Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 20th, 2012

You see, but you do not observe.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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


Intermediate cards, such as 10s and nines, are very welcome in many contracts. On other occasions they can be a hindrance; blocking the smooth running of a suit. Look at today's deal, for example. Against three no-trump West leads the heart six, East playing the queen. What is your plan?

The original declarer counted five diamond tricks and four outside top cards, thinking that the only possible problem was a 4-0 diamond break. He won the second heart and led the diamond three to his ace. Giving his partner a reassuring nod, he continued with a low diamond to dummy’s king. If the suit had broken 2-2, he would have survived this piece of carelessness. He could have cashed the diamond nine on the third round, then crossed to dummy’s diamond queen to score a fifth diamond trick. Unfortunately, West showed out on the second round, and there was no way for declarer to recover. Whether he led the nine or the seven to dummy’s queen on the next round, he would have to win the fourth round of diamonds in his hand. Four plus four did not equal nine, and he was one down.

Since the diamond nine and seven were potential blocking cards, they should have been played under dummy’s king and queen. This leaves the way clear to lead the diamond six on the fourth round, following with the two from the South hand. The lead remains in dummy, and nine tricks are readily available.

Declarer's jump to game rates to be based on a long diamond suit and a single or double heart-stop. There is no reason to panic here, looking to lead some other suit than the one you have bid. Hope that partner can produce a high heart and a diamond stopper, and simply lead a low heart. You might tempt me to lead a club if my suit were king-queen fourth, though.


♠ A 8 4
 Q 10 8 6 3
♣ K 10 6 3
South West North East
1 Dbl. 2 3 NT
All 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


Iain ClimieMarch 5th, 2012 at 11:14 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

One luckless (but moderate partner of mine) pulled off something similar with SAKQ43 opposite S7652 as a side suit in 6H after an opponent had opened 3C. Dummy had no side entry but partner lost concentration from sheer relief after negotiating a trump suit of KJ9 (dummy) opposite A7542 for no loser when the opponents led a trump. Overwhelmed by relief, he bashed out two top spades without really checking opponents’ cards (were they 2-2 or had someone guilefully thrown a club on the 2nd top spade?) and he hadn’t unblocked the spades. He then missed a loser on loser play of playing a club from dummy and discarding a blocking spade from hand which would have worked in either case.

“There but for the grace of God…..” as they say, and I wasn’t blameless – if I’d just bashed out a more pragmatic bid of 6S earlier instead of going through a convoluted and confusing auction, it wouldn’t have happened, and he had been having a rough session. To what extent (if any) should you try to rescue partner in a scratch partnership (as here) or even in a regular one?


Iain Climie

bobby wolffMarch 5th, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Hi Iain,

Deciding on as short a response as possible to your practical query on “share the blame”, let me attempt to say once and for all.

Bridge is just too difficult an overall game to even begin to apologize for treating partner like a have not child and not be (or pretending) to be aware of his blatantly careless play of blocking the spade suit.

Sure, everyone of us should do almost everything possible, when faced with a choice, of lessening partner’s burden whenever we practically can, but this abomination can and should not be expected to happen.

I have no answer to many continuing problems of a partnership not getting the most out of their bridge adventures. However, the minimum we should be expected to endure is that each partner pledge to the other that he will take responsibility for his own actions.

From a psychological side, when a player is fortunate enough to receive such a favorable lead, which should, in the absence of horrible fortune, serve to make a hand laydown, but then, the declarer in turn gives it right back to the opponents in the form of a gift, it is time to discuss partnership responsibilites with each other.

Anything less is nothing short of ridiculous.

Good luck!

jim2March 5th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Another variation on this column’s theme concerns what the defense should do if declarer wins the AH and plays low to the 10H.

bobby wolffMarch 5th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

If declarer risks this play, in fear of 4-0 diamonds, he will, no doubt, still take the 9 tricks he should have started with. However, hearts could be distributed 6-3, making his risk a reality.

No doubt if, after leading a single round of diamonds and sadly finding them 4-0 then a switch back to a heart may be a small effort at giving the opponents some rope in which to hang themselves, but even that is doubtful at best.

By inference to the defense, if declarer (of course, in first finding the unlikely terrible diamond break) and then switching back to the defense’s long suit, it should be immediately known to them that the declarer is resorting to desperate means and by realizing that fact should not have any trouble defending it correctly.

Perhaps easier said than done, but leave it with, if the defense then goes wrong, they will only have themselves to blame.

jim2March 5th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Actually, the theme to which I referred is the situation such as – in this hand – if South had the 8D and East had the deuce.

bobby wolffMarch 5th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Hi Jim2,

After I went back to bed last night, I thought about your actual intent of trying to get the opponents to run their long suit in order for you, the declarer, to throw your blocking card away and get back to where I thought you should have been before your gaffe.

