Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The fixation on school has become a class trait. It manifests itself as a mixture of incurious piety and parlor game.

V.S. Pritchett

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


Bridge at the Dyspeptics Club is often equivalent to a game of hot potato. A contract may start out as makeable, or off in top tricks, but quite frequently the fate of the contract will switch from one side to the other. All too often it is the player who makes the last mistake who will come in for the criticism, while the other errors are glossed over altogether.

See if you can decide how many times the outcome of today’s contract of three no-trump changed hands here.

West led a spade to the king, won the second spade and played the spade two, as East pitched a heart. Declarer next played a diamond to the king and a second diamond, thoughtfully ducking when East produced the queen. Now the suit had been established with West kept off lead, so declarer had nine tricks.

When South started to brag about his foresight, North corrected him and told him that he was the poster child for the slogan “It’s better to be lucky than good.” How many mistakes had been made on the deal?

Had East pitched his diamond queen under the king, the defense would have prevailed. But South could have broached diamonds by crossing to a top heart and leading a low diamond to his ace, then a diamond back. Now the defenders would be unable to unblock successfully.

Or, if West had played a high (suit preference) spade at trick three, maybe East could have discarded the diamond queen at that point, rendering declarer helpless.

This sort of deal demonstrates why it is a good idea for the opener to be allowed to break the transfer whenever he has four trumps and anything but a dead minimum, and also perhaps when he has three good trumps and a maximum. The point is that when opener doesn’t break the transfer, you can pass two hearts and not risk going overboard, since game is unlikely to be good.


♠ K 5
 Q 10 4 3 2
 Q 5
♣ 10 7 6 2
South West North East
    1 NT Pass
2 Pass 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMay 17th, 2018 at 9:57 am

South made another mistake: he opened the bidding. Had he passed, North would have opened 1NT, South would have raised to 3NT, East would have led a heart, diamonds behave, making 3NT. South has less than 13 HCP, less than 3 quick tricks and 8 losers. I would never open such a hand, at least not in first or second seat.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 11:15 am

Hi David,

Thanks for, as always, your comments are straight to the point and unequivocal. The only bone to pick with it, is deciding just how valuable an opening bid offers to the side who makes it.

No doubt, I enjoy the affirmative advantages of more gain than loss when the deal was meant for a competitive part score contest, your side may well have an eight card fit somewhere and because of your twelve high card points, slightly outweigh the opponents by a few. Sometimes by passing, even an aggressive, intelligent player will get frozen out of the bidding for essentially the same reason he passed originally, his completely balanced hand.

Give nine or ten hcps to partner and a five card suit to boot, and you have at least the shell of being able to take eight tricks (on average) or sometimes nine, in your eventual trump suit. Yes, the partnership which has the majority of spades has an advantage, albeit small.

However, the downside is that, after opening, you will always have a minimum and must follow the advice given to children, “don’t speak (anymore) unless you are spoken (asked) to”.

No doubt, the above is not intended for an endorsement of opening those balanced minimum hands, only, if done, the excuse for doing it or, if confident (especially when it works) taking credit for whatever hand between you and partner, it becomes right to get a more favorable defense, often by luck with the choice of the opening lead.

Whatever one chooses to do with those hands and David sincerely believes not to, the only necessary advice I can offer is then, to be consistent and never open twelve hcp hands with totally balanced distribution except in the third seat (and a suit which you probably want led).

That consistency makes any bridge partnership (when slightly aggressive or also slightly conservative) much better in the long run by always behaving the same with similar type bridge bidding decisions, then allowing partner to base his judgment on information to which he can rely.

If anyone is looking for a specific example, suppose one is in the 4th seat with a random 4-4-3-2 eleven point balanced hand and having it go three passes to you. With a conservative partner it figures to be percentage to open, but probably not with an aggressive one (assuming there are no other pertinent facts lurking).

A V Ramana RaoMay 17th, 2018 at 11:50 am

Hi David
In a very lighter vein
Assuming north becomes declarer in 3 NT, hypothetically east west hands can get interchanged. What do we call it? TOHM !
( Theory of hand migration )
But as I said- strictly in lighter vein

jim2May 17th, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Preach it!


Iain ClimieMay 17th, 2018 at 12:25 pm

HI Jim2,

If you ever see an old UK sitcom about the Home Guard during World War2 there a Scots character called Private Fraser whose catchphrase is “We’re all doomed.” He’s very much a kindred spirit with Mollo’s Karapet. There is some debate as to whether he is an undertaker or (more amusingly) had previously been a lighthouse keeper whose hobby was making coffins.

I’m sure there are Youtube clips out there, especially one of Philip Madoc as a U-boat captain. The humour is very gentle and dated but the whole situation was a period piece.


Iain Climie

Bob LiptonMay 17th, 2018 at 1:01 pm

I think that instead of leading a heart to the Ace at trick 4, I would try leading to the Jack. This pays off if west has the HQ, if east has the doubleton or triple diamond queen and also offers a couple of squeeze options.

