Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: North


A K J 9 5 4

A 5

4 3

10 5 3


Q 8 2

9 2

A 8 6

A Q 8 6 2


7 6 3

Q 10 8 7 6 4

10 5

J 4



K J 3

K Q J 9 7 2

K 9 7


South West North East
1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 NT Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All pass

Opening Lead: A low club

“Eye Nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies,

And catch the manners living as they rise.”

— Alexander Pope

At the Dyspeptics Club the player shown in today’s West seat is regarded as something of a loose cannon. You never know in which direction he is going to be shooting, and as East will tell you, quite often he has been the victim of “friendly fire.” However, in today’s deal it was South who took something of a mortal wound, and despite repeated and loaded questions, was never able to discover if he was the victim of malice or a lucky accident.

Before I tell you precisely what happened, consider the play in three no-trump when West leads a fourth-highest club six.

Declarer takes East’s jack with his king and infers from the spot led that West has four clubs ready to cash as soon as the defenders get on lead. The best chance for the contract will therefore be to run the spades with the aid of a finesse. (This line succeeds whenever West has the spade queen in a two- or three-card suit. Playing for that layout, South would emerge with nine tricks.)

But compare what happened at the table when West kicked off with a deceptive club two. Now declarer believed clubs were breaking 4-3, so it was safe for him to knock out the diamond ace rather than rely on the spades. West won his diamond ace and impassively cashed out the clubs.


South holds:

Q 8 2
9 2
A 8 6
A Q 8 6 2


South West North East
1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: It would be reasonable to bid two spades, looking for no-trump facing a heart stop. But your spades are not quite good enough for that. (You might play game off the spade suit now, but Q-10-2 of spades might be enough for that action, by the way.) Better is to raise to three diamonds and hope your partner can show a major-suit stopper or bid no-trump himself.


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


Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Hi everyone,

Before any comment arrives on this particular hand, let me give you my personal view on its general theme.

Upon arriving in our newly adopted home in Las Vegas (some number of years ago), we, Judy, my pixiest lovable wife and I, struck up a friendship with a well-established bridge couple

who were fun to be with, only to have Judy, while partnering another one of her friends and at the local bridge club chose to do something similar to what the clever opening leader did on this hand when he chose to lead a 5th best (playing 4th best leads).

When Judy’s ruse worked (her partner was uninformed and, of course, had no role in it), our new friends rose in indignation and challenged her with “How could you do that and especially to your friends?” Since then and sadly possibly forever, our friendship abuptly ceased.

For what it is worth and certainly my view is that to not do whatever one thinks is the right play, right bid, or right psychological move in the wonderful game of bridge we are blessed by being able to play is as wrong as it can be, since LEGAL deception is as big a part of the weaponry used at all levels of bridge as are simple finesses. “Bluffing in poker comes to mind”.

However, not everyone understands the nature of what bridge is about. And, I think, the following needs to be said…when and if, one crosses the line into the nefarious world of illegal bridge activities such as taking advantage of unauthorized information, slothful convention disruption, physically using body manuevers to either help partner or to hurt opponents, then the opposite to the above happens and the transgressor immediately becomes a major enemy to the game itself. At this time I won’t even go into (extremely rare) stealthy cheating between two partners which, of course, should result in that partnership suffering a lifetime ban from playing a game which they no doubt hated anyway.

Perhaps the above would be better off never to be mentioned and if anyone is offended by me so doing, I sincerely apologize, but have done so just to set the record straight on what I think is both a slam dunk and the view widely taken by a vast majority of bridge lovers on proper manners and behavior necessary for all to abide by, while participating in our wonderfully competitive game.

jim2July 28th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

At social or party bridge, psychic bids are often considered poor form, and even non-classic preempts are frowned upon. In those social games, players feel entitled to enjoy their good hands and bidding them without nuisance interference is one of their chief pleasures.

In the play of the hands, I seem to have detected a difference between behavior expectations for declarers and defenders. That is, declarers appear expected to try anything to succeed. Players who suffer endplays or squeezes tolerate them, albeit some of them a bit grudgingly.

