Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 8th, 2012

It's true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.

Henry David Thoreau

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


All this week's deals come from the 2011 Bermuda Bowl from Veldhoven in the Netherlands. Today's deal features a defensive maneuver that eluded one of the players at the, table who was faced with the problem. See if you can do better!

At both tables West passed initially, then upped the ante to four spades at his next turn. Neither East nor West could bid on to five spades over five hearts though; perhaps if East had doubled to show extra shape (NOT penalties), that might have got West to do the right thing.

Anyway, with five spades easy to make, the East-West pairs had to defeat five hearts to avoid disaster.

When Bobby Levin was on lead, he started with the spade ace, on which Steve Weinstein played a suit-preference eight, calling for the higher of the unbid suits. Making sure there was no confusion, Levin thoughtfully played the diamond king at trick two and continued the suit for one down and plus 100 for USA 1.

In the other room Joe Grue also started with the spade ace, and he too switched to a diamond at trick two, but he played a low diamond rather than the king. Justin Lall had to decide whether the spade king was standing up or if his partner had the diamond king. He got it wrong when he won the diamond ace and then tried to cash a second spade. Declarer, Lew Stansby, could ruff and was able to claim 11 tricks.

The choice is between an attacking heart and a more passive club — though you could get lucky and hit partner's suit. If you gave me one more heart intermediate (say the 10 instead of the five), a heart lead would be more attractive; but here a heart lead could easily give up a cheap trick even if partner had an honor in the suit. Put me down for a low-diamond lead (or the nine).


♠ Q 10 4
 Q 9 7 5 2
 9 5 4
♣ K 3
South West North East
1 NT
Pass 2♣ Pass 2
Pass 3 NT 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 WarheitOctober 22nd, 2012 at 9:34 am

Methinks east should play the king of spades on the opening lead. If he did so, west could scarcely not lead the king of diamonds at trick two. Yes, I suppose it is possible that south has queen doubleton of spades, but I still think east should play the king.

Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2012 at 10:19 am

Hi Messrs Wolff and Warheit,

I’m bemused by this hand as most pairs playing ordinary length signals would play the S8 at trick 1 to confirm the even number and then, when West switches, east should surely realise that there is no 2nd spade to cash. It all seems odd to me.

As EW can make 5S perhaps they could (until they see the net score) console themselves slightly. The IMP scale means that having 2 disasters on one board (not bidding 5S and then letting 5H make) is iess of a mess (if 5S is bid and made at the other table) than 2 separate adverse game swings.



bobby wolffOctober 22nd, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Hi David,

An interesting comment, yours, provoking me to offer further ramblings:

1. Special meanings to specific intended signals are sometimes (too often) misinterpreted by partner, even in very high-level (but sometimes) lesser experienced partnerships.

2. Sometimes, in the interest of respect to the particular partnership, bridge columnists write
in a too positive manner a presumed meaning to what sometimes turns out to be “confusion on the way to happening”.

3. From an opening lead standpoint, the opening leader, could possibly be hoping that declarer had the A10 of diamonds (with, of course partner having the jack and the singleton queen of hearts forcing declarer to have to guess the diamonds, especially if he did not hold the queen of clubs). Add that to the possibility that East had only 5 spades (to the king but, of course without the diamond ace) and at least to Joe Grue (sitting West in the partnership which went off the rails) his playing a low diamond (the deuce) should indicate (he was hoping) a major honor in the suit to his partner while at the same time (playing 4th best) exactly 4 of them.

4. Strictly to David (but, of course, available to all who are interested), in the early days of the Aces it was unanimously agreed that a player should never (in this case throw the possible taking King of Spades away at trick one) in the interest of making it easier for partner. If the partnership failed to read the exact holding, so be it, but it is just too hard on the psyche of the partnership to possibly throw the setting trick away in the interest of greater clarity.

4. In other words, but obviously quite significantly, Joe was hoping to have his cake and eat it too, by switching to a diamond, but allowing for his partnership to still have a chance if partner had only the jack, and of course to him, if partner had the ace instead, he would automatically lead back a diamond.

5. Bridge columnists sometimes do not do justice to the difficulties of the game, by just assuming that legal signals by defenders are always interpreted in the correct way by their partners.

6. As a constant reminder, bridge itself is the master and all the players merely pawns while playing this great game, sometimes keeping in mind the absolute necessity for all those players, both great and not so, to always be actively ethical, letting the card played speak for itself without undue emphasis or break in tempo to aid partner.

