Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 26th, 2012

There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
And there is no greater disaster than greed.


South North
Neither ♠ Q 8 3 2
 A 8 7 6
 A 9
♣ A J 9
West East
♠ J 7
 K 2
 10 8 7 6 5 4 2
♣ 7 4
♠ 10 9 6 4
 J 10 5 4
 Q 3
♣ 10 8 3
♠ A K 5
 Q 9 3
 K J
♣ K Q 6 5 2
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 Pass
2 NT Pass 3♠ Pass
3 NT Pass 6 NT All pass


In today's deal, from the 2010 Gold Coast event in Australia, a straightforward auction would be the one shown here. With five hearts East would check back for a 4-4 spade fit by using checkback so his actual auction should show only four hearts.

In six no-trump on a passive diamond lead, declarer wins and must develop one extra trick from the majors. Best is to go after hearts first, to take advantage of the chances in both majors.

At one table Anton Blagov went after hearts by leading low from dummy, and when East played low without discomfort, judged that she could not have the king, so he inserted the nine successfully. However, the normal play is to lead a heart to the queen, losing to the king.

Best for West is to return a diamond now. Declarer cashes the heart ace himself (the Vienna Coup), then runs the clubs. In the four-card ending, declarer has the heart nine and three spades left, and dummy has its four spades. What can East keep? Answer: nothing works. What you mustn’t do as declarer is test spades early. If you run the spades before the hearts, you will disrupt your own communications.

Bulletin editor David Stern noted that his mother, Gerda, brought home the slam, but 80 or so declarers went down in six no-trump by playing spades prematurely. An alternative and unsuccessful approach here would have been to endplay East with a spade to lead hearts, but the recommended approach is a better percentage play.

Facing a balanced 22-24, you have just enough to explore for game. Best is to bid three clubs, using this call as Stayman just as it would be if your partner had opened two no-trump. Equally, if you play transfers over the opening two-no-trump call, you would be able to show a five-card major if you had one.


♠ 10 9 6 4
 J 10 5 4
 Q 3
♣ 10 8 3
South West North East
2♣ Pass
2 Pass 2 NT Pass

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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Howard Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 9th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

HBJ : What if East sticks in the deceptive jack of hearts ? Will South cover ( ? ) losing to West’s king, only to see West promptly returning a heart. What will South do then ? Will he play for West to hold the 10 of hearts, or go as you say for that 4 card ending with the spade /heart squeeze…. assuming of course one opponent is required to guard both suits ?
Would a good defender in the East seat looking at his 4-4 in the majors foresee the potential squeeze and play a distracting/deceptive card like the jack ?

alan wertheimerFebruary 9th, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Could north have used NMF rather than bid 3S? That way, if south has 4 spades and they end up in 4 spades, South is the declarer.

Bobby WolffFebruary 9th, 2012 at 5:30 pm


Good point, but when, and if East would play the jack, he almost certainly will also have the 10, otherwise he would make his side vulnerable to the declarer, if holding specifically the Q98, to later finesse the 9 through West’s theoretical 10.

The above might point out two different instructive lessons to be learned.

1. Sometimes it is better to be known as just an average (or worse) player, but, in reality, be much more cunning than expected.

2. When top players pair off against each other, many different thoughts pass through all four player’s minds, but in the end all of those worthy players usually wind up playing their opponents for making the correct plays, resulting in victory for our great game itself.

The hand itself actually cries out for playing the hand as did the declarer, including a classic Vienna Coup (VC) (the cashing of the heart ace, which serves as an unblock in order to effect the spade heart squeeze).

That wonderful play, the VC, discovered and named years ago in Austria has also been aptly described as, first setting up a trick for the defense by cashing the ace, therefore, in this case, promoting East’s high heart and then, somewhat rudely, squeezing him out of it.

A positive type of rude, wouldn’t you think?

Bobby WolffFebruary 9th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hi Alan,

And welcome to Bridge Blogging.

There are various methods played over a jump to 2NT (18-19) made by the opener after a suit opening by him and a response by partner in one of a higher suit.

If the response has been 1 heart, then it is often played that a continuation of 3 spades by the responder shows 4 spades, but at least 5 hearts. While playing Wolff Sign-off the above is true, but also if responder wants to still check back for a 4-4 spade fit he then bids 3 clubs, forcing 3 diamonds and then continues with 3 spades which then alerts partner that he is specifically 4-4 and to then bid accordingly.

In this area there are different ways to skin cats, but a new minor, for example 3 diamonds is better played as forcing and showing diamonds but usually a distributional hand showing length in both hearts and diamonds and possibly interested in slam.

Your suggestion is also a good one, trying to right side the declarer, but since bridge language is usually limited to finding the best way to do things, NMF is almost never used as an artificial device to merely check back for major suit fits.

Thanks for your question and don’t be a stranger.

alan wertheimerFebruary 9th, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Thanks much for your reply. No need to “welcome” me. I’ve been reading for a while. Just haven’t had anything to ask 🙂

angelo romanoFebruary 10th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

but you don’t need the Vienna Coup in this hand, isn’t it ? you can leave the bare H Ace and EAst is squeezed all the same

Bobby WolffFebruary 10th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hi Angelo,

Yes, you are definitely correct, but only because you have the entries back and forth, which, of course you can see that you have them.

However, the Vienna Coup is such a beautiful bridge play, even though in actuality, a simple unblocking maneuver, why not use it?