Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 27th, 2019

It is always a paltry, feeble, tiny mind that takes pleasure in revenge.


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


Continuing from yesterday’s report of the face-off between Norway and USA1 in the 2007 World Championships, held in Shanghai, Zia Mahmood got his own back on this deal. A swing was guaranteed when the Norwegians bid up to three no-trump, since Garner and Weinstein had settled in three diamonds in the other room.

Zia’s (West) two-spade call was wide-ranging facing a passed partner. You or I might not bid it on this hand, but I suspect the partnership agreement for East-West here was that it would always be a decent hand at this form of scoring when vulnerable.

So, how would you rate declarer’s chances in three no-trump? The match was being broadcast in front of a live audience, and the Vugraph commentators had noticed that the contract would be simple on a spade lead. After either a low club lead or an unlikely heart lead, declarer would almost be forced to rely on the heart finesse, but there was no doubt that declarer would take it and bring home his game.

However, they had not counted on Zia’s ability to occasionally conjure IMPs out of thin air. He did indeed lead a club, but he selected the king! Do you blame declarer for assuming that West had started with the club kingqueen?

Declarer won in hand, took six rounds of diamonds and played a club. Zia had already disposed of the club 10, so East took three tricks in the suit and played a spade. One down, minus 100 and a remarkable six IMPs to USA1.

How bold do you feel? I advocate a call of three no-trump here. A call of four diamonds would preclude three no-trump. To bid the no-trump game directly is risky, especially since you may have to knock out the diamond ace, but you can hold up one round of spades, which is likely to cripple the defensive communications. This call has a big upside, plus you can run to four diamonds if doubled.


♠ K 8 4
 K Q 10 9 7 2
♣ A 8 2
South West North East
      3 ♠

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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 RaoJanuary 10th, 2020 at 11:14 am

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
Zia led brilliantly but south should have ducked the lead. Perhaps his apprehension was West could shift to a heart and east wins if finesse is taken and returns a spade, But even then, unless east is dealt with J of spades apart from his presumed K of heart, the contract would be safe. But as it turns out, if West continues clubs ( assuming low), South plays J from dummy and the club position is exposed and south still makes the contract as now the heart finesse is almost a sure thing ( but the lead is an imaginative one indeed)

Iain ClimieJanuary 10th, 2020 at 11:23 am

Hi Bobby, AVRR,

I like AVRR’s idea here but what if the CQ and HQ had ben switched? Then the winning start for West might have been the HK, effectively a Merrimac coup (I think) establishing an entry to partner’s hand for a spade lead through. There again North’s heart pips and dummy’s S10 are sufficient protection as the cards lie but, on another day…. Nonetheless, finding such plays is difficult enough after a few tricks have gone; to have found the coup at T1 absolutely beggars belief. What is even scarier is that Zia plays so quickly that he probably didn’t even think that long about it!

Somebody once suggested that Paganini’s violin playing was so fast and accurate he must have either divine help or even be in league with the devil. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but Zia really is something.



Robert LiptonJanuary 10th, 2020 at 12:23 pm

Regardless of questions of Merrimack Coups, the primary purpose of Zia’s lead was to drive an entry into East’s hand. That means a Heart or a Club, and the negative double slightly favor the club lead.

No that I would have found the lead myself, of course. I would have gone into the tank, and emerged to lead the SA.

Having seen this, I will now lead a King. It will be the wrong King, of course.


Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2020 at 4:26 pm

Hi AVRR, Iain, and Robert,

Yes AVRR you presented a good case for ducking the club, particularly so if done quickly, as East likely gave a positive signal to continue clubs, whatever defensive method they were playing. If so, declarer would have returned Zia’s brilliance in kind and likely gotten caught in his own trap.

Also, the rules of bridge, at least on this hand, probably favored the declarer, since he is entitled to think at trick one, though not having the ace of clubs, but, at least in theory, only (at least claiming to be thinking about the whole hand) before playing to the first trick. However, it is my experience that almost no declarer adheres to that ploy, save a couple of shady characters, who might be doing so, under a cloak of legality, but in reality to gain psychological advantage, not necessarily to plan the hand, bur rather to somewhat obfuscate the defender’s psych, which might create doubt, when in reality most all players, great or not, only want to get on with the game.

And Robert, I also agree with you, since, at least in Zia’s very quick mind, declarer obviously holds the spade king, so if his king of clubs can knock out the ace, partner’s queen may loom as that golden gal. And it did, thanks to Dame Fortune, who appears off and on for almost every player, but especially is active for Zia since he seems to present more opportunities for her to appear.

Finally, as a technical point, what Zia did, knowingly or not, is called a “Deschapelles Coup” not a “Merrimac” since he was, and succeeded to create an entry so that partner can lead through the right hand. It succeeded, which is the point, not exactly as planned, but close enough.

BTW, I had to look up that unusual difference in my official Bridge Encyclopedia since those two coups mentioned are similar but not identical. A Merrimac has to do with leading a single honor to destroy declarer’s premature back and forth entries before his long suit is established.

“Please kiddies, before your next exam, please do your homework” (while teacher just learned that difference a few minutes ago).

If I had time right now I could tell you a bridge experience I had with Zia some years ago which still haunts me since his antics won out again, but, while getting back to reality he still suffers more than most when his antics do not receive Lady Luck’s blessing. Later!!

jim2January 10th, 2020 at 4:38 pm

Many partnerships lead the Q from KQ10 to ask for the J.

