Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Now is not the hour that requires such help, nor those defenders.


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



Today’s deal comes from the Swiss Qualifier at the Yeh Bros. tournament in China last year. The tournament is the biggest cash prize event on the regular calendar; it consists of a Swiss qualifying tournament followed by a knockout.

Today’s deal presents a defensive problem. Put yourself in the West seat and see what you would do. You start by leading the heart 10 against three no-trump; partner’s seven is discouraging as declarer wins the queen. South now plays a diamond to the ace, and partner’s diamond four is part of a style where echoing in diamonds would have been a further discouragement in hearts.

Declarer now passes the spade jack to you, partner’s four suggesting an even number. Can you think of a good reason not to win this — and what will you do next?

At the table, West took his queen and decided the play so far was consistent with declarer holding A-Q-J of hearts. So, he decided to go for the gold with a shift to the club king. I’m not sure what he intended to do if declarer had ducked — as he surely would have if this shift had been the best defense. But as you can see, this line of defense did not test declarer.

In the other room, Ivan Nanev for Bulgaria, sitting East, did not give his partner, Julian Stefanov, that problem. He followed with the heart jack to his partner’s lead of the 10 at trick one. There were no further complications in the defense now. When you think about it, how can that be wrong?

This is the precise hand that makes a Flannery opening to show the majors and a minimum opener a good idea. Alternatively, playing the no-trump response as non-forcing would let you pass with a clear conscience. If you play the one no-trump response as forcing (I don’t), you should bid two clubs as smoothly as you can, hoping to get by this round of the auction.


♠ A Q 5 3
 K 10 9 8 5
 J 9
♣ K 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1 NT 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


A V Ramana RaoFebruary 5th, 2019 at 2:28 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
It is indeed difficult to understand east’s play of the cards . He should have dropped hearts J at first trick based on bidding and at least should not have discouraged hearts further .
Are those players ( EW) continuing as partners?

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 5th, 2019 at 2:38 pm

And perhaps , had west known his partner better ( at first table) he could have led hearts eight and the contract would have been down

Ken MooreFebruary 5th, 2019 at 2:43 pm

A V and Bobby,

I can see not dropping the Jack on trick one but I cannot see why the 7 is discouraging. The 6 being discouraging, yes, but the 7?

Bill CubleyFebruary 5th, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Good partners help. Here playing the card declarer knows you have but partner does no know you have is a thoughtful play. He knows you have long hearts and should at least unblock.

Iain ClimieFebruary 5th, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Hi Ken,

Some partnerships play high to discourage on the basis that dumping a high card from rubbish is often more affordable. I suspect this is one of those cases.

When East plays the D4 (rather than a higher card) this is a Smith Peter (also called after Dorothy Hayden Truscott) which suggests East (relatively) likes hearts given that he didn’t play a high heart at T1 (which he should with HQxx or HQx). The technique is worth looking up although it can be played both ways – the first irrelevant card when following suit to declarer’s play can encourage / discourage declarer’s opening lead. A classic extra case is West leads HJ form AJ109x against 3N, dummy has xx and the lead runs round to South’s King. The location of the Q is not 100% clear although with HQxx East really should play it but …





Bobby WolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 3:47 pm


These kinds of serious defensive gaffes often come from a combination of events:

1. Rigidity of view-feeling and then playing a card (basically a signal since partner’s ten is the equivalent of the jack) which only informs, but (possibly, as in this case, vital) and should be determined by one’s whole hand in perspective, not just the suit led).

2. Trying to pinpoint exact holdings (keeping the jack for later) in case partner has only the 10952, a virtual impossibility both on this bidding and then the choice of lead.

3. Not devoting enough time to EVERY hand, but instead developing a terrible habit of taking some hands off from thinking. (not fair to partner nor teammates and sooner rather than later one will not be sought after for inclusion unless being a big time sponsor). Sad but true, especially when playing in big time events such as this one.

4. The only real good news is the reminder to all players (great and not) that, although there is much reason to still continue hearts, especially with that partner who West may judge incapable of either playing the jack or signalling positive (but, of course, I do not know their attitude signals, the 7 in this case signalling negative when also having a smaller one).

IOW, perhaps West should be prepared to overrule partner which should normally not have to be done, but no doubt, and in this case, should.

What else can be said?

Bobby WolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Hi Ken,

Many high-level players play attitude signals opposite, where a high card is discouraging and a low car encouraging. Reason being (and I do not agree) that the high card necessary to signal may be useful or necessary later in the defense (such as the 9 from J92 when partner leads the king).

Bobby WolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Hi Bill,

You said it right, but bridge being the game it is, sometimes depending on the exact circumstances, a contra indicated signal may be best, causing even the best players to sometimes do double takes, before acting.

However I cannot (like all of today’s posters) see any reason not to play the jack, particularly so, since it is dollars to doughnuts, partner has 5+ of them.

