Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

The struggle to reach the top is itself enough to fulfill the heart of man.

Albert Camus

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

*12-14 or any 18-plus


Today’s deal from the Yeh Bros. tournament last year is out of character for this column: While the play is easy, the bidding is unusual. But the auction shows how good players think, even in a relatively unfamiliar partnership.

When the Poles were eliminated from the main event, they swapped partnerships for the consolation event. Michal Klukowski and Piotr-Pavel Zakorski won it, having found their way to a grand slam with the splendid auction shown here.

The one-club opener didn’t promise a good hand, but it could have had short clubs. After North’s natural and non-forcing two-club response, Klukowski (South) set clubs as trump with his rebid, then bypassed his heart ace to cue-bid his spade ace, knowing that if North did anything but bid five clubs, he would have a heart control. Then Klukowski would bid the grand slam.

When North denied a heart control, Klukowski’s five-heart call showed the ace and promised interest in a grand slam. That would let his partner bid the grand slam, sign off with no extras, bid five spades with second-round control (which would be bad news) or do anything else appropriate. North’s five no-trump call was intended — and interpreted — as extra club length or an extra diamond control.

Klukowski now knew his partner had at least two spades and two hearts, so relatively short diamonds were guaranteed. If his partner had seven clubs, he would be almost able to claim the grand slam; as the cards lay, there were indeed 13 top tricks.

It is tempting to run from the double, but do you have any reason to assume spades or diamonds will play better? Your partner surely has some heart length here, or the opponents might be playing in that suit, so I suspect you won’t have an eight-card fit elsewhere. I would pass, albeit reluctantly. Give me the diamond jack instead of the two, and I might run.


♠ K 6 5 4 3
 10 6
 Q 10 5 3 2
♣ 7
South West North East
Pass 1 2 ♣ Pass
Pass Dbl. Pass 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


bobbywolffFebruary 6th, 2019 at 1:42 pm

Hi everyone,

Because of the necessities of sometimes spending precious column space with social amenities, we ran out of the space required to delve a little deeper into the thought process which went into bidding this laydown grand slam (but not easy to judge).

Since several worthwhile caveats were only lightly explained, I think it would be wise to now emphasize what we could have added..

1. When South skipped over his first round heart control to cue bid his singleton ace of spades, his motive symbolized the mind of a great bidder who had a plan. He knew that his partner would have to sign off (5 clubs) without at least 2nd round control in the key suit (hearts) by returning to 5 clubs.

2. Then, when South followed up by bidding 5 hearts (instead of passing with no heart control, or bidding only 6 clubs with the king or a singleton he likely surprised North by bidding 5 hearts which, since doing anything but pass would show no heart control, but belatedly cue bidding 5 hearts now MUST show 1st round control of hearts, otherwise, why leave it up to partner when South became in control to decide?

3. Then it was up to North to show something extra, and while his queen of hearts was helpful, the eighth club was the extra trump which was worth showing by choosing 5NT, a positive reaction, instead of only just returning to 6C.

4. Thus, South, with his singleton ace of spades and even his 5th diamond, (which on another day might be able to establish that suit for what might be the fulfilling grand slam trick).

Such are the machinations going on with a high level bridge player’s mind.

Mircea1 has earlier wisely asked for me to explain what should players think about during the bidding or play, when crunch time appears.

At least IMO this hand qualifies for that type of discussion and please note this was done by two players who were not regular partners, but instead just had their own bridge brains to guide them, rather than partnership experience.

Iain ClimieFebruary 6th, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

All good stuff, but I can see why Ken reached his conclusion yesterday. The potential for logical wire-crossing is always there as well.



Patrick CheuFebruary 6th, 2019 at 4:04 pm

Hi Bobby,Could North not simply bid 7C after 5H by South,especially with void D? Just think it’s likely South has the AC after 5H cue rather than A AJX AKJxx Jxxx in which case he might have bid only 6C.. regards~Patrick.

bobbywolffFebruary 6th, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, I agree to your comment about Ken reaching his conclusion about thinking like a normal person can be antithetical to becoming a good bridge player.

Not only logical wire-crossing (partners on different wavelengths) but a good and wily declarer doing everything possible to make it happen, not to mention not having the right spot cards to clearly signal, while all at the same time with practicing required Active Ethics concerning tempo and emphasis.

No easy task that, especially since life usually consists of making one’s own decisions, verbally asking for information or help instead of having to infer so, while seldom being in a position of violating ethical standards.

