Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 13th, 2017

All you’re supposed to do is every once in a while give the boys a little tea and sympathy.

Robert Anderson

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



At the table, I may not be good at extending sympathy to my partner, but at least I avoid open criticism. Had I been North here, I doubt I would have been able to offer condolences convincingly.

That player took only a slightly optimistic approach when he drove to the grand slam, reasonably confident that either diamonds or spades would run for declarer.

When West led the club 10, declarer could see 12 certain winners and had three suits where a 13th might materialize. Before you look at how play developed, think about how you would approach it.

At trick two, South tested the spades. It was only when East followed to the third round that declarer realized that he did not have a good discard from hand. Since diamonds looked more promising than hearts (because of the chance the jack might fall in two rounds), he let a heart go from hand. When the bad news in spades was combined with the fact that it was West who had diamond length, declarer was out of chances.

What should South have done differently? The key is to play the heart ace-king, cash the remaining clubs (pitching a heart from dummy), then take the heart queen, discarding a spade.

At this point, you can claim when hearts break. But if they had not split, you can decide whether to make the normal play of running spades from the top, or to play diamonds first, depending on what has happened in the other two suits.

On this dramatic auction, you have to assume declarer has a void somewhere (since Blackwood wasn’t used), but you have no sure way to know if declarer fits spades and is gambling with one suit unguarded. The most passive lead is a trump, but against small slams one tends to go active. Here, a heart feels right to me.


♠ 10 3
 K J 9 5
 Q 5 2
♣ 10 8 6 4
South West North East
Pass 1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣
Pass 2 ♠ Pass 6 ♣
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


Gloria JohnsonNovember 27th, 2017 at 4:59 pm

I read your bridge column in the Houston Chronicle. But hand is different from the one shown for today. But it doesn’t matter. I am asking about a comment you have made several times that I dont understand. I am not a tournament player; just a curious social duplicate player.
You said: Incidentally, this line is sound in both teams and rubber bridge. But at pairs, the simple heart finesse is probably better, to avoid setting up unneccesary additional winners for the defenders if the cards do not cooperate. I do not understand the difference in play for teams & rubber vs pairs. Could you explain it to me? I am curious and my life master friends can’t seem to grasp what I am asking. Why would you play differently in teams vs pairs?

Jeff SNovember 27th, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Today’s hand is interesting. I played it different, first attacking diamonds and then spades, discarding the now-useless fourth diamond on the third spade, but it seems you can do almost anything EXCEPT attack spades early. It looks like you can even go bottom-up if you are feeling whimsical. Cash the clubs (discarding a spade), try the diamonds, try the hearts, try the spades, as necessary.

Therefore, I have a feeling I am missing something (and it is probably obvious) as the column was so definitive about the order of play. What am I overlooking?

Thank you, as always, and happy holidays to one and all!

slarNovember 27th, 2017 at 6:15 pm

I think the point of the hand is that you have to anticipate the situation if you attack the spades first. I hope I would have attacked diamonds first since you succeed on 3-3 or J on the short side. Other than that it doesn’t seem to matter. If there is a squeeze available, I can’t find it.

Bobby WolffNovember 27th, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Hi Gloria,

My answer(s) always appear right here on this site, without going through email. The main reason for that is that quite often others are interested in the same question that is asked and so community understanding should be the prime goal, so here we go.

Very simply, “pair games in tournaments cater to what should be called, frequency of gain in determining the winners, as opposed to amount of gain which applies to both IMPs at tournaments and “rubber bridge” at home.

Before tournament bridge became popular, back in the 1930s (contract bridge was supposedly invented in 1927 on a cruise ship by Harold Vanderbilt) “rubber bridge” took over where players played against each other, usually at home.

As you know by the scoring, that games and slams (particularly when vulnerable) involve themselves with much higher scores than do part scores, so with IMPs and rubber bridge that is reflected in the scoring, hence “amount of gain” becomes paramount in the final result as to who won that session of bridge.

However in pair games every side gets 1 point for every pair they beat and 1/2 a point for every pair they tie, regardless of how much the disparity is, making frequency of occurrence the overriding reason for “winning or losing”.

