Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Dealer: North

Vul: Neither


K 10 8 7 3


A 10 3

A J 5 2


5 4

7 5 3

K J 6 2

K Q 10 8


A Q J 9 2

A K 9 8

Q 8 5




J 10 6 4 2

9 7 4

9 7 6 4


South West North East
    2 * Pass
3 Pass Pass Dbl.
All Pass      
*Spades and clubs, 11-15

Opening Lead: Heart 3

“Though I beheld at first with blank surprise

This Work, I now have gazed on it so long

I see its truth with unreluctant eyes.”

— William Wordsworth

Twenty years ago Tony Forrester wrote a bridge tip about the power of the closed hand, and how declarer can generate tricks if he conceals his assets well. One of my favorite closed-hand stories deals with what I am convinced will be close to a world record when it comes to stealing tricks.


North-South had got themselves into their best fit, albeit a level or two too high, and East had done well to find a takeout double, converted to penalties by West.


As the auction had shown, East was a thoughtful and competent player. But West was a weaker player, and instead of leading the obvious trump against three clubs doubled, he decided to lead a heart. East won this to switch to his singleton club. South took this in dummy and decided to try for a crossruff. Since East was clearly stacked in spades, he led a low spade from dummy, hoping to give East a problem.


Everyone followed in tempo, but South was more than a little surprised to find his six taking the trick! East, who knew that declarer had at most one spade for this line of play, had gone with the percentages, hoping his partner had the spade six so that he could continue the attack on trumps. Unluckily for him, his play not only allowed declarer to steal a trick, but also to establish a heart trick. Now a mini-crossruff saw him escape for two down.


South Holds:

5 4
7 5 3
K J 6 2
K Q 10 8


South West North East
  3 Dbl. 4
ANSWER: Here, your choice is between a double, which is NOT penalties but card-showing (tending to deny spades or you would have bid them yourself) and a call of four no-trump, which would be my choice. That call suggests both minors, and I admit you would be happier with 5-4 pattern. But your weak heart length does suggest partner has a singleton; so I’d guess five of a minor will play just fine.


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 WolffSeptember 22nd, 2011 at 3:02 pm

To whom it may concern:

Although the above hand has little to do with my subject, a general miss defense of a very aggressive contract by a relatively inexperienced pair playing against two very good world class players, it nevertheless reminds me of one of some of the special qualities in which our great game, bridge, has thrived through the years with its unusual responsibility of active ethics because of its being a partnership game which in turn requires both partnerships to the timely disclosing of special understandings and more to the point, the responsibility of the partnership playing hard to legally get the best possible result for its side on every hand available.

I, for one, am a baseball fan and both the American and National League are coming down to their last week of competition wherein, as almost always, there are teams which have already qualified for the post season (with scheduling advantages) but others who are fighting to make the playoffs and need help from other teams who will be playing their competition for the same playoff spots to which they thrive.

Because of the necessity to have round robin qualifying resulting in a long season, (approximately 6 months) it almost always comes down to the same ethical considerations about what non-pressured teams (either already having made it or, on the other hand, no chances of making it, but nevertheless in the mix to help determine who does).

My view is simply that these non-pressured teams owe the game itself the responsibility to try their hardest to win against whoever they are playing against, not forcing injured players to risk greater injury, but nevertheless to offer their best pitchers and other players available to play and for them to play their hardest in whichever way they can to offer the best chance of winning. As for the teams already (or almost) certain to qualify they, also, should not rest their best players (even though a case could be made for helping them get ready for the playoffs to give them some rest). Sure that compromise might be tempting, but the ethics and spirit of the competition is such that they owe the responsibility of presenting a united front to which they themselves (and often) might need the same help in other seasons.

Bridge itself often requires the same type of positive ethics for its survival, since it too requires round robin competition as the best way to conduct the tournament, but only the best way if its ethical rules are strictly enforced.

I write this, fully understanding that not everyone agrees with my feelings about what to do, even to the extent of hoping to lose to some team in order to keep who they think might be a greater threat to their eventual winning out of the mix at the end.

