Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

Woody Allen

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


The 80th anniversary of the European Bridge League will take place this summer. Ten years ago, commemorative plaques were presented to former European Champions. Two of the greats who are sadly no longer with us, Giorgio Belladonna and Rixi Markus, jointly hold the record, with 10 apiece. Both died approximately 20 years ago, having dominated the game in the 50s and 60s.

Today’s deal features Giorgio Belladonna on defense during the European Championships of 1967, held in Dublin, where he gained his sixth title as a member of the famous Italian Blue Team. In those days negative doubles were not the norm — Belladonna’s double was for blood. Defending two clubs doubled, Belladonna led the heart queen, then switched to a low diamond, away from his ace. East won with the king, and proceeded to cash the ace and king of hearts, on which Belladonna discarded the nine, then, essentially, the diamond ace.

East now played a diamond, which South ruffed with the club nine. Belladonna refused to overruff, discarding a spade instead. South tried a low club toward the jack, but Belladonna inserted his queen, then got off lead with a spade to dummy’s ace. There was now no way that declarer could return to his hand without Belladonna scoring another trump trick scoring 200 for Italy.

You can see that if West had not discarded his diamonds on his partner’s winning hearts, declarer would have had a safe re-entry to hand with a diamond ruff.

Your partner has shown a balanced hand, somewhat better than a strong no-trump. With your side-suit singleton you appear to be offering partner diamond ruffs as well as quick tricks in clubs. Despite your bad trumps, it feels right to jump to four spades now. Just for the record, I believe a call of three clubs would suggest long clubs and a very weak hand, not the 13 cards you hold.


♠ 7 6 3
 J 8 3 2
♣ A K 9 7 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2♠ Pass 2 NT 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 ClimieAugust 30th, 2012 at 9:55 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Fine defence but look at the bidding! Even in my most reckless moods I wouldn’t view that as a vulnerable overcall while the double with 1 heart and a partial diamond fit could misfire – what if NS escaped to hearts and East doubled and led a top trump? If west passes, north may well try 2NT where he will have a rough time.

Still, you can’t argue with Giorgio’s many successes but can I ask what you would have bid on the West hand either with or without negative doubles? I’d pass or even consider 2D rather than dbl or 2S but weren’t EW playing Blue Club? Canape was an integral part of that so perhaps this explains things.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffAugust 30th, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Hi Iain,

Your series of probing questions is well directed and is entitled to a closer examination so here goes:

1. Giorgio was undoubtedly one of the probably five or no doubt, ten best players who have even visited this planet. You can take that assessment from someone who played literally thousands of hands against him (many World Championships 1972-1975 and 1983, losing all but 1983 and only winning that one (176 board match) by 5 IMPs. Also played against him in a specific 800+ board match (there was also a shorter match held in a previous year against the same two teams) in the early 1970’s while playing for the Aces against him playing for Omar Sharif’s team, known as the Circus. (won that one by slightly over 100 IMPs, but his team had certain weak spots). There were many other encounters through those years in other invitational high-level events, too numerous to recall. He, and of course, his nothing short of genius partner (most of the time), Benito Garozzo were, at least to me, easily the most effective bridge partnership of all time.

2. In those days bidding, even at the highest levels, could not match the science which is now fairly common at those lofty levels, but as far as the declarer play and defense, you would have to experience it yourself to appreciate how difficult they were to defeat.

3. Their teammates on the Blue Team, except for Pietro Forquet, (who was almost as good as they and also belonged in the exclusive top ten of all-time) were very average players, who made many mistakes and would fit in nicely as good and wary club players, but no better than that.

4. In addition Giorgio was one of the nicest people who ever graced this earth, once getting up in the middle of the night, driving perhaps 100 kilometers to a nearby town in Italy (from Rome, his home) when he heard that Peter Weichsel had taken ill and was in a hospital in that town, just so that he could oversee his medical care and do whatever was necessary to help him. His social personality was very entertaining, dressed impeccably, and was always (except perhaps at the bridge table while competing) great fun to be around.

5. There was a downside which I went into in my book, and will not cloud my opinion of what happened (beyond any doubt) with any further discussion about that at this time.

6. Back to the hand in question, it seems that he and his partner were playing a normal system without negative doubles and so he chose a penalty double. It looks like EW can make 8 or 9 tricks in spades (depending on the defense) while NS can fairly easily manage 9 tricks in hearts. That being an aside, since what happened was that Giorgio decided to double 2 clubs, but then proceeded to defend it beautifully and produce a set, similar to a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat (his low diamond switch and then partner rising with the king etc. was the featured attraction).

7. Yes, Blue Club featured Canape, but he was probably playing with his regular partner, Judge Walter Avarelli, and their system was Roman Club which was a more natural system and the most common one played in Italy and along with Acol among the most popular systems played throughout Europe, especially during that time period.

8. Yes, I agree with your choices in the bidding, rather than making a penalty double, but I do not find it profitable arguing with what Belladonna chose, especially with the result. As to South’s choice of overcalling 2 clubs while vulnerable, No, I wouldn’t do it, but my experience tells me that while this hand is just too weak, bridge is still a bidder’s game and possibly getting a club lead may be necessary should West become the declarer. in either NT or game in a major.

Sorry for the long winded answer, but your interest should always be respected and I am happy to oblige, particularly so, since your questions always provoke thought worth relating (at least in my opinion).

Iain ClimieAugust 30th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Many thanks for all this – very interesting background as well as a good answer to the question.

jim2August 30th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I would note that in the bidding quiz, that 2N in the sequence:

1M – 2M

is often used by partnerships initiates a relay to 3C to let opener then make two-way game tries.

jim2August 30th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

“to initiate”

Really, really wish there were an “edit post” feature here.

JaneAugust 30th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

One of my partners and I play that a 2NT bid in this sequence is a help suit asking bid. Since there is help in two suits, I would jump to game, but this is an ideal hand for the system we use. But even without using this system, I would jump to game also since partner should have quite a nice hand. To me, it says pick a game. A three spade bid as responder over 2NT would then show the worst possible hand, wishing partner good luck in whatever he chooses to do next.

Always interesting to learn about bidding styles and other systems.

bobby wolffAugust 30th, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for initiates your intelligent use of 2NT in that sequence.

I have trouble keeping up with all the new innovations, most of which are significant improvements.

Also I intend to make a concerted effort to enable my colleagues to feel more at home in keeping this site interesting.