Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 4th, 2013

To laugh at men of sense is the privilege of fools.

Jean de La Bruyere

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


The world is full of stories of bridge deals where a ridiculous play succeeded, or the correct play failed. In today's example West was not only a fine player, but also a practical joker. Moreover, he was playing against two of his least favorite opponents, both of whom could be relied on to bid accurately, but neither of whom possessed a detectable sense of humor.

A competitive auction saw North-South reach four hearts after flirting with a slam-try. When West led his singleton diamond, he could see prospects of defeating the game would hinge on whether his partner had both the ace and king of diamonds. If so, the defenders could surely take two diamonds and two trump tricks.

Alas for West, when East won his diamond ace and continued with the diamond queen, it was South who had the diamond king. It was easy for the defenders to take three tricks, but where would the fourth come from? East surely had no more than one trump.

Inspiration dawned! The defenders might prevail if East had the singleton heart king. West ruffed the second diamond with his heart ace and led his small trump to his partner, giving him the entry to cash the diamond jack for one down.

At the end of the deal West leant forward and apologized for accidentally wasting his heart ace. “If I had ruffed low, would we have beaten them two tricks?” he asked, and was rewarded when South started banging his head on the table.

In this position, a double by you would be takeout, saying that you would pass if your partner had a penalty double of clubs. But would you? I think not. You'd surely remove the double to two hearts. If that is what you would do, then you should bid two hearts yourself immediately, emphasizing your extra shape and lack of suitability for defense.


♠ A K Q J 4
 Q J 7 5 3
 10 7 4
♣ —
South West North East
1♠ 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 ClimieApril 18th, 2013 at 11:45 am

Hi Bobby,

A lovely defence and comment, reminding me of the old and often told story of one expert (South) playing a grand slam with AK9xxx in trumps opposite xxx with everything else solid. West was a known good player and East a relative beginner but keen to learn. Instead of just bashing out trumps and hoping, South crossed to table and led towards the AK hoping for an extra chance, getting the Q from East and the 10 from West. He later took the finesse, playing for East to have messed up with QJx and lost to J10 on his left – a classic Grosvenor coup.

His mood was not helped at the end. East said to West “Is it always right to play high-low with a doubleton like you said?”

Such comments are probably (if intended) best for matches or very close to the end of a pairs event. Their ability to unhinge all but the calmest opponents may cause them to play badly for the rest of tihe session. This may be devious, but in a Mitchell pairs I even try to cheer opponents up if they’ve had a bad board on the last hand of the set so they can play better against our opponents – is this ethical, though? Rudeness isn’t acceptable but should there be a law against false charm?



Michael BeyroutiApril 18th, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Of interest to ACBL members:
When I read this article two weeks ago I had a very strong deja vu impression. I could swear I had just read the same thing elsewhere. After a quick search of my recent readings, I found out that the other article was by Frank Stewart in the April issue of the (ACBL) Bulletin.
Sure enough, same four heart contract, and West has Ax of hearts while East has the singleton king. And, yes, same lead: singleton diamond. West roughed with the Ace and returned a trump to defeat the contract. Uncanny…
Thanks Mr Wolff, your stories are always so interesting, I can’t say it enough.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Hi Iain,

Politeness and good cheer, whatever the reason, should not ever be condemned since even though your suggested motive could be interpreted as self-serving, the joy you convey offsets the unlikely advantage you may be given.

The comment by East about “signalling” high-low could come directly from Victor Mollo and whether meant to needle or just be inquisitive would certainly finish off that poor distraught and naive declarer.

False charm could be defined as a form of oxymoron, but as long as no one suspects the underlying motive, it is always welcome.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Hi Michael,

Since the current hands have been written more than 4 months ago I can plead innocent of stealing hands, if the April you mention is vintage 2013. If it is from a previous year’s April, I’ll instead plead the 5th amendment (of not incriminating myself).

Thanks for your very kind words. Yes, bridge and columns which describe the game can be entertaining because of unexpected developments, especially when the logic of what is done is so bizarre.

Can anyone imagine any West ruffing with the Ace while playing matchpoints? My first thought would be that he (she) had either XRay eyes while wandering through the section or possibly got hold of the hand records before the event. However, in IMP’s or rubber bridge, strange though it may be, ruffing with the ace and then leading one is probably the correct percentage play.

TedApril 18th, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

Even at matchpoints there is no reason not to try this. On the auction, partner has at most one trump, so ruffing with the Ace should never cost a trick.

On BWTA I very much liked your analogy to think what you’d bid if partner had made a penalty double. While I’ve balanced for years while playing negative doubles, I’d not previously thought of it in quite those terms. Should be very helpful.

I much appreciate the columns and all the additional insights this blog provides.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Hi Ted,

First of all thanks much for the kind words.

Ruffing with the ace instead of the four could easily cost a trick and would if partner didn’t have the king. However, his holding of that magical king not only got the heart trick back, but served as the only entry to allow partner to cash the setting trick, the jack of diamonds.

When balancing, as you pointed out, never reopen with a double if your hand does not lend itself to defending the present contract doubled, since partner, especially with a stack of trumps will often pass, but by so doing he is counting on you to have a number of tricks to add to his trump trick(s) so that the opponents will be set.

Here, your only defensive values are all in one suit, making it very risky for your side since one or the other opponent may be relatively short in spades, limiting the defensive tricks which your side will take.

Michael BeyroutiApril 18th, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Sorry to all,
I did not mention that the two deals in question are very different. Only the defense and hence the lesson are the same.

bobbywolffApril 19th, 2013 at 1:30 am

Hi Michael,

Aha my dear Watson, the thief only stole the theme, not the entire hand.

Just like being just a little bit pregnant, the crime is only a minor one (not suit).