Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dealer: East

Vul: All


10 7 5 4 3

Q 7 5


A 8 6



9 8 6 2

K 10 2

10 7 5 3 2


8 6


9 8 6 5

K Q 9 4


A Q J 9 2

10 4 3

J 7 4 3



South West North East
1 3* 4 All Pass

Opening Lead: 3

“The race is over, but the work never is done while the power to work remains.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Anna Gudge is one of the unsung heroes of bridge, a woman who coordinates the worldwide simultaneous events and organizes charity tournaments like those for the victims of the Pakistani Earthquakes and of recent tsunamis.

The same deals are played in different clubs around the world, and the event is scored over the whole field, with lots of masterpoints at stake. At the end you are given a booklet with a commentary on the deals.

The following deal occurred in a recent event. As South, plan the play in four spades.

Superficially, the contract seems to depend on two finesses if West’s openng lead is a heart, but on the lead of the club three, declarer can give himself an extra chance.

He should win the club ace and ruff a club. He then plays a diamond to dummy’s queen, cashes the diamond ace, ruffs a club, and ruffs a diamond. When it turns out that West started with king-third of diamonds, declarer no longer needs to risk the spade finesse. He should play a spade to his ace, and then, even if the spade king has not dropped, he intends to play the winning diamond jack, discarding a losing heart from dummy. When West’s spade king does fall, declarer emerges with an unlikely overtrick.

Incidentally, the percentage play in the spade suit (in abstract) is to finesse. If East has a doubleton spade, he is more likely to have the king than West.


South Holds:

10 7 5 4 3
Q 7 5
A 8 6


South West North East
1 2 Pass Pass
ANSWER: When playing negative doubles, you would normally reopen now with diamond shortage because partner may have a penalty double of diamonds and have been unable to act. True enough; but when you can see two diamond honors, is there any realistic chance partner has a diamond stack? Absolutely not. So if he passes over two diamonds, it is because he is weak, and you are therefore allowed to 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


Alex AlonJanuary 11th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf,

Happy New Year to you.

I know i might sound fullish but those who never ask also never learn.

you wrote:”the percentage play in the spade suit (in abstract) is to finesse”

Whewn we have 10 cards missing the K, there is if i am not mistaken 9 posibilites for split those. If we exclude the singelton K on side and void on side ( in those situations we know the answer the moment we lead from dummy) it leaves 3 positions with K onside and 3 position with K offside. So how come the finesse is the persentage play? Please explain.

Alex Alon


i know you are right, i just don’t understand why 🙂

bobbywolffJanuary 11th, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Hi Alex,

Here is to a safe and happy 2011 to you and yours and since today, January 11, is unique in that there are 5 ones (1/11/11) in its short cut description, perhaps only February 22, 2022 can be its equal (any time soon), at least for number symmetry.

With that as a logical start, I believe, and with your example as the basis for learning, that there are only 8, not 10, possible holdings:

32 vs K, K vs 32, void vs K32, K32 vs void, 3 vs K2, 2 vs K3 as well as K3 vs 2 and K2 vs 3.

Cutting to the specific reason for investigation and since you have already pointed out that the 32 vs. K and the K32 vs void are not worth discussing that leaves 6 others which are. Of those 6 combinations, 2 vs K3, 3 vs K2 and void vs K32 beg out to be finessed while only the K vs 32 beg out not to. The other 2, K3 vs 2 and K2 vs 3 produce unhappy endings, but not a thing we can do about it, but plead guilty and pay the lowest fine.

While the odds in favor of the finesse are not, as it may appear, 3 to 1, (because of the different percentages, brought about by the room in each opponent’s hand for them to be likely dealt to him individually) nevertheless it should be a given to an experienced wannabe good bridge player that the odds are significantly in favor of taking the finesse as against playing for the drop.

Of course from a bridge writers view, hands, where the declarer defies the odds, because of other stronger evidence found elsewhere, perhaps from the bidding, but sometimes in the earlier play or even by analyzing that the king being offside but lonesome, is really the only logical chance to score the contract up, are the heart and soul of my chosen profession.

Forgive me and my colleagues for sometimes tantalizing and maybe even aggravating others by our usual, but not always, fictional based imaginations.

In any event I appreciate you asking your question and even hope that others may have benefited from the discussion.

JaneJanuary 11th, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Hi Bobby,

I have a question about a hand, but not this one. Do I use this comment box to give the hand and the question, or is there another location more appropriate?


bobbywolffJanuary 12th, 2011 at 1:37 am

Hi Jane,

This venue is as good as any, if for no other reason than we will let others in on the fun.

With anticipation!

David WarheitJanuary 12th, 2011 at 2:22 am

Happy 11111 everybody! Yes, there is a 22222, as you mention, but there is another 11111, namely 1 November 2011. Then, wait till next century. But wait, there is 111111–11 November 2011, six ones, only one such per century. I can’t wait.