My special reason for writing this is to remind everyone of the wonderful, required active ethics our game was originally endowed with (and still is) mainly because of its partnership aspect of not violating communication rules, nor the willing and necessary informing of the opponents of any and everything they, by bridge law, are entitled to know about any private understandings the other partnership may have which might have some effect on the results obtained.

We, as bridge players, should be proud of what is expected of us and not only comply readily and completely, but also shout from the rooftops about the necessity for so doing. Any proven transgressors should be disciplined and forced to understand that no compromise should ever be taken in order to manoeuvre to one’s borderline or more, advantage in dealing with this sensitive subject.

Yes, we as so called high-level bridge players, are subject to inspection, for the continuance of what our game is about and to do less would take away greatly for what we should be not only standing for, but be proud of what we are doing.

jim2September 22nd, 2011 at 7:32 pm

You alluded to the other side of the argument which is, essentially, that each team has a duty to try to win the event, and to use all the legal tactics available to maximize their chances. The “spirit of competition” can be interpreted either way.

In the case of an already-eliminated team, there seems no ethical excuse not to play to win in all remaining matches.

That may not be true, as you gently acknowledged, for already-qualified teams.

Thus, there is a collision of “duties,” such that good arguments can be found for both mutually-exclusive positions.

The simplest – but admittedly not always possible – solution is for the conditions of contest not to allow the situation to arise. For example, in a round-robin, why not forbid the teams to reveal the results of the early matches? Or, enjoin the teams not to learn them?

Bobby WolffSeptember 23rd, 2011 at 5:15 am

Hi Jim2,

Your comment is what I would expect from you, kind and right to the point.

Yes, there have been many important bridge events which have incorporated your ideas of not allowing RR players to know results so as to not allow them (at least, intelligently) to be anywhere near sure enough to risk not playing their hardest, in spite of possible foreseeable advantages they may have in basically “throwing” their match.

Going further, in writing the C of C for such endings, it is not difficult to so do and eliminate what I will call those specific shenanigans.

It is not however that conundrum to which I was trying to refer. In the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, World Soccer and mostly WBF, but some

ACBL National tournaments the problem sometimes arises.

Because of the non-physical nature of our game we usually do not have to worry about making minor injuries somewhat worse by our best partnerships playing, but some may say, “Why, I want to rest them for our advantage and at the same time I may split up other partnerships on the team just because I want to”.

Might that just be an euphemistic description for hoping the other team wins? If we agree, then the next question is what you or anyone practicing what you mentioned earlier of “My job is to give us a better chance to win and to do that, it is my judgment that Team A is better off for us to get them eliminated right now.”

All very succinct reasoning, truthful, probably somewhat ruthless, but nevertheless following what could be called legal practice.

My reply is that because of the more than slightly difficult C of C writing, it is in my judgment impossible to arrange a fair tournament of perhaps 14 days, but not many weeks and certainly not months, by not having a round robin type of format.

Some may say, because of the above, straight KO is the answer, but anyone with what I will refer to a sufficient bridge IQ would know (or at least should) that the disparity in abilities of teams in the mix are so varied that a straight KO just DOES NOT get a fair job, or anywhere close to it, done.

What very few ever say (usually those in favor of straight KO) is that the world’s very best players basically have a great intimidation advantage when playing a relatively long KO match against even good opposition and our bridge administrators should always take that into consideration before writing the C of C with the intent to diminish that artificial advantage.

There are other factors of course, but what I am trying to say:

1. Bridge is and should always be what it was originally known as, “A gentleman’s game”. By that, the ethical rules should not cater to shady practices such as intimidation, borderline good ethics, poison-gas lab meanderings featuring trying to confuse and throw monkey wrenches like fertilizer bids and purposely forgetting what suits partner has shown, when NV against V in order to do what old time high school and college home football teams do and did, water down the home field when the other team had a speed advantage at running back.

In bridge, winning tactics should be limited to legal deception not contrived mental toughness exercises which are relatively not known nor, of course, experienced by the opponents.

Enough said so that I hope my point is well developed in which I think that the player, pair, team which plays the best bridge and with a normal amount of favorable luck is able to win against their worthy opponents should always be the goal, especially to honor the great game we all have been so honored and privleged to be able to compete in.