Bobby WolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt the Smith Peter (convention you defined as at the first chance the 3rd seat defender has to play a higher card if he liked the original suit partner led, but low if he had no further support in that first suit) is a valuable asset to play with one crucial admonition):

If playing it, that 3rd seat defender must play his card in the proper tempo, since if and when studying between possibly a six and a deuce may unintentionally (or, of course, worse) give unauthorized information to partner as to how strongly his view on that subject really is, so if playing Smith that defender needs to be ready not to break tempo when declarer then wins the first trick and immediately leads to the 2nd.

A thorny and perhaps unfair part of the game but nevertheless one to which active ethics is necessary to be shown by that defender (and then his partner’s later decision).

PaulFebruary 5th, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Hi Bobby,
While east is to be blamed for not directing the defence in the right direction I would be mortified to have led the club k. West can count 3spades , 2 hearts, 2 diamonds and one club. So I wouldn’t blame him for not playing back a heart but he could have opted for the safe defence of playing the diamond j. And when in with the spade ace exit with a low spade.

Bobby WolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Hi Paul,

While I am not doubting anything you say, it may not be clear to West that South had either 5 spades nor with such good interior spots (although he did not need them as good they were) and also, if South did hold the AQJ of hearts perhaps his partner held the Q10x(x) of clubs thereby somehow finding a path to 5 defensive tricks.

Sometimes one failed defensive play moves mountains on defense usually to the detriment of the side who erred.

Just to repeat, I am not contradicting your adjusted line of defense, only concentrating on East’s senseless play at trick one.

Mircea1February 5th, 2019 at 4:47 pm

Hi Bobby,

Could you please tell us your thinking process if you were sitting East and defending on this board with your favorite partner (past or present).

bobbywolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 6:01 pm

Hi Mircea1,

First, I appreciate the way you phrase your questions, although it would be very immodest for me to agree to whom you address:

Since making a 2 suit TO is very unusual while holding only 4 card suits, though possible, I would first assume that partner is leading from at least a 5 card suit and since his partner did it, also leading the 10 from suits headed by a single higher honor (not the jack).

Therefore (if my assumption holds water) the jack will be a wasted card and not necessary to hold, in case I get in early with one of my minor suit cards. Therefore, the alerting of partner to my heart holding becomes a priority and how better than to show him at trick one, rather than just assume that I have it, knowing full well that declarer will be winning that trick with one of his honors while trying to obfuscate his actual holding. Yes, I know that the jack may also be from QJ but there is no way to immediately convey if that is true or not.

We must understand what we can convey ethically and what we cannot and with the experience gleaned (never from partner’s tempo, but the opponent0’s tempo is fair game), act in the most favorable way for us as declarer to make our contract and also us as defenders to defeat their contracts.

Nothing more, but nothing less, and like working intelligently and hard, it becomes amazing just how much better luck we receive.

The top players who I respect most are the ones who not only understand, but also espouse just how difficult and full of judgment our game really is, realizing at all times, just how foolish the game itself can make one look.

Experience of playing against the best players is the better way to improve, but that is not the road taken by many who are hoping to win rather than get better.

Therefore you can understand why I greatly appreciate your request.

All any player can do is play what he thinks is the most advantageous one for his own side and then sit back and hope to enjoy that enterprise at the death.

IOW, bridge is a game where playing one card in a certain situation and another card with exactly the same holding at another time is very common. Therefore much experience, as much as supreme talent represents the best at bridge one can be, although many have attempted to take their remarkable smarts

bobbywolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 6:07 pm

Hi again Mircea1,

(finishing the last line) and fail miserably simply because of not gaining enough playing time to take advantage of it.

Ken MooreFebruary 5th, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Iain and Bobby,

Thanks. That is very helpful. It convinces me to avoid high-level bridge because I think like a normal person. 🙂

bobbywolffFebruary 5th, 2019 at 7:47 pm

Hi Ken,

I can understand your apprehension but sometimes a 3 is a high card signal when dealt A32 and an 8 is a low card signal when dealt 1098,

The logic in bridge is similar to what should be compared to the logic in life, where most everything controversial involves itself with being relevant to the situation with the answer fitting how best to get it done.

My experience in life, at least up to now, convinces me that youngsters learning the ins and outs of playing bridge will generally benefit, rather than regress, from their learning cycle.

We might begin to get a sampling if that is true since 11 countries in Europe and all of China are offering learning bridge in their public school systems and staying with it for many years. So far the signs are positive since not only the children and teachers have offered many kudos about their results, but the parents of the students have been the largest fans.

We’ll have to just wait and see, but my guess is that if you continue to think like a normal, and therefore worthwhile person, you will eventually, if not sooner, not have to avoid bridge, but rather instead, become very proficient at it.

Mircea1February 5th, 2019 at 9:04 pm

Thanks for your detailed reply, Bobby.

One thing that quite often I find very difficult is knowing what to think about when at the table, and then do it in tempo. It is beyond obvious that automatic play is almost always guaranteed failure but what to think about is not always clear. It is not easy to explain it by those in the know, hence my question. This blog and your willingness to share your experience publicly helps me a lot but I still feel many times that I’m shooting in the dark. Being aware of this might be a good sign but the remedy would be even nicer.

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