Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Vulnerable: East-West

Dealer: West


A K 8 2

A K 4 2

Q 5

6 5 2


6 5

J 8 6

A K J 8 6 3

A 9


10 9 4 3

10 3

9 2

K J 10 7 3


Q J 7

Q 9 7 5

10 7 4

Q 8 4


South West North East
1 Dbl. Pass
1 Pass 2 All pass

Opening Lead: Diamond king

“Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”

— John Keats

In the past decade Rose Meltzer (the new chairperson of the ACBL Goodwill Committee) has become the first woman to win the Bermuda Bowl, but before Rose, the first woman to play on a U.S. Open Team was Helen Sobel.

Helen’s claims to fame included dancing in a Marx Brothers show, where she learned bridge from a fellow chorus girl, and being married for a while to Al Sobel, the first of the great U.S. tournament directors. Her career at the top lasted for three decades, and she played for the United States in world championships before the war as well as in the ’50s, till her untimely death from cancer.

Lest there be any doubt that Helen was one of the greatest players of all time, take a look at her defense as West, partnered by the legendary Charles Goren.

The defense to two hearts appears to have five easy tricks — but can you see how to score that sixth winner?

Helen began with three rounds of diamonds, dummy pitching a club and Goren throwing off the club seven, using high cards as encouraging. Without hesitation Sobel switched to the club nine! Goren won the king, returned a club to Helen’s ace, and ruffed the fourth round of diamonds with the heart 10, dummy discarding a spade. This promoted Helen’s heart jack to the setting trick.

Someone once asked Helen what it felt like, playing with a great expert. She replied: “Ask Charlie.”


South holds:

A K 8 2
A K 4 2
Q 5
6 5 2


South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: Your partner has suggested a minimum opening bid with at least six clubs, but lacking a great diamond stopper. Three no-trump may still be the right place to play, facing length in diamonds without a high card. The best way to investigate is to bid three diamonds, which will act as the fourth suit, asking partner to bid no-trump with half a diamond stopper, such as jack-third or 10-fourth.


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 GibsonSeptember 14th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

HBJ : Just a thought. Declarer should see the possibility of a trump force….not to mention 3 possible club losers……so why not ruff the 3rd round of diamonds high in dummy, and then take 2 rounds of hearts, leaving West with the boss jack.

Now declarer can start on spades allowing West to ruff in on the third round. His prayers are answered when West holds Ax in clubs ( or East AKx ), because defence can only make 2 club tricks at most. Contract made.

Moreover if the spades do happen to break 3-3, then declarer can pitch a club on the 4th spade, making the contract without a care in the world.

Alex AlonSeptember 14th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff’

as usual great article. Is it just me or the great ones from the past had a glamor that current great ones missing? ( with rare exception) It seems that today the great ones are more about technicality while back then they were more about fun and people play.

Alex Alon


Bobby WolffSeptember 14th, 2011 at 4:35 pm


You are indeed a clever rascal, divining out how to take advantage of the club blockage and foiling Helen’s great defensive coup.

Make no mistake, I and my superior staff will have to wake up earlier in the morning to deal with your kind of talent. Thank goodness, Helen, long a favorite of mine for her positive personality and sheer expertise, in achieving such high standards in a game dominated by male talent not to mention male egos, for not having to deal with your genius in foiling her plan.

I fully realize you should be proud for finding a way, but think of how distraught I am for having to endure the lessening of her great defense.

Bobby WolffSeptember 14th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Hi Alex,

You are, of course, right on with your lament about how bridge has changed, embracing the technical improvements, but without the undeniable glamor which appears to have been sacrificed.

In those bygone days, the players dressed well with men wearing coats (and usually ties) and women in evening attire. Even the kibitzers, always surrounding the Sobel-Goren North South stationary table, wore suitable evening clothes in support of watching our sophisticated sport, adding glamor and even a special form of romance to the occasion.

Even, as short a time ago as 20 years at the prestigious London Times event all players and kibitzers were dressed to the teeth when attending.

But now, alas, the play’s the thing and not just to get the “conscience of the king”, but rather to reduce the ambiance at the cost of allure and sadly, glamor.

Obviously today, comfort which sometimes results in sloth, reigns supreme.

Rest assured, although I am not a known vocal champion and continual advocate of the above, I miss the formality also, if only to honor the game itself.

Thanks for the kind words about the column, which I certainly appreciate.

JaneSeptember 14th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

I have heard wonderful stories about Mrs. Sobel and wish I could have met her. I agree with Mr. Gibson and would have played the hand as he suggested. When studying the hand, and before reading Mr. Gibson’s post, I did not understand why the declarer would not trump high, and pull two rounds of trump. My “leap of faith” and hope it works, etc. Good for Mrs. Sobel in taking advantage of that situation. I bet she did this many times, and damaged more than a few of those male egos.

Thanks for sharing the hand, and I also appreciate your blog and your willingness to help those of us in need.

Bobby WolffSeptember 14th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your kind note.

Winning at bridge is made up of:

1. Partnership harmony

2. At least some numeracy

and much intensity

3. Discipline and logic, not superstition

4. Understanding cards and card games including the advantage of playing 2nd and 4th on tricks rather than 1st and 3rd

5. The whys for the rules rather than memorization.

To the above and for genius include:

1. Continual counting

2. Winning psychological battles against peers.

3. Visualization (which enabled Helen Sobel to defend the column hand).

4. Total concentration every minute of every hand.

Anyone for tennis?

Best to you always