Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dealer: South

Vul: N/S

A Q J 6
10 7 4
9 7 6 3 2
West East
K J 8 7 6 4 10 9 5 3
10 7 8 5 4 3
A 9 5 Q 8 3 2
Q 2
K 9 2
K J 6
A 10 8 5 4


South West North East
1 1 Dbl. 2
Pass Pass 4 Pass
5 All Pass    

Opening Lead:7

“In such cases instead of getting bogged down in guesswork, I repeat the words of the merry king in my favorite fairy tale: ‘Which arrow flies forever? The arrow that has hit its mark.”

— Vladimir Nabokov

It may be a truism, but if there is a safe route to your contract — one which eliminates guesswork — then that is the best route to follow.


Consider Tor Helness of Norway, who was at the helm here against Italy. At one table, Helness’ teammate had been set 500 in four spades doubled, but in the other room the Italians did not compete beyond the two-level, and Tor Helness became declarer in five clubs. To produce a small gain instead of a big loss, can you find the best route to 11 tricks?


A trump trick has to be lost, and although one of South’s diamonds can be discarded on dummy’s fourth heart, at first sight it seems that a successful guess in diamonds is needed. However, should West be the player with the doubleton club honor, he can be endplayed.


Helness won the spade lead, played a club to his ace, then ruffed the spade queen to eliminate that suit. Four rounds of hearts came next, and it would not have helped West’s cause to ruff with his master trump, as he would then have been endplayed. Refusing to do so only delayed the inevitable, however, for Helness then threw him in with the club king.


West was left with the choice of playing a diamond, which would guarantee declarer a trick in the suit, or presenting him with a ruff and discard, in which case a diamond would disappear from hand.

ANSWER: You obviously have enough to go to game — in fact, your hand is hugely suitable for slam. But letting partner know about your club ft and spade control is not easy. My choice would be to bid four spades now — a jump to three spades would be a splinter in support of clubs, but this sequence shows no spade loser. After that I would trust my partner if he signed off in five clubs.


South Holds:

A Q J 6
10 7 4
9 7 6 3 2


South West North East
    1 Pass
1 1 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 2009. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonJuly 1st, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Suppose I am East, facing a pair that rarely misses an opportunity to make its contact.

Since the odds are very good that I do not have any help on defense, the vulnerability is right, I am quite sure that I would take the sac. What am I missing?? We get, at most one trick in spades (if partner has the trump ace which is reasonable, and the opps the diamond ace, there is scant hope of setting it anyway. Why would any world class player decline the sac? My apologies, if this seems to be a “results” comment; it is certainly not meant to be!!!


Bobby WolffJuly 1st, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Hi Bruce,

First, I appreciate you letting it all hang out, and say what you feel. After all, if you don’t, it would be hard for you to improve and if necessary, get a new slant on some varied bridge subjects.

Second, a few generalities about our beloved game. It is almost impossible to forsee the result of 52 cards when one is only looking at 13 of them. Just because the opponents are usually accurate, that doesn’t mean that they do not have on this hand, somewhere between no losers up to possibly four, often depending on the specific location of the cards. The average number of losers they would have is realistically between 1 and 3, but would you stake your life on it, or more importantly your matchpoint score.

There are several other factors:

1. When you sacrifice at the five level and even in your long trump suit, how can you be sure you will not go down the dreaded 4 tricks, of course doubled, which now totals minus 800, more than their game is worth.

2. Your proposed bidding opens up to your worthy opponents two very shaky things for you.

A. If they now reevaluate and bid a small slam, they will certainly play your partner, (if they can) for the hand he has, knowing you have little or no defense.

B. If they do defend, they will probably defend accurately (if necessary, but not on this hand), knowing you, rather than your partner, took the sacrifice.

3. By bidding 5 spades now is a distinct violation of expert discipline since it is belated and worse, unilateral. If you felt this way about your hand it would not necessarily have been incorrect (and with this vulnerability) to jump to 4 spades at your earliest opportunity, getting the maximum pressure on your opponents and before they have been able to exchange earlier information. This caveat has to do with the “poker” element in our wonderful game and, at least to me, is the most important factor in being a tough opponent or judged just a cupcake.

Please understand that I am not personally advocating jumping to 4 spades with that near Yarborough for fear of going down too many and also unjustly appointing myself Captain and, in effect, taking the play away from my partner.

In conclusion. and at the risk of being called a results player (which I hope I am not) you will notice that:

1. Your side will lose at least 6 tricks (1 spade, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, and 1 club) and in order to only lose that few the declarer will have to guess the spades right, not playing the opening bidder for the ace.

2. In order for the opponents to make their game they will, at the very least, have to guess the adverse diamond holding correctly and since, by the time the diamond guess takes place your partner will be known to have the King of Spades and the King Queen of clubs so declarer may play the diamond suit the right way for you to set the eleven trick contract, but alas the wrong way for them.

You need to have someone you trust with the right kind of bridge knowledge to explain what Captaincy means and the disciplines necessary to practice it corrently.

Good luck and keep asking!

bruce karlsonJuly 2nd, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Thank you for your response:

A major part of my inclination to double is the likelihood that partner has the diamond ace.

One aspect that I did not note, and certainly should have, is that South went to 5 freely.

I cannot imagine ever jumping to 4 spades at my first bid.

As to captaincy, the pass out seat, in a competitive auction, must “take the con” frequently, it seems to me.

Further, if I double 3 contracts and set 2 I am probably ahead of the game, and my opponents may be a bit wary next time. You accurately note that I do not have (and probably never will) the technical skills of a bridge wizard. Ergo, if playing with a partner who is not prone to scream when things go wrong, I will be aggressive.

The possibility of pushing the opps into slam is always there, but that does not mean they will make it.

As an aside, in club games, it is not a bad strategy to double most competitively bid games. Always with trump length.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Hi Bruce,

Well said and with confidence.

As far as anyone should be concerned, it is not necessary to ever jump to 4 spades or make any very aggressive bid ever. However, in order to cater to the high-level competitive bidding god one must be prepared to sometimes play poker with the opponents and not be predictable. During my long career it has been advantageous for me to know frequent competitors habits so that I can think up an antidote to their actions.

Percentages go out the window and to illustrate what I am talking about, perhaps 50+ years ago I was kibitzing my mentor, Johnny Gerber from Houston, when he decided to balance vulnerable against his opponent’s two spade stop. If the opponent’s had doubled Johnny’s runout and defended correctly Gerber & partner would have been down 1100, but instead his opponents carried on to three spades and went down one themselves. When I queried my hero as to why he took such a risk (playing matchpoints) he challenged me to go see what his pair would have gotten for being minus 110. I did and found out that he picked up a 9 1/2 (12 top) for being plus 50 instead of the 3 he would have gotten for being minus 110. Sometimes “One picture is worth a thousand words”.

I do not begin to agree with you about your 2 out of 3 setting of doubled contracts being adequate. Yes, your oppoents may be wary next time, but sometimes those opponents vanish, never to be seen again.

DO NOT be discouraged by my negativism. It is all part of the process of later being able to leap tall buildings. A good general caveat to practice is not to form lifetime opinions too quickly. Remember bridge, not you nor am I in control, but rather the bridge puppeteer and he will set a torrid pace for your learning curve. Challenge him and you will fall off the rails, but understand what is involved and you will assume control, although it will take some time.