Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Necessity is the mistress and guardian of nature.

Leonardo da Vinci

North North
Neither ♠ Q 4 3
 A 5 3
 K Q 10 9 8
♣ Q 9
West East
♠ A J 9
 10 8 6 4 2
 A 6 3
♣ 6 4
♠ K 7 6 5
 K 9
 7 4 2
♣ 8 5 3 2
♠ 10 8 2
 Q J 7
 J 5
♣ A K J 10 7
South West North East
1 Pass
2♣ Pass 2 Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Two of the original ACBL Life Masters were players whose surnames differed by a single letter. We saw a deal earlier this month defended by Sam Fry; time, therefore, to credit Richard Frey, who was the fifth member of the Four Aces, the first team to take on Eli Culbertson. He collaborated with Howard Schenken in a daily column for over 30 years. Here is a deal that he defended expertly.

Against three no-trump, Frey (West) led the heart four. Declarer played low from dummy, and East won the trick with his king and returned the heart nine, declarer following first with the heart seven, then with the queen.

Declarer now attacked diamonds, and Frey could see that he would be able to win the diamond ace and clear hearts. But what were the chances that he would regain the lead with the spade ace before declarer had cashed nine tricks?

It is very easy to focus on your own hand and you own plans without considering what declarer might do to combat them. Here, Frey correctly concluded that he had little chance of success by clearing the hearts. Since he could also see the danger of ducking even one diamond trick if declarer had six clubs, he took his diamond ace at once and shifted to the spade jack. Since East had the spade king, with length, this ensured that the defenders could take three spade tricks and set the contract.

Even if you do not play two-over-one game-forcing, you should be safe jumping to three spades, knowing that partner will play this as forcing. For the record, double here would be penalties, a three-heart call would ask for a heart stopper for no-trump.


♠ Q 4 3
 A 5 3
 K Q 10 9 8
♣ Q 9
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2 2 Pass 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 14th, 2013 at 10:55 am

Hi Bobby,

The spade J is a lovely example of a surround play as the J9 sit over (and surround) the S10. Such plays are well known now but Richard Frey would have had to work it out at the table then, making the defence that much more impressive. When looking back at hands played decades ago, it is always worth noting how much less knowledge was readily available in bidding and play.



bobbywolffMarch 14th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Hi Iain,

Well said, since in those early days the top players were blazing their own trails, rather than the recalling of other very similar hands in which they, or someone he had read about, had carelessly allowed to make, by his mind not being at the ready when defensive opportunity was presented.

Especially, such as this hand, when both the ninth and fulfilling trick is up for grabs, and without previous literature and experience on pouncing on a possible (certainly not a sure thing), graceful surrounding play, and then following through by executing it, is truly a glorious combination of art and brain power which was, at the very least, ahead of its time.

Pretty clever those late and great bridge players and very shrewd of you to recognize its magnificence.

Of course, from a cynical viewpoint the whole reporting of this hand could have been apocryphal, but whatever, it still will leave an overwhelming feeling in the heart of whoever is fortunate enough to both read and understand its beauty.

Bob HerremanMarch 17th, 2013 at 11:23 am

The art for the art ! as a famous poet said.

Let’s forget (for a moment) about science .

bobbywolffMarch 17th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Hi Bob,

Many simple type squeezes (at least relatively so), end plays (arranging your side to play 2nd and 4th instead of 1st and 3rd) at the appropriate time, and even by simply “counting the hand” knowing how a suit or suits are going to break during, instead of after the hand, are all an important “art” associated with good high-level technique of our game.

The above is common enough so that the art and so-called science (which you mention) is blended together often, making the playing of bridge a very unique process.

Sure chess is also very graceful, challenging and very tough to master, but the famous poet who said “The art for the art”, whether he knew it or not, was referring to contract bridge with possibly crumbs left for whatever fell into place behind.

Thanks for your poignant thought.