However, such plays as in the column apparently are treated as psychic plays and come under the same heading as psychic bids. In fact, they may be worse. Those who are the victims feel embarrassment and anger for the one who did them in.

The events you related involving your peerless pixie sure read like the other players considered that club game as purely social/party. In party bridge, games are not won, rather, winners more or less just happen.

JaneJuly 28th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

I never believe for one minute that my opponents are sitting at the table trying to help me make a contract. If they find a clever lead, good for them. Once in awhile, I even find one! The friendship lost that you mentioned over a bridge lead is sad, but maybe that friendship was too fragile to last anyway.

I have a question about leads however. Is there such a thing as an unethical lead? if a partnership, by agreement, make unusual leads, then they should alert that, right? In the hand you described, if partner gets to lead back his partner’s suit, and if opener holds five instead of four, so be it.

Thanks in advance.

Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your points, about “party bridge”, played in many retirement communities on a more or less daily basis is a game foreign to me and so I certainly appreciate your take on what happens. Yes, the words “psychic bidding” would sum it up with psychic may or may not, referring to distortion, advantage or intimidation rather than to strategy. For those social beings I will leave it up to them to decide their own “house rules”, but for any real legal competitive, especially sanctioned ACBL game, or whatever the parent organization is called, I hope that planned legal, shall we call it unusual action, is allowed and not in the least frowned upon by even players who on that hand turned out to be victims.

As more than one poker victim of a bluff undoubtedly has said, “if one hasn’t conceded a large pot to one who has “bluffed ” him out, he is calling way too many bets.”

Since mine, and probably your description were meant as educational and represents both sides of the opinion, it is up to our readers who, after due consideration, to form an opinion and thus be ready for the next time, if ever, that circumstance happens.

Alex AlonJuly 28th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Tournament bridge defense is about understanding partner and trying to achieve high rate of well executed defense, partner should be able to understand my leads and make the correct assumptions ( well not my partner but a good one :))

Thus said it is good long time strategy to lead as agreed 2/4 or 3/5 or what ever, with full understanding that occasional “top” will go away but more will cash in.

So a deal like above is good for story telling and anecdote but not more.

just my 2 cents.

Alex Alon


Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Hi Jane,

I do appreciate your response and of course, your opinions on the subject matters effect on the game itself.

You bring up an oft discussed off shoot of possible appeals, at least the calling of a director during a regular playing of an official sanctioned tournament game.

Since we are talking about legal dalliances from normal partnership understandings with the intent to deceive his opponents into taking the wrong action, it becomes a formality that:

1. Partner is not in the know, at least on that hand, as to any partnership discussion by the partnership in question so that both partners would be in better position to recognize what might be happening. That would also carry over to partnerships who at least one of the partners often leads a card closest to his thumb rather than their announced 4th highest leads.

2. To say it in a probably more understandable way, if one partner is privy to what the opponents should also be entitled to, it is highly UNETHICAL for that partnership not to either announce their tendencies or more specifically to verbally warn their opponents of what might be happening.

3. However again ACTIVE ETHICS are called for (and are always in the mix) so those announcements should never be made if done so only to try and intimidate their current opponents to go for false reads rather than for honesty in reporting (Our world or local media could also accept this caveat instead of slanting news reporting for their, or their paid advertisers, best interests).

4. Back to bridge, how do they get shown up or at least detected when the whole subject usually become subjective and hard to determine? The answer is that is what appeals committees are supposed to do, help determine facts, based on the evidence provided (and there is ALWAYS at least some indicative evidence, especially apparent to old, experienced bridge veterans, who have been there, done that).

5. The process is present, although in some remote areas of ACBL bridge, it is sometimes difficult to find it, or even if it is available some club owners are reluctant to take a chance on losing some good customers, but they need to be reminded that the game itself, (the reason why players are playing), needs to be treated with the respect of having it played ethically and within the rules.

