Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 15th, 2013

So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life.

P.G. Wodehouse

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


There are few bridge players whose names have entered into common parlance — perhaps Stayman and Blackwood are two that have achieved immortality. Another possible candidate, at least in the expert community, is Alphonse Moyse, whose championing of the 4-3 trump fit meant that this holding is often referred to as a Moysian fit.

Moyse, whose heyday as a player was in the 1950s and who was a long-time editor of the Bridge World magazine, was credited with playing this grand slam, in which the auction is a throw-back to earlier and simpler times.

The two-heart opening was strong, and the three-diamond bid was a free bid promising extra values. Four no-trump was Culbertson, promising three aces, and the seven-heart call was not unreasonable, in the hope that North had six diamonds.

West led a trump against the grand slam, and Moyse could have settled for the club finesse, but the auction had suggested that West had most of the outstanding cards. Accordingly Moyse played five rounds of trump, discarding the club queen from dummy. Then came the spade ace followed by the run of the diamonds.

As Moyse placed West with the club king, there was no escape for the defenders. The spade queen in dummy forced West to keep his king, and thus to bare his club king. At trick 12 Moyse played a club to the ace, taking the last two tricks and bringing home the grand slam.

If you could get opening leads of this sort right every time, you would never lose any event at bridge again! This is a problem with no right answer. A club lead is absurd, but a spade away from the ace into a strong hand is unattractive, while a heart lead is too likely to clear up a guess for declarer. That leaves a diamond — not so attractive either, I admit.


♠ A 10 6 4
 8 3
 J 8 5 2
♣ Q 5 2
South West North East
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


Iain ClimieJuly 29th, 2013 at 9:37 am

Hi Bobby,

An interesting quirk here is that 7D, even if somehow played by South, doesn’t appear to work except on a friendly black suit lead. You have to be in a position to draw trumps, play the SA as a vienna coup, cash the last trump(s) and then cash the side suit winners ending in the weaker hand. Curious, and I wonder what lessons can be learned on contract selection here?



Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Hi Iain, is blessed by being an attraction to very sophisticated players (like yourself) who, among many other advanced ways of establishing tricks, also understand the underlying mechanics of squeezes, including the classic Vienna Coup, a simple unblocking play, first explored (to my knowledge) in the coffee houses of Vienna, Austria in the 1930’s, but today, forever entwined with squeeze execution.

As you duly alluded to (by naming it), that aptly named trick gathering maneuver, first sets up a trick in the enemy’s hand and then rudely does him out of it. Here today, with diamonds as trump they then would be needed to be drawn, before the hearts are run, which, in turn, would require the declarer to be in the wrong hand at the wrong time in order to execute the play. Such are the mysteries of the game, sometimes to be forecast in the bidding, but very rarely to be sure of such, before seeing partner’s hand (replete with the queen of clubs, which terminally, for our contract, could be with East. Here, since North does have the queen of clubs, while playing with diamonds as trump, declarer, to make his contract, would be required to take an early club finesse.

When this grand slam is bid, and particularly in the less scientific bridge world of years ago, South was merely hoping that North had an extra diamond for an easy 13th trick (5 hearts, 6 diamonds and 2 black suit aces). However without the 6th diamond, other measures were called for and Sonny Moyse, a very influential character in the earlier development of the game (at least in the USA) read the cards (king of clubs in the bidder’s hand) and executed the coup.

Unlike chess, winning at bridge sometimes requires some luck, but even when it is running one’s way (partner possesses the queen of clubs) deft judgment and execution is still required, rather than just the simple club finesse, adding, at least to me, an extra important dimension, which increases the challenge, for all 4 players at the table, with the defense discarding in such order and tempo to perhaps deceive the declarer to make him (her) think that the king of clubs is in the hand that it is not.

Better or worse than the purer game of chess? Although I am obviously a biased observer, I will answer a resounding better, since the nuance of card reading, instead of seeing a transparent board in which chess is contested, we, as bridge players need to be good detectives and read the evidence which is available and then have the talent to execute our plan.

See, what your questions did to the reader, making him work his way through all of the above? He (or she) may never forgive you!

Iain ClimieJuly 29th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the thoughts above although I would make a quick point about luck and chess. The scope for bad luck is limited e.g. Drawing the best player in a knock-out tournament or having to play against someone who “has your number” – even though not necessarily stronger, they may be stylistically or psychologically a problem. Failing to handle the clock properly is also not bad luck.

The amount of good luck in games is surprisingly high. How many blunders present games to their recipients (although the blunderer is not unlucky) while the number of unsound attacks that I played over the years was huge. I just used to play speculative, complex and scary moves to test out opponents nerves. Frequently, they would bottle out of the wild stuff, even if they wound up at a slight disadvantage. You can’t bluff computers or really good players but randomising the game against (say) a slightly to somewhat better opponent often pays off – analogous to occasional dody pre-empts or false cue-bids at bridge.

