Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 27th, 2012

When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle’s lost and won….

William Shakespeare

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

*three-card spade raise


At last year's Lederer tournament, Nicola Smith and Sally Brock demonstrated the form that has won them three world titles as partners or teammates. And they needed all their experience to break the seemingly impregnable slam reached in today's deal by Norwegian Thomas Charlsen.

North’s two-club call was an artificial game-force, and two no-trump showed a three-card spade raise. This was followed by Key Card Blackwood to reach the good spade slam. Nicola led the heart six, consistent with her actual holding, but also consistent with an original holding of J-7-6, J-8-7-6 or J-8-7-6-2. Sally defended well by false-carding with the queen when dummy played low, and Charlsen took his normal line in spades of low to the ace, followed by the running of the jack, so that he could pick up Q-(9)-x-x with East.

When Smith won her spade queen, she continued with the heart seven, and Charlsen decided to believe the opponents rather than playing to establish diamonds with one ruff. When he put in the heart nine, it was all over, and an unbeatable slam had been defeated.

Some commentators on Bridge Base thought Nicola would not lead from the heart jack against a slam, but when you look, you will see that the defenders have all four queens, so they might well have been pushed to find a safe lead. They had to lead some suit after all, and J-x-x-(x) might well have been the least evil. This defense earned Nicola and Sally the award for the best-defended hand.

On an auction of this sort, where declarer may well have a void, leading an ace looks like a bad idea. A trump looks safe enough; I might choose the seven for deceptive purposes in case partner has the bare queen, but there is very little to choose from among the small spot-cards.


♠ Q 7 3
 J 7 4
 A 10 5
♣ 10 7 5 2
South West North East
Pass 1
Pass 3 Pass 6
All 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


David WarheitSeptember 10th, 2012 at 9:43 am

I would have won the opening lead with the ace and cashed the ace-king of spades. When the queen drops, it’s all over except deciding whether or not to take a very small risk (west having jack-fifth in diamonds) to make 7. If spades are 3-2 and the queen doesn’t
drop, it would take west holding jack-fifth in diamonds and the queen of clubs to defeat me. Finally, if spades are 4-1 with no singleton queen, I would continue spades, win the return and finish drawing trumps and hope to pick up the diamond suit. Note that if spades are 4-1, I would play for the holder of the singleton to have the queen of diamonds, with chances of 4 out of 7 or even better if I’m playing east for the queen, since I will also succeed if west has queen doubleton of diamonds.

David WarheitSeptember 10th, 2012 at 10:11 am

Slight error: if the queen of spades drops doubleton, I take no risk trying for 7 and will fail, but still make 6, if 1) west has queen-fifth of diamonds or 2) if east has queen-fifth of diamonds and his partner has the queen of clubs or 3) if someone has queen fourth of diamonds and west has the queen of clubs.

jim2September 10th, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I, too, would have won in the opening lead in hand and taken the two top spades.

My reasoning would be that preserving the tempo gave me more chances in diamonds. For example, if one opponent has Q-third of spades, then diamonds 4-2 is still okay.

Also, I would probably have led towards the Board’s AS because I would have chances to cope with spades 0-5 (and some even for 5-0). If all followed to the first trump, I would lead the 7S back towards to closed hand. If West is revealed to have Q9xx, I wouldd know that I could not afford to ruff a club with the JS, and would adjust accordingly.

peter osbaldestonSeptember 10th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I think declarer’s play here is a classic example of having too much knowledge and not enough common sense. I venture to say that any intermediate level amateur (like me), would have made it in a heartbeat. Ruff a third diamond and finesse the spade for an over trick – a grand slam.

Iain ClimieSeptember 10th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

On the lead problem, is there a case for trying to suggest long clubs my leading the C5 and then playing the 2? If declarer is missing HQJxx (and the DA holds up later) this may nudge him towards thinking you have short trumps if anyone does.


Iain Climie

JaneSeptember 10th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Yep, declarer gets the award for the worst declarer play in my humble opinion. Too much thinking can make one’s head hurt! I am with Peter on this hand. All us intermediate amateurs would have pranced home with at least six and should make seven with the placement of the cards.

I don’t like the convoluted bidding either. Why not show what you have instead because maybe slam in NT is more optimal. When partner opens and I hold 18, slam in the major or NT should be there or at least a very strong possibility. I realize partnerships can choose and play any conventions they think work for them, but this one seems a little out there.

Iain ClimieSeptember 10th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

A further thought on the defence here is that it worked well but couldn’t west place declarer with something like SK108xx HAJ DQx CJxxx after East plays the Queen at trick 1? Now a club switch is the obvious way to give South a losing option in diamonds but look what happens instead – an extra club winner and plentiful options.

bobby wolffSeptember 10th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Hi Everyone,

For the next week, starting today, I will be in downtown Las Vegas at a local bridge Sectional, but a busy playing schedule, not allowing me as much time as usual to attempt to analyze as completely as I’d like to.

However, I, although probably offering more generalities than I should, hope to draw attention to what I think might be important.

Sally & Nicola have long been among the world’s very top individual women’s bridge players
and fairly recently have formed a partnership in the UK where their results have been outstanding.

Adding to their superior resume is their relatively simple but highly ethical approach to our game, making them a pleasure to pull for them (especially for me, sort of a contemporary to their careers).

Since I am not familiar with their Norweigan opponents I can only say that the declarer was probably taken in by the guile of Nicola’s opening heart lead (and then following by playing up on the 2nd lead of the suit) and Sally’s timely falsecard of the queen the 1st round.

As we all know it is quite different being a napkin player (analyst after the fact) and a player in the cauldron of battle while at the table. Sure everyone and his brother or sister would have made this slam, often with an insignificant overtrick (playing IMPs) but sometimes, especially with a lesser experienced player, although with sometimes great potential in control, will fall victim to table action and fly to what he sees in front of his face, rather than rely on just hard fast percentage.

The above, at least to me, is one of the beauties of the game, and like other sirens written about, should teach that naive declarer to beware of good looking female opponents (which our heroines are in NT) who are also among the world’s best. Once burned, forever learned, could be the fable.

Iain ClimieSeptember 10th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Perhaps the lesson is that extra choices and chances where none appeared before can give even very good players the chance to slip up. As I’d probably have led a club at the table, any implied criticism of the defence should be kept in strict perspective!