Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: West


A Q 10 6 3

K 8 4 3


J 7 5


9 8 5 2

A 6

A 9 8 3 2



K 7 4


K Q 7 5 4

9 6 3 2



Q J 9 7 5 2

J 10

A 10 8 4


South West North East
1 Dbl. 4
4 All pass

Opening Lead: Club king

“A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox!”

— W.S. Gilbert

Nick Nickell has captained the most successful U.S. team in the last few decades, but almost all of his successes came when playing with the late Dick Freeman, one of the original Quiz Kids from the 1940s. (I doubt if many people besides me can remember that far back.)

Dick gave up playing bridge for a number of years and became an extremely competent Tournament Director, reputed to be the fastest calculator of scores ever. Then he came back as a player and achieved far more success after his extended sabbatical than he had before. He died a couple of years ago, a few days after winning a U.S. Trials to qualify for international play.

Dick played today’s heart game at a National Championship in Montreal. He won the opening lead of a top club, on which East followed with the three, and restrained himself from making the knee-jerk reaction of leading a trump at trick two.

Had he done so, West would have won the trump ace, cashed the club queen, then would have been able to underlead his diamond ace to East to get a club ruff. Down one.

Seeing all this coming, Freeman led a diamond at trick two — while the clubs were blocked. Now the defense was helpless, as Freeman had removed East’s diamond entry prematurely and no ruff was available. So, you see, sometimes the only way to avoid a ruff is not to draw trumps. Isn’t bridge a perverse game?


South holds:

A Q 10 6 3
K 8 4 3
J 7 5


South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2 NT Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass
ANSWER: Since your partner showed a balanced hand at his second turn, his call of four clubs is NOT natural, or he would have rebid clubs at his second turn. If he has gone past three no-trump, it is a cue-bid and must be in support of hearts. (If he liked spades, he would have bid three spades.) Since you can envisage making slam here, cuebid four diamonds and let him decide whether to go on.


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 OhanaApril 26th, 2011 at 10:36 am

Dear M. Wolff,

So perhaps are you yourself a perverse man to have obtained so many top results during your long bridge-life…?

Just kidding of course !

Please may I ask you what to say with :

S: A9xx

H: K

D: J10xx

C : AKJx

LHO opens 1D, partner Pass,RHO bids 1S, and it is your turn. All Vul. Pairs.

I have read an article where you were cited playing in Brazil in…1973 ! with Jacoby as partner, against Belladona and

his Italian partner, during a Championship.

It’s fantastic to know that already at that date, a moment I had not even heard about bridge, you were playing a championship, like last year in Philly !

Bravo dear M. Wolff !

Many thanks in advance

Al. Ohana

bobbywolffApril 26th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Hi Albert,

First, an official definition of perverse, at least to what the Oxford English dictionary defines, might be “contrary to what is accepted or expected” instead of the usual harsh meaning of such an act. I’ll counter my above defense by adding that I probably am in the running for playing in, but losing, more bridge World Championships than most any other player, a happening which sometimes tends to give me the proper perspective.

Back to the party and your question. To my view I think there are 3 choices available, Pass, 1NT, and 2 clubs. My guess is that most good players would pass, but my opinion is that passing is much too dangerous. Obviously you have defensive surprises for the opponents, being long in both of their original suits, but the bidding is not over and my experience of hoping the opponents will land in a poor contract, particularly when they are vulnerable, does not happen as often as we wish it to.

Having said the above, I think it close between the two affirmative bids I could choose to make. 1NT is very reasonable and my holding a singleton heart should not matter unless partner feels inclined to takeout my bid into his weak 5 card suit. 1NT does have the immediate advantage of only having to contract for 7 tricks instead of 8 and also, if my bid buys the hand, making it slightly more difficult for my LHO to guess his best opening lead. Two clubs, while violating an often quoted bromide of not overcalling at the two level with only four cards does have the practical effect of perhaps being the right strain and also if the opponents compete, I may get a necessary club lead to start.

My ratings: 1NT=100, 2clubs=80, Pass=60, Double=0

Thanks Albert for your kind words. Of course I remember Guaruja, Brazil, a small resort town on the East coast, and a resounding loss to Belladonna and Italy in the finals.

However age has at least some advantages and time has basically healed all pain.

I appreciate your writing.

John Howard GibsonApril 26th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

HBJ : Clearly drawing trumps is an essential move, but only after severing defenders line of communication FIRST. Declare can’t really avoid a diamond loser so why not lose it immediately. So now after this ultra friendly king of clubs lead, declarer can come to 10 easy winners 3 clubs (on a finesse), diamond ruff, 1S and 5 hearts.

What Freeman did ( which most of us don’t ) was to foresee the danger if West held a doubleton KQ of clubs.

A lovely illustrative hand on getting one’s priorities right.

Bruce KarlsonApril 26th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

It is a great illustration of “getting one’s priorities” right but a more damning illustration of “play first, think later”. Most of the readers of this column would see the danger (I am a “C” bracket player and I saw it) if they took the time to examine what might go wrong. The scissors coup does not come up often but is not hard to spot…if one tales the time to look.

bobbywolffApril 26th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Hi Bruce and HBJ,

Bruce, you may be a “C” bracket player by numbers of masterpoints held, but you are well advanced of that in both high-level knowledge and even more importantly, enthusiasm and love for the game itself.

It does not surprise me in the least that you saw the possible necessity for cutting the communications of the opponents, which required both the imagination of visualizing the opening leader starting with the KQ doubleton club and the opportunity to kill the transportation necessary for the execution of it.

So you and HBJ will not run out of things to worry about, what if East held his singleton heart but instead of four little clubs held only the three deuce doubleton, then the scissors coup of leading a diamond at trick two will have sliced off the contract itself by enabling East to trump the third club played with his lowly trump. Perverse, at least the tame definition of it, isn’t strong enough to describe our wonderful pastime.