Bobby WolffSeptember 23rd, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Hi Jim2 and to all others who may be interested,

Today in my hometown newspaper, The Las Vegas Review Journal, on page 9C of the sports section, Russell Martin, this year’s all star Yankee catcher was quoted at making the following remark after noting that the next three games the Yankees play (after already clinching the pennant and, of course, a play-off spot with home field advantages) “Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome for me,……I hate the Red Sox”. After the three game NY-Boston series, the Yankees travel to the main Boston contender, today only 2 games behind, for the wild card to play a final 3 game series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

In my interest of trying to acquaint sports enthusiasts with topical problems, if you were Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager, would you feel apprehensive about playing Martin against the Rays or would you have either undying faith in your starting catcher to have, what I consider, the right spirit of competition, giving his all to beat Tampa Bay or would you fear for his now orally established goal?

Furthermore, are you in favor of his being able to go, of course, if playing, hit less but not error less with no risk of shame (or worse)? Might just 92 years later a new (but in reality very old question might re-emerge, “Say it ain’t so, Joe (or Russell)”

The above is not intended to lead the witness’, only to further discuss the significant problem, usually not addressed publicly, but always just beneath the surface in our bridge politics.

Bobby WolffSeptember 26th, 2011 at 12:32 am

Again, to whom it may concern,

The possible has now turned in to reality. As we speak, the NY Yankees are now ahead of the Boston Red Sox (at last report, 3 to nothing in the middle of the game). If the game turns out as it now figures to, both Boston and Tampa Bay will be tied for the wild card spot with each of them scheduled to play 3 more games each, Boston against Baltimore and Tampa Bay against New York. If Boston comes back to win this game, Boston will have a 1 game lead on Tampa Bay with the 3 games remaining for each.

People, through the years, especially the last 20 or 30 years of them, have many times asked to define the word, leadership, with examples, if possible.

At least to me, this situation calls for leadership from Bud Selig, the current baseball commissioner. IMHO he should state firmly that each of the not in the running teams (for the wild card spot) will be expected and watched for them to play their hardest throughout the upcoming series’ with disciplinary penalties or worse in the mix, if it is determined either team did not comply with this request. Sure, there could be excuses for this or that, but what will be watched closely is the overall determination of both Baltimore and New York to play these two series’ as if their continuation in the championship depended on it.

Without the above and with everyone capable of understanding baseball as well as the competition which goes with will be the judge and jury for making sure the honor of the game as well as justice itself triumphs in these battles, although everyone understands that all we are talking about is a game, but if the baseball game itself is not looked after by their commissioner who else would be there to see justice done.

For my personal tastes I could understand Mr. Selig calling off those three final games as scheduled and substitute for them a best 2 out of 3 series with Tampa Bay and Boston playing each other instead of taking on other teams, but that is wishful thinking, against normal baseball law and perhaps to be thought of as over creative.

Nevertheless I am waiting to see what happens and sincerely hope that our decaying overall personal ethics seemingly much more evident now than 50+ years ago will disappear like the Monday wash when active ethics will be applied in this case.

As a disclaimer, I realize that the LA Angels still might have a small chance to win the wild card spot, but I thought it necessary to bring this up without that complication.

One thing is certain, at least to me is that Mr. Russell Martin the NY Yankees present catcher, traded from the LA Dodgers and becoming an all-star may have made a very stupid remark when he claimed he hated the Boston Red Sox and hoped everything bad for them will happen. Well, will Joe Girardi, (the Yankees manager) bench him for the final series, or, at the very least, issue a statement that he will guarantee that Russell will play his best.

There are those who might think that I am paranoid about what may happen, but I can assure you that if the sun shines and everything is done above aboard I will be the happiest person you know.

Needless to say that this current happening is right up there with bridge as an all-encompassing subject with great anticipation held by me for its proper handling.

jim2September 26th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Professional sports, especially the ones on the scale of MLB, have legal issues and monetary factors that are difficult for those not intimately familiar with them to comprehend.

