrific actions.

We can all just wait and see what the investigation will suggest. In truth, Las Vegas, being a great entertainment community, seemed to be pretty well prepared for some terrorist activity, but, at least on the surface, what he did, assuming it was him, just makes no sense.

In any event, yes it certainly does put bridge and all other activities way down the list in importance. It is too early to tell, but I cannot imagine this particular attack, with its mass casualties, will not negatively linger for a very long time.

Love to you, your family, and all of our other great friends and fans, met and bonded, through the magic of the internet.

Judy and Bobby

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 2nd, 2017 at 11:54 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, it is indeed a very solemn day here in Las Vegas.

But .. it just goes to show you that bridge players are not the only loonies in this world!