And why do I know all this or even care? My father was born 12-12-12. God bless you, Dad.

bobbywolffJanuary 12th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hi David,

Many thanks for updating (literally) my errant statement which overlooked, November 11, 2011 and its 6 (count em) sticks.

Your touching comment about your beloved dad who was born on such a melodic date reminded me, of course, of mine, who was born 17 years before on 12/3/95, and who often offered the following admonition, “Robert, no matter how well someone does a thing or things, there will always be at least someone who does it or them better”. What true words those really were.


JaneJanuary 12th, 2011 at 5:04 pm

OK, Bobby, here it is- I did not have this hand, but a friend did and was curious what to do. The bidding first. His partner passes, then his right hand opp opens two spades. My friend held-





He and his pard have no system agreements and with 19 points, he decided to double. Then left hand opp bids three spades, and of course, the next call is four hearts. Anyway, he bids five diamonds and his partner bids six, thinking he has six diamonds. Down two when six clubs or six NT is cold. His partner held –





There has been lots of discussion on this hand and everyone has a different opinion, naturally. Obviously, we need expert advice! Just so you know, the opener bid two spades on eight points and a five card suit, and his partner raised to three with three points and three spades. Not making a judgement on their bids, just wanted you to know.

bobbywolffJanuary 12th, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Hi Jane,

The stork has arrived with your bouncing baby hand, although it was missing an appendage (only 12 cards). From evidence derived by your accompanying explanations, the missing card was, no doubt a small diamond, increasing the diamond suit to five cards.

When one is faced with a competitive bidding choice, such as our hero was, when his RHO opened a weak 2 spade bid, there are at least two factors to be decided.

1. Strength of the hand to decide whether it is prudent to enter the auction.

2. Choice of the best way to suggest to partner which way the partnership should proceed.

With 19 high card points it is clear that some positive bridge bid should be made. However since our hand can not stand partner bidding a particular suit, especially the other major which is so likely to be preferred by partner, a take out double becomes impossible, therefore an imprudent choice. It then should follow that a somewhat compromise candidate of 2NT should be selected. While 2NT is far from perfect it likely is a lesser of evils option since with such a good hand it is highly unlikely that partner will have enough to compete if we take the very conservative course of passing. At least 2NT usually shows about 16-18, only one hcp away from our stated number, which is negatively compacted by having only a singleton in one of the unbid suits.

3. Partner over 2NT, then should cue bid (3 spades) as a response, suggesting the other major (4+ cards) and at the same time eliciting further information from the 2NT bidder. He, the 2NT overcaller, then should respond 4 diamonds (still forcing to game) and elicit a further response from his cue-bidding partner. Partner, then of course realizing that partner’s bid denies holding 4 hearts, would then bid 5 clubs showing his Prince Albert long suit.

Finally since the 2NT bidder was stronger than he had shown and now his partner had taken the trouble to cue bid first and then make the unexpected bid of 5 clubs, it becomes a slam dunk to raise partner’s bid to 6 clubs.

4. Although 6NT is almost laydown (only going set if clubs are 4-0) it is realistically off limits to suppose that either of the partners should risk it.

In case you haven’t heard before, bridge is very much a partnership game (rather than a series of unilateral actions) and these hands royally fit that description.

To get the most out of this experience it will help to put oneself in each partner’s shoes as the bidding transpires. The conclusion would be, as it often is, that each bid made, although far from perfect and unlikely to be in any bridge book promoting excellent bidding, is nevertheless well reasoned, without which, any different action along the way, would likely result in a different final contract, which in most cases would be considered disastrous.

Please excuse my long winded answer, but, at least, it probably all needs to have been said.

Good luck and happy bridging.

JaneJanuary 13th, 2011 at 1:00 am

Thanks, and you are right, there was a fifth diamond, sorry I omitted it. I follow your line of reasoning and that makes sense. If partner uses stayman to ask for hearts, then the final contract will more than likely be three NT and the club slam is missed, right? I might still go looking if partner has enough to ask about the heart suit, but I am not afraid to bid. I seriously doubt any other pairs got the second interference bid, but we have to learn to overcome those, right?

Appreciate the help, and I will pass along your wisdom to my friend.

bobbywolffJanuary 13th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your appreciative follow-up.

I just assumed that once 2NT was bid by an opponent over the opening weak 2 bid (made with only 5 cards) then his partner would be very hesitant to raise to 3 spades with such a weak hand, and only 3 spades opposite a partner who might have only 5. but if he still raises after the 2NT intervention, partner should double, which while in the distant past was always played for penalties, but is now played, more usefully as takeout. Because of the monster hand the 2NT now has, I would suggest him to continue with 4 spades not some number of diamonds, enabling his partner to jump to 6 clubs with his excellent playing hand.

All supposition and perhaps result oriented, but even if so, sometimes a good lesson is still made.

Good luck to you and your bridge playing buddies.