Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

My family pride is something inconceivable. I can't help it. I was born sneering.

W.S. Gilbert

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


Thomas Bessis is part of what would surely be the strongest bridge-playing family in the world, since both he and his brother and his parents have been successful in U.S., European, and world championship events.

Here, he was declarer in four hearts. Against that contract West led the club queen, which was allowed to hold. A second club was ruffed by Bessis, who continued with the heart queen.

When it was not covered, he rose with the ace as, on the bidding, he fully expected East to hold the king — which might even have been singleton. Had West held high-card values, it was perhaps more likely that he would have made an unassuming cue-bid of two hearts, showing diamond support, instead of making the pre-emptive bid of three diamonds directly.

Next came a successful finesse of the diamond queen, then the ace and a diamond ruff eliminated the suit. A club ruff eliminated that suit too, and now declarer exited with a heart and could claim his contract when East won the trick.

The point was that with the minors eliminated, either he would receive a ruff and discard, or the defense would have to broach the spade suit, and with East on lead, the defense could get only one trick. If West had shown up with the heart king, East would have been a lock to hold the spade king, and declarer would have been able to hold his spade losers to one by force.

The best way to make a slam-try here is to jump to four clubs. This is a splinter raise of spades, suggesting short clubs, and lets your partner evaluate his assets accurately. A simple forcing raise of spades might work well, but the key may well be whether there are wasted values in clubs.


♠ A 10 7
 Q J 10 9 8 2
 A Q 6
♣ 5
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2 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


Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2012 at 9:49 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

What happens if West has HKxx (unlikely I admit, as east would have competed with a double) and exits with a trump? This now comes down to a possible infra-finesse in spades, if east has SKJx(x) but could west instead have SJ10(x) or play a cunning S10 from 10xx when a spade is led towards the queen? Covering works sometimes to endplay east, ducking is right if west has SJ10(x).

There are some awkward ramifications although I think declarer’s line is still sensible. Any thoughts?


Iain Climie

jim2May 15th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

When I “played” this before reading the column, I made it by a different line.

I pitched a spade on the third club, end-playing East. In that line, it does not matter which defender holds the KH.

The column line is better, though, because of the spade 9 – which I missed. That is the significance of the column’s terse concluding phrase and I can only beg humbly for forgiveness from Darvas, de V Hart, and Stern.


IOW, a small spade led by West can be ducked into East for the endplay, while the lead of the JS or 10S can be covered by the QS then the KS and won by AS, with the 9S and 8S left as equals against the remaining small spade honor.

Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Sorry, an extra thought. If trumps are 3-0 you can’t afford to play another trump but have to play on spades after eliminating the minors and hope to get it right. A bit nerve-racking to say the least.


bobbywolffMay 15th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Hi Iain and Jim2,

Between the two of you, all ramifications are covered in the end game leaving me with nothing else to say, but thank you, from all of our readers who take bridge seriously.

Having said the above, and despite feeling a bit intimidated, I will venture that since the diamonds are surely 4-4 (considering West’s weak jump raise) it is very unlikely that East is void in hearts, assuming East would have opened a club with 5 of them.

The constant numeracy which is so often involved in the high-level playing of our game, both as declarer and in the defense, often is of immense help in determining what might be and what probably isn’t the adverse distribution.

Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for this and I take your point about the bidding. It is possible to look at concerns which are too far fetched!


JaneMay 15th, 2012 at 8:00 pm

If east opens one NT (I would have), then it becomes harder to find that heart game. Now south can overcall two hearts ( again, I would have since that bid in my system is to play), then north, who should be quite happy with this contract has to decide whether to haul out the three heart bid or not. If north does, South has to decide how good is good! Fun game, this bridge.

bobbywolffMay 15th, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Hi Jane,

Yes, you are right in what might happen if East would open 1NT (which is within range of most tournament bridge players. South would usually overcall hearts in whatever way is the partnership style and North should raise to at least the three level. With a 3-6-3-1 distribution South would normally accept the invitation and then the fun begins, whether the declarer is up to the relatively simple throw-in.

My experience, for what it is worth, is that it all depends on how the bidding comes up as to whether or not one side or the other bids game. Sometimes an opponent’s NT opening makes it easier, especially against fierce aggressive overcallers. Wimps will not survive, being the prime reason that most good players think the game is made for bidders. “Bid em high to not have to sleep in the streets”! IMP or rubber bridge players can and do bid more than the same players would at matchpoints, exemplifing our subject.