For example, there must be contractural requirements for those last games to be played at the pre-designated locations, in the absence of venue destruction. Parking and vending revenue? Local businesses? Airport and rental car fees? Taxes? Is there a Federal law exempting MeckWell from monopoly charges?

The Baltimore and Tampa Bay players would be deprived of starts and at bats, with a whole host of consequential issues, including their personal pay contracts.

Many times in the NFL, there have been cases where the worst teams might do better long term if they lost their last games and got better draft choices. I remember this well from certain years with stand-out players, like Vinny T. The NBA had this also, until they went to a weighted lottery amongst the last several teams (essentially a C of C change as we discussed earlier).

The professional teams, however, have an obligation to their fans, viewers, audiences, networks, etc. to put out there the most entertaining product they can. This is because sports at that level are entertainment business more than anything else. Consider just how many advertisers would be impacted financially in a blow-out because no starters played for a team and viewers deserted for a different channel.

High level bridge, however meritorious it should be of comparable treatment, is almost entirely NOT an entertainment product for those not playing. Thus, the comparisons are inherently flawed, and fatally so (IMHO).

Bobby WolffSeptember 26th, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Hi Jim2,

It pains me deeply to so say, but I know that you are essentially right on target in perhaps everything you relate.

The felt effect is a moral diminishment of the game itself (whether baseball or bridge), reducing the fierce competitive nature of the competition to no higher than 2nd place, behind the almighty dollar and all that it infects.

In order to feel the extremely disappointing result all one has to do is compare it with the proudest moments in one’s life where he (she) felt the accomplishment of what it took to win that moment.

However, even this realization of compromise could be lessened, if every serious competitor would fight like crazy (Libyan rebels, not Libyan mercenaries come to mind) to restore the honor, which winning fairly and completely will always bring, instead of meekly accepting it, or worse, help justify the 2nd class standing and become part of the problem rather than the solution.

jim2September 26th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Since we are both waxing philosophical down here in the archives, let me press on. 🙂

The phenomena you cite are the consequences of the successes of those who came before.

The Ruths and Mantles and Mays and others built the game of baseball into what it is today by their successes, and the entertainment they provided to so many whilst doing it. If MLB had not been entertaining, the game might still have a hard core of true aficinados, but few others. Those purists would compete in front of no one, much like trees competing to see which would have been the loudest to fall, if only there had been ears there to hear.

This, I fear, is why bridge is not what it was when I was young, when Omar and Ike helped add a special stature, and it even had a brief place on television. It has degraded even more as an entertainment product by its specialized systems and its labyrinthian playing rules. Players cannot even see all the others in bidding, so the spectators are also challenged!

The less entertaining it becomes, the fewer will take it up, making all the surer it will succumb to demographics.

WE will not see it, probably, but that may simply makes us Louis XV.

Bobby WolffSeptember 27th, 2011 at 11:58 am

Hi again Jim2,

Yes, while in the process of philosophizing you’ve hit upon another challenge, one of which probably, as you say, downgrades the allure of bridge entertainment, dehumanizing the player connections, leading up to the possibility of the game itself succumbing to, as you say, demographics.

However, today instead of Ike (President Eisenhower), and Omar (Sharif) we have Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and our former sports stars, Tim McCarver, Jim Bunning, Frank Beard and Martina Navritolova instead of Mantle, Mays and Ruth as well as a number of Hollywood personalities such as Billy Wilder, Merideth Baxter, Phyllis Diller, Burt Lancaster, Chico Marx (to combine both alive and dead names in our lists). Bridge continues to be played in the golf locker rooms during the PGA tours and is an important and challenging pastime for those who seek competitive endeavors during lulls in their chosen professions.

True, high-level bridge has been given a face lift with artificiality in the language spoken (bidding), replacing the meaning of when spades were bid, it always (up to now) meant that spades were held, but in the present it now is used to make every word used in the exchange of telling information as useful and timely as possible with the express purpose of keeping the bidding lower in order to be able to exchange maximum meaning, not unlike a special code which might be used for the same purposes in other endeavors.

True, also table screens have made it more difficult for table kibitzers, but what about the wonders of the internet, led by BBO (Bridge Base Online) which has reached out to the entire bridge universe to televise almost all important world bridge events through the use of computers, especially the World Championships themselves, and have brought them into our living rooms through the wonders of the internet.

