Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 17th, 2012

In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Orson Welles

North North
Neither ♠ A J 10 8
 A J 7
 9 7 6
♣ Q 9 8
West East
♠ Q
 K Q 5
 A Q J 10 4 3 2
♣ K 4
♠ 9 6 5 4 3 2
 K 5
♣ J 10 5 2
♠ K 7
 10 8 6 4 3 2
♣ A 7 6 3
South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2 3 3 Pass
4 All pass    


One of the most successful formats for events in the United Kingdom is Swiss Pairs. An event of 12 eight-board matches typically takes place over three days. The format pits pairs who are doing equally well against one another, and it is now the standard format for the first weekend of the annual Brighton Summer Congress.

Today’s deal features a well-conceived defense by Richard Winter and Phil Godfrey from a recent championship. Against four hearts West, Winter, found the best lead, his bare spade queen, declarer winning in hand with the king. Seeing all four hands, one can easily see the way to defeat South’s game, but as the defenders were not blessed with X-ray vision, they had to rely on accurate signaling to direct the defense.

When South led a low heart at trick two, Winter split his heart honors. Declarer won with dummy’s ace and continued with a second heart. East discarded the spade nine on this, a card that could not convey attitude since both East and West knew declarer had all the missing high cards in the suit. So what should the card mean? Logically, it had to be a loud suit-preference signal for the higher-ranked of the other two suits — in this case, diamonds.

On winning with the heart queen, Winter underled his diamond honors. Godfrey won with the king and returned a spade. Winter’s ruff with his last trump was the third defensive trick, and the club king eventually set the game.

The range for a balancing call of one no-trump is 11-15, perfect for this deal. Be aware that it might even be right to bid one no-trump with this hand if the minor suits were reversed. Showing a club stopper is less important than describing the range and balanced nature of your hand.


♠ A J 10 8
 A J 7
 9 7 6
♣ Q 9 8
South West North East
1♣ Pass 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 31st, 2012 at 9:15 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Good defence but declarer has a possible counter if he reads West for HKQ(x) based on his known long diamonds and spade shortage. If he ducks the heart, east has no opportunity to signal and it is always worth stopping such chances. A bit double-dummy though.

The quote is a classic but isn’t it Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) in “The Third Man” film, I think. He is at the top of a ferris wheel and looks down at those far below, sneeringly describing them as looking like ants. I don’t think the actor himself had such a problem with the Swiss!


Iain Climie

barry rigalAugust 31st, 2012 at 9:38 am

Maybe the quote is attributed to Orson Welles because he actually wrote it. According to wikipedia — where else? — it was his idea to say this.
He must have been a multitalented individual — but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of him playing bridge…

Iain ClimieAugust 31st, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hi Barry,

Thanks for this and how are things? The last time I saw you was in 1983 (I think) when I was playing with Steve Green – he is still in Warwickshire I think. I gather you are in the US now.

I got fed up with the game (OK my futile attempts to play it well enough) in the mid 1980s and stopped for 25 yrs but started playing again about 12 months ago purely for fun when working away from home. Not only am I enjoying it far more, but I’m not even sure I’m playing that much worse than when I took it seriously.

All the very best,


JaneAugust 31st, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Good point. Ducking the first heart trick makes it quite hard for east to figure out who has what. Does his partner have the club ace or the diamond king? Is the heart nine a singleton, or doubleton, trying to signal what to lead this way somehow? Who’s on first? I would need a psychic vision on this hand if declarer lets me hold the first heart trick. I guess it is too risky to potentially sacrifice the club king to find out. Looks like east should go for gold and still underlead the diamond ace. He might get fool’s gold instead, but at least he went prospecting.

jim2August 31st, 2012 at 2:12 pm

If declarer reads the lead as a singleton and the lead of a non-diamond as West denying a safe diamond lead (hence ace but not king), then the only threat is a spade ruff after a diamond underlead.

Perhaps maximum confusion for the defense can be created by winning the AS and leading low towards the 10H. In the current layout, West might conclude the pointed suit kings are reversed from the actual and not do the underlead.

The extra risks declarer would accrue would be if trump were 2-2 (and AH then heart would always have worked) or West having a singleton heart honor (but if QS were truly a singleton also, this seems remote).

bobby wolffAugust 31st, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi Iain and Barry,

Ever since Orson tripped the galaxy fantastic, in leading our rebel country in reporting the beginning of the famous “War of the Worlds” 70+ years ago, in that long remembered radio program which convinced millions of Americans we were being invaded by little green men, he has been a controversial character.

When he played Harry Lime in the Third Man Theme, perhaps or perhaps not he was taking his acting like Ronald Coleman took his in “A Double Life” when portraying an evil character he became that character.

In any event he would now be disappointed to learn the latest news, that his late and great performance as “Citizen Kane” in the title role which for more years than I could count was universally (I think) regarded as the greatest movie ever, but now in a recent pole has lost that distinction to “Vertigo” filmed not as long ago, but, at least at that time, was not thought to be anywhere near as sensational as it has now been awarded.

In any event. Cuckoo clocks have their place, you do not have to be cuckoo for one of them to wake you up, so the Swiss need not be embarrassed for having invented them but, if doubtful, just ask Jack Nicholson.

If it wasn’t for my great blogging friends, my early mornings would never be the same.

bobby wolffAugust 31st, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Hi Jane,

Which was not discussed in the column, perhaps East should play his nine of spades at trick one, intending to show suit preference between diamonds and clubs, if West had the unlikely KQx of trumps, (more likely the opening leader having Kxx and declarer declining the trump finesse, hoping to be playing it safer), but even if not, to let partner know that he could supply the King for partner in case partner only had 6 good diamonds instead of 7.

Also, I loved your term, “prospecting” since great defensive plays sometimes only turn out that way because of luck, which, in turn, has often been defined as when preparation (studying and loving the game) meets opportunity.

Some intelligent bridge player once said, “Make every card count”, and although very few of us live up to that lofty goal, it is worth thinking about.

bobby wolffAugust 31st, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your analysis is right-on, but for declarer to win the opening lead in dummy and lead a small trump reminds me of what Orson Wells or perhaps rather, Harry Lime, said about the Swiss except we might drop the word clock.

If declarer executed that coup (where cuckoos may be kept) I would do one thing immediately, either hold my hand up or ask the declarer which round he had already played that hand.

JaneAugust 31st, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Just noticed I kept typing east when I meant west regarding leads, card placement, etc. I am sure everyone figured this out. Thanks for the comments however. Fun to share, as always.

bobby wolffAugust 31st, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Hi Jane,

East is east and West is west and never the mark shall meet.

The wonderful thing about bridge players is that we all speak the same language, so typos matter not.

Jeff HAugust 31st, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I find it interesting that Swiss Pairs has never caught on in the US. A few years ago I was living in Southern New Jersey, and the Deleware unit decided to have it as one of the events at their spring sectional. Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that my partner and I won our strat, but I thought it was a lot if fun. In our case, it was 8 7-board matches in two sessions, and we were relegated to the low table when we were blitzed in the first round, but we did not stay there long.

I have since moved and have tried to get the local tournament chairs to try it. Maybe I need to get on the committee to push for it from the inside.

David WarheitAugust 31st, 2012 at 8:53 pm

It’s Ronald Colman not Coleman. He won the Oscar for best actor for that role. Thanks for reminding us of him.