Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, February 24th, 2012

Since when was genius found respectable?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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

*At least invitational with spade support


English international Margaret Nygren found a play in today's pairs deal that deserved to generate more than a matchpoint top for her side.

Against four spades, reached after a conventional response by North to show spade support, Margaret’s diamond-10 lead looks ineffective, but it had the effect of starting to damage declarer’s communications.

The lead was won in dummy with the ace, declarer unblocking the king. The spade three went to the seven, nine and queen, and West continued with a second diamond, won by dummy’s queen.

Next came the spade four to the 10, jack — and five! Margaret appreciated that declarer still retained the trump two, with the early play marking her partner with a top club, or declarer would have pitched a heart loser from dummy on a club. Had she taken her spade king, the defenders would have had two hearts to cash for down one but declarer would have had an entry to dummy via the spade six, to access the diamonds.

South now changed tack and played a low club to dummy’s queen. East captured this with his king, then led a low heart to South’s queen and West’s king. Margaret now exited with her spade king, at which point, according to West, declarer nearly fell off her chair. Dummy was now well and truly dead, and with declarer having to play entirely from her own hand, she ended up with just seven tricks.

Nygren’s brilliant ducking play in trumps had exchanged one trump trick for three elsewhere.

Whenever you have a game-forcing hand and no clear direction to head in, your second call rates to be fourth suit forcing. Bid two hearts, planning to convert a two-no-trump call or a bid of three of a minor to three no-trump. But if partner shows extras, you may be in slam territory — and this way you may steer clear of three no-trump when partner has a singleton or void in hearts.


♠ A J 9 8 2
 Q J 6
 K 9
♣ A 8 7
South West North East
1 Pass
1♠ Pass 2♣ 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-JohnsonMarch 9th, 2012 at 11:46 am

HBJ : Lovely hand ….brilliant defence …..but what if declarer had the king of clubs instead of QJ of hearts.
Declarer on winning the spade with the jack would promptly play the spade Ace picking up the king. Now comes 2 more spade tricks, 4D and 3C to secure 12 tricks in all !!
Did the defender bank everything on declarer being unable to get to dummy with a club ?

bobby wolffMarch 9th, 2012 at 3:10 pm


Yes, Margaret took a chance by ducking a sure trump trick, but (and it was mentioned in the column) she felt that declarer, if holding the AKx in clubs, would have thrown a losing heart away before attemping the spade finesse.

Besides it was a real life hand with living, breathing, error-prone players playing the game. The magnitude of the second spade duck got everyone’s attention and as some very wise bridge philosopher once advised me, “Above all, let the winner explain”, not (at least on this hand) one of the kibitzers. Down 3, definitely not cream cheese!

Denis KristandaMarch 9th, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Absolutely brilliant play ! Under “normal” optimize defense, it would be only 2 down instead 3 down. And that extra trick in pair event is priceless…. Thanks for the share Mr Wolff!

Counterintuitive | The Devil's BedpostMarch 9th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

[…] And that segues nicely into an example of a brilliant defensive play, not surprisingly, not made by me: The Aces on Bridge — Respectable Genius. […]

jim2March 10th, 2012 at 1:36 am

Silly me.

I would have raised 2N to 3 to offer choice of games, watched pard wrap up 9 or 10 tricks, and then wondered later how other North-Souths had gone down.

bobby wolffMarch 10th, 2012 at 6:13 am

Hi Jim2,

Well South might have chosen to open 1NT and then, of course North would eschew Puppet Stayman (even if NS happen to be playing it) and raise to 3NT. Once a heart was led (and why wouldn’t if be?), 9 easy tricks.

However once South decides to open the more popular 1 spade, North was making a limit raise with his 2NT bid so our legs are being stretched when you suggest your rebid, although worse choices have often been made, but too X rated for column purposes.

jim2March 10th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

As South, holding a more-than-minimum balanced hand with stoppers in every suit, I think I would always offer partner a choice of games should I accept a limit raise invitation. (That is, if pard responded a limit 3S, I would also have bid 3N.)

If pard’s valuation was based on lots of trump support and a singleton, then I would expect pard to revert to our suit. Here, pard has no shortness, no fourth/fifth trump, and most of the hand’s value comes from running the diamond suit. There is no trump honor (or side ace) such that the suit could be established by ruffs and then run.

Thus, the most likely reason a suit game would make and not the NT one would seem to be that the opponents run a suit that one of the round suit doubletons stops via a board ruff and then the diamonds run later. However, South’s raise to 3N promises a balanced hand with scattered strength outside spades, so North mighth well be advised to stay with the 9-trick game.

In the column hand, with North the declarer at 3N, I would expect a club to be led from East’s king-ten-fifth. It would run to partner’s QC, and the question would be the best play for overtricks.

bobby wolffMarch 10th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Hi Jim2,

You make a very convincing argument, especially your assessment of the playing strength of the North hand for NT. Somehow what you say together with my value judgment suggests North only raise to 2 spades instead of making an artificial limit raise via 2NT.

Undoubtedly, at least in my mind, I could never fault you, but rather applaud your decision, to offer 3NT with the South hand, instead of 4 spades, but possibly the wrongsidedness of the contract plus the uncharted deviation from what is considered to be discipline in the high-level world has kept me, through the years, from going in that specific direction.

Edgar Kaplan used to distinguish between what he called daring (if successful) but foolhearty (if not) in reporting discipline violations but nevertheless, although he, like I, had respect for those who do, all I will add is that “when one does, he better be right”, especially in a crucial situation in an important tournament, otherwise he risks being thought of as too much of a risk taker to be a consistent winner.

I appreciate both your imagination and your candor and will leave it to others to make judgments.