Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 11th, 2011

Dealer: West

Vul: Both



A J 8 7 2

8 7 6 3

10 9 7


A K 9 3 2

K Q 10 5


8 5 4


10 7 5

9 6 4

Q 10 5 2

6 3 2


Q J 6 4


A K J 4



South West North East
1 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 2 Pass
3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: Queen

“Men are made by nature unequal. It is vain, therefore, to treat them as if they were equal.”

— J.A. Froude

Every year the Young Chelsea Bridge Club hosts the Lederer Memorial Trophy. This invitational event allows you to watch great players up close, both at the table and on the Vugraph presentation, and even on the computer, since the tournament is frequently covered on Bridge Base Online.


Today’s deal was one of the best-defended hands from the 2006 event. Zia Mahmood is quite rightly well-known for his sparkling declarer play, but this time he made fewer tricks than anyone else in the field. The star of the show was Ireland’s Hugh McGann, who got his side off to a good start when he led the heart queen (in his methods, showing the king) rather than the spade three, which was the choice at other tables.  

Zia won in dummy with the ace, and East, Tom Hanlon, played the four, showing an odd number. With the diamond queen likely to be offside, Zia chose to play diamonds from the top. When he found out the bad news, he continued with his four club tricks. West discarded two spades and East one.


Zia now got off play with the spade queen, East unblocking the 10. West won the king and found the only card to give him a chance: the heart 10! This created an entry to his partner’s hand with the nine. Zia won the jack, but there was nothing he could do. West had managed to avoid the endplay, and the defense could always come to five tricks.


South Holds:

A J 8 7 2
8 7 6 3
10 9 7


South West North East
1 Dbl. Pass
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: Your partner rates to have five or more spades and four diamonds, with something like an 18 or 19 count. If your club 10 were the spade 10, you might have enough to look for higher things. As it is, the lack of club control is unattractive — as is the singleton in partner’s suit. All this suggests that passing is the most discreet action now.


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


John Howard GibsonMarch 25th, 2011 at 11:01 am

HBJ : Some defence. But a great example of a player having the foresight to create a possible entry to his partner’s hand and avoiding an end-play in the process. Unlike yesterday’s problem where declarer is to looking to create an extra entry to dummy ( by sacrificing the king under the Ace ) , here we have a defender not only deciding to let dummy in with a trick, but sacrificing a high card in the process.

A defining moment for any expert.

jim2March 25th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

The heart opening lead was diabolical!

Zia likely concluded that West would have led a spade from six and not a heart from fewer than four. So, where were West’s other four cards? If he could have played clubs first and then a high diamond, and the resulting count would have made the diamond finesse practically a sure thing. However, there he was on the board for perhaps the last time at Trick 2!

The hand plays so much easier with a small spade opening lead! It even makes East the “danger hand.”

bobbywolffMarch 25th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Hi HBJ and Jim2,

Together you cover everything important about this real hand.

HBJ covers the play, focusing on the defense, from the right-on opening lead to the opening leader playing games with the dummy, allowing partner to get in to cash his eventual setting trick (the queen of diamonds) before getting back in to do the bulk of the damage.

Jim2 narrates what was on Zia’s mind in his being forced to guess where the queen of diamonds probably was located, before he had the tangible evidence to determine otherwise. All brought about by the opening leader’s brilliant (at least it turned out that way) opening lead.

Thanks to both of you, the narration was a combination of two bridge lovers delving into and then translating the educated intelligence of what and why many adventurous people see and feel about the game itself.

JaneMarch 25th, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think the heart opening lead made sense, and being the simple player that I am, I would have taken the diamond finesse and been so happy when it worked. Luck be a lady, and all that jazz.

Had a hand yesterday at the club that went like this- right hand opp opens two hearts and I held the following- QT, X, AJxxx, AKQxx. I bid three diamonds, partner bids three spades, I bid four clubs and she bids four diamonds. Not knowing for sure if she has anything of substance in diamonds, I passed and made six (on any lead) for a not so good result as you can imagine. Her hand is AJ98x, xxx, KQxx, x. I am happy to take the blame for not finding the game, but if I had her hand, I would have bid five diamonds and been happy to do so. Anyway, most are in the diamond game, no one bid the slam although had my partner jumped to five diamonds, I might have considered it. Fit and shape are what my mentor tells me is very important. (Points, smoints, right?) What do you think we should have done?