Tossing the diamond Queen on round three would have been a great defense and I don’t see any way around it; even a heart to the Ace and then a couple of low hearts doesn’t pressure west sufficiently; he can simply dump his spades and then his fourth club. Kudos to the East who finds it.


Bruce karlsonMay 17th, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Is East entitled to a “double dummy” prize for twice failing? Could he not, after failing to pitch the tainted Q under the partners S, unload it under the D K fr the same result?

Bruce karlsonMay 17th, 2018 at 1:42 pm


A V Ramana RaoMay 17th, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Hi Bruce
East cannot afford to pitch diamond Q on third spade as he does not know the position of nine and ten but can certainly ditch it on dummy’s K

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 4:14 pm


With magic, each card moved has an individual charge, so an entire hand moving is 13 X more expensive.

The good news is there might be less change.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Hi Iain,

Reminds me of long ago (perhaps close to 50 years) when an American character named Al Fischer used to show up at all the World Bridge Championships, and he too lived in a lighthouse. He never kibitzed the bridge, but instead played in the accommodating daily duplicates for those who would rather play than watch.

He too, seemed to be exactly how you describe the characters you mentioned. Always pulling for finesses to lose, even perhaps his own. Nice guy though and somewhat recently was thinking about him and what his fate has been.

Of note to me was the single difference between nationalities (so noticeable when different countries get together) is the different types of senses of humor dealt with.

The bad news was seemingly at that time, one person’s laugh was sometimes, another one’s at least, minor insult.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 4:40 pm

Hi Bob,

An immediate heart finesse will, of course, find out early if there may be problems involved, but if it loses may take away some options later for success.

However, at least IMO, East would be making nothing less than a major error by not dropping the queen of diamonds under the king, since with the appearance of dummy and the known spade holding absolutely guarantees the ace of diamonds to be held by declarer.

The above leads to certain disciplines which should be developed by defenders after a first couple of tricks with coordinating the bidding with the early play, usually, except in rare cases, giving away the location of certain cards to certainty rather than speculation. IOWs the developing of a really good player demands total concentratrion from the get-go, starting with the bidding for all four players at the table and in this case East should be sure at trick 3 the location of the ace of diamonds and the king and queen of clubs, thus only hope that West has the jack of diamonds third, allowing him to easily toss that diamond queen as, if nothing else, a courtesy to partner, that he too is thinking about this hand and nothing else.

Difficult, one may say, wherein the answer, is not even close to that, but in reality is almost like getting up in the morning and going about one’s life.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your comment about throwing it away on the 3rd spade is the next step and may even be a reason why West didn’t duck the 2nd spade (with an appropriate false card, the 7, to allow declarer to possibly think that the spades are 4-3 instead of 5-2).

The above just indicates, in addition to what excellent bridge is about, the huge advantage that numeracy allows the aspiring player, rather than being more into words or languages, than numbers. However at least IMO, although I am just guessing, numeracy, at the very least can be acquired, not necessarily being born with, although I can be very wrong about that.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 4:59 pm


Not if declare first leads a diamond from the dummy, intending to duck East’s queen but if not played, taking the ace and when a low is then led, if West plays the then lowest one, the nine, simply duck and force East to then win the second diamond whether holding the queen or the jack.

Of course the diamonds might be 4-1 and if so, the hand itself would resemble Jim2, in all phases, as the declarer. Excellent dummy play with the same tiring result.

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 5:01 pm

To everyone,

At least, we can sing this melody, “In the morning, at dawning, ain’t we got fun”!

A V Ramana RaoMay 17th, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Hi again dear Mr Wolff
What I meant is east cannot discard diamond Q on the spade deuce whic Mr Karlson intended

bobbywolffMay 17th, 2018 at 8:52 pm


Unless he does pitch it on the third spade played by his partner, declarer can always make the hand by arranging to play the first diamond from dummy and then either duck the queen when it is played or if not then rise and duck a diamond on the way back.

Pretty clever these bridge players, don’t you think?

A V Ramana RaoMay 18th, 2018 at 3:01 am

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
But in case East pitches diamond on third spade and if South happens to possess nine and ten of diamonds, South can easily make an overtrick. So perhaps pitching D Q is OK in team event but may not be proper in pairs event

bobbywolffMay 18th, 2018 at 5:00 am


Yes, you are as right as can be, but by being so, might cause some confusion while writing or teaching bridge in general.

At least for some time, many bridge discussions have to do only with what I and some others basically think bridge to be representative of either rubber bridge or IMPs where the premium lies in making and setting contracts.

When matchpoints enter, it is almost like a totally different game, close to impossible to play very well, since to worry about overtricks, either from a declarer or defender’s position, often resembles spinning a wheel in order to seek the answer.

Thus for practical purposes all of my back and forth as to proper play tends to concern itself with our original game and not the (what I think) is the bastardized game which represents a specific (and popular) tournament featuring frequency of gain rather than amount of gain.

To do otherwise might tend to make bridge discussions never ending, at least IMO.