Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, February 22nd, 2013

When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte

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


Nowadays in a European Teams Championships the boards are pre-dealt, the same boards are played across the field, and hand records are available at the close of play. All this is a boon for bridge journalists.

On today’s hand, from the 2010 event, the popular contract was five diamonds by South. Whether it made or failed depended to a large extent on the activities, or lack of them, by opponents during the bidding phase.

When West employed a gadget to show both majors over South’s one-diamond opener, declarer was able to pinpoint the distribution and play accordingly. Additionally, if West led and continued hearts, the majors could be eliminated and East endplayed. The worst-case scenario for South is a trump lead. With a certain heart loser, the contract depends on losing just one trick in clubs.

West is known to have at least five cards in each major, and has shown out on the second round of diamonds. So he can have two clubs at most. Of course a simple line would be to play West for the king, but the odds favor him instead tp have the jack or 10. If that is so, South can secure his contract. A low club to the nine loses to the 10, and back comes, say, a spade. Now, so long as declarer has retained a trump entry to dummy, the club queen can be led, neatly bringing down West’s jack, an example of the intrafinesse at work.

Your hand may look as if it will play well at no-trump because it is so square, but the holes in all three of the side suits (and the soft cards) simply make it look like a hand without much future. With such square shape I'd simply raise to three hearts and not make a cue-bid raise of hearts. Whether partner has one, two, or three small diamonds, this hand won't be pulling its weight.


♠ J 10 4
 Q 5 3
 K Q 4
♣ Q 9 3 2
South West North East
2 2 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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 8th, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I seem to recall Gabriel Chagas first coined the term “infra finesse” but there is also the point that West will need nerves of steel to duck with CKx , K10 or even CKJ – the last is surely too hard. Yet what if the CJ or 10 does appear from West when you lead towards the CQ? The most likely holding then is surely CJ10 as a singleton might have been led. If declarer plays the CQ he now has a decision on the next round of clubs (there is clearly a winning line). If he ducks, expecting CJ10 on his left, then he may have been conned by someone larking about with CJx or C10x. 2nd hand high here can cause doubt, at least for a good declarer.


Iain Climie

bobbywolffMarch 8th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hi Iain, (and why do I call you by your first name and you address me as Mr.?), Yes I am much older, but by this time, we, at at the very least, should be on a first name basis.

Your bridge memory is A, OK and indeed it is the mercurial Gabriel who originally established the intra-finesse into bridge literature through his Bols bridge tip. Also he is quite an accomplished raconteur, speaking many languages, having a good singing voice, and always with a superior sense of humor. In addition, he would be on every experienced and knowledgeable player’s top ten list of all time great players.

You have also isolated the more than you let on, possibility of declarer’s LHO originally possessing either the Kx as against more likely percentage of the Jx or 10x when declarer decides on his 2nd club lead once the 9 is intra finessed losing to a mid level honor. The KJ and K10 will play itself out on the first lead of the suit when declarer rises with the queen in dummy.

On this specific hand and upon leading a low club to the 9, should declarer play West for bidding vulnerable with only a somewhat barren 5-5, without the king of clubs or take the finesse which also wins whenever LHO is either 6-5 or 5-6 once either the 10 or jack appears.

To possibly help declarer, there is always the possibility that West, holding a singleton 10 or jack of clubs might lead it, hoping to create a bell ringer immediately (with partner holding the ace), but only the “Shadow” will know for sure.

It is so very sad to me, that bridge is not in American schools so that the various educational problem solving which is inherent in our game, perhaps more than any other game except perhaps chess, can be put to future use in so many aspects of our lives, involving business, medicine, law interpretation, crime solving, and even every day decisions of focusing on why someone, often even family, made one decision rather than another.

Iain ClimieMarch 8th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this and perhaps time for me to relax the infamous British stiff upper lip, at least on this blog. It is also my birthday (55) so perhaps I can let some of my remaining hair down.

Back to the subject of ducking for a moment, in 1979 I watched an England vs Scotland match on VuGraph with south playing a suit contract and Hugh Kelsey as East. There was a singleton in a side suit in dummy and it was clear (seeing all 52 cards that East needed to duck his Ace when the suit was led to give declarer trouble. The commentator said “east is a prolific writer of good books so will doubtless be up to ducking here – oh, no, in goes the Ace” to some amusement.