In pairs, every time you beat someone counts the very same, but in rubber or IMPs the amount of how much you beat them by, becomes paramount.

Therefore, as I am sure you can imagine, your play and thoughts NEED to always keep that in mind and cater to the scoring god which governs the difference in those two very different type games.

For what it is worth, I strongly prefer IMPs or rubber bridge since, at least to me, pairs is fraught with a whole lot more luck and therefore is not IMO as good or as accurate a barometer in determining results.

Tune in our site anytime you wish. I promise no one will “bite you” and wonder of wonders you may even enjoy the back and forth banter, since our regulars all have different personalities, but, at least up to now, no one has ever been barred, but instead welcomed, but sometimes, gently (at least intended) only kidded.

At the very least, tune in when you have time and remain invisible, if you so choose.

Bobby WolffNovember 27th, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Hi Jeff S. & Slar,

Yes, there is hidden meaning in the direction of the column.

There are all sorts of squeeze endings, producing the fulfilling 13th trick depending on what suits to attack first. The column only concentrated on not having to throw a possible automatic winner before realizing that it will be good.

Of course the column’s required limit as to number of words prevented getting into a serious discussion about exactly why to do, only what to do.

Since it would take me many words to give a complete discussion why don’t both of you think in terms of taking advantage of one of your two opponents who had to impossibly hold the key card when guarding at least two of the three suits, of course, excluding clubs.

As a guide, follow the column’s choice of suits to attack first and, no doubt, perhaps after some thought you will get the rudiments of what we are talking about.

Two good things happen, first both of your bridge games go up in quality, since and no doubt, these situations are much more commonplace that others think, and second (most important to me), I save myself from not having to go through an endless episode of back and forth concerning the almost endless possibilities of who will be squeezed and why.

Reason two ahead of reason one, but I hope you will understand, but if not, go to your closest best bridge playing friend, and I will bet that he (or she) will be able to help you, answer your questions, and presto, magico, a new light will glow with you which may never have been available before.

jim2November 27th, 2017 at 9:11 pm

I believe the hand is cold unless:

– RHO guards spades, and
– LHO guards diamonds.

There appear to be two ~equivalent 4-card endings (They transpose). Here is one:




Obviously, if hearts have split (or JD or JS fell), simply cash out.

Assuming hearts did not split, the first thing to note is that declarer knows which defender has the remaining heart.

The second thing to note is that if EITHER defender started with the guard of BOTH diamonds and spades, then that defender has already been squeezed and declarer cannot go wrong. (i.e., had to pitch one card from Jxx – Jx – )

Cash dummy’s spades. On the last, pitch last heart (unless someone pitches heart guard). If the spades split (or a defender was squeezed as above) then declarer cashes out. If not, then this is the 2-card ending:




At this point, declarer knows who has last spade guard when the last diamond is led from the board. If it is RHO, then either the JD pops up, the drop is on, or RHO shows out and declarer is doomed.

If RHO follows with the last extant small diamond, declarer must choose to finesse or play for the drop.

If LHO holds the last spade and LHO is also know to still have last heart (e.g., 4-4 in majors, and so never had a chance to pitch it), the finesse is 100%.

The last case is when LHO holds the last spade and RHO (who had to play on the last high spade before declarer pitched heart loser) still holds the 13th heart. In this case, diamonds split, so go up and drop the JD.

In summary, I believe:

– LHO cannot guard spades if defense is to prevail
— If LHO guards only S, then RHO squeezed in Reds on last spade
— If LHO guards S + H, then declarer will know to finesse Ds at Trick 12
— If LHO guards S + D, then LHO was squeezed at Trick 9
—— Thus, RHO must guard spades

– RHO cannot also guard Ds if the defense is to prevail
— If RHO guards S + D, then RHO was already squeezed at Trick 9
—— Thus, LHO must guard diamonds

– If RHO guards S and LHO guards H + D, no line works

– If RHO guards S + H and LHO guards D, then a clairvoyant declarer could cash KD at Trick 10 and squeeze RHO

The other 4-card ending is:



K10 8

(It transposes to the 2-card ending, but lacks the “clairvoyant option.”)