Instead, you were talking about a built-in unavoidable block which you wanted your opponents to solve for you. I bet you and most every other very good player playing as declarer, would see through your ruse and attack other suits instead of accomodating your desires.

A good rule to follow on defense is that if an opponent makes it TOO easy for you to take tricks, follow some wise person’s advice, “If an opponent wants you to do something, do not do it, since it cannot be good for you if he wants you to do it” and, if your noodle is used, you will almost always realize what it is.

jim2March 5th, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Too dry!

I think one of Victor Mollo’s Menagerie hands had this theme.

There was Rueful Rabbit leading his longest suit, not because he thought it best, but because he would suffer less in the post mortem if he did so.

The Hideous Hog, as always the declarer, won the heart ace and then led small to his ten and RR’s knave, with HH even helpfully scooting the trick over to him.

RR bounced anxiously in his seat. Had Charley the Chimp (his partner) followed high-low? He vaguely thought he had, but wasn’t sure. Still, did that mean East had started with two or four? RR decided he didn’t know.

In fact, the only thing he knew was that HH wanted him to lead another heart.

“It’s your lead, my dear lagomorph,” grunted HH silkily.

That did it!

RR disgorged a small club. HH squealed angrily and was soon down one.

“Why did you do it?” The narrator asked later in the bar.

“HH is a very fine player,” said RR. “So I decided to trust him completely.”

Iain ClimieMarch 5th, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for your reply and I take your point. Nonetheless, with typical mulish obstinacy, can I present a counter view. I hope you’ll forgive what is probably gross impertinence on my part. Still, here goes.

If I’d messed up in the manner described I would apologise profusely but probably spend the next few hands kicking myself – would this help? Your excellent advice (past hands have gone) the other week is easier in theory than practice. I might just be distracted and mess up more hands, while I’ve found that berating partner (possibly deserved here, but it was only a club event with a scratch partner) may not help his efforts for the rest of the session or even my own concentration. 30 years ago, when I played to a much higher level than I do now, I would have poured scorn on such thoughts but I’ve found that trying to pick partner up may be more effective, no matter how annoyed I might feel inside. It does depend on the individual partner, of course, but I also had a macabre wake-up call in October last year.

Many older people play bridge, and one delightful guy (77, as I found out later, but a real character and very good company although not a strong player) had some sort of attack or seizure at a club where I was playing; I wasn’t playing with or against him at the time but phoned for an ambulance then, until the paramedics arrived, wound up having to give CPR under phone instruction in an attempt to keep him alive.

A famous Scottish sports manager (Bill Shankly) once joked that football (soccer rather than gridiron) isn’t a matter of life or death – it is far more important than that! Playing to win to the best of your ability and efforts is commendable; surely there are limits? Having said that, I could cheerfully have thrown furniture at one (weakish) partner’s head last Thursday when he messed up 2 of the first three hands of the evening, even though they should have been well within his capabilities. So much for trying to take my own advice.

Any thoughts here (printable ones, anyway), including the possible need for more first aiders at tournaments or even clubs? People do get stressed while playing and none of us are getting younger. Keep up the good work, though; the column is an “absolute must” every day for entertainment and instruction.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffMarch 5th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Hi Iain,

Your elegantly written response needs no changes or editing to rate as a perfect model for any and all competitions, bridge included.

However, since the playing of bridge has been so important during my rather long life, it is hard for me to not take it much too seriously and echo what your quoted Scotish sportswriter thought about Scotish football as applied to high-level bridge.

You are correct, right-on, and sincere about everything you say about competitive behavior, but since there are no gods living on earth I surely fit that description.

BTW, from your sensational story about giving CPR, I can only wish that either you or one of your trainees is always present in the room where I lurk. It is probably too much to ever expect to meet you in person, but until it happens, I wish you green lights and blue skies.


Bobby Wolff

jim2March 5th, 2012 at 11:51 pm

We had a former Vietnam combat nurse working in our bookstore up unitl a couple years ago when she moved out of state..

She said she loved working there because, if she screwed up, nobody died.

She was a great employee, totally unflappable.

Iain ClimieMarch 6th, 2012 at 9:19 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for your comments – very kind of you. Jim2 certainly has a point here as well, and I have a huge admiration for any professional medical staff anywhere. My own paid work is in engineering safety, trying to stop transport accidents – bridge is not just a wonderful distraction but actually encourages the analytical “what if (this goes wrong)” and “how can (we make things safe enough)” thought processes required in my work.

All the very best,