Notwithstanding this case, Hugh was a fine player and even better writer but managing at the table what might be right in practice is always a problem. I’d be happy to get anywhere near half his standard, but have you any tips for helping to reproduce at the table the plays that are often studied and seen away from it? As Mollo said, “A theoretician is one who can tell you the right play or bid ten seconds after he’s done something different”.



Iain ClimieMarch 8th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

OOPS – “Practice” should be “theory” in last paragraph above

bobbywolffMarch 8th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Hi Iain,

You’ve touched a sensitive nerve, not necessarily with me, but with others, some top ten players, some top ten authors, and thousands of up and comers the world over, among our best and brightest, who aspire to join those subjective lists.

Another name for Victor Mollo’s definition of a theoretician is a “napkin player”, a player with the talent, upon seeing all 52 cards, or sometimes only13 (in the bidding or 26 in the play, sometimes all 26 assets as in declarer, or 13 and 13 on defense plus usually the opening lead, unless that is the play subject to discussion.

Perhaps a numbered list is the way to go in order to at least tend to reduce subjectivity:

1. A “napkin player” is usually a brilliant type analyst, specializing in the play and having a firm understanding of all forms of the playing of cards featuring bridge, including the always advantage of having one’s own side playing 2nd and 4th to tricks instead of 1st and 3rd. His judgment in the placement of cards in the unseen hands is often limited to the bidding and previous play, but not to the often subtle psychological tells which tempo, tendencies and experience often make visible even seeing only the backs of other player’s cards, but, in reality, as transparent as if he was sitting behind them, peeking at their cards.

2. The history of bridge (since Vanderbilt thrust Contract Bridge into being in 1927) has had a run, but since it has been difficult, to say the least, to compare it with the wildly moneyed world sports of today, has suffered from not keeping up with the specific statistics, world view, media concentration, and overwhelming interest other sports now enjoy. Bridge is only to blame itself for not finding the proper handle to infiltrate, teach, titilate, but above all, sadly not creating a viewing audience, up to now, although BBO is trying its best, the unbelievable positive, competitive, challenging, exciting, incomparable mind sport which bridge offers to an unfortunate minority of people who are capable of understanding the off-the-charts mental battles always present, especially among the best players.

3. Our best and most popular bridge authors are no more capable of excelling in the game than are sports writers and (used to be) radio announcers and now TV commentators in all the other major world sports (which include soccer, American football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, track & field, car racing, yacht racing, cricket, bowling and I am sure many others). They merely report, as Mollo suggests, what should have been done, after the fact. Also in bridge reporting, the whole hand is transparent, like it is in chess and sometimes in poker, but even then the commentators, not being totally trained in bridge analysis and for that matter, usually pro bono, should not be expected to point out, or for that matter even qualified to predict what is going on in a top player’s mind even with the benefit of seeing all 52 cards.

4. All of the above other sports mentioned had to go through a growth period and have now reached a high enough exalted position to be able to throw money at all aspects of the game, therefore professionalizing the playing and also the reporting. The result is extreme popularity as it would be in bridge, although some less educated, culturally forbidden and therefore many less interested people, (certainly a majority of the world’s population) would not be prospects for inclusion.

5. My intention is only to give my view of why bridge has not achieved anywhere near the heights of the above mentioned sports, not to insult anyone, because what I also believe is that all of our significant bridge authors have contributed mightily in keeping bridge alive and well and still being played with world wide competition available to all who have the time and economic industry to compete.

Bridge truly merits the WBF motto of “Bridge for Peace” since the world’s players who compete against each other offer only respect to those who play well with the people who do, just being judged on their bridge ability and not social or certainly other political considerations.

At least to me “Idiots wage wars (though some are basically forced to occur), while intelligent people spend their time creating, discovering, improving, helping achieve, while also playing games such as bridge which encourage higher overall levels of intelligence, not to mention, if allowed, to stimulate worldwide peace among nations”.

Sorry for the ramble, but as I said in the beginning, your subject strikes a nerve.

Iain ClimieMarch 8th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hi Bobby,

No problem at all, and plentiful food for thought to keep on the napkin theme. The most backhanded compliment I’ve heard at bridge was “I don’t know how good X is, but he certainly talks a good game.”