Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, September 21st, 2012

To throw away the dearest thing he owned
As ’twere a careless trifle.

William Shakespeare

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


Today's deal from the United Kingdom occurred in a Gold Cup match, a knockout tournament that is organized in its early stages across the whole country until the field is reduced to eight teams, whereupon the final stages are played at a single venue.

The hero of the deal was Gunnar Hallberg, who sat West. Gunnar is an expatriate Swede who came to London for the rubber bridge two decades ago and has since won a series of European and world titles for the English senior team.

You may want to cover up the South and East hands to see whether you would have found the winning play.

Against three no-trump the defense started with three rounds of spades, declarer holding up his ace until the third round. Declarer now needed to establish one of the minors, and the diamond suit is clearly the more promising option. It looks as if South will succeed because East cannot gain the lead to cash his spades.

However, when declarer cashed the diamond ace, Hallberg dropped his king! Now there was no way East could be prevented from gaining the lead with his jack, and three no-trump had to go down.

It was just as well for Hallberg’s team that he found such a good defense because in the other room North-South had lost their way and ended up in a hopeless five clubs. But Gunnar’s defense helped to level the board.

As my problems go, this one is a bit of a gimme. Your choice is to rebid one no-trump or to repeat diamonds. Just for the record, a call of two hearts would be a reverse, forcing partner to give preference at the three-level and showing at least an ace more than you hold. Of the two choices, rebidding one no-trump limits the hand and describes what you have; two diamonds wrongly emphasizes diamonds.


♠ 4 3
 K Q J 3
 Q 9 6 5 2
♣ A 2
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠ 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


John Howard GibsonOctober 5th, 2012 at 9:46 am

HBJ : As defenders with so little in the way of assets , it goes against our nature to waste a precious king ( unnecessarily ) under declarer’s Ace. Instinctive gut instinct/ reaction often gets in the way of vision and logic.
Sacrificing an honour in a calculated attempt to create an entry into partner’s hand is what good defensive bridge is all about. Even if partner doesn’t have the jack of diamonds , only an overtrick is lost. To defeat the game is the sole object of this exercise.
Bridge I believe requires every player to use a PRAYER MAT , where all we ask for….. is partner to have just one seemingly insignificant yet highly significant card.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 5th, 2012 at 11:47 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
thank you for your reply to my question on yesterday’s blog. I didn’t know, forgive my ignorance, that failing the test, at least in this instance, referred to wrongsiding the contract. From now on, each time I hear “operation successful but patient died” I’ll think of you…

bobby wolffOctober 5th, 2012 at 12:54 pm


Playing good bridge requires several baby steps, but almost always involved with focus.

For example, although matchpoint bridge is a fun and exciting game it, like Whist (contract bridge’s grandfather), is just too difficult, mainly because of sometimes overtricks are just as important (or moreso) than is beating the contract) What if declarer would have held the jack of diamonds also (unlikely then to have led the ace rather than to finesse into the non danger hand), but still possible to do by a relatively bridge novice?

IMPs and rubber are the games of choice since the focus on defense is always (or almost) on defeating the contract. Gunnar never lost his focus and might have even dropped the king of diamonds earlier on the third spade. He would have lost the hand, however if declarer would have had three diamonds originally, but as you say only overtricks are lost.

Again, only baby steps are required, but learning to take them sometimes are as difficult as they are for a baby.

Thanks for your likening plays like that to a PRAYER MAT.

bobby wolffOctober 5th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Hi Michael,

Yes, just like a surgeon who performs well, but alas, the patient dies. Somehow he cannot languish in being pleased with his technique as he undoubtedly will not forget the result and although probably fated to have to live with the death cannot ever be happy.

Such is often the life at a bridge table, where even the most dramatic and well thought out plays and bids sometimes turn sour, but one of the distinguishing characteristics of the really great players is that they will accept those results and move on to the next hand, as if nothing bad happened.

As players like Zia have often said, “Bridge humbles us all and not to realize it, can lead to a series of poor results unless we control our emotions.” Try to fix what can be fixed, create superior methods when able, but above all, always firmly realize that bridge is the master, not ourselves.

