Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 16th, 2012

The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest.

Thomas Carlyle

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

*Both majors



Today's deal comes from the U.S. trials of a couple of years ago, where two of the top pairs in the country, Bobby Levin and Steve Weinstein, lost today's battle but won the war, when their squad emerged victorious to represent USA in Veldhoven in 2011.

The auction may look confusing, but all the spade calls were artificial. Weinstein showed the majors, letting Brad Moss show clubs and a game-forcing hand. Now Fred Gitelman as North initially showed his spade stopper, then when South showed both minors and slam interest, his four-spade call was a cue-bid. After the double the four-no-trump bid suggested a hand better than a sign-off in five clubs, so Moss bid the club slam.

When Bobby Levin kicked off with the spade jack, Moss won the ace, knowing that he was likely to have to ruff a diamond in dummy. If East was going to follow to a round or two of diamonds, then trumps were going to break badly.

Accordingly, at trick two Moss crossed to hand in hearts, played a club to the nine, cashed the ace-king of diamonds, and played another diamond. That way Moss could ruff the fourth diamond in dummy without losing a trump. This approach would also have been required with a few specific layouts when West had as little as jack-third of trumps.

Not surprisingly, Moss was the only one of four declarers who brought home this slam. If you start with a top trump from hand, the bad trump break dooms you.

You are far too strong to jump to four spades, but the fact that everyone is bidding suggests someone is light for his action. You should cue-bid three diamonds, planning to bid a forcing three spades next (or cue-bid four diamonds if partner bids three spades). If partner shows no signs of life, give up at four spades.


♠ A 7 5 4 3
 9 5
 A K 5
♣ A 9 8
South West North East
1 Dbl. 2

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


jim2March 30th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Many times – in bridge and many other things – difficult or even seemingly-insolvable problems can be resolved if one can identify the key point.

When Brad Moss did precisely that when he realized that he would have to ruff a diamond. I do not think I would have seen that as he did.

No line seems to cater to all layouts, but the one Moss chose seems to cover most and, most importantly of course, it worked for the one actually at the table.

bobby wolffMarch 30th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for your to the point discussion of Brad Moss’ brilliancy in scoring up this club slam.

You described well that nothing was guaranteed, but Brad’s line, though subject to heartbreak (especially if East had the singleton club jack), was the best percentage line available and deserved immense praise.

Now, if the bridge media reported on both success and failure in the same unbiased manner, the bridge leadership shown would eventually prove to many avid enthusiasts just what our wonderful game is about, “sometimes you need guts to achieve glory”.

Without a concerted effort by each of us involved to promote the sensational competitiveness possible the game will likely never be known as well as it should be. To achieve such a thing we need a cogent organization to take over with the express purpose of getting what needs to be done, mainly to get bridge into the USA primary and secondary schools as a course for credit.

Believe me, if that can be accomplished, it will grow the playing of bridge to be a giant eventual successful promotion with little downside risk and an advanced substitute for the teaching of logic the way it is presently now done.

And to make the experiment even with greater potential, young people with high numeracy quotients will start emerging everywhere.

DavidMarch 30th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I’m curious about the bidding at the three tables where the slam did not make, since the knowledge that East holds (approximately) 10 cards in the majors is essential to the inference regarding the club suit, once it is assumed that diamonds will break as they must for the contract to succeed. Do you know what the bidding was?

Edgar Kaplan used to argue against competitive two-suited bids on the ground that they often enable declarer to succeed when he otherwise would not.

Jeff HMarch 31st, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I always find that reference to opinions of experts interesting (like David’s reference to Kaplin). You ask 6 different experts for their opinions and you may get 7 different answers.

I know, for example, that Bobby does not like coded 9s and 10’s (J denies) but Eddie Kanter teaches it in his books and thinks it helps the defenders a bit more often than it helps declarer. And on that same subject, Larry Cohen said that he and Marty Bergen played in against lower level competition because they thought it helped them more than the opponents, but not against other experts, since they felt that the expert was more capable of taking advantage of the information from the lead.

bobby wolffMarch 31st, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Hi David,

Please excuse my delay in answering, but I was playing in a local tournament (with mediocre results).

Yes, I also remember Edgar (and many other top players) suggesting, if the gain versus the loss was not worth chancing, to not help declarers out (particularly gifted ones). However, at least to me, major suit takeouts often ring a bell with partner which is sometimes enabling, allowing very good results in the form of making distributional contracts or at least pushing the opponents higher than they want to be.

However, although you didn’t bring it up, both the bidding convention of support doubles and the leading convention of jack denies, are sometimes of value, but overall I firmly believe that support doubles help good opponents more than themselves by allowing those adversaries to be much more accurate in assessing their own trick taking potential (especially when someone makes one and his partner than reverts back to the partnership minor), which now becomes telltale. With jack denying, often it allows declarer to play the hand double dummy, when it would be much more difficult for him without such help.

No advice given in bridge is ever close to right 100%, but as Damon Runyon once quoted, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet” and therefore I would not play either of those conventions.

bobby wolffApril 1st, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hi Jeff H,

I answered David before I read your comment. and now realize that at least one subject has been cross discussed.

What you said about Bergen-Cohen rings true and I would heartedly endorse their decision to only play jack denies against less than stellar opposition. But going a bit further and bringing up Bergen raises, the same might apply since while using them perhaps that partnership will be somewhat more accurate in their game or no game (or maybe even slam) decisions, but it also lionizes the opponents with many more options such as showing different degrees of interference and also helping the opening lead, by either doubling an artificial response or not doubling, suggesting another suit as well as finding out opposite your holding of three of their suit and a 4 card major suit raise being shown to now recognize your partner as having a singleton.

“You pay your money, you make your choice”.
My choice is to remain mysterious to my opponents (especially very good ones).

David WarheitApril 1st, 2012 at 2:33 am

So, if you play certain conventions only against weaker opponents, how do you state this on your convention card? And when you make a bid that might be such a convention, you have to explain the possible meaning(s), but do you have to tell the opponents whether you believe them to be weaker or stronger? How much does physical fear enter into the answer to this question?

bobby wolffApril 1st, 2012 at 4:50 am

Hi David (W),

Methinks it would probably be illegal, or at the very least bordering on it, to play different conventions during a single round of duplicate bridge. I never considered what Larry Cohen suggested had anything to do with changing convention cards back and forth during a single session, but perhaps I am naive.

Anyway, I do not suggest that anyone decide to do what you are describing. At the very least it is sleazy and, at least to me, definitely not ethical.

More importantly to me is that Larry and Marty seem to agree with me on the pronounced weaknesses of jack denies.