Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Man … plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep.

William Shakespeare

East North
North-South ♠ J 6 5 4
 7 6
♣ K J 8 6 5 3
West East
♠ A Q 10 9 3
 Q 9 5 2
♣ Q 10 2
♠ K 7 2
 10 8 5 2
 K 10 7 4
♣ A 4
♠ 8
 A K Q J 9 4
 A J 6 3
♣ 9 7
South West North East
1 1♠ Pass 2
2♠ Pass 3♣ Pass
3 Pass 4 All pass


In today's deal, Hall of Famer Tommy Sanders declared an optimistic contract of four hearts, after West had overcalled in spades and his partner had cue-bid to show a strong raise.

After an opening diamond lead, the obvious thing to do was to win the ace and ruff a diamond. But then there would be no quick entry to the South hand for the second diamond ruff, and the contract would fail even if South made a winning guess in clubs.

Sanders instead played low from dummy at trick one and ducked East’s diamond king. This neither gained nor lost a trick, but it created an illusion. West was now convinced that his partner held the diamond ace. East predictably shifted to a trump, and South won with the ace and ruffed a diamond. When he led a spade from the dummy, East could have saved his partner by putting up the king. When he played low and West won with the nine, West confidently led a diamond, and was discomfited to find that South could take two diamond tricks. Sanders then made the winning guess in clubs, since East was almost sure to have the club ace for his two-heart cue-bid.

Of course, West had assumed that if East had the diamond ace, South was bound to have the club ace and would be able to run the clubs if West continued passively with spades. However, if that were the position, South would have played on clubs not spades after ruffing the diamond.

The best action here depends on vulnerability and style. If I am vulnerable, wild horses could not drag an opening out of me; but at favorable vulnerability if my partnership style was to pre-empt aggressively, I might pre-empt to three clubs. Passing is not wrong — it all depends on whether nonvulnerable pre-empts are designed more to obstruct the opponents than start a constructive dialogue.


♠ J 6 5 4
 7 6
♣ K J 8 6 5 3
South West North East

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


Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2012 at 11:42 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

One thing which interests me on hands like this is how the defenders played on the next few hands. Clearly East and West can both do better, but have you any advice on how to get back on an even keel mentally after such a result? I find that if my partner slips up I can usually be reasonably phlegmatic but, if I do something daft, it distracts me for the next few hands even if partner offers consolation and encouragement. Perhaps he should just insist I buy the drinks after the session as a wounded wallet can concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Any thoughts here, based on your long experience and high level of expertise? Do even the greatest of players get rattled by a series of bad results, or even one big accident, even if caused by factors outside their control? A classic case might be the infamous Italian 7 clubs in a Bermuda Bowl final with AQ opposite J9xxxx, finding CK10 onside?


Iain Climie

Bobby WolffFebruary 18th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hi Iain,

A wonderful question, euphemistically usually meaning that I think I am prepared to answer it.

To start with, your question does not apply strictly to bridge, but probably to most, if not all, very competitive games, and even, if possible more so to mind ones.

A secret to the art of winning is to easily and readily understand that what has happened in the past is history, cannot be remedied, and only the concentration on what is now on the table is called for, without which the ship will definitely sink.

Winning partnerships in bridge either have that ability between them or, if not, in spite of possible exceptional talent and flair, will soon be headed for an ignominious ending.

Never forget that the game of bridge is always the master and because of its sometimes devilish mind challenges, often in the search for clues both in the playing and the bidding, especially when the best are playing against their peers, it takes intense concentration merely to have a normal playing man’s luck to find the solution and thus, to be diverted by previous results or other emotional experiences, such as negative partnership discussions or worse still, arguments, is simply put, describing a sure way to lose.

Through the years and from my long experience of exposure to it, although this subject has nothing to do with bridge techniques of playing the game, it is perhaps the great distinguishing characteristic of separating winning from losing.

Although my partner, Bob Hamman, and I were at the other table on that ill fated (for us) famous hand from the 1975 Bermuda Bowl, since I didn’t ask either Eddie Kantar or Billy Eisenberg, our teammates, how they felt after that grand slam was scored up, I suspect that, because of their training, they merely went on to the next one.

Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for this, and I’m sure it will make a difference. Perhaps at the start of each session, I should just remind myself that things will go wrong, whether through our errors and/or mixups, or just opponents doing the right thing. Mentally making the effort to wipe the slate clean for a few seconds before each hand and 100% concentration on the next one (rather than bemoaning bad luck or even being too pleased with a good result) might also help.

My bridge is confined to evening duplicate sessions at the moment. Perhaps not working until too late in the office then rushing to the session without a break might also be an idea.

Thanks once again,

Iain Climie