Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: N/S


K 9 7 3

Q J 7 2

A K Q 8 7


J 8 5 2

10 6 5 4

K J 9 5 3


10 6 4


A 10 8 4

10 9 5 3 2



A K 9 8

Q 7 6 2

J 6 4


South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 3* Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass
4** Pass 4 NT Pass
5** Pass 5 Pass
5 NT** Pass 7 All Pass
*Short diamonds
**Keycard inquiry

Opening Lead: 4

“Things are seldom what they seem;

Skim milk masquerades as cream.”

— W.S. Gilbert

When Germany met Norway in last year’s Junior European Championships, they encountered an extremely unlucky slam. The Norwegian North-South stopped in five hearts. However, our featured table saw North show his diamond void early on. Then, with repeated inquiries, North showed one keycard, followed by the trump queen and spade king. Finally, North appreciated his good clubs at the end to jump to the grand slam.

In seven hearts, Martin Rehder would have been unable to make the grand slam on a spade lead because of the terrible breaks in trumps and clubs. (Should West have been able to find that lead for the right reasons? I can hardly blame him.)

The more mundane low trump lead let declarer win in hand and ruff a diamond; then a top trump from dummy revealed the position. Now declarer had a choice: he could lead a club to hand to ruff a second diamond, or he could cross to a spade to ruff a second diamond, come back to hand with a second spade, and draw trumps. Either of those lines would fail if the chosen black suit broke badly.

Instead, declarer made what looks to be the normal and hugely unlucky play of relying on clubs to split simply by drawing trumps. There was no squeeze, and Norway had an undeserved 11 IMPs.

In retrospect, although a 6-1 spade break is in abstract slightly more likely than a 5-0 club break, maybe with silent and nonvulnerable opponents, one should assume no one could hold six spades.


South Holds:

J 8 5 2
10 6 5 4
K J 9 5 3


South West North East
  1 1 NT Pass
ANSWER: This hand looks tailor-made for Crawling Stayman. Your plan is to find a better fit in a suit, rather than playing in no-trump. Bid two clubs and plan to pass the response. Even if partner bids two diamonds, denying a major, if he has perhaps only two or three cards in that suit, your final contract will be perfectly playable.


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


jim2December 30th, 2010 at 2:11 am

Another slight datum could be that West might have led a spade holding either six or a singleton.

bobbywolffDecember 30th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your interest in the detective work necessary, usually by declarer during the play, but sometimes by the defense, is indeed heartwarming to me.

When it came time on this hand for the declaring junior to make his crucial decision for hand transportation in his grand slam he already knew that the opening leader had led from 4 trumps to the 10 making it highly unlikely that he also had 6 spades and even if he did, his partner had no trump left.

However he could have had only a singleton, which against a grand slam is not recommended to be led, since it might chop up some key holding in his partner’s hand. In the days of the Aces in Dallas, while going over this hand (if it had occurred) the declarer would probably have been given a gray charge (unclear) in relying on clubs to break no worse than 4-1 (since they were 5-0) instead of a white one (no blame) or a black one (guilty). Incidentally, in those days, that declarer’s choice would have been examined and graded, even if all suits were to have broken evenly.

Just so you will understand that your type of inquiring bridge mind was sought after in the making of a championship player, so at least you have cleared that hurdle in your qualification to raise your level of play, if, in fact, you ever have thoughts of devoting more time (a significant amount) to your bridge hobby.

Again thanks for writing.