Bobby WolffNovember 27th, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Hail to Jim2,

And I really mean it!!!! He did what I, in a mealy mouth way, flatly refused to do, simply because it is so difficult to examine all that he did, and without taking the time to do it (it figures) would wholeheartedly ratify his technique, work ethic and above all, conclusion.

This tribute could go on and on, but individually and collectively we have established what I consider a worthwhile task force, both explaining, teaching and most of all, loving the game we play.

To say thanks to all, for their contributions is a vast underbid. I, for one, think we are serving the great mind qualities which go with both playing our game and enjoying it to the fullest.

And to Jim2 he has just established a reputation which even with his TOCM (ha! ha!) malady, cannot detract, in even a small way, what he brings to others and to the game itself.

slarNovember 28th, 2017 at 2:21 am

Bah. I could come up with one scenario – RHO with Jxxx in two suits. (I thought about this then dismissed it prematurely.) You have to cash three clubs and three of one red suit before starting the spades. This works if RHO had both red suits or spades and the red suit you didn’t attack first.

“these situations are much more commonplace that others think” perhaps but it sure seems to me like they are in the <1% category. I agree with Frank Stewart that standards of play have declined nationwide but bidding accuracy and judgment have become so paramount that you can't even pretend to be a good player without them.

slarNovember 28th, 2017 at 2:23 am

I posted ^^^ before seeing jim2’s response obviously. I need to spend some time with that one.

Bobby WolffNovember 28th, 2017 at 6:05 am

Hi Slar,

Before (or during) the time you spend on critiquing Jim2’s analysis perhaps I”ll offer an opinion on what you seem relatively very sure about.

As far as the masses who play bridge in the USA (estimated at 40 million in the late 1950’s, but tailed off to perhaps 8 million now, with only 165,00 being tournament players), no doubt bidding, being more well defined and easier to learn, is of ultra importance if one wants to aspire to being really good among his peers.

Add that to the popular conception (and BTW also mine) that excellent card play, featuring proper technique is ever present among the top 1000 players here at home (all of them tournament oriented) with little to choose since all need to be a special quality who do not go down in contracts which should make, as well as playing (and guessing) cards based on the bidding, play up to then (sometimes including the opening lead), and of course, continual counting.

If the above is true or very close to it, then better bidding systems will, of course, be the critical factor in separating winners from losers.

However, since there are very few “top” players (similar to tennis, golf and almost all popular and visual sports) in bridge able to hold their own when competing against the world’s best.

And with bridge being taught every week day in eleven different European countries as well as in all of China with their 200 million young students, it seems very unlikely that the USA, along with their other Western Hemisphere neighbors, will be able to hold their own, come the foreseeable future.

Time will tell and I will not be around to see it happen, which is fine with me, since It would be terribly disappointing to have it happen right in front of our noses and jurisdiction.

However, between excellent bidding and right-on play, both are very necessary in order to hold one’s own against world class opposition, only to get even more difficult, as time goes by.

Good luck to the game many of us love, but unless enough leadership and care to do something about our educational system following Europe and Asia’s lead emerges, I do not think it will be enough to have it survive.

Ken MooreNovember 30th, 2017 at 2:14 am

It seems just as reasonable to play either red suit looking for a 3-3- break. Playing hearts works while diamonds do not. What are the clues to which one to begin with, or does it even matter?

jim2November 30th, 2017 at 2:55 am

In this hand, there is a reason to play hearts first.

If hearts do not break, there is no extra chance.

If diamonds do not break, you may in the course of the hand learn that East has Jxxx and be able to finesse.

jim2November 30th, 2017 at 3:59 am

Ken Moore –

Once you see the diamond finesse as a late extra chance, you know to try hearts first. You want spades to be second because if the spades do not behave, you are in dummy where you need to be if you want to finesse diamonds.

Thus, you work backward. Diamonds have to be first, spades have to be second, so hearts get tried first.

jim2November 30th, 2017 at 4:00 am

I mis-typed, I meant:

“Diamonds have to be last, spades have to be next-to-last, so hearts get tried first.”