Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 19th, 2012

As far as I'm concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.

Albert Einstein

North North
North-South ♠ K 10 7 4
 4 3 2
 A Q 7 3
♣ A 8
West East
♠ Q J 8 5
 8 2
♣ K Q J 9 7 4
♠ A 9 6 2
 K J 6
 10 6 5 4
♣ 3 2
♠ 3
 A Q 10 9 8 5
 K J 9
♣ 10 6 5
South West North East
1 Pass
1 3♣ Dbl. Pass
4 All pass    


A vise squeeze conjures up images of the jaws tightening till something has to give. In England it is called a vice squeeze, which conjures up a completely different image.

You don’t recognize the maneuver? Well, Antonio Sementa demonstrated it nicely here in a deal from the 2011 Bermuda Bowl.

Whereas four hearts had gone down without a fight in the other room (declarer winning the first club, cashing the heart ace, and running into a trump promotion), Sementa ducked the first club, then led out the heart ace, and overtook the diamond jack with the diamond queen to play a second heart. East won the king and exited in diamonds.

Sementa won in hand, drew the outstanding trump, then tested diamonds, ruffing the fourth diamond back to hand. He had reached an ending where he had played four rounds of hearts, two clubs and four diamonds. He could simply have played for the spade ace to be onside now, but the auction had suggested this would not work.

Instead, Sementa led out the last trump. He was hoping to find the queen-jack of spades onside together with the club guard. And so it proved. On the last trump West had to pitch a spade, reducing to one honor and his master club, and now declarer led a spade up to the queen, king and ace, scoring trick 13 with the spade 10.

Do not show this problem to anyone of an impressionable age or to a player suffering from a weak heart. My recommendation is that you use four hearts as a slam-try in spades, neither promising nor denying a heart control. The logic is that with four of a minor being natural here, you need a slam-try for spades. The choice — quite a reasonable alternative — is to jump to five spades to ask for a heart control.


♠ K 10 7 4
 4 3 2
 A Q 7 3
♣ A 8
South West North East
3 3♠ 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 ClimieNovember 2nd, 2012 at 9:54 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Nicely done although I remember a hand many years ago where my partner also ducked the first trick in a suit where LHO had jump overcalled with dummy holding Axx and declarer having xx. Yep, they were 7-1 and the Ace got ruffed at T2. As things were going badly anyway, all we could do was laugh.

Ironically a weak player might wrap this up in double quick time – CA, trump finesse at T2, HA and then bash out diamonds losing 1 trump, 1 spade and 1 club then wondering how the expert in the other room could have had any problems!


Iain Climie

Michael BeyroutiNovember 2nd, 2012 at 11:04 am

Hello Mr Wolff.
Please forgive this egregeous question. You are the “scorer” of the problem hands given in the Bidding Box, the monthly feature in the ACBL Bulletin. As you provide a score for every plausible contract on each hand, you are in effect giving a scale that is fair, unbiased, objective and quantitative with which to measure the performance of a given bidding system or convention. This is a great benefit as it removes to a great extent the bias and subjectivity of those who want to sing the benefits and advantages of such and such convention or system. However, I was wondering how useful is it, or how realistic is it to measure the performance of a system against such hard to bid hands. Aren’t they rare? Or very rare? Or do they come up more frequently than we realize?
I’d appreciate it if you could shed some light giving us your own perspective.

David WarheitNovember 2nd, 2012 at 11:45 am

Iain: I like your weak player argument, except declarer actually makes 5! He discards his spade loser on the fourth diamond and now cannot be stopped from ruffing his 3d club. Actually, since west pre-empted over south’s heart bid, it would seem this is the best line, since west would seem to be quite unlikely to hold the king of hearts; he might even hold the singleton jack.

Iain ClimieNovember 2nd, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for this and good point! Still, if he is really weak rather than sound he might just claim the 10 tricks or throw a club then try to sneak a spade through to the King. Either way, he’s got his game swing and declarer in the other room will have some serious explaining to do when he’s made 2 less tricks than a typical club player. Ouch!

Regards, iain

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Hi Iain,

As usual, both of your comments are instructive, to the point, realistic, and especially your last thought, amusing.

Furthermore you are a great friend to me and even more so to the game itself, with your somewhat cavalier, but downright right-on attitude toward what it takes to compete against the very best, being resilient when necessary, always honoring the game, but never failing to be respectful to all whose voice is heard.

Let me not forget to say thank you.

jim2November 2nd, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Count me among the weak players.

There is just no way I would risk West having a seven card suit. Also, if West somehow managed to have the AS, East can still always get a trump promotion if I cash AH and lead towards the QH. No, I am going always going to win the opening lead and try some sort of heart finesse.

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hi David,

Obviously your alternate suggestion about winning the first club and immediately finessing the queen of trumps has much merit, but since West was preempting after partner had passed originally (sometimes enabling a less predictable preempt), might have been a warning sign to declarer that West, not East might have had the king of trumps (either doubleton or worse singleton) enabling the defense to gather the setting trick early with now a club trick, subsequent overruff and of course, the ace of spades.

Nothing against your simple, possible line, but from a practical standpoint, Antonio Sementa’s actual line guarded against that possible devilish singleton king, found a way to execute a rare vice squeeze and created interesting reading for around the world bridge players, especially aspiring ones who relish exotic squeezes.

