Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 7th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Both


7 6 5

K Q 9 8 7

K 6 5

Q 3


J 8 4 3

3 2

Q J 10 9

K 8 7


9 2


A 8 7 4 2

J 9 6 5 4


A K Q 10

A J 10 6 5


A 10 2


South West North East
1 Pass 3 Pass
6 All Pass

Opening Lead: Queen

“Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.”

— Michel de Montaigne

If the recommended bidding today seems startling, it is because we have all become so scientific that the good old-fashioned, purely quantitative way of bidding slams has been allowed to sink into oblivion. But scientific bidding is designed to assist difficult hands — not to distort easy ones. This deal calls for judgment rather than science. There are very few hands that North can hold that will not offer play for a small slam, while it is unlikely that he holds the exact cards needed for a grand slam. The direct jump to slam has the advantage of giving nothing away — and indeed might mislead defenders who expect declarer to have a void, or some other freakish hand.


Against the heart slam, West leads the diamond queen and continues with a second round, which South trumps. The contract is safe provided the spades break 3-3 or the jack comes down. There is an extra chance, that the hand with four spades to the jack also holds the club king. As this may be West, the club ace is played off, a Vienna Coup, then the heart jack is overtaken in dummy for the second diamond ruff, followed by the heart ace and two of the top spades.


Finally all the trumps are run off, reducing to a two-card ending. On the last trump declarer has a spade and the club queen on the board, the Q-10 of spades in hand, and West is squeezed in the black suits.


South Holds:

9 6 4 2
8 7 2
K 6 4
9 5 3


South West North East
1 Pass 1
Pass 1 Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All Pass
ANSWER: Before you lead, it is worth finding out if West has promised “real” clubs or could have just three clubs. If West could be balanced, I’d guess to lead clubs, but if West has guaranteed a real club suit, I’d try my luck with a spade. When East has values and has jumped to two no-trump, diamonds don’t look like an attractive option. Also note that partner did not overcall in that suit.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Albert OhanaMarch 21st, 2011 at 11:06 am

Dear M. Wolff,

As a national director ,I have already much appreciated your comments on the laws, and on Appeals Committes ( even if I was not always in accordance with your Zero tolerance …), but I did not know that you also comment bridge play. And it is a real pleasure to read your analyses and your advices, which are given with humility in spite of your high connaissance of the topics. I have recorded all your archives, and I enjoy in advance to have so passionating reading.

I hope to have the pleasure to meet you in a next championships, where I sometimes collaborate as member of the organising staff.

Thank you once more, and good luck for your future events.

Albert Ohana

bobbywolffMarch 21st, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Dear Mr. Ohana,

Thank you for your much appreciated vote of confidence

in my writing and attitude toward the overall bridge world.

My guess is that the world wide bridge world, like many other competitive organizations, is composed of a combination of some with their own personal agendas and others who totally give of themselves to basically sacrifice for the good of the future of the game itself.

From my viewpoint our worthwhile game is made up of the historical combination of numerical art (numeracy), basic logic (detective work), partnership harmony and trust, hard work and effort, and most importantly, special ethical inviolate rules, without which our game is not worth existing.

At least I intend for my opinion on zero tolerance to stand for a total respect and positive attitude for the game itself, but to understand that any form of competition is usually coupled with a fierce desire to win and while we are duty bound to not negatively interfere with the enjoyment of the game by others, we need to at least be given some slack in order to compensate for trying our hardest. Since tournament bridge at all levels is probably the only major competition which has ever existed where the top players in the world sometimes compete openly with rank, but hopeful, beginners which, in turn, sometimes leaves the necessary co-existence of these extremes to unfortunately lend itself to less than perfect results.

It would indeed be a pleasure for me to ever have a chance to meet you in person, but as of now and with my limited traveling schedule, I doubt whether the odds will be in favor of its happening.

Albert, as a national director yourself, I respect what you bring to our game. Coupling that with your humility and wonderful attitude, I wish you nothing but green lights and blue skies in all your future endeavors to keep our game a many splendored one.

John Howard GibsonMarch 22nd, 2011 at 12:00 am

HBJ : All too often players pin their hopes on just one line of play : the spades behaving for 4 tricks courtesy of a finesse or the fall of the jack in 3 rounds. What I like about this illustrative hand is the possibility of adopting another line other after calculating 11 certain tricks ( 2 diamond ruffs, 5H, 3S, 1C ) : the squeeze against the player who holds both the 2 critical black cards. But why decide on this option as opposed to a spade finesse ? Are the odds of success different, given it is a 50-50 chance who holds the king of clubs ?

bobbywolffMarch 22nd, 2011 at 5:34 pm


When one combines the possibility of a 3-3 spade break or a successful squeeze it will add up to considerably more than a straight spade finesse, perhaps approximately 70+% to 50%.

Since I am now in a hurry to make an appointment I may have overlooked something important, but will tend to bridge business upon returning home later this afternoon.

Thanks for writing.

bobbywolffMarch 22nd, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Hi again HBJ,

Nothing more to add, since the squeeze (4 spades to the jack and the king of clubs in the same hand) will work against either hand that happens to have them.

Thus that combination will only occur slightly less than 50% (less room in the 4 spades to the jack hand for the king of clubs) of the time making the odds approximately 50% + slightly less than 25% then calculating the overall odds of success at around 70%.

bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2011 at 5:45 am

Hi again and again HBJ,

There is both romance and irony in more bridge hands than any of us may realize and this may be one of them. At trick 11, when you lead the last trump from dummy and discard your last losing club from your hand, hope for one of your kind and romantic opponents to discard a congratulatory spade, thereby insuring your contract. He will not discard his king of clubs so that his forced spade discard indicates he was holding Jx of spades and the cursed king of clubs. He may, of course, deny that he was courting your favor by discarding what he did, but if he wasn’t attracted to you, for any reason, he would instead, have just folded his cards and look glum.

John Howard GibsonMarch 23rd, 2011 at 9:06 pm

HBJ : Tx for sorting me out . I’d got it into my head that if East held 3 spades and the club king, then on leading a spade from dummy at trick 12 ( East following small) does declarer play for 3-3 break or still take the finesse on. It is still possible that East could have 4 spades to the jack, with West having the club king ?

bobbywolffMarch 24th, 2011 at 10:03 am


Unfortunately, you speak the truth and since you have received no congratulatory spade discard from East, but rather a small club and then a small spade on your 12th trick lead of a small spade from dummy, you are faced with a difficult guess.

Other than psychological ploys (mind games) and herky-jerky tempo there will be usually be no real tells by competent opponents so the only material factor will be a realization that if it is (according to you, the declarer) a straight 50-50 guess by playing the major spade honor (for the drop of the knave) you will restrict your downside to only 1 trick instead of 2. A small advantage, but I have seen that usual 1 or 2 IMP save actually determine an important match.

In the real world it is better, if possible, to follow one’s instincts rather than cater to such trivia.