Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dealer: East

Vul: All

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


South West North East
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 3* Pass
3 Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All Pass    

Opening Lead: 9

“The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms his strength into right, and obedience into duty.”

— Jean Jacques Rousseau

Today’s deal shows one of the world’s top declarers, Antonio Sementa of Italy, at the helm in a very delicate three no-trump.


After a revealing auction, West led the spade nine to East’s 10 and South’s king. Declarer, knowing West had led from short spades, played the club king and ducked a club. East overtook his partner’s 10 to lead a low diamond through, West following with the nine under declarer’s ace. It was a second piece of interesting information for declarer, who next exited with his remaining spade.


East could not cash all her spade tricks without setting up dummy’s winner, so after winning the jack and the ace (declarer throwing a club and West a heart), she exited with her last club, making it as difficult as possible for declarer to find out the exact distribution.


Sementa, however, now knew that he needed West to have no more than two diamonds, or else the defenders could cash a diamond trick. And since West had precisely two spades and four clubs, he had to have five hearts.


So declarer won the club ace, played off the heart ace, and continued with a low heart, planning to put in dummy’s nine. At the table, West split his heart honors, but it did not help him at all. Declarer won dummy’s queen, cashed his second diamond, and played a club to West, pitching dummy’s heart nine and forcing a lead into declarer’s heart tenace at trick 12: contract made!

ANSWER: Though you have a weak hand, your five trumps make you worth a jump to four clubs. This is a splinter, showing a singleton club and spade support. You have no high cards to spare, but you owe your partner at least one highly encouraging bid. The point is that any hand with five trumps must be worth something.


South Holds:

8 6 4 3 2
Q 9 6
10 5 4 3


South West North East
    2 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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonJuly 10th, 2010 at 3:37 pm


As North in the above auction could I be forgiven for bidding 4 Hearts rather than 3 NT. It appears that on anything but a trump lead, I have 3 tricks in hand and the stiff club would give me pause for NT. Insofar as a club player is more likely to go off in 3 NT and make 4 Hearts, my thought seems to have some merit.

What say you??


bobbywolffJuly 10th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hi Bruce,

Let us discuss your query from both a philosophical and a realistic position.

Remember, during the bidding, North at least postponed making the decision on the likely final contract, by first showing his real length, spades, before hearing his partner suggesting 3NT. Since North’s 2d response was almost certainly an artificial double negative, after first making a more or less waiting bid of 2 diamonds.

BTW, the Italian South, Sementa, bid in the typical Italian style which almost always consists of relatively long auctions, trying to explore exchanging as much information as is practical, before committing.

Once Sementa heard about his partner’s length and because he was 2-4-2-5 instead of perhaps 1-4-2-6 or 2-4-1-6 he chose 3NT rather than a possible 4 clubs (if he had bid 4 clubs than a preference to 4 hearts would certainly be called for by North, though with not high expectations for success).

As the bidding actually went, and in the high-level game, it would be wrong for North to now choose to prefer 4 hearts (or the round before to raise 3 hearts to 4). South, not North, is looking at his own hand, and is in a much better position, on the information gleaned, to make the final decision.

As to the final contract decision I must caution your judgment to realize that, especially on auctions like these, there is a lot of guesswork in placing the contract. DO NOT THINK FOR A MINUTE THAT ANY OF THE TOP PLAYERS EVER KNOW A LOT MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE ABOUT WHAT PARTNER WILL LAY DOWN AS DUMMY, ESPECIALLY WHERE HIS FEW HIGH CARDS, IF ANY, WILL BE LOCATED which will, because of that randomness, create how good or not so, the final contract will be.

The key words are natural talent for cards and its arithmetical influence, love and enthusiasm for the game, and perhaps the most important quality, many years of experience, of what to expect. In chess, art and music there are God given brilliant child proteges, but in bridge, at least to my knowledge, there has never been even one.

All of the above is important psychologically for a relative newcomer to understand as he embarks on a playing career with high expectations for success.

Since there are so many intangibles involved, the specific distributions of the suits, the particular matchup of the high cards, and the quality of the defenders (to mention a few), it becomes a guessing game, but one where the above qualities mentioned, makes it very slanted in favor of the best and brightest players.

All of the above is an endorsement of bidding along standard lines, e.g.

1. The strong hand usually is in a better position to make the decision at the death.

2. Thus the weak hand shows his strength (here, very weak), his longest suit, and follows rules such as not immediately supporting partner’s second suit without 4 cards in his suit as well as trying to prefer partner’s longest suit but in this case not being able to.

3. When North responds with 3 spades he is denying holding 4 hearts and leaves it up to the likely decision maker to pattern the bidding around that information.

4. With the above in mind and when partner decides on the NT game, he, North, must go quietly and hope his partner is right in his assessment. Here Sementa, South played the hand brilliantly and brought it home.

Such are the thrills of the game itself and the nothing short of romance which goes along with, for the partners involved.

I appreciate your input and apologize for the too long winded response, but please forgive me for my life long romance with my favorite game.

Judy Kay-WolffJuly 10th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Bobby dear:

I was surprised when reading your reference to ‘romance’ that you failed to mention the wonderful new book “The Romance of Bridge” (an Indo-Jordanian collaboration) by Jayaram and Ghanem which we wrestle for as we near completion. It was so beautifully expressed and captures the feelings felt by so many (especially you) about the inevitable intertwining of love and the deep-rooted allure of the game.


bruce karlsonJuly 10th, 2010 at 11:23 pm


Thank you for your excellent multi level response, hardly long winded. It is always helpful to get the thought process of an expert.

Absent the stiff club, I would not think about taking 3 NT out. Had not considered the thing one must desperately try to avoid…thinking he is smarter than his partner. Given that, I shall labor to give a partner with more guns as much information as possible and then pass.

Further action (such as the action I suggested) could be construed as similar to pulling partner’s double….always fraught with peril.

Reported earlier to Judy I executed a squeeze for a top board at a club game today; perhaps there is hope.

Bobby WolffJuly 11th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Hi Bruce,

At least to me, there is great promise ahead for you, but not because you executed that exciting squeeze. Your enthusiasm and apparent determination are what count in your march up the ladder to solve the basic mysteries of the game.

My many years of learning bridge myself suggest to me that the ones who get there do not even realize that their game is improving, but suddenly, like the fictional Topsy, grow into slowly understanding what about the game is necessary, vital and demanded but also, what is speculative, too elusive and not so.

Like life itself, the victor in this battle needs to accept the constant challenges of the game without getting discouraged and like the great Zia has many times admitted, “Bridge is a humbling experience, always the master but totally worth the embarrassment”.

Sometimes it seems like only small victories, but large defeats. If so, hang in there, that is, if you want to get the full rewards from the game for a lifetime.