Thanks to you for having a keen high-level bridge mind and always active, which keeps me and all my team (or, at least, should) on our toes.

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hi Michael,

Your theoretical but pointed question certainly demands consideration.

Although I did not have any part in developing the contest itself, it has apparently attracted significant interest among aspiring bridge partnerships who value participating in it (both the actual featured contestants and many others who privately test their partnerships by bidding along, hoping to improve their systems).

Yes, the hands (which I also do not furnish, but only score them along what I hope to accomplish, objective and accurate results).

Are they realistic hands which computers do deal (or just people shuffled)? Realistically, I cannot answer that question truthfully, but from my years of experience they seem to be OK, but my mind may be suffering illusions to which I may be unaware and instead, just dreaming.

When I score them, I try and put myself in the position of both bidders and weigh what I myself may think about, when one possible bid or another (in my judgment) may be offered.

Whether I am flexible or imaginative enough during the above theoretical exercise is for someone else to judge, but the resulting final possible contracts from my method are then scored. While trying to be truthful about scoring them, I DO NOT cater (at least I hope not) to natural systems, strong clubs, relay methods or any specialized conventions or treatments which the partnerships may be playing (when scoring, I have no idea who may be the two partnerships competing, nor, of course, the systems used).

Finally, my own preferences for approaching high-level bridge, are probably more conventional and conservative than most, however I do respect excellent judgment which sometimes (not as often as I would like) encourage someone in the partnership to show supreme talent and hit a bullseye with the final choice and to that end I sometimes award a 12 (top) and even one time rewarded a certain bid, 13 (non-existent) but I thought appropriate.

Whether this bulletin feature is helpful in the long run to develop partnerships to very high world-class levels is very doubtful (since those levels require long time experience only obtained while playing peers over a large number of years and by making this statement let us see how our young stars of today advance in quality over the next 10 years+), but may well be a starting point for one or both of the partners to see the advantage in doing the work necessary to eventually get there (the formation of the Aces team in the late 1960’s would be an example).

I hope my somewhat psychiatric discussion is of some value to answering your excellent but politely demanding description.

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

There is nothing ever wrong with having the courage of your convictions.

The only worthwhile (I hope) caveat I can suggest is that (I’ve already mentioned this), once a possilbe preemptor has a passed partner, the range of preempts (particularly NV and even more so when at favorable vulnerability) is at its greatest, ranging from xxxx, x, xxx, KQJxx to, Qx, Kx, Kx, KQJxxxx, both with the the risks of too large a penalty, especially if partner is also not passive, to even missing a good game on rare occasions.

Is this commonplace in the high-level game?
You betcha it is, only proving still again that a majority of very good players realize and do not take lightly the tactical (poker like) part of the game and the desire to not be stereotyped.

jim2November 2nd, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Here’s what happens should I release the AH early, trying to protect against a singleton KH offside.


S A5 ———S QJ9652
H J6 ———H K6
D 854 ——-D 1062
C KQ9742 –C J3

A very friendly layout. The KH is onside, the AS is in front of the KS, trump are 2-2, diamonds are 3-3, and East does not ruff out the AC after the holdup.

East wins the KH, West gets in with the AS, and declarer loses another club.

In other words, playing the AH early means that declarer will essentially go down any time West has the AS.

So, is that more or less likely than a singleton KH in the West hand?

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi Jim2,

The dummy did have a 3rd heart to take care of the losing club. However, that fact does not prove that your line of play is not correct, only that Sementa’s play would have also scored it up.

jim2November 2nd, 2012 at 4:55 pm

You are right.

How about:

S A65 ———S QJ982
H J ————H K76
D 854 —-—-D 1062
C KQ9742 –C J3

Here, the AH even picks off the singleton JH.

bobby wolffNovember 2nd, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Hi Jim2,

Then, of course (say I with tongue fully in cheek), believe West with his jack of hearts not being a falsecard and lead 4 rounds of diamonds, winning the day (and with it the contract).

I also would then like to apply my house rules which distinctly say that you are only allowed one crack at the apple to win your case, and furthermore you have already used it.

Logic will not get you anywhere, since Sementa has paid me to defend him.

Iain ClimieNovember 2nd, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Hi again Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for your kind comments, but can I be forgiven an extra word and diversion about the vice. Terence Reese’s “The Expert Gane” identified the vice, the winkle and the stepping stone as unusual squeeze positions and, around 35 years ago, I played with an intelligent, cultured and studious partner (Mike Summers-Smith) who was an early mentor and friend from whom I learned a lot. One night everything just went absurdly well and I rattled off a few tricks in one contract, easily eliminated a few possibilities, and bashed down a few more cards. RHO started squirming and I had enough confidence in my youthful (19) over-confident “feel” for the cards that night to pull off a stepping stone squeeze without trying too hard; I admit there was more luck than planning involved.

A near top ensued, but partner was wearing a strange expression. He congratulated me, then said he’d wanted for years to pull off something like that and I’d done it sonewhat luckily by just bashing out cards. He grinned and asked if my parents had actually been married (or used a word suggesting something like that). You can’t please all the partners all the time.


Patrick CheuNovember 2nd, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Hi Bobby, Thanks again for your helpful comment.Best Wishes-Patrick.