Thanks in advance.

bobbywolffMarch 25th, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Hi Jane,

Obviously Zia is a great player, and he merely decided that the bidding with West opening and East unable to keep it open (0-5), together with a more important disclosure, the failure to lead from at least a 5 card suit and instead lead a suit dummy had bid, possibly (probably) indicated that East may have had one of the major spade honors, making the fall of the diamond queen more likely. Wrong he was, but the fact that he was willing to back his own judgment with the tiny bit of evidence allowed to him, is a unique Zia trademark.

The above, in turn, is one of the major hooks which entices certain types of numeracy and detective type talents to eat and sleep bridge, rather to seek other less exciting pastimes.

At least to you, luck would have been a lady on that hand, and the enthusiasm and desire to learn, which you continually offer, could be as important as overwhelming God given talent might be.

On your example hand I agree with you that your partner should no doubt have shown a real raise and bid 5 diamonds over your 4 club continuation and not just be satisfied with a diamond preference. However, because of your side values of Q10 of spades leaving a singleton heart I think your hand was good enough to have continued on by offering a 4 spade contract, giving your partner a choice of passing with her mediocre suit or returning to 5 diamonds, a more secure final contract.

The diamond slam is on a straight finesse making it, at best, an iffy contract.

By keeping your eyes and ears as open as you seem to always do, if you maintain your superior attitude toward the game, the odds are that you will improve by bounds and leaps. Keep on chuggin!

JaneMarch 25th, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I actually did think about bidding four spades, but it seemed like a better idea for me to play the hand with more potential trump support. Of course, if partner held six spades, the contract would have been golden, so I should have done that in hindsight. Partner can always go back to diamonds, which she would have done this time knowing I only hold two spades by the bidding. My hand is certainly good enough. Thanks for the insight. And yes, a slam would have been iffy. Fun, but iffy.

Zia is fantastic, as are all you guys, and I know you have the percentages and hand evals figured out. With one trip to that board, the decision to finesse had to be made right then. Playing for the drop would work quite often. My opponents are never that cooperative!

Have a great weekend. Hi to Judy.

Bruce KarlsonMarch 26th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Bobby, Jane et al.,

As usual an excellent analysis. I note you refer to the dianmond slam as “iffy” since it depnds on a hook. Unless there are other considerations, I generally bid the 6 level slam knowing an opp honor may need to find a home. Would you generally decline in that circumstance??


bobbywolffMarch 26th, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Hi Bruce,

A 50-50 slam is actually not discussable as to whether or not it should be bid, since whether a partnership bids it or not cannot be faulted. However that above fact needs much more delving, before a final conclusion can be reached.

If only a straight finesse is needed to make a slam the following questions need to be answered:

Are there any pitfalls possible which would affect the overall odds, e.g. an opening lead which could be unexpectedly ruffed, downing the slam before the finesse is even taken, after (or even before) a possible winning finesse, are there any other distributions which might adversely effect the result, has the opponent’s bidding (or lack of it) indicated where the key card in this particular hand is located, has the choice of opening lead cast any change of direction by the declarer, in a contested auction has the choice of bids, and eventually the decision to go quietly at the slam level suggested some knowledge by the opponents which might have influenced their bidding decisions?

Several of the above questions only are of concern after the final contract has been determined and the opening lead has been made so that the slam bidding side is not privy to those facts before their decision was made.

Summing up, usually a slam described as a straight finesse is below a 50-50 chance of making due to unforeseen distributions which could wreck the contract. However sometimes the bidding has indicated that a particular king is in the right hand for the make, making the odds highly in favor of bidding it or perhaps since an opponent who has preempted, is usually not as likely to have an outstanding key card, also may materially effect the odds.

Everything considered and since bridge is not close to being an exact science, the key phrase is not to worry and just do the best job possible to do what is right. Al Davis’ well known admonition of “Just win, baby” is the advice to be followed.

In the meantime, please remember that bridge is a percentage game where making good judgmental decisions are necessary to win consistently. Do not fret when things go wrong, but only be concerned when the bridge played by one’s partnership is off course, regardless of whether that partnership winds up in the winner’s circle or not.

DO NOT PLAY RESULTS, but always be realistic and your partnership will eventually, if not before, do just fine.

Above all, I wish you good luck.