Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Do not men die fast enough without being destroyed by one another?

Francois de Salignac

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

*Spades and a minor


Not rushing in with a high card was the key to the defense in this hand from the 2002 McConnell Cup Women's teams, where England won the match by knocking out Austria.

A couple of points to note in the bidding: After South had shown a two-suiter with her opening bid, the response of four no-trump asked for the minor. East’s first double suggested defending, and her second was purely for penalties.

Against five clubs doubled Nicola Smith cashed her top two hearts, then accurately switched to a trump. Declarer won in dummy, then played the spade two, on which East, Heather Dhondy, accurately followed low. Dhondy had appreciated that there was no rush to take her spade ace, for even if South had held the king, there were not enough trumps in dummy to cope with the rest of the suit.

South’s queen lost to West’s king and back came a second trump, won by South with the jack. A spade ruff was followed by a low diamond. Again East declined to rise with a top honor, and the eight in the closed hand lost to Smith’s nine. Had East risen in diamonds, she would have had a difficult continuation, and declarer might have ended just two down. As it was, the heart queen return was ruffed in hand, and another spade was ruffed in dummy, but now declarer had to concede two further spades for four down — plus 800 to England.

A simple jump to four spades looks obvious, but you might well do better to prepare partner for the possible five-level action in a red suit from your opponents. I play a jump to four clubs not as a splinter, but a fit-jump, the values for a four-spade call and a good source of tricks in clubs. This way you can bid four spades later and help partner make the final decision at the five-level.


♠ Q J 9 7 4
 10 3
♣ A J 8 7 5
South West North East
1 1♠ Dbl.

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


David WarheitApril 17th, 2012 at 9:21 am

South’s play of the spade queen on the first lead of the suit makes no sense to me. If he plays the nine instead he “only” goes down 3 for -500, a poor score, but not the zero I’m sure he got. Note that at the time he led the spade from dummy he knows 8 of west’s cards and 2 of east’s, so the odds are 11-5 that east has the ten, but even if the odds were a lot less, playing the 9 is still the right play.

jim2April 17th, 2012 at 12:13 pm

David Warheit –

I think you’re right on the QS versus 9S. (BTW, it was a team game, not matchpoints.)

I just know that if I had somehow managed to summon up the nerve as East to follow low to the first diamond round, that South’s singleton would have been the knave, not the eight.

bobbywolffApril 17th, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hi David,

Your analysis meets all high standards and is on the money.

When one considers East, Heather Dhondy’s double duck, both in spades and in diamonds and the Austrian South’s not playing the 9 of spades (your suggestion) instead of the jack, with the rational intention of later letting the queen ride as a “loser on loser” play in order to develop an extra spade trick and thereby reducing the set from -800 to -500 anyone paying attention should immediately recognize Heather’s numeracy ability, but not so South.

It is all a learning experience, first of all for the experienced players to learn what is necessary in the play in order to produce extra tricks from time to time, while at the same time raising one’s game a notch and with it, gives a certain quiet confidence to those who accomplish it, to perhaps compete a little more vigorishly knowing both partners will acquit themselves respectively by taking the most tricks available.

In physical related sports, sometimes the above is next to impossible merely because a competitor just does not have a suitable body for the necessary combination of speed, strength and coordination, but in mind sports, I think it possible, by hard work, to expand our brains to include what is necessary to compete in world class bridge competition.

However, since I am not anywhere near an expert on such subjects, what do you and others have to say?

bobbywolffApril 17th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt, we had been writing our response to David at the same time and yours appeared after I had finished mine, and probably likewise for you.

Sometimes declarer “gives away” that she didn’t have the diamond jack, usually by her body language, but sometimes by her timing of the hand. Does it usually make a difference? You bet it does! While proper bridge ethics forbids one from going beyond a certain amount of subterfuge in order to “attempt to convince the defense to do the wrong thing” at the same time ethics does not require anyone to give her hand away by her extra curricular behavior. For example, on this hand, a fairly fast lead of a low diamond from dummy and perhaps early on, might tantalize East into going up, thereby enabling the declarer to guess well later to also save at least one trick in the play.

jim2April 17th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I quite agree that many good players get better as their “table feel” kicks in.

On this hand, I could also see the “duck” theme having taken on a life of its own. That is, East just ducked a small spade with good results (“Whew! If I had gone up I would have decapitated pard’s singleton KS!”). Now, when declarer calls for a small diamond, East could easily get caught up in repeating the duck. I’m not saying that is what actually happened; it’s just that I can see that it COULD have happened that way, or been a factor. The players were human, after all.

bobbywolffApril 17th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Hi Jim2,

Well said, but once a defensive player (or a declarer also but usually at a different pace), begins defending, the absolutely first and paramount undertaking is for the defense, based on the bidding and to a smaller extent the opening lead, but after seeing dummy begins to envision the declarer’s specific distribution (sometimes difficult, but surprisingly, often slam-dunkish). It is this acquired necessary habit which separates the wannabes from the already arrived. That process may be a little like being able to pilot an airplane (although I certainly cannot), once learned, probably never forgotten.

JaneApril 17th, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Very interesting, but I think my partner would have put me in five hearts, making on any lead. Neither side is vul, and with distributional hands, is it wrong to try for the game than risk only getting a two trick set? Yes, I know five clubs is not making, but how do you know how many they are going down?

East’s hand is fine since partner obviously does not need help in hearts. Spade ace and ace, king of diamonds? Yummy.

Too many ducks in this pond! My retrievers would have enjoyed the hunt.

bobbywolffApril 17th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hi Jane,

Yes, you would have scored up your +450 post haste. These hands are so close when they become competitive, especially at matchpoints when the frequency of gain outweighs the amount of gain.

It does seem that EW were more in control of their destiny than were NS, since 5 hearts was there for the taking, but this particular EW exceeded that by defending flawlessly (together with a little luck).

In answer to your question, I know of no rules to always follow. There is a certain logic to the 3 and 5 level should be reserved for the opponents, but only because those are the only two levels which are the highest levels before bonus’ kick in at the next level for games and slams.

Pretty clever for this advice offered, but Al Davis probably said it best, “Just win, baby”.