Also, possibly better left unsaid, to go even further, to actually stealthily cheat (especially in very high-level competition) should unequivocally and without fanfare, after a thorough and complete investigation, immediately get the death penalty.

bobby wolffOctober 22nd, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi Iain,

Although “Methinks there is much reason in what you say”, there is no assurance, only sheer speculation that in a team game (especially high-level) the EW at the other table will bid to the 5 spade make, especially since that contract would depend on the location of the queen of diamonds.

Also, as mentioned in my comment to David, sometimes legal signals to partner have to do with count and other times merely attitude and to further complicate, still other times to indicate suit preference.

This “three for the see-saw” enigma makes theoretical partnership discussion critical for aspiring players to engage in, if they have any hope of achieving significant necessary partnership communication in order to play this game at the level to which they both, no doubt, wish to achieve.

Not everyone likes only chocolate, so one’s partnership wavelength must be carefully adjusted to fit both.

jim2October 22nd, 2012 at 4:43 pm

A properly prescient East would bid 5D over 5C.

Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2012 at 5:19 pm

That was George Rosenkranz’s Bols Bridge Tip some years back – direct the lead in these circumstances. It does assume that East is prepared to go to 5S though and west may not be amused if he wanted to defend 5H.

jim2October 22nd, 2012 at 5:52 pm

There is also a rhythm in bidding, and North just did it, so (as East) I might be unable to resist.

(Also, if one reads North’s bid as implying hearts on top of South’s full-throated vul jump to 4H, there is no trump stack left for West to hold.)

Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Good point – and, as it actually works, my result merchant persona would shower you with lavish praise from the west seat!

bobby wolffOctober 22nd, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

Both of you deserve kudos for your latest comments.

Jim2 for his prescient (sorry for stealing your very descriptive word) comment about looking ahead and acting by using what he described as the rhythm of the bidding by lead directing which also indirectly implies no misfit (in this case only 2 little, but still feeling partner’s full blown jump) in the eventual trump suit (hearts).

Iain’s recall of GR’s Bols Bridge Tip many years ago is the type of memory indigenous to very top bridge players who have photographic type talent for everything related to our beloved game, not just limited to remembering the 52 cards and to who held what.

AviOctober 22nd, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff

I have a question not regarding today’s column.
Last night my partner and I found our way to 6d with the following cards:
W holds:


E holds


South leads club Q.
I think there are 2 lines to play on:
Establish Hearts. requires H are 4-4(33%),
H are 4-4 (33%)
OR 3-5 (23.5%)
OR 5-3 with N not holding the Ax or 8x D (3%) –> 0.03*23.5 = 1%
OR 5-3 with N diamond holding being exactly A or 6 or 5 or void (24%)–> .24*.23.5 = 5.5%

I think that going for the crossruff covers both issues and gives an additional 6% chance.

We would appreciate your comments on the math, and perhaps the preferable play

Thanks in advance for your thoughts

P.s. Obviously, we would appreciate all of the blog’s readers input

jim2October 22nd, 2012 at 8:05 pm

What sequence of plays are you proposing for the crossruff?

bobby wolffOctober 22nd, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Hi Avi,

First, I am not a natural mathematician, but rather more of an intuitive player, consequently will sometimes (probably more often than I suspect) take an inferior line than I should, but, at the least, I hope that my line is never markedly worse.

I would win the Ace, throw 2 clubs from dummy on my AK of hearts, ruff a club low cash the Ace of spades (throwing a club), ruff a spade low, ruff a heart low, ruff a spade, and ruff a heart with the 7, and then intend to ruff a spade (and hope not to get overruffed and a trump back) with hearts not breaking 4-4.

I think that while my play is somewhat mundane, I must discard a club, not a heart on the ace of spades, otherwise I run a risk of an in front of me player (West) to be able to discard a heart on my 2nd club ruff in dummy.

I may be missing something important, and, if so, I apologize, but these types of problems are tedious for me and require more time than I care to give to quantify the various seemingly infinite percentages.

Good luck and I’d be interested in what you, Jim2 or whoever else could suggest as the overall best percentage line.

Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’m very flattered by the compliment on my memory, but I’ve got a copy of the complete book of Bols Bridge tips at home. Sorry, I’m not that good.