Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 24th, 2013

One should never make one's debut with a scandal. One should reserve that to give an interest to one's old age.

Oscar Wilde

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


With the European open tournament taking place right now in Ostend, Belgium, this week's deals all come from the most recent European Championships, which were held in Dublin, Ireland, and resulted in a win for Monaco. (Yes, you read that right.)

Today’s deal came from the very first match of the event. While the other members of the Norwegian Seniors Team had played for Norway before, this was the first international appearance for Johnny Holmbakken. He rapidly placed himself in the hot seat against Italy, and on the very first board of the match too. I would not recommend his decision to overcall here, but that’s what he did, ending up in three diamonds.

Holmbakken won East’s club jack with the ace and ran the diamond nine to East’s ace. East cashed a club and exited with a diamond to the jack. A heart to the nine and jack was followed by the heart ace and another heart, which declarer ruffed. A club was ruffed in dummy, and a diamond put declarer in hand with the queen. Holmbakken was sure that West held the spade queen and played accordingly, putting the jack on the table! South covered, and dummy’s king won. Now came the trumps.

The last diamond squeezed East in the black suits, and declarer made the contract via two spade tricks when East kept his club. A menace transfer and squeeze – what a nice debut!

The suit partner is most likely to hold is spades, but of course he had the opportunity to overcall and did not. With a safe club sequence to lead from, it is pretty much a toss-up as to which lead you make. My vote, narrowly, is for a top club, but I can see both sides of the argument. Give me a better small spade spot, and I would be convinced it was right to lead this suit.


♠ K 6 2
 Q 8 4 3
 K 8 5
♣ J 10 3
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1 NT
All 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


bruce karlsonJuly 7th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Could I be forgiven for bidding 3 H with East’s hand?? It seems that with that club holding and 4/4 heart fit, non vul some action is called for.

As to the play, I would take the D ace and immediately put them back in. Imagine that a true expert pair would beat me but…hope springs eternal.


David WarheitJuly 7th, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Bruce: good bid! South (Holmbakken) leads a diamond. You win the ace, draw trumps in 3 rounds, finessing north for the queen, and exit with a diamond. North wins and returns a club. You play the king and south plays–what? If he wins with the ace, he is now endplayed and you make 3H! Well, Mr. Holmbakken would probably get it right, but you still do better than you did by selling out to 3D, even if you were doubled in 3H.

Bobby WolffJuly 7th, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes I for one, would forgive you and so would apparently David, however those two votes, although mine is 50-50 may not stand up for scrutiny in the high-level community. Let’s examine the factors:

1. We do have a balanced minimum and it is unclear whether partner’s negative double promises both 4 card majors (I believe that most partnerships do not).

2. Partner still has a bid, which could and would often be a 2nd double, which would also be for takeout and, of course, promise more HCP’s than did his 1st double.

3. Often, after hearing 3 hearts by you, South will bid again (he, of course, would not with that piece of cheese he overcalled 1 diamond, but what is partner to expect, if you did chirp 3 hearts?

Suppose you started with a 3-4-1-5 14-16 point hand, wouldn’t you only venture 3 hearts with it at your 2nd turn? But if partner doubled again I think you can promote your values, not having bid at your last turn, and now jump to 4 hearts letting partner know that you respect his judgment (with his 2nd TO double) and now opt for game.

Also for that matter, after you do decide to bid 3 hearts, suppose the distribution warrants South to now jump to 5 diamonds, a pressure bid on your partnership, and if so wouldn’t West possibly be disappointed after he found you with your minimum?

4. However that doesn’t keep me from probably, in the heat of battle, from bidding 3 hearts myself, but it is important to understand what often happens in a partnership, resulting in both happy but sometimes sad results.

5. Since I heartily endorse high-level or probably all decent bridge to be a bidders game rather than conservative, there have to be limits and, upon bidding 3 hearts at your first opportunity, be ready to apologize to your partner when it doesn’t work out.

As to your proposed defense, keeping in mind that high-level bridge, both as declarer and defender is about 90% made up of counting hands while the hand is being played with the remaining 10% still being about half still counting (meant as a joke), what if the unseen distributions (South and West) leave 4 spades to the AQ with South and the ace of clubs with your partner West. Then of course, after your trump return, declarer will play 4 rounds of spades discarding a club loser from dummy.

Nothing I have said above discounts your defense, since it often becomes very complicated, especially at trick 2, but at that time is the best time to have an overall plan depending on what the most likely distribution happens to be around the table.

It is not very easy, but once an intelligent person (and you definitely are) gets exposed to high level bridge and its unique thought process, winning thoughts start to appear much more frequently than one can imagine. The only way to find out is to play and read, read and play and do not fall victim to players at your club, who have already reached their level to become good teachers. If you are lucky enough to latch on to someone with your potential you can learn together by watching very good players play and then discussing with your partner why they did this or didn’t do that.

Good luck and with David and others around to analyze, you will be in good hands just continuing to log in to our site.

bruce karlsonJuly 8th, 2013 at 11:12 am

Your thoughts are much appreciated. Also, I really appreciate your taking the time to respond in such detail. And you are correct; many very good regular club players will remain “very good”.

The game is simply more challenging and fun when the envelope is pushed…understanding partner required. Further, my results are definitely better when I play according to the Wolff edict: When in doubt, bid!!!