Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Dealer: West

Vul: Both


8 2

Q J 8 5 3 2

5 3

J 10 9


10 3

A K 9

A K J 10 4

K 6 2


6 5

7 6 4

9 7 6

8 7 5 4 3


A K Q J 9 7 4


Q 8 2



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

Opening Lead: Diamond King

“They studied at the self-same schools,

And shaped their thoughts by common rules.”

— Thomas Hardy

Working out declarer’s likely holding was the key to Kyle Larsen’s brilliant defense on this hand, originally reported by Alan Truscott. His victim was Jill Meyers, whose team nevertheless went on to win the match. The deal was short-listed for defense of the year about a decade ago. The deal is particularly satisfying because it goes against all the rules of defense by setting up tricks for declarer, not your own side.


Against three no-trump Larsen led a top diamond, and when dummy appeared, he paused to take stock. Declarer’s double, followed by her jump to game, showed a very strong hand, one likely to have a long running suit, which, judging from West’s hand, could only be spades.


South was marked with queen-third of diamonds for her final bid, and if she held seven spades, that left only three cards in the rounded suits.


So Larsen cashed his heart ace and king, and South was squeezed. Had she discarded a minor-suit card, West would have continued with that suit.


In fact, South chose to discard a spade. As a spade switch would have been fatal, giving declarer access to dummy’s now established hearts, Larsen cashed the diamond king and continued with the jack. This gave declarer her eighth trick, but she was unable to engineer the ninth.


Even if declarer had started with just six spades, West would still have needed to cash the top hearts now to prevent being thrown in with them later.


South Holds:

A K Q J 9 7 4
Q 8 2


South West North East
Dbl. Pass 1 1
ANSWER: You are never going to stop short of game here, so it would be simple just to bid four spades. However, just in case your partner has good diamonds (in which case slam might make) cue-bid two clubs first. If your partner jumps in diamonds, you might consider going beyond four spades. If not, you can bid four spades at your next turn.


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 GibsonOctober 18th, 2011 at 9:41 am

HBJ : Such a instructive hand demonstrating the importance of forming a picture of declarer’s hand, taking stock at trick 2 when dummy is exposed, and, of course, the simple art of counting.

But what is so rare about this hand is the fact that declarer is squeezed at trick 3, and East can afford the luxury of cashing out top hearts unconcerned about setting up dummy’s only suit.

Defence like that certainly deserves applauding.

jim2October 18th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

How one reacts as South after West cashes the second heart is a test of character.

Bobby WolffOctober 18th, 2011 at 11:58 pm


Your description is picture perfect of the elements needed for success in defending.

When South is virtually forced to throw away the possible game fulfilling spade trick on Kyle’s cash of his second high heart most all of West’s visualization is necessary.

Although it may be tempting for West to hope partner has the nine of spades, then enabling him to lead a low spade and still keep declarer out of the dummy, he should not fall victim to that hope. Let’s say South had one less spade in his hand but to compensate one more club. Then declarer my decide to falsecard the queen of clubs again tempting West to lead a low club, thinking perhaps South had unprotected her club position. Just another worry for the defender and therefore Kyle deserves all rewards for fighting his way through this maze to a mini-victory.

Bobby WolffOctober 19th, 2011 at 12:07 am

Hi Jim2,

Yes a test of character is a realistic description and is the basis for direct mental battles among intelligent good bridge players.

Another way of saying what you are feeling is that there are many times (more than one usually expects) where the “poker element” in bridge raises its head and for success, cannot be avoided.

A game of cat and mouse usually ensues wherein both the declarer and the key defender are weighing what the other one either knows or certainly suspects and therefore looks for ways to insert “red herrings”.

Fascination always occurs, and although we all love winning these mind battles, when there are top players involved, I will settle for winning 51% of them.

jim2October 19th, 2011 at 1:52 am

I see you have climbed into the 8!

On my comment, what I was really pointing to was the mental toughness not to let an opponent’s unusual and fine play get one down.

Being squeezed as declarer at Trick 3?!

Personally, I would struggle with this one.

Bobby WolffOctober 21st, 2011 at 1:42 am

Hi Jim2,

Commenting on your latter 3 paragraphs, yes, mental toughness is a combination of treating one’s opponents brilliances in stride and trying, as best one can, to send out legal deception (not with body language, but rather with playing the most deceptive card possible, if there is one). Perhaps the falsecard of the 7 of spades might create the most concern for your worthy opponent, but, at least on this hand, your LHO (Kyle) has the trump card (even at NT). If declarer had the AQx of clubs and one less spade, I would offer the queen of clubs, hoping the opening leader would fall for it, but knowing full well that Larsen would almost certainly not take the bait.

Yes, our 2011 USA geezer team had a sensational day yesterday garnering 74 of the possible 75 VP’s, and as I am answering you at 3AM, having not been able to sleep (too much adenaline) I am looking forward to being lucky enough to continue our torrid pace tomorrow.

In high-level bridge, as it certaiinly is in other very popular competitive sports, it is important not to peak too early, since to do so usually causes a run out of steam at later crucial times. At least I am pulling for that eventuality to see us through the next days which may include our quarter-final, semi-final and final result.

Time alone will tell and my previous experience demands that one can only try and play his (or her) best game and just let Dame Fortune (DF) have her way and somehow chooses your team to be the benefactor.

No doubt DF is sometimes fickle, but surprisingly she usually has a sense of fair play and, more often than some care to admit, rewards those who follow the above process.

I, for one, really do appreciate your emotional support which really helps more than you can imagine.