If I had played as did declarer and saw the 10C discarded, I think I would place the QC with East.

Zia had to make 4 pitches on the diamonds. One was the 10C. The key Q is if he also pitched the 4C.

Did he?

Iain ClimieJanuary 10th, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the correction and I recall someone’s comments about Deschappelles who was something of an all rounder. He said Mr. Deschappelles is the best card player, chess player duellist, pumpkin grower etc etc in France. He is also the biggest fibber in that country. Unfair with the whist (and probably chess) though.


Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2020 at 5:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, many partnerships do ask for partner to drop the jack by leading the queen from KQ10, but usually only against a NT contract, when, as is normal, the defense is often trying to establish their longest suit.

I imagine West discarded three low spades (in addition to the club 10) trying to guard against throwing a heart (not so much because declarer may have the singleton queen, but because if partner has the queen we needed a second heart to not be end played in spades (because of that very ugly spade 10 in dummy). And with that jack of clubs in dummy West’s 10, even with originally holding the queen, has lost its potential value. All of this above rhetoric concerns itself with declarer, if he should decide to lead his heart (by holding the queen) it would be a committal play, not likely to succeed, once declarer has used up his diamond entry to dummy.

However, perhaps Zia’s greatest gain (considering his reputation) is not his actual plays, but instead the intimidation he presents, even against wily bridge veterans, who over react to his presence.

At least to me, bridge is much like many other very popular sports, most of which are more physical than mental, but nevertheless greatly effect other player’s minds, causing them to not play as well as they are capable, since their normal concentration is negatively affected.

Batting against a hard throwing pitcher, driving to the basket, or attempting a key long shot in basketball, defending against a great quarterback in football, not to mention the two great sports of tennis and golf which, at least to me, will have great effect on the mind depending who is one’s opponent in tennis and the solitary feeling when attempting a key shot in golf with a difficult lie and the whole world watching.

In bridge and at the higher levels there is no doubt that playing against excellent competition is far more tension filled than merely trying to bamboozle muzzies at the local club.

Which leads to my point that only a truly world class player (who also has salesmanship talent) is likely the only chance to convince the USA Educational system to establish bridge in our overall standard school curriculum, such as having been done in much of Europe and all of China..

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2020 at 6:24 pm

Hi Iain,

That Deschapelles fellow seems to have been at least somewhat larger than life itself, but possibly not the type who would have been the first, while playing bridge to have developed a graceful but powerful bridge coup and have it named after him. Some people have a knack to not only seek glory, but also to achieve it.

And speaking of glory, but instead experienced gory when I held something like: s. AK10x h, xx, d. KJ10x, c. KJx and opened 1NT which partner raised to three while holding, s, xxx, h. Qxxx, d. AQx, c. Qxx.

Zia, my LHO, immediately led the Ace of hearts, quickly followed by a low heart. After due (but not nearly long enough) consideration I rose with the queen, only to find Michael Rosenberg (Zia’s partner with KJ10xx) and yes the spades were not only 3-3 but both the Q and J were onside.

For whatever reason I haven’t confessed to having that event happen up to now, but also yes, that hand itself cost my team an elimination match in a National team game, which in itself can only be described as disgraceful.

Possibly it could have been worse if Zia had turned to me and said, “please look at my convention card and see that we lead high from doubletons” but Zia is much too much a gentleman to offer that.

Iain ClimieJanuary 11th, 2020 at 2:47 pm

HI Bobby,

Ouch! You’ve still got an awkward decision if Rosenberg cleared hearts (suggesting he had the CA but maybe he’d do it anyway). Any idea what the rest of Zia’s hand was? I suspect very little and he was playing to hit partner’s length and strength – maybe something like xxxxx Ax xxx 10xx when I (and many others I fear) would have led a spade. Maybe partner has Axxx with declarer and dummy having two each.

On coup names, I did play with one weak but keen player (affectionately nicknamed the Gerbil) at work in lunchtime games many years ago. The Gerbil Coup was Christened after he managed two suicide squeezes in a week each time looking up at me (when I was in my more irascible mode) with the expression Wile-E-Coyote wears when he realises he has walked several steps out in thin air off the edge of a cliff but gravity hasn’t yet kicked in. I’m sure I’ve told that story before but maybe the Coyote coup would have been a better name.



Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2020 at 3:54 pm

Hi Iain,

Your coyote story did remind me of my feelings at the time of my rising with the queen of hearts.

Since Michael did look a bit more exuberant than when I called for her majesty the queen from dummy, I then started to feel the gravity pull when he continued the jack, I discarded but then had to wait until Zia did likewise.

Later, I found out about the spade 3-3 split with both key honors onside, which completed my worse than death sentence punishment.

And speaking of coyotes, I just read about their new role of currently infesting large cities in the USA instead of remaining in the wild or even on the edges of town or, at the least, only the rural areas.

Perhaps Wile-E-Coyote will regain his out of date fame, but until then, just the thought of my ill-fated suicide bridge experience makes me wonder whether poker instead may be the answer.

My only hope is that my queen play won’t replace the former conditions for a normal suicide squeeze or better named, a self-imposed one.

BTW, it will be futile for any of our posters to breathlessly wait till I include that hand in AOB.