All of the above, while sometimes hard to keep up with, have rushed bridge into the 21st century, improved our methods and, at least on the surface, could make it a formidable force for entertainment in the future.

Possibly, at least in my mind, the major problem might be the giving of themselves by our world class players in order to acquaint willing young people (our best and brightest) to the unquestioned (at least in my mind) original and superlative qualities of the game itself which involves almost all competitive and thrilling aspects, mostly mental, but still the endurance needed to compete world wide demanding a physicality of endurance which ultimately will challenge any other real major sport in its overall challenge.

I, even at my advanced age, do not want to be like Louis XV, but rather want to be a first hand live witness (before I check out) on the ascendancy of our game to heights only dreamed of up to now, but in actuality ready to be harvested, but only if our present stars and super experts about to be, all feel the desire to grow our game to a superior level and prove to the world what can be accomplished.

Bobby WolffSeptember 27th, 2011 at 12:21 pm

To all who may be interested,

On the specific baseball front, I would like to forward the great news that, yesterday I was able to watch a number of baseball games between both playoff contenders and also rans or teams which have already clinched and had nothing to gain except perform their best, without regard to if this or that team won or lost, our team may be better placed for the upcoming playoffs, but rather in the best spirit of the game itself, played their hearts out to win their respective game. The games included, Tampa Bay-New York Yankees, LA Angels-Texas, Boston-Baltimore, Atlanta-Philadelphia, St. Louis-Houston Detroit-Cleveland, Milwaukee-Pittsburgh and Arizona-LA Dodgers.

In ALL cases both the team in contention and their opponents played as hard as could be, with many upsets by the lesser placed team, proving what competition combined with active ethics can mean in the hands of players dedicated to the sport itself rather than relative lesser important motives for improving (to borrow a golf expression) one’s lie.

Russell Martin, the NY Yankee catcher played as tough as possible against Tampa Bay, and although TB won, it wasn’t because of lack of effort by Martin. Please remember that Martin a couple of days ago claimed he “hated the Boston Red Sox” and would love to see them not qualifying for the playoffs. Instead, his superior spirit of competition prevailed and he tried his hardest.

Bud Selig may or may not have reminded the various players and teams of their moral obligation to play their hardest, but whatever was done (if anything), worked and I expect over the next two days will continue to shine brightly making the thought of so called, sportsmanlike dumping, will go the way of the morning milk, which will result in a very positive attitude in the baseball competitive world.

Of course, I hope the bridge world is listening since this subject is often debated long and loudly among many bridge players, where some believe that it is ethical to “dump” in order to gain advantage. Fie on them!!!!

jim2September 27th, 2011 at 2:52 pm


I love technical talk!

Don’t, however, lose sight of the differences – and they are decisive. In their current forms, bridge is straight competition while MLB may be more business than anything else. Thus, the “ethics” are different between the two.

As i said above:

“The professional teams, however, have an obligation to their fans, viewers, audiences, networks, etc. to put out there the most entertaining product they can. This is because sports at that level are entertainment business more than anything else.”

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Hi Jim2,

While I agree with you that televised sports are indeed, business first, and individuality down the list, I do not think that the active ethics of any sport one can mention, and I, of course am including tournament bridge as one of them, is joined at the hip with the business end. Proper ethics in anything competitive is not mysterious nor should it be controversial. When one mentions the law of the jungle, most people would be referring to rather being the eater than the eaten, but when one mentions game ethics, at least for my tastes, he will be referring to the no-no’s which should never be done. The spirit of competition should always apply to, regardless of the conditions of contest (well almost), a player on up to a team, should always be playing to win that game or chukker, or period, or quarter, or frame, or match to which the competition is held.

Without that reminder and, please excuse me, the worst in people come out and the behind closed doors mentality sometimes appears, rendering all those who it touches to be tempted to show their hateful side.

While the above is not ever recommended, an ever greater travesty also occurs, the game itself becomes much the lesser for it because of the confusion and incongruity it will always cause. And continuing on while citing the awful fallouts, when other, even when they are only acting as the devil’s advocate, people fall in line behind the cult leader in order to temper their conscience falling by the wayside, in support of the transgression.

