Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 31st, 2012

The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
And cut a flower beside a ground bird’s nest
Before it stained a single human breast.

Robert Frost

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



Today's deal was a fascinating clash between Zia Mahmood and Tony Forrester, with the latter coming out on top, as he did in the event as a whole. A big win in the last round gave the Gold Cup team a clear victory, allowing Andy Robson to equal Zia's record of seven wins.

When Forrester led the club-king lead against three no-trump, Zia won and fired back a club, which Forrester ducked. Quite reasonably, Zia took the diamond finesse now. Forrester won and faced an awkward problem. He cashed the club queen (on which dummy threw a heart) to avoid being thrown in with that card, then exited with the spade jack. This should have been fatal. Zia put on the queen, but failed to unblock the 10 from his hand.

Had he done so, he would have been able to get home in two ways. The first would have been by leading the heart king, and when West wins and returns the heart jack, declarer ducks and West is endplayed. Or Zia could have crossed to the spade ace, cashed all his minor-suit winners, and exited with his last spade. If that were the 10, West could duck it, but as it is, declarer would have been able to put West on lead and come to his ninth trick in the majors.

Zia did not know the diamonds were 5-1 at this time, but the spade-jack exit might have given him a clue to the layout.

You have three choices: an invitational two no-trump; a reverse to two spades to show the major-suit pattern; and a cautious two clubs, planning to come in again if partner does not pass this call. The first two bids are right on values; the third leaves you space to explore. Put me down as a two-club bidder, but don't ask me to justify it!


♠ K J 6 4
 A J 10 8 4
♣ K Q 5
South West North East
1 Pass 1 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 ClimieSeptember 14th, 2012 at 9:58 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I wondered at first if Zia had misplayed the diamonds but I was wrong. Bashing out diamonds from the top works well if they are 3-3, 4-2 with the queen dropping or 5-1 with singleton Q. Finessing gives 6 tricks with 3-3 and queen onside, 5 tricks with that break and the queen offside plus also against 4-2 with Q onside. DQ singleton on the right pops up in either case. He was doubly unlucky as most players lead small from KQxx(x) so there is an inference that West is less likely to have short diamonds as his clubs may be KQx and he hasn’t led a spade. Ouch!

I presume 2NT is some sort of enquiry about strength, suit quality, side features or similar so 3H will have a specific meaning. If intended to show a fair weak 2, not a minimum, south should clearly complain about North not holding the D10.


Iain Climie

JaneSeptember 14th, 2012 at 1:48 pm


What would you do with the south hand? I don’t object to north’s two heart open, but then it gets interesting, right? So many points, no good place to go. I get these hands all the time, know I should bid something, also knowing in NT I might never see partner’s hand. Would a bid of 2NT be OK, then pass partner’s three heart call and wish him well? For those who play a new suit bid over a weak two open is drop dead, three diamonds looks pretty good also.

bobby wolffSeptember 14th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Hi Iain,

I doubt if I can improve (or even equal) your comprehensive overall analysis so I’ll just lie back and both enjoy and accept it.

Both Tony and Zia are battle hardened very tough competitors and this hand is an almost perfect example. While bridge is thought of as an intellectual mind (rather than physical) sport. trying to slither through various almost impossible to decide options, usually takes a decided toll on one’s endurance, forcing the specific player to test his resolve.

Thanks for your contribution, which, in turn, is very helpful to me in passing your thoughts on to other interested readers.

bobby wolffSeptember 14th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Hi Jane,

Some hands, this being one of them, involves experienced judgment in deciding what to do by South over partner’s weak two heart bid.

Truthfully, I doubt if anything intelligent can be determined, due to the limited choices and, of course, dependent on the particular partnership’s conventional responses.

While I do play non-forcing suit responses, methinks this hand is just too powerful to settle for a NF 3 diamond response, so I’ll up and venture 3NT, the most likely game (IMHO). and hope to score it up.

The play above is well described with both the column itself and Iain’s comment to rely on and does remind me of one of Shakespeare’s famous lines from I believe “Julius Caesar”. (but, alas, I may be wrong). “The play’s the thing in which we will learn the conscience of the King” will, in this case, refer to South’s reaction to both the bidding and then the drama of the declarer’s play.

As an epilogue, I do not like settling for less than game in the bidding since an unknown huge card (such as the diamond queen) will never be detected in the bidding, nor will my heart holding (void) ever be appreciated by partner, having to play in that suit.

Thanks, as always, for writing.

David WarheitSeptember 14th, 2012 at 5:00 pm

On BWA: there is a fourth choice: PASS! This hand is probably a complete misfit. Unless partner has something like ace sixth of clubs and either strong diamonds or queen-jack of spades, no game is at all likely. So, I pass.

Jeff HSeptember 14th, 2012 at 5:43 pm


Your quote is from Hamlet, in which Hamlet uses a play about regicide to determine that King Claudius (his uncle) had murdered the former king (Hamlet’s father).

RogerSeptember 14th, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I agree with David that pass should be an option – particularly at matchpoints. That is the first call that came to my mind.

At IMPs, you are probably obliged to bid… If you end in a no play 3NT, the other side will probably be there as well.

bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your opinion of the hand probably being a misfit and therefore pass is your choice, with the possibility (although not mentioned) of the opponents coming into the bidding, which in the end may wish they hadn’t.

Pass, to me, is like kissing one’s sister. Sure it is a live choice and one which may succeed, although by doing so I consider the risk much greater than attempting to find a right card or two (perhaps just a surprising fit in another suit) which makes the hand far too dangerous to go quietly.

Anyway, we will never know and probably, at least for either you or me, just as well.

I always value your always well considered opinion.

bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the accurate information about the quote with both the play and the reason for it.

Among all writers I love and respect Shakespeare more than any other and, as I inexorably age, often wonder how he learned so much about life and always seemed to present that information in an unbelievably superior way.

bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Hi Roger,

Your differentiation between matchpoints and IMPs is, in my opinion right-on.

Since frequency of gain, rather than amount, is, to me, the basic difference between those two diverse games, it then will follow that in matchpoints, particularly if the opponents now venture into the bidding, may magically cause a better board for your side, to make a pass beneficial as against hoping for some luck in finding a right card or two with partner to enable some game to make (likely 3NT, though it may take, even then, the right opening lead for you to make it).

In any event, I appreciate your what I consider, sophisticated choice and the stated reasons.