Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 17th, 2018

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

G.K. Chesterton

N North
None ♠ Q 9
 Q 10 5
 Q 6 4 2
♣ A K J 5
West East
♠ K J 8 6 4 2
 J 4 3 2
 K 7
♣ 4
♠ A 10 7 5 3
 9 7 6
♣ Q 10 6 2
♠ —
 A K 8
 J 10 9 8 5 3
♣ 9 8 7 3
South West North East
    1 ♣ 1 ♠
2 4 ♠ 5 All pass


Today’s deal comes from the second round of the 2017 Vanderbilt Trophy in Kansas City, Missouri, in which Johan Sylvan and Frederic Wrang faced Tor Helness and Geir Helgemo of Pierre Zimmermann’s squad.

Helgemo stretched to introduce his diamonds at his first turn to speak, making the overbid because he knew the opponents were about to up the ante in spades. A moment later, he found himself in five diamonds, against which West led the spade king, ruffed. Take a look at all four hands, and you will see that the defenders appear to have two diamond tricks and two club tricks. What could go wrong for them?

Declarer crossed to the heart queen, ruffed dummy’s remaining spade and cashed the heart ace-king. When both defenders followed, declarer played dummy’s diamond queen to East’s ace.

At this point, East was down to all black cards, so he exited with a spade — as good as anything. Helgemo ruffed in dummy and carefully cashed the ace and king of clubs before playing another trump. West was endplayed whether he ruffed in on the club king or not. When he won his diamond king, he had to concede a second ruff-sluff, and declarer ruffed in dummy again, pitching his last club loser.

This pretty line would only fail under one circumstance: If East had started with four hearts (giving West a 5=4=2=2 pattern), East could defeat the contract by playing the last heart when in with the trump ace, as West would then have been able to ruff with the diamond king and exit in clubs.

Everyone has their own set of rules to live by, in life as in bridge. One of my personal principles is that when opening a hand 4-4 in the minors, I bid the suit I want partner to lead. I don’t care which suit I bid when I have equal suits, but I feel very strongly that if defending here, I want partner to lead clubs, not diamonds. Does your partner always lead the right thing? If not, help him out!


♠ Q 9
 Q 10 5
 Q 6 4 2
♣ A K J 5
South West North East

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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2March 31st, 2018 at 12:46 pm

I would note one text nit on the sequence of play.

Declarer did not lead the QD to East’s AD. Instead, declarer (having played the AK H) led a low D towards the board and West managed NOT to play the KD from K7.

A V Ramana RaoMarch 31st, 2018 at 2:53 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
A brilliant display of declarer play by Helgemo. The cashing of A & K of clubs is essential and would cater to singleton/ dooubleton/ any three cards not including Q in west hand. To make the contract double dummy is perhaps easy but to pull it on the table is simply great. This man is a genius. I remember to have read sometime back that he brought home a seven spade contract with ttrump Q missing and foul breaks in other suits with an entryshifting squeeze

Bobby WolffMarch 31st, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, a simple case of TODI* occurred.

However when South led his lower diamond toward dummy West should ask himself, (invariably, after mentally reviewing the bidding), why would any sane and decent declarer, while holding the ace of trumps, ever lead a low one to dummy, if for no other reason than East possibly possessing the singleton king? Also South has already shown up with the AK of hearts and a void in spades plus, of course, his partner East, did overcall. The above merely emphasizes to every player, that concentration becomes necessary at the very moment the first bid (or pass) is made during the hand to be played.

However your query did touch on the strong numeracy element which our game is often about, when play decisions (which cards are where), both declarer and defender, are in the mix.

*TODI stands for theory of descriptive idiocy not caught in, at the very least, the proof reading.

Bobby WolffMarch 31st, 2018 at 3:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, I am aware that if declarer had six diamonds to the ace he might be making a safety play, guarding against losing two tricks no matter whcih opponent had the KJx (with his partner void), but then the other telltale evidence mentioned needs to be considered as well as which type of game is being played, matchpoints, IMPs or rubber bridge.

I do realize that the above is well-known to you, but perhaps others may benefit.

Bobby WolffMarch 31st, 2018 at 3:31 pm


Yes, Geir Helgemo has been a bridge genius for quite a long time, having first encountering him, while he was representing his home country, Norway, in the 1991 Junior World Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

However, please keep in mind, that many who learn to love bridge and its far reaching attributes, move quickly up the ladder of success when plays (and discussions) center themselves on bids and plays heretofore difficult become almost commonplace and intuitive before one’s very eyes.

To be blessed with that future is IMO much more likely than others may dream, only similar to many other aspects of life, search, commit, determine, concentrate, and presto, success.

Richard HamjeMarch 31st, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Doesn’t the line taken also fail when East has AK in diamonds (e.g. swap East’s club 2 for West’s diamond K)? In that arrangement, the winning play is to cash only the club A and not the K, before leading out the second diamond. Now East wins and is the again endplayed. But if the club K is played first, then East cashes the tall club Q for down 1.

Bobby WolffMarch 31st, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Hi Richard,

Yes indeed, the contract will fail, but if East had both AK of diamonds every line should fail since when East is in with the first diamond honor, he would certainly cash the second one, before granting only one ruff and sluff, not one which would do any material disadvantage, to the defense.

Many hands, especially tricky possible end play situations, need for the defense to be wide awake and look for counter measures to protect themselves from declarer opportunity.

As we soon learn to know, playing 1st and 3rd to any trick, instead of 2nd and 4th is never an advantage and too often a fatal disadvantage.

Thanks for writing and please do not hesitate to either just ask questions or instead, just join in the conversations.

BobliptonMarch 31st, 2018 at 4:56 pm

There are several holdings in which the chosen line fails, Richard. The simplest way for east to avoid a second endplay in your scenario is to cash his second trump winner after winning his first and before leading a club, spade or heart.

In many ways, the issue is not what worked in reality. South can always take the club hook and if the queen is in the slot and the split is good, he scores the same points. On the other hand, there’s a better chance that hearts break 4-3, and if they don’t, it may be east that has to ruff with a singleton high trump.

For me, the point is to not stop thinking. Helgemo didn’t, and was rewarded with a hand where his thought paid off. At least it did after the writers edited it.