Misery loves company even if only that partners in crime sometimes tend to mitigate their guilt by following suit with others.

The full sea mentioned above is what the bridge world is now floating on with, at least IMHO, disaster to eventually follow.

jim2September 28th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

It is the “(well almost)” part that changes everything.

A team wants to maximize its chances to win the larger event, not the smaller one when winning the latter reduces the chances of winning the former.

Oddly enough, or counter-intuitively, it is the big money of business that solves for big sports, as the entertainment product of each smaller event is required to be protected because the larger event is itself dwarfed by the overall product value which would be diminished by trashing the smaller.

Bobby WolffSeptember 28th, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

Ay, there is the rub. At least to me (I’m sort of tired of that expression as I am sure others are also tired of hearing it), the spirit of competition part always applies whether within the smaller or greater goal. No C of C can supersede it, nor make it lesser, it has a life of its own and without it, the game is not worth playing or, at least, it should not be.

Marking it off on a downward spiral, I would first say playing by the rules, both written and inferred, with the next step down going to one’s legal (up to now) poison gas laboratory and try and find a way to render the opponent’s legal victims of my enterprise. Before I leave the above a real life example is playing upside down suit preference signals when a card is returned which partner will probably ruff or at least signaled for. Since the laws are mute on the subject of suit preference signals, it can be claimed that the upside down version need not be alerted. Next, to still do it, whether legal or not, but perhaps not tested for legality yet. The 3rd step is cheating, but only at certain times and, do not ever forget that I know it is wrong and that is why I do not do it 100% of the time. Below that every one of us can guess what follows, which in bridge has been its consistent world wide Achilles heel, easing up considerably the last 30+ years. I have been to (and played in, one being a world championship) two well fancied European bridge tournaments where each time the 4th place finisher was congratulated and the top 3 totally ignored, except by the ignorant (politically conscious) and the unknowing.

World bridge has survived all that and more, but what they will never survive are the animals in the zoo using others past indiscretions to boldly decide in their favor the ethics of the moment and acting on them.

When that happens all C of C’s (at least the ones where I have played a significant part in writing them) are rendered impotent and bridge anarchy triumphs.

Bobby WolffSeptember 29th, 2011 at 6:06 am

Again to all who may be interested,

The regular baseball season is over and it ended with a bang for everyone to either be miserable or very happy. For the record my betting went well as did my favorite teams but the following opinion needs to be reported.

Never throughout the last three days did I see one player involved in any one of the pennant or wild card deciding days (and I must have watched over 20 playoff determining games at least partially during that time) give anything less than his very best effort to try and win for his team.

However, at least for the record, I thought Joe Girardi, who I always thought of as a straightforward person and a very good baseball manager, fail greatly for not using his ace reliever Rivera to protect the Yankees 8th inning 7 run lead. In fact when the Yankees lost in extra innings his whole lineup consisted for the most part of only minor leaguers, having probably been called up in September for experience.

My beliefs are that all decision makers, whether their spot is secure or not have the obligation to play and manage in a more responsible manner as if their own team is in jeopardy. I realize other people who go above and beyond to win (sometimes the right thing to do) do not care one whit what happens to anyone but their own team, but I think that attitude is harmful to everyone it touches since it is, at least to me NOT in the spirit of competition in any round robin type of format.

The world, baseball or the real world will continue to foster all types of opinions and thinking, but for my money, managers have a responsibility to the game itself, not just their team to not do unethical things in the interest of protecting themselves.

At least to me Joe G. was nothing short of unethical in not trying harder to win at least one of the three games from one of my favorite teams, the Tampa Bay Rays. Especially today, in my opinion his managerial decisions belonged in a how not to do it archive for all future managers to study and avoid falling into the same trap. I fully realize that many will differ from me, but what kind of a taste do his baseball decisions leave in the mouth of a relative novice baseball fan who might expect more from a well known and respected top manager?

Anyway, enough said and its on to the playoffs and more excitement, except that it will be hard to top the last 72 hours for greater thrills.