Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Thinking is to me the greatest fatigue in the world.

Sir John Vanbrugh

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


South had a problem trying to decide how high to go here. His partner had signed off at his third turn, but when North showed a spade control by raising four spades to five spades, suggesting the king, South made a grand slam try. When North signed off South accepted his decision. North would surely have accepted the try were his spade jack the queen.

As it was, we have all been in worse grand slams than this, and in consequence South took his eye off the ball after a club lead. He won, drew trump, and laid down the spade ace, uttering an indelicate expletive under his breath when West showed out. There was no longer any way to make the contract, since declarer could not strip out the minors without surrendering control of spades.

In fact six hearts becomes a sure-trick problem, once the opening lead is not ruffed. Can you see how? At trick two, declarer draws trump with the heart ace and king, cashes the diamond ace, and next takes his remaining club winner. Then he makes the crucial play of a spade to the king.

If West had followed suit, declarer could claim his contract, losing just one spade trick at most. When West shows out, South wins the spade king, ruffs dummy’s remaining diamond, then ducks a spade. With the minors stripped out, East must now either lead away from his spade queen or give a ruff-anddiscard. Either way, declarer has 12 tricks.

Raise to three clubs, as much to keep the opponents quiet as to make a real try for game. Here the fact that you raise partner’s suit, rather than making a stronger try via a cuebid, should indicate to your partner that you have more of a courtesy raise than a really strong hand.


♠ Q 10 9 7
 K J 10 9 8
♣ Q 8 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ 1
Dbl. 1 NT 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


Mircea1October 12th, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for sharing this hand with us. It is a perfect example of how instructive our beloved game can be. Both the bidding and the play on this hand are very good examples of how highly rewarding good judgment can be.

How many average players will resist the temptation of not going for the very rare price of a grand slam with South’s 2-loser hand, especially when partner raises below game? But passing this test is not enough, though. They must do it with no remorse of missing the rare bird once dummy comes down. Otherwise they will haste the play just to prove themselves that a grand slam can be a piece of cake.

I noticed that trying to record your emotions during the game and then playing recording back while doing the mandatory analysis (regardless of the result) can dramatically contribute to improving your results. I am more and more convinced that once you get passed the initial steps of learning and getting better at the technical aspects, the discipline, control of emotions and power of concentration become more important than technicalities.

What do you think?

Bobby WolffOctober 12th, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Hi Mircea1,

First, thanks for your wise comments.

Next, I am very attracted to the way you go about addressing the internal dynamics of our wonderful, but most challenging game.

I sincerely think that when you combine the psychology of a winning emotional, but rational competitive make-up, with an intense desire to continually improve on the technical side of the game, along with gaining the experience of playing against the best partnerships you can find, a person who is at least above average with the numeracy required, but can develop the considerable concentration necessary on almost every hand played, you are at least approaching the chances for that player to be at the doorsteps of becoming a world class player.

Of course, in order for this to occur, one has to have the time and resources necessary for this to happen, as well as not having common roadblocks, like family responsibilities, and sometimes even making a living.

However, to specifically mention, while on the Yellow Brick Road, to the goal, even talking about the beauty instead of the folly, of bidding a grand slam while missing the critical queen of spades on the above hand (although and realistically, while on the journey, that and worse will too often happen) one learns to try and avoid such traps, but understands that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men sometimes will not keep it from, at least occasionally, happening.

Finally, the best advice I can give, would issue a caution against being influenced by wanna-be bridge experts, who, while pretending to know much, more often than not, come up only espousing their own restricted ideas, which have more flaws than gems.

Above all, I wish you great success, but remember it will not happen overnight; instead it may take years, but, at least to me, it is worth it, if only for the opportunity to learn the beauty of bridge logic, joy of partnership harmony, becoming a beacon for active ethics, and the respect by your peers for your status.

Mircea1October 12th, 2017 at 11:54 pm

Thank you (again) for your kind works of encouragement, Bobby.

I think I did come across the wanna-be bridge experts you mention and found the whole experience weird, to say the least. On one hand you find something new to learn but on another hand you realize that you’re walking a very narrow path to improvement. I think bridge is the only serious game where it’s fairly easy to approach a player at the top. This is awesome, and this blog is the perfect example. At the same time however, I think that bridge is, with very few exceptions, the game where one’s progress is the slowest, not only because of the complexities of the game but mostly because of the lack of organized training facilities available. If only the responsible factors would read and listen to 1% of your pleadings to introduce it in schools, we would be so far ahead – not only in the game itself but also with life matters in general.

Bobby WolffOctober 14th, 2017 at 2:04 am

Hi Mircea1,

I could only wish that you would be in a powerful position with the ACBL, enabling you to go straight to the USA educational agency and convince them of what you say above.

You could have the rave notices from many European countries whose bridge teachers, students and parents of the students sing the praises of what their child is learning. In addition you would have the whole educational system in China behind you with their 200 million students all able to involve themselves with bridge as an elective subject.

All you and I can do is wish for someone to take up the responsibility in the USA to get it done, before we slowly (at the beginning) but quickly (as bridge fades) remove our beautiful and fruitful game from vanishing from view.