Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Heads I win; tails you lose.


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


In this deal from the final of the Memphis Life Master Pairs, I assume that most of us would fall from grace and open the South hand one heart, thus ending up in four hearts.

At the table, South received a club lead and led a heart to the nine, jack and king. Declarer won the club return, pitching a spade, and played a heart to the ace. He then went to the diamond queen, ruffed a club, and ran the diamonds. West discarded a spade on the fourth diamond, so South simply played for the spade ace to be onside — no dice.

By contrast, Sabine Auken reached four hearts on an auction where East had been able to double an artificial club call. When she got the lead of the club three (third from an even number, low from an odd number), she played for clubs to have been 3-6 originally. After running the diamonds, she exited with the third heart and endplayed West in trumps to lead spades.

Note that East should have put up the heart queen on the first round of the suit. Now declarer could not arrange the endplay no matter what he did.

At another table, when West was stewing over what to lead against four hearts, his opponent asked sympathetically if he would like some help and pulled out a card for him. West accepted the choice — the heart three! This play forced East to put up the heart queen, and now declarer had no chance.

There is no vulnerability where this is an appropriate pre-emptive opening. With so much defense in the majors and such a feeble long suit, discretion is certainly the order of the day. You might tempt me to open three clubs — but only in first seat at favorable vulnerability and if my club two were the 10.


♠ Q J 4
 Q 9
 7 4
♣ Q J 7 5 4 2
South West North East

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 ClimieApril 6th, 2013 at 10:34 am

Hi Bobby,

I was hugely amused by the story about South helping sink his own contract – shades of Victor Mollo and a reminder that patience is a virtue. I recall two similar incidents.

One partner many years ago was faced with a KJx opposite xx side suit to guess. After much agonising, and weighing all the evidence he couldn’t judge and there was no flicker when he led towards dummy. He apologised to the opponents in advance, tossed a coin and got lucky when it indicated the right approach.

The other was with a much weaker partner who found a sensible opening lead, then was back on play after Trick 3. More and more time passed, and it seemed horribly obvious to me that anything except a particular card from a certain holding would be OK, but that single choice would be a disaster, letting the contract make. Pointlessly I tried to will him to pick a card at random, giving a 90% chance of beating it, but please, please stop thinking. You can guess the rest.

I have had sessions where every attempt at thinking has misfired and partner has said “Just stop it, and play by feel without thinking too much” – surprisingly effective on bad days and at least it gets the agony over more quickly. East’s double against Sabine Auken though, is a classic case of Reese’s comment that “careless talk costs contracts”, especially as East wasn’t even that keen for a club lead. I’d expect West to find it almost by default on the bidding shown.



bobbywolffApril 6th, 2013 at 11:21 am

Hi Iain,

I loved your apt description of what sometimes happen, particularly when stewing about the opening lead, which on many auctions is a very random guess.

It certainly looks normal to lead a club, when leading an ace or, usually worse, away from an ace, leading from J9x into a side suit which has been bid and raised, or, of course, leading from the K103 of trumps, which too often will give a trick away, leaves only clubs as a sort of fail safe choice. Sabine was blessed with extra knowledge, because of East’s lead directing double, but she is to be given credit for taking advantage of that information, which not only asked for a club lead, but, the dog which didn’t bark, preferring partner to lead her Q high suit instead of a spade, which, if holding the ace, wouldn’t have preferred a club.

While hearing important information helps during the bidding, it sometimes also is advantageous even when it comes from the opponents rather than partner.

jim2April 6th, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I previously confessed to inadvertently playing bridge while visiting visiting Lower Slobbovia. Well, there were three hands and this hand was the second. The director had recognized me as I came in to the center to see traveling mud exhibition (on loan from Elbonia). As they dragged me towards the playing room, I was told it was the last hand of the championship pairs session. The player I was replacing had gotten sick during the auction. I protested that I did not know Lower Slobbovian Standard, but they assured me that no artificial bids had been made.

Once I sat down in the North chair and looked over the bidding cards on the table, I understood the problem. You see, the bidding had gone:

1H – Pass – 2C – Double
2D – (North gets sick)

What had obviously happened was that North had thought he had bid 2D, and only realized the situation when his partner had apparently duplicated his bid.

When West was finally allowed to bid, he passed and I had to work out what to do. I decided to support partner’s hearts, at which point he bid spades, undoubtedly delighted to bid out his pattern. Now what? Right or wrong, I mentioned notrump and suddenly East was leading a small club to my 3N. I ducked West’s ten, won the continuation, and led a small heart intending to cover East card. He played the queen, I won, came to hand with a diamond, led another heart again intending to cover East’s card. West won the Board’s knave and cleared clubs.

Fortunately, it was West who was long in hearts, so when I cashed out the diamonds and led the third heart, he had nothing but spades left and I ended up with 10 tricks and a top.

At that point, East-West started cussing in Slobbovian (Lower or Upper, I couldn’t tell) and, spotting my chance, I made a break for the exit.

ClarksburgApril 6th, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Surely it’s time for Slobbovian and Elbonian bridge to be better recognized. How about some new named conventions, such as the Slobbovian Short-handled Spade, or the Elbonian Equal Sea-level conversion Pass?

bobbywolffApril 7th, 2013 at 11:52 am

Hi Jim 2 and Clarksburg,

No doubt the Lower Slobbovian bridge police reminded West that he could have cashed the ace of spades, instead of underleading it, allowing you to score up 10 tricks instead of 9 which, no doubt, started the cussing in either Lower or Upper Slobbovian jargon thereby mitigating the damages for EW, then paying off to the good play in 4 hearts at other tables which scored up, legitimately 420 which compared with 400 was perhaps average instead of the absolute bottom board -430 earned, which would, after word got out of the defense, not do general Slobbovian bridge defense the justice they were due.

And, Clarksburg, that is why even today justice surely dictates that both Slobbovian and Elbonian bridge are forbidden from having creative bridge conventions (such as you mention) named after them.

And that, as all fans of the late and great Paul Harvey, will recognize is “The Rest of the Story”.

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