The above can be frightening, but like improving or even mastering any worthwhile endeavor, there is usually a substantial price to pay (actual or subjective) for learning any meaningful enterprise.

However and often, that cost is just too steep to consider bridge (and I do not mean money costs), but rather the sometimes ignominy of the process.

Bobby WolffFebruary 6th, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Hi Patrick,

Breaking it down, North, at the death (or near), has a choice of three bids as his final effort:

1. 6 clubs (definitive)
2. 5NT (help from partner wanted)
3. 7 clubs (definitive)

Obviously #2 will then be a partnership effort.

However, that is not to say that #2 is anywhere near the one to always choose, since to not make that definitive decision when one should, is just as bad as making the wrong one.

However on this hand, I think there is almost no chance that partner South will not have the club ace since he would be searching for a grand slam without any of the three top honors and after all North originally made a NF bid of 2 clubs. Still, even though the cue bidding is such that it appears that the controls are present for a grand slam but perhaps (without going into it too deeply) since bidding (language used) is so limited that South can have such a wide variety of distributions, surely a few of which would not do the grand slam justice, making it (at least IMO) somewhat presumptuous to not choose the middle road and include South in the final decision.

In no respect am I saying that North would be categorically wrong in bidding 7C. Instead I am only suggesting that both players should know each other’s judgment and if I was there with a known good player, but unaware of his tendencies I would definitely choose 5NT (instead of only 6C because of the 8th club), but not take the plunge without consulting him.

Finally the above has nothing to do with aggressive nor conservative, but rather to do with what I consider good partnership bridge.

BTW, thanks Patrick for your offering and I hope others as well, will benefit.

David WarheitFebruary 6th, 2019 at 8:10 pm

Silly question: at duplicate, EW have a worthwhile save at seven spades. Your thoughts?

Bobby WolffFebruary 6th, 2019 at 8:44 pm

Hi David,

Not silly, but one which may bring up an anomaly in an intelligent discussion.

Most all roads will lead to 7 spades doubled down 5, -1400 (1 heart, 1 diamond, 1 spade and 2 diamond ruffs).

Strangely allowing those NS pairs to beat the NS pairs who bid only 6 clubs (making 7) +1390.

No doubt, the luck generated by the random bridge scoring system is often present when unusual distributions present wild fluctuations.
This time all advantages seem to flow toward those NS pairs who at the time gamble out bidding the laydown grand slam.

I’ll throw a question back to you and ask how you would estimate (on a 12 top) the scores of +2140, +1400, +1390, +1100 at 6SX and +640 for NS at your local duplicate (assuming where you play duplicate bridge is about on a par basis with the rest of the USA duplicate bridge world) and also (while you are at it) how about in the World Open Pair, a strong world representation of good players, but still far from being even fairly close to all world class?

I’ll wait for your answer and, if asked, I’ll also venture the same response.

Ken MooreFebruary 6th, 2019 at 10:10 pm

Iain and Bobby,

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

But I would guess the the most successful partnerships develop complementary neurosises .

Bobby WolffFebruary 6th, 2019 at 11:18 pm

Hi Ken,

If one decides to play bridge and has the determination and moxie to succeed he has no choice (at least IMO), like Rome and the Romans do, but to think like a bridge player, and count every hand to the point of being indelible numerate as well as learn a different language, bidding with partner, with all the twists and turns, accept the accolades, make light of the failures, and keep riding the roller coaster till its over.

Whatever happens will increase one’s experience and improvement will follow.

David WarheitFebruary 7th, 2019 at 6:25 am

2140: 9. Six pairs.
1400: 6. One pair.
1390: 3,5. Four pairs.
1100: 0.5. Two pairs.
640: nobody

Okay, what’s your scoresheet look like?

Bobby WolffFebruary 8th, 2019 at 1:00 am

Hi David,

I would estimate at the local duplicate:

3 pairs= +2140 10 1/2
0 oairs= +1400
6 pairs= +1390 6
1 pair= +800 3
2 pairs= +640 1 1/2
1 pair= +500 0

and at the World Open Pair:

8 pairs= +2140 = 81/2
1 pair= +1400 = 4
3 pairs= +1390 = 2
1 pair= +640 = 0

IMO accurate slam bidding would be
the most common major difference in high-level
competition and it would be doubtful for many
pairs to take a vulnerable save against a grand slam, since on this hand the EW hands do not
seem to warrant it as against hoping that NS had made a mistake (although this thought is
mostly speculation)

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