Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 30th, 2017

’Forward the Light Brigade!’ Was there a man dismayed?

Lord Tennyson

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

*Ace and king in different suits or three kings


Today’s deal comes from the U.S. Nationals 15 years ago. It is often the case that virtue goes unrewarded at the bridge table, as a poor bid or play goes unpunished, or worse, is rewarded by a highly favorable lie of the cards. Today was not one of those days, though, since Jon Wittes and Ross Grabel used their system to get to the right spot, then took advantage of their auction to bring in a huge swing.

There are all sorts of methods to show controls in response to a two-club opening. The one in use here allocates one call to show an ace and king in the same suit, and another for three kings or an ace and king in separate suits. (By the way, these responses are better than responding in steps to show HCP.)

Wittes found his partner with the club ace and heart king on his first turn, then managed to bid his suits to give his partner an intelligent choice as to which slam to play.

After a trump lead, Wittes drew two rounds of clubs and cashed the diamond ace-king. Eureka! He ran into the specific lie of the cards that would reward his carefulness, where the same hand had short diamonds and no more than two clubs.

When one of the defenders showed out of diamonds but had no trumps with which to ruff, that allowed Wittes to ruff his diamond loser in dummy, draw the last trump and claim 13 tricks. This was a gain of 16 IMPs against seven diamonds down one in the other room.

With a choice of four evils, try the least offensive one. Neither major seems like a good idea, though a heart might turn out to be passive. Spades are especially dangerous with known length on my left. Since partner didn’t double clubs, I’ll lead a low diamond and keep my fingers crossed.


♠ Q 9 3 2
 J 7 2
 A 7 4
♣ Q 6 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 NT
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2
Pass 3 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


Michael BeyroutiNovember 13th, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Upon reading today’s hand, my reaction was: “Luck is the residue of hard work”.

Iain ClimieNovember 13th, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Hi Michael, Bobby,

And really, really severe bad luck is the result of being a cavalryman in the Light Brigade (see the quote today) led down a valley to attack Russian guns head on during the Crimean War. The next lines (I think) go “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die, Into the valley of death rode the six hundred”. Just for good measure, they were charging the wrong target due to a mix-up.

One comment about British troops (used in WWI but applicable in numerous cases) was that they fight like lions; the retort was “Yes, but they’re led by donkeys”. At least bridge NPCs are rather better. Good hand today, though; virtue rewarded by taking the extra chance.



Mircea1November 13th, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can declarer’s play in today’s column problem be categorized as a safety play? It has nothing to lose if both minors split 3-2 and nothing to gain if at least one of them splits 5-0

On LWTA, would you lead the same if East bid 2S instead of 2H?

James WichtNovember 13th, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I have a question about the value of doubling against opponents contract in 5 of a Major. In the 11/11/17 afternoon Common Game, I, sitting as West in a contested auction, competed to 5 Clubs and eventually doubled when South raised to 5 Spades. NS made 6 for 1050 and an average minus for us; not doubled we would have still only been average. With my holding, I was thinking that NS would either go down in 5 (good double) or make slam (underbid). Partner disagreed. What are your thoughts?

Bobby WolffNovember 13th, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Hi Michael & Iain,

Yes, “bad luck” can sometimes be thwarted by excellent play.

This time the bad diamond break can be overcome by declarer bridge knowledge, and, of course, leave it to a bridge columnist, to use this theme when it is vitally necessary.

However, by watching, whether by being at the table or on either view-graph (at the site) or on delightful BBO, whether it turns out to be necessary or not, will help determine where that declarer ranks. Moving up the ladder toward the apex is always the goal and whether it is necessary for success or not has little to do with talent, but rather just proper technique.

And Iain, the bravery associated with battle to the death (Light Brigade) has always fascinated me, better to not have to endure such an exercise, but electrifying to even read about it, much more being subjected to it. Perhaps like taking a simple finesse, but shall we say, with higher stakes. Was it Henry V who went to talk to his troops right before the dawn skirmish?

Since eventually, if not sooner, all human beings will need to face that ultimate result, and going out in style may have its reward.

BTW, my experience is that being a NPC in a bridge match, requires much attention to detail, mainly depending (on a non-professional bridge team) on the psychological make-up of the pairs on the team as to both which two of the three pairs to play and how to attempt to match them up against their worthy opponents.

Some adopt better than others to the particular style and system of their opponents, making the specific match-ups, a relatively large factor in the final result.

Of course, there is also important strategy to be sought when captaining a professional team, but usually it emphasizes toning down the emotion for the lesser experienced pair to face (often in not having to play the final pressure filled final sessions).

No doubt, in so many competitive endeavors, the mindset of the participants is probably the most important factor in achieving the best result possible, not necessarily the best possible result which, to my way of thinking, is not in the hands of any mere mortal.

Bobby WolffNovember 13th, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No, it is technique not a safety play, since safety plays involve giving up the best way to take a maximum amount of tricks (usually just one), in order to insure against a “bad” break, putting the contract in jeopardy.

On today’s hand there is nothing which can be done to insure against either minor being 5-0, so no amount of time should be spent on insuring against it.

Regarding the BWTA, no, since in both cases one or other of the declaring side will have a 4 card (or possibly longer) major suit, so only the choices of the minor suits remain. However I think it very close between them and I will tend to discount diamonds over clubs since partner will be unlikely to hold a club suit (J10xxx is an example or even K109xx) which could risk a disaster by doubling 2 clubs. And, in different ways Qxx, I think, is a tiny bit better (than Axx) for developing my partner’s hoped for length, not to mention now having a side ace (diamonds) for the setting trick. IOW, I value the immediate above over the written column logic, which many, if not most, experienced players, would tend to think, in spite of my contrary “feel”.

Yes, I am a natural born optimist and, for whatever reason, have always been one.

However, the above is just my “feel” certainly not proof.

Bobby WolffNovember 13th, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Hi James,

And welcome to AOB!

Probably the odds suggest not doubling (unless almost certain about a set, likely not true in this case). Better to rely on pushing the opponents one level higher than they want to be, usually a worthwhile advantage when and if they go set one (or even two instead of only one). IOW, not risking a make which may turn out to be still an average instead of usually a “telephone number” (making a doubled contract), often a terrible board.

However, I feel sympathy for you since it is sometimes not easy to determine exactly what may happen and if, for some reason, they are down several, it may cost you some matchpoints by not doubling.

The “telltale” fact, according to your description is that, possibly from your hand and the bidding, you could not rule out the opponents making even a slam, so that depending on the distribution (and the location of the high cards), it is unlikely that when you double and they make it, there will be some number of pairs who bid slam and if they make it they will have a higher score than your opponents because they didn’t bid it.

I understand your logic, but still will just be satisfied to defeat them one undoubled and, for that result secure a good matchpoint score.

BTW, your strategy has a name for it, “A striped tale ape” where you double an opponents slam at the five level to keep them from bidding six, a theme used by bridge authors through the years.

Possibly you didn’t realize the name used which makes you a thoroughly “modern” bridge player actively pursuing good scores.

Well intended but I do not think the percentage move!

Jeff SNovember 13th, 2017 at 9:17 pm

Ian – it was even worse for the poor lads, “Our is but do AND die”. And, yes, Bobby, it was Henry V. Or so it is said.

Un ensayo de síntesis crítica. Un servicio excelente.