Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity and intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.

Aldous Huxley

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


Certain players seem to cause curious happenings at the bridge table. The incomparable Zia is the first name that springs to mind. The late John Collings is another. And a third is Michael Courtney of Australia. This hand won the 2010 International Bridge Press Association's Rose Cliff Declarer Play of the Year Award, and the winning journalist was the prolific author Ron Klinger.

The deal arose at rubber bridge and Michael Courtney came up with an ingenious deception that claimed East as its victim. When North opened three diamonds, Courtney bid three no-trump and West led the spade six to the 10, jack and king. Now Courtney took the losing diamond finesse, leaving East on lead. Keen to show where his values lay, East cashed the heart king. West, keener for East to revert to spades, followed with the heart jack, denying the queen. Courtney knew that the initial spade lead was from at most a six-card suit since he could see the four and three. Thus East held at least one more spade and the contract was hopeless. Accordingly, when East followed up with the heart ace, Courtney contributed the queen! Naturally, West continued his unblocking in hearts, playing the 10, since East clearly had the rest of the hearts.

Now, having read West for an initial holding of J-10-9-7 of hearts with South holding the doubleton heart queen, East continued with a third heart – and Courtney produced the master nine and took his nine winners.

This is an auction where partner could have easily raised hearts or cue-bid in support of hearts by bidding two diamonds. Given that he did not overcall in spades at his first turn, this double has to be penalties, not takeout. Is that possible? It is surely unlikely, but possible, if your RHO has a 4-4-5-0 pattern. And why shouldn't he?


♠ J 7
 A K 8 5 3
 K 6 4
♣ J 10 4
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1
1 2♣ Dbl. 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


Shantanu RastogiJuly 5th, 2013 at 9:31 am

Hello Mr Wolff

If declarer doesnt play 10 from dummy on spade 6 lead the spades are blocked even if east doesnt play Spade Jack though if the lead is from A J combination 10 might be the correct play. If (spade 10 not played) then after cashing Diamond King and cashing spade J (if spade 7 was played in the first round) east shifts to low heart Queen is the only winning play left for declarer.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Your analysis, as usual, is accurate and cause for thought. However since the jack of spades figures to be with the opening leader, because he will have at least 4 spades and probably more, it would then be necessary for declarer to play the jack.

I must say that Michael Courtney’s false card of the queen of hearts is in the running for the best deceptive play I have ever seen, and with his cat and mouse game with West, triumphed in no trump.

Because of normal space limitations with column writing we didn’t have room to fully explain the true brilliance of this award winning play, but by revealing what happened, any true bridge aficionado can appreciate how sensational it was.

Thanks for writing about it so that others can bask in its glory.

Iain ClimieJuly 5th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

Should east have considered 3H over 3D or is it too risky? Not bidding over pre-empts is also a risk of course but, in a way, I’m glad he passed as South’s brilliancy would never have arisen.

Could you give a few guidelines on the minimum holdings to bid or double over an opening pre-empt and how much vulnerability is relevant. NV opponents will go out of their way to cause trouble against vulnerable opposition, so could there be less of an increase in requirements than expected here?



Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Hi Iain,

Your question brings up an important part of the game, one in which the decisions made often help determine the result of the match, or, in this case the distribution of the money won and lost.

The East hand just barely does not qualify for competition against a 3 level preempt, although, I, at least, would venture 2 hearts over a weak 2 diamond opening.

While the level of the preempt and, of course the vulnerability in both the amount to be gained with success as well as the greater or lesser risk involved with getting doubled and being massacred help make up the judgment, the particular opponents present get my vote for being the largest factor.

Against aggressive preemptors who depend on the vulnerability to torment, relax the requirements a bit, while against others who seem to not stretch too far, show a little more respect for them, and be more careful, since their doubles will come more frequent based on their partner’s preempt having some defense rather than very little to none.

All of the above is really meant to say, “Whatever I say, you wind up being on your own, and just be right, baby, or expect to lose”.

However, good luck!

Jeff SJuly 5th, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I started thinking. I now have a headache so it may have been a bad move. However: If we assume that the lead was a normal 4th-high lead, then the missing cards above the 6 are A-J-9-8-7 with West holding three of the five. If West held the 9-8-7, I assume he would have led the 9, not the 6 so I eliminated that combination.

That left me nine combinations, three of which found West with both the A and J (when the 10 would be proper), three where he held the A and East held the J meaning the three would be proper, and three where he held the J and East held the A where it would not matter which card was selected.

Wouldn’t that mean that so far the choice between 10 and 3 is strictly a 50-50 guess? Does the balance shift when you begin consider the possibility that East also has the 2 or the 5? I can’t quite see how, but when it comes to bridge, I often don’t see what is obvious to others (which in large part is why I find the game so fascinating).

I know these are pretty basic questions and have nothing to do with the brilliant point of the hand. It was simple curiosity that led me down this side road. Did I mention that I now have a headache?

Bobby WolffJuly 6th, 2013 at 12:27 am

Hi Jeff S,

While your consternation about playing from the dummy at trick one is mostly on point, there is an additional factor which strongly dictates the playing of the ten from dummy. If West held A986, A987, A976, A876 and 1 one or 2 others below the 6 the 3rd seat player would not (should not) play the jack even if he had it, unless, of course, declarer played the 10. So, with that in mind the 10 hoping for the jack to be with the opening leader is a stand-out choice. (I realize you thought the opening leader would lead the 9 from A987, but IMO many would stick to the 4th highest so that partner can put the rule of eleven to good use).

Stick to your natural determination to learn and that, together with finding ways to play with and against the best players you can find, will eventually earn you a trip to the next higher level of performance. It doesn’t happen overnight, but no one is saying it is easy, just that it is worth it.

Good luck!