Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

For my Vienna is as different from what they call Vienna now as the quick is from the dead.

Erich von Stroheim

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


Ely Culbertson was credited with playing today's deal. Against his slam of six spades West cashed the heart ace, then shifted to the club 10. With 11 top tricks in view, Culbertson correctly decided that the diamond suit offered a better chance for the 12th than the straightforward club finesse. So he rose with the club ace and played six rounds of trump, discarding two clubs from table.

Next came the diamond ace-queen. When East proved to hold the diamond suit, declarer’s only hope was that East held the club king too. So Culbertson led out the spade nine and threw the club jack from the table. East, who had to discard from his diamond J-9 and the club king chose the latter. So Culbertson took the last two tricks with the club queen and diamond king.

This is a perfect example of the Vienna Coup, where declarer’s best play is to take the club ace early to avoid squeezing dummy on the run of the spade winners.

It could be argued that West’s shift to a club was naïve, since it forced declarer into the winning line. However, if West plays a trump at trick two, declarer might well ask why he had not shifted to a club. Would he be more likely to do so with the club king or without it Depending on just how good (or bad) a player West is, you might reasonably assume that he would never shift to a club if he had the king.

Today’s problem is more about style than anything else. My philosophy is to get the majors in as quickly as possible, especially with hands that are not forcing to game. So I’d respond one spade here – planning to raise a rebid of one no-trump to two, to invite game. A one-diamond response might lose spades – or force us to play game if I bid spades next over partner’s one no-trump rebid.


♠ Q J 6 4
 K 10 8 5
♣ A J 3 2
South West North East
1♣ 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 30th, 2013 at 9:24 am

Minor misstatement: south cashes the diamond king-ace, not ace-king.

On BWA, this hand shows why I have always played 4-card majors. I would thus bid 1D and then 2C if partner rebids 1NT, since partner is now known to have 4 clubs & at most 3 hearts which would have to be awfully good to justify playing NT.

Jeff SApril 30th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Doesn’t South cash the diamond A-Q, not A-K? The way it is laid out, if East kept the club K, there would be no way to get to dummy at trick 12 to cash the last diamond on the final trick. Maybe the K and Q reversed in the diagram? Or (always a possibility) am I missing something?

As always, thank you for another very entertaining and educational column.

bobbywolffApril 30th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hi David,

Not so minor, especially since it could become confusing for a relatively inexperienced player and for so doing I owe my readers an apology.

Also I agree with you, about checking out clubs as a final destination, whether in game or possibly only a part score, since if partner does rebid 1NT and especially over an initial diamond response by partner, it looks to me that for NT to work the 1NT rebidder will require 2 firm heart stops.

However, since 2 clubs is often played as a checkback Stayman type bid it is OK to bid it in order to find out more about partner’s hand or if not, to rebid 3 clubs instead, invitational but not forcing allowing partner to judge what to do.

Sometimes the BWTA becomes somewhat complicated which requires more discussion than we have room to give.

Thanks for delving deeper.

bobbywolffApril 30th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Hi Jeff S,

No you are not missing anything and I goofed, since it was the AQ of diamonds, not the AK which were cashed, enabling the squeeze on East.

Also thanks for the kind words about the column in general, and, in the future I will try and do better to cut down on the gaffes.

Dave MOJO SmithApril 30th, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Do ypu agee with the 6 spade bid or would you pass and pull to 5 spades?

bruce karlsonApril 30th, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I think the “Vienna Coup” is named for Napoleon’s supposed dictum: “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.” Is that true??

Thanks for pointing out the Diamond honor transportation problem. I saw it but figured I was, as usual, missing something.

bobbywolffMay 1st, 2013 at 6:13 am


I fully agree with the 6 spade bid for the following 2 reasons.

1. Partner did bid 4 hearts which should never be chopped liver and in retrospect was closer to a minimum cue bid (at the 4 level) than it was to having extra,

2. Sometimes even when you are wrong, the sacrifice monster overtakes one opponent or the other and you wind up defending 7 hearts doubled. However that will not happen unless your side’s bidding sounds confident.

Aim high and go for the throat, although sometimes your side winds up sleeping in the street.

bobbywolffMay 1st, 2013 at 6:27 am

Hi Bruce,

My guess the Vienna Coup originally was named, back in the 1930’s and was first discovered in Vienna, a hotbed of early excellent bridge.

In spite of the name it is only an unblocking play in preparation for a simple squeeze. Without the cashing of the key ace one of the squeeze cards would be blocked causing the squeeze to die on the vine.

Back in those early days an original point count instead of the Milton Work count, which Charley Goren adopted of 4-3-2-1 was instead 7-5-3-1 which placed a much greater emphasis on aces and kings instead of queens and jacks which, at least in Vienna were not as highly thought of.

In case anyone is interested I, to this day, think the Vienna system is more accurate as long as the number of points required for different type bids are accurately calibrated.

I had not heard of Napolean’s bridge interest until now with what you heard, but after his exile, he might have had plenty of time to take up the game, although he might have started off playing Whist, the grandfather of contract bridge.

JRGMay 1st, 2013 at 11:30 am

In my role as a site administrator, I have taken the liberty of correcting the original post to reflect Mr. Wolff’s response to Jeff S. about the diamond king and queen.

bobbywolffMay 1st, 2013 at 8:29 pm


Thanks for your trouble. Somehow, even though my mistake caused confusion, by correcting it now, God is now in his heaven, all’s right in the world, or at the least, that column.