Finally, deciding on whether a partnership is taking advantage is a difficult one which can only be decided slowly and after probably several examples have occurred. The idea is not to throw anyone to the Wolves, but rather as an educational experience where everyone hopefully becomes a better and more productive, forthright bridge player.

Thanks, as always, for presenting your views and your questions.

Bobby WolffJuly 28th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hi Alex,

It is always good to hear from you, if only for the few times you feel, or have the time to get involved.

Yes, all players can deviate from their normal conventional bidding responses or stated leads, however only 2/4 or 3/5 is a bit random and some may say, that conventional response, even an oral answer is not worth the paper it is not written on.

Pureness in mind and intent is the 100% answer, which if put into use will NEVER let us or the game itself, down. Hard to achieve, of course, but if people try, the results will be self-evident and beyond suspicion as to honest intent.

I’m raising your self confessed opinions from being worth 2 cents to at least a few shekels and reminding you that, like many other enterprises, bridge is in need of leadership icons who set the shekel upgrade or in these days of financial unrest perhaps even the gold standard.

Bruce KarlsonJuly 28th, 2011 at 11:56 pm

From the cheap seats: Your experience with your new LV “friends” truly amazes me…particularly since they must be accomplished to have regularly played with you and the pixie. Anyway, when I am snookered by a deceptive carding or a sneaky lead, I always comment positively and particularly so if it is a newer player who may not even understand what happened. Always causes a grin of satisfaction. Personally, I would consider it an honor to be duped by either of you!!

Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for your very kind words.

On reflection, my intention of writing about what I, and no doubt others, consider petty differences, was not to emphasize Judy’s and my quarrels, nor even suggest that we were on the side of the angels, but rather to discuss a basic misconception between bridge players who have been playing the game for so many years, but still never learned, nor at least digested the differences.

One might think that the playing of bridge by people who have been playing for 40+ years and several times a week might, at least have a commonality, over what is proper behavior while at the table, but sometimes gaps appear in what some might think are the simplest of circumstances.

My thoughts go to preventive medicine for bridge players by hopefully encouraging bridge teachers and bridge books to start out their beginners by teaching the unusual ethics of the game, sensitivity by partnerships to never convey unauthorized information to each other, but once that is accomplished, any kind of legal deception to the opponents in the bidding or play is not only forgiven, but should be encouraged as being good bridge, as well as acting as a tough unrelenting opponent and for that talent, to be admired.

A short cut overall description would be for novices early on to be taught the unusual overall ethics and behavior expected by all who experience our sensational game with a possible caveat of never by mistake confusing

the two different forms of behavior.

Poker players soon learn that since since they are all individuals, no partnership taboos are supposed to be present, allowing an anything goes atmosphere which is part of the game. Bridge is the opposite and requires both forms of education.

The above is the reason for my rant.

Jeff SJuly 29th, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I have played a lot more poker than bridge. As Jim mentioned in regard to “social” bridge, in a “social” poker game, it is sometimes considered “bad form” to bluff. The result is, as Jim stated for bridge, a game where winners “just more or less happen”. It is no longer poker or (for me) at all interesting. The same thing applies here – the game Jim described is similar to bridge – but is an entirely different (and far less interesting) game.

In bridge, it seems to me it is perfectly legal to dupe your opponent as long as you are also duping your partner. Here, West could reason that declarer likely held the K and that if he could get in with his AD, he should be able to defeat the contract. He could reason further that if he played the normal lead, his QS might be finessed away allowing declarer to make the contract. Having reasoned all of the above, the lead of the 2C is logical!

I liked this column quite a bit, very interesting issue.

Bobby WolffJuly 30th, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Although you deserve a great deal more attention, let me just say “thank you” for writing.

At least, for me, you are the very type player I, and the whole bridge world, needs to get active in order for the wonderful world of bridge, and at many levels, to move forward with positive ideas and logical remedies for both the future and overall understanding of what the many sides of competitive bridge are about.

Thanks for your initial (guessing) involvement and PLEASE, do not be a stranger.