Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 28th, 2012

An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.

Nicholas Murray Butler

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

*One ace or two kings


Terence Reese was the expert's expert when it came to writing. He was the first to publicize plays that are now part of every top player's repertoire. The following example, from his book "The Expert Game," shows how ruffing-squeezes materialize, and also how good players build up a picture of the whole hand and convert that assessment into a winning endgame.

When this hand occurred in the Cavendish Pairs, the field generally elected to open one diamond, although the hand offers an impossible rebid no matter what happens next. To my mind that argues for a strong opening bid. Be that as it may, a sizable percentage of the field went overboard in six diamonds, and only one pair was lucky enough to make it when the opening lead by an uninspired West was the spade king. However, the contract is actually laydown on any lead but a club, and should be brought in if East makes the understandable early discard of a spade, allowing South to read the position in that suit. Declarer simply runs all his trumps but two.

In the five-card ending, West must keep three spades and one heart and must thus bare his club king. Now declarer leads to the club ace and ruffs a heart, reducing West to three spades; then a low spade from hand endplays West at trick 12.

If West keeps two hearts and three spades in the five-card ending, a club to the ace executes the same squeeze. West has to release a nonmaterial card because declarer still has a trump left.

Your partner's jump to four hearts suggests a heart control and a slam-try for spades. With nothing to spare for your initial action and a wasted heart queen, simply sign off in four spades. To cuebid five clubs, you might need, say, the trump king in addition to your values.


♠ 10 5 3 2
 Q 7 4
 10 3
♣ A J 7 4
South West North East
1 1
Dbl. 2 4 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


Bob KiblerAugust 11th, 2012 at 10:33 am

“Uninspired” seems a bit severe!

Readers’ note: The play describes South’s play after a HEART (or a diamond!) opening lead.

David WarheitAugust 11th, 2012 at 10:42 am

“Declarer simply runs all his trumps but two.” Should be “all but one”

The slam depends upon: a) one opponent having the king and queen of spades (24%), b) the same opponent having the king of hearts (46%), c) diamonds being 2-1 (70%), and d) not getting a club lead (?%), or overall something like 6%.

I wouldn’t be too harsh on the west who led the king of spades. If he had had the king-queen of clubs and led the king of clubs, that would have killed the slam stone cold dead at trick one.

Iain ClimieAugust 11th, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I prefer my old boss’s even more warped definition of an expert – an “ex” is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure. Less flippantly, it is an impressive demonstration of how long suits can apply unbearable pressure; after all West really must have fancied his defensive chances early on.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffAugust 11th, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, certainly uninspired, used in the context hoped for, was merely referring to result not, if Iain will excuse the pun, non-expert.

Perhaps though, because of the bidding, particularly North’s 3NT bid, a spade seems more dangerous than sacrificing one’s hope to score up the diamond queen and lead one (from a super optimistic thought a low diamond lead might just catch Jx in partner’s hand with a possible manufactured setting trick a feint hope).

Bridge, particularly high-level, is full of many decisions, some hard to qualify as right or wrong, percentage or non percentage, but nevertheless present for all to see and later judge. Therefore the word inspiration should probably not be meant as anything more than divine providence with that particular term referring only to the card god.

Thanks for your comment.

bobby wolffAugust 11th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Hi David,

Yes, declarer will play all but one of his trumps, but the reference to two allows the reader to think of a five card ending for West and his having to, or thinking he had to, bare his king of clubs when declarer led his penultimate trump.

Are you sure that it is only 24% that one opponent would have both the KQ of spades or were you including the other necessities for success, also adding, e.g. either a singleton spade honor or a misdefense having, of course, to do with discarding incorrectly while trying to guess declarer’s last few cards?

As noted in my comment to Bob above, uninspired was not meant to be harsh, and is only thought to be in bridge, at least to me, unlucky, e.g. without inspiration.

Finally and probably not necessary to be commented, if West would have led a club, KQ or not, there would not have been a column on this hand and all of the bridge thinking talked about would never have transpired.

The above does not in any way belittle your always usual right-on analysis.

bobby wolffAugust 11th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, by adding a touch of humor to the serious task of complete bridge analysis you are, in effect, with apologies to “The Sound of Music”, adding a spoonful of sugar to let the medicine go down.

Why do there simply seen to be so many more bridge experts out there than there seem to be bridge players, or is my negativity simply taking over my rational thinking? Your breaking down the definition of one seems to have cast a light where, at least I think, it belongs.

Finally, in my rather long career, I would only classify only two, three or perhaps even four or five of who I would consider rising significantly above the others, but to qualify my opinion, I did not have the privilege of playing against others who might be placed in the running by some, whose opinion should be respected.

Iain ClimieAugust 11th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I think Í have a flippant answer to “why are there so many experts?” Peter Drucker was a management specialist credited (with W.E. Deeming) for ideas which helped the Japanese rebuild their economy from its wreckage to world beaters in the 1970s. He was asked why there were so many more management “gurus” as time went on. “Guru is so much easier to spell than charlatan” was his acid reply.

David WarheitAugust 11th, 2012 at 4:54 pm

You mention the possibility of a defender having a singleton spade honor, but as south played the hand, he led a low spade at the critical juncture, which would fail against a singleton spade honor, although I suppose he might have concluded by the opponents’ discards that that was his only hope. There is, though, the possibillity of someone having doubleton king-queen of spades (7%). As far as misdefense goes, sure, but I see no way to measure that possibility, and I further see no long-term happiness to a player who relies on that to happen.

Final point: if the opening lead is a club, the best line is to win the ace and lead a spade, intending to finesse the jack. This succeeds if east has the king and queen or the king- or queen-doubleton or 4 small (total: over 35%). Even after a diamond or heart lead and running 7 diamonds and the ace of hearts, then crossing to the club ace, this is still a viable option, and may (depending on the opponents’ discards) be a theoretically better option than the one chosen.

Jeff HAugust 12th, 2012 at 6:59 am

Why aplogize to “Sound of Music” when the song you reference is from “Mary Poppins”?

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Hi Jeff H,

Thanks for setting the record straight, but all Julie Andrew’s performances always used to thrill and entertain me so, at least I make an excuse for my idiocy.

“Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could, so somewhere in my youth and childhood, I must have done something BAD”.