Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Strait is the gate and narrow is the way.

St. Matthew:14

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


The first two days of the spring nationals feature the Baldwin North American pairs, for which one qualifies by district; a small field reduces down to a 14-table final. At last year’s event, in Memphis, the winners were Jordan Cohen and Barry Senensky, who were among the lowest qualifiers for the finals. If not for this deal from the first qualifying session, they might not have been playing on day two.

The deal emphasizes that one should not play bridge in a vacuum, but should take advantage of any indications provided to you by the opponents. You exploit such variations at your own risk, of course, but a skilled player soon learns what and whom to believe!

Against the delicate spade slam (I might use a less flattering term had the contract not come home), West led a trump, taken in dummy. Declarer, Jordan Cohen — who is the son of one of the stalwarts of the American Contract Bridge League, the late Ralph Cohen — followed up by running the club jack, which lost to West’s king.

He won the spade continuation in dummy and was now faced with a choice of lines. Rather than rely on strict percentages, he tested his table presence by advancing the heart king. When South played low smoothly, Cohen decided that the ace rated to be wrong. He ruffed the heart, then finessed in both minors to come to 12 tricks. He was lucky, perhaps, but he exploited the lie of the cards to the best advantage.

You have twice indicated that you have a miserable hand, but partner has still made a slam-try. Arguably you should cuebid four spades now, but that is very risky if partner misreads you. If you have to put up or shut up, then your hand looks closer to a jump to a slam than to a sign-off in five clubs.


♠ 2
 9 7 3
 J 9 7 2
♣ Q 9 8 7 2
South West North East
2 Dbl. 3
Pass Pass Dbl. Pass
4♣ Pass 4 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


David WarheitApril 2nd, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Congratulations to Mr. Cohen for making the hand. I would have played the hand differently and gone down, but i think in the long run my line is better.

Win the first trick in dummy and advance the king of hearts. If east has the ace, it’s all over: 7 spade tricks, the queen of hearts, the ace of clubs, the ace and queen of diamonds, and a club ruff, losing only one club trick. Even if west has the ace of hearts, my line of play still works if a) the diamond finesse works and b) hearts are 4-4 or if one opponent has J10x of hearts or if west has AJ or A10 doubleton of hearts. It also works if one opponent has J10x of hearts and the diamond finesse does not work, provided west does not lead a diamond when in with the ace of hearts.

Mr. Cohen’s line works if the clubs lie favorably and he guesses what that lie is plus he needs either the diamond finesse or the heart ruffing finesse and he guesses which one works (or on a really good day, they both work).

Jane AApril 2nd, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Interesting suggestion on BWTA hand. Seems fairly obvious that nothing is going to split well, so a bit scary to me to bid six clubs, even with north letting all of his dogs out of their pens. On the first hand, a void in partner’s opening suit is not usually a gift, right? The slam made, and it is tempting to bid it, but with the void and a worthless doubleton to deal with also, rather courageous. Guess this is why they won the event. Go for the gold and hope that is what you get.

Played with a new partner yesterday who asked if I would play Wolff sign off. Since I don’t know the system, I had to decline, and then he said how could I not know since you play twice a week at our club. Good question, right? Can you link me to info on Wolff sign off so I won’t be embarrassed any longer? I must be missing something really cool. My new partner was just having some fun with me, but I am always up to trying something new.

bobbywolffApril 2nd, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Hi David,

Everything being equal, you are probably correct in that your line may be better than Jordan’s. However, experience should dictate that when East does not cover the king of hearts the odds are far lower than 50% that East has the ace.

Basically, as you know, you are trading the above fact for the suit breaking 4-4 instead of anything else and while 4-4 might be close to 50% it is still lower than that.

Zia wrote a Bol’s bridge tip solely on, “When he (s) doesn’t cover he(s) doesn’t have it” and while he was basically talking about different types of standard finesses, he probably would have included this one within his discussion.

It is entirely possible that South messed up, didn’t use BW or other slam moves and should have, has a singleton heart and has nothing better to do but lead the king of hearts, hoping for a non-cover.