Bruce KarlsonOctober 5th, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Did West infer that if South had the Jack he would take the safe finesse? Actually that is not that hard to find if even a player of my meager experience is ALERT. Or am I again missing something??

bobby wolffOctober 5th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, West certainly inferred that declarer, no doubt, did not hold the jack, as he would always prefer finessing into the non-danger hand, but even if such an inference was not almost 100% West, particularly this one, would have jettisoned his king for obvious reasons, hoping his partner had the Jxx.

No, you are not missing anything.

JaneOctober 5th, 2012 at 5:03 pm

A fine example of how to analyze every possibility and the need to find the location of a key card. Doubt I would have figured it out, but now that we see such an example and how it works, maybe I can remember it if such a hand comes up for me.

Do you like the three NT bid by south? I know the HCPs are probably there if north can double, and I it depends on the opps and how they play weak two bids. My partners (and I) would bid four clubs. Hard not to, seems like, but we can’t all have the perfect hand. I can also say we would not be in five clubs however. I believe north has to do something. Too bad he did not have a stiff spade and a third club, but then this hand would not have made your blog!

bobby wolffOctober 5th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Hi Jane,

It does seem that South’s 3NT response to North’s reopening double is the most practical response, admitting that East’s 2 spade opening has taken critical space away from NS’s communication. To bid 4 clubs instead is restrictive, bypassing 3NT, and by doing so lessening the most likely (at least I think) best game contract.

Thanks for submitting your always wise and well-reasoned response.

Paul BetheOctober 5th, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Nice play by West, but isn’t 3NT cold?

After 3 rounds of spades (pitching a diamond from dummy).
Run 4 rounds of hearts and E is squeezed.
A club pitch or a diamond pitch allows S to set up that suit, and 2 spades allows S play on diamonds for 1 loser (only needing 3 winners) with no more fear of east gaining the lead.

John Howard GibsonOctober 5th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

HBJ : What if declarer has AJ doubleton of diamonds and uses a heart entry to finesse. West holds off with his king. Declarer can play the Ace of diamonds but now he needs another heart entry to force out the king. So at this point he has 4H , 2D, and 1S but no entry to the established diamonds.
Now East is certain to get in with a club to beat the contract.
So surely with AJ it is better to play the Ace first and smile with West produces the King !
If he doesn’t ….no choice but to let it run

David desJardinsOctober 7th, 2012 at 5:18 am

Paul: The squeeze doesn’t work because when you run four rounds of hearts East pitches a spade and a club. Now you can set up the clubs but you don’t have any entry to enjoy them.

David desJardinsOctober 7th, 2012 at 5:25 am

Sorry, I see that you’re suggesting you play on the hearts *before* touching diamonds. That’s not unreasonable although there’s no guarantee you can read the position.

David WarheitOctober 7th, 2012 at 8:09 am

Paul: brilliant comment! Note that west also has to find a discard which may affect south’s play.

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Hi JHG, Paul and David (squared),

All of your comments together somewhat cover the bridgefront. However, like too many bridge hands, certain lines of play such as Paul’s suggestion of creating a squeeze ending, entail both certain distributions and card reading, all perfectly doable but nothing as simple as the king of diamonds held three long, and not jettisoned by Gunnar.

From the above we can begin to understand how and why certain players are regarded as painfully slow since they are usually perfectionist by nature and determined to regard bridge as a purely intellectual game with no time limits.

Such is a beginning of the discussion on how to administrate unusually slow play by very bright but determined players who do not hesitate to consume more time than others while playing our game.

jim2October 7th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I regret that I am out of town with limited pc acess, as I had tinkered with squeeze lines, as well.

The one comment I would add at this late stage is simply to note that West had already had one chance to jettison the KD. That happened when declarer won the third spade and not the second (East did open a weak two in first seat w/o the JS and so should have six).

Paul BetheOctober 8th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I agree that playing for the squeeze immediately and then guessing correctly after East pitches a spade and a club is not necessarily the indicated line.

@jim2 – If West discards the DK on the third spade, the squeeze (which still works) is probably indicated now, rather than only one possibility as before.