In no way, am I criticizing your suggested play, but only saying that my guess on East having the ace of hearts and not playing it, even against good players is very low, since not being able to see the declarer’s hand usually will make it a losing play to show the arrogance necessary to not cover what is in front of one’s face.

I do appreciate your comments and your judgment in what you explain. No doubt, you are an effective and therefore excellent declarer when given the chance. It is just that other elements, such as who is likely to have the ace of hearts, and by the time Jordan played the king the defender was probably in better position to duck it, if he had it, but Jordan was able to use his judgment and bring the slam home.

bobbywolffApril 2nd, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Hi Jane,

No doubt, the jumping to 6 clubs (even the possibility of doing it) is pushing the envelope and perhaps should not be tried at home, particularly with a partner who may be thought of as aggressive. However, having a 5 card suit even though only headed by the queen and a singleton spade which opposite length and only the ace plus of course a great club fit and other controls may be just enough to conjure up 12 tricks, allowing all your dogs to be comfortable in their pens.

Regarding the main theme of the AOB hand, luck (plus good judgment as was shown by Jordan), is often necessary to win a major pair event, without which, all the good (or even great) playing in the world will usually still not be enough.

Since my computer savvy doesn’t include any links, but perhaps with the exception of sausage, I would suggest checking the encyclopedia of bridge or a few books which are dedicated to discussing conventions.

However Wolff sign-off is prioritized to, after a strong bid of 2NT (not an opening bid, but a strength showing one such as a jump 2NT rebid after a one over one sequence or a 2NT overcall of a weak two bid opening by the opponents, and many others where a 2NT bid is based on at least some definite strength, then a 3 club bid by partner demands the 2NT bidder to then bid 3 diamonds and then either pass or sometimes only prefer one of two suits offered. If the Wolff sign-offerer then follows up by rebidding 3NT over partner’s forced 3 diamond response his bid then reverts to clubs being in the game and his taking the time to offer that suit as a forward going move with the sign-off nature of the bid then removed.

Although perhaps my circuitous description makes the bid sound complicated, but in reality, it is designed to merely be able to sign off such as by holding QJxxxx, xx, xxx, xx and having partner open 1 club (or somesuch) and deciding to keep it open with 1 spade (my choice), then after 2NT by partner, 3 spades by you is forcing, but instead bidding 3 clubs forcing 3 diamonds and then 3 spades is a command for partner to pass. Likewise with Qxxxx, Jxxxx, xx, x and after 1 of a minor Pass 1 spade Pass 2NT then 3 clubs by you forces 3 diamonds followed by 3 hearts by you allowing partner to either pass or prefer 3 spades, but no more.

Quote the raven, “enough” or to be more authentic, “nevermore”, and if Wolff SO never becomes part of your repertoire you still have some chance to continue your winning ways, but heaven must then help you.

TedApril 2nd, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I think the passive trump lead may suggest that West is more likely to hold the heart Ace. If West is missing AKQ of hearts and declarer is likely somewhat short (he didn’t support the suit), a more aggressive lead might have been made for fear that declarer’s losers would disappear on a strong heart suit in Dummy.

bobbywolffApril 3rd, 2013 at 12:43 am

Hi Ted,

You bring up an interesting fact in normal bridge logic, especially when considering an opening lead.

One reason for why many of the world’s best players have track records of doing the right thing more often than others is the ability to qualify decisions using your thought on this and other similar subjects.

Thanks for adding to the discussion with something all of us should consider when about to make a crucial determination.

David WarheitApril 4th, 2013 at 7:07 am

There is an interesting point about this hand that took me this long to realize, which I believe reinforces my suggestion as to the best line of play. After the opening lead, east can easily see that south could have won the first trick, but he chose to win it in dummy and lead a high heart, rather than lead a heart from his hand. Why did he do that? Surely it would be better to lead toward dummy’s heart holding than simply to bang down a high heart from dummy. Oh, because declarer must be void in hearts. Therefore, east smoothly ducks (assuming he has the ace). Admittedly this is pretty high level thinking, but if you know that east is a high level player, well, there you are.