I still prefer bridge though, even if just for the company. Even club chess can be unremittingly grim and serious for several hours; there is always some lighter side at bridge except at the higher levels, and the scope for hard luck stories is part of the appeal.


Jeff SJuly 29th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Echoing Ian’s comments (and a bit tongue-in-cheek), I would say there is plenty of luck in chess – just hang around any chess tournament anywhere, any weekend. Somehow, nearly every decisive game is the result of either masterful strategy culminating in a “brilliancy” or an “unlucky blunder”, that one careless move that destroyed an otherwise won game – depending entirely on whether you are speaking to the winner or the loser.

Bruce KarlsonJuly 29th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Re: “Lead…” I accept the idea of trying to lead the major suit as opposed to the minor absent information, and figure my partner is likely to have 10 or so points. Ergo, would probably look fondly at the spade A,10,X,X and lead the spade 4, hoping to find partner with some spade guns. Grim experience tells me that the admonition to avoid leading from JXXX is well founded.

I understand that there is no “correct” answer to this lead conundrum but interested in your thoughts as to my approach.


Iain ClimieJuly 29th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Hi Jeff,

Game of skill / game of chance – delete as applicable according to result (bridge or chess) and just how much partner, opponents, the hands and the lighting conspired to fix me in any bridge session.



Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Like many other discussions and undertakings, it all depends on the specific view one takes in determining the definition of what is to decided.

I guess, though not sure, that my definition of luck is what one really catches (or shows) in the bidding (which, of course, is surely guesswork, with too few words (bidding) for too many possible combinations, together with trying to piece together the master plan for either the declarer’s play or the defense (usually harder to do) guessing or trying to, where the cards and distributions are located without benefit of direct sight as opposed to it all being out there, right in front of both warriors noses (chess).

And how about the games of whist, auction bridge, and then contract bridge (grandfather, father and offspring) being played for money, not masterpoints, where no matter how much better one side or the other bid and played, the luck of which side was dealt the superior hands more than likely will determine the final winner and loser.

While I definitely agree with Iain and Jeff in what they say, extraneous factors (as they describe them) often determining a chess result, still, at least to me, chess is almost a wholehearted brain game where each player is in control of his own destiny, opposed to bridge, where if one partnership outplays the other 2 or 3 to 1, in making (what might be subjectively, but accurately, judged as playing the session) that is no sure indication of who will win the money, nor in certain relatively short bridge team matches, nor, for that matter, in pair duplicates, because of the anti-percentages combinations sometimes reigning supreme.

I guess the above is somewhat esoteric, but shouldn’t it be used to define the major interpretation of luck?

Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for writing and your thoughts on the subject.

Magically, since it has not happened previously to me, I received a copy of a letter sent to me by my publisher who received a copy of it from a person named Bob Champion (Carmel, CA) http: to David Bird which directly involves the lead hand you mentioned and is the result of a 5000 deal simulation recently (probably the result of the 2 week lag) between today’s column which just today appeared on our bridge blogging site.

“Bobby Wolff was right!” (beautiful words, at least to me)
Beats Contract% Avg. Tricks
AS 19.22 5.510
10S 21.30 5.531
6S 26.50 5.741
4S 26.64 5.746
8H 25.04 5.741
3H 24.78 5.736
JD 22.88 5.589
8D 28.74 5.832
5D 29.80 5.873
2D 29.80 5.873
QC 18.60 5.402
5C 25.46 5.686
2C 25.46 5.686

“It may well be that your suggested eight of hearts lead would fare better against 3NT. One of our findings in winning NT leads was that (counter-intuitively) leads from 4 card suits headed by an honor fare less badly against 1NT than against 3NT”.

And there you have it, although when I send the above out to you via a comment it may be skewed and much harder to read.

Chalk it up to my computer ineptness and for that I apologize.

For me to get a copy of the above is truly a miracle, since, as far as I know, I am on no list for that to happen, but perhaps someone felt sorry for me.

Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Hi Iain,

You picture yourself as an error prone enthusiastic player who rarely, during an entire session, gets close to perfection in both bidding and more importantly, play and defense.

My guess is very much different in which you are probably a feared opponent, not a feared partner, who could play among the best and mostly, if not entirely, hold your own.

Modesty is always becoming, among almost everyone, but it is time for you to come out of the closet and difficult as it might be, admit to being a very good player. If so, I will lead the cheers, which will offset what you may think of your temporary immodesty.

Jeff SJuly 29th, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Hi Bobby,

As I said, my comments were a bit tongue-in-cheek as were Iain’s, I suspect.

Chess is a pure mind game. Sure, there are factors that can decide the game other than what is on the board – a barking dog that you just can’t seem to tune out, poor lighting, maybe you find the temperature in the room uncomfortable, etc, etc, but for the most part,the outcome is entirely in the hands of yourself and your opponent.

What makes chess so fascinating to me is that it is a real-life case study in how people perceive the world. Games are won and lost due to errors. No one has been able to definitively prove it yet, but a perfectly played game would almost certainly result in a draw. The mistakes are entirely in hands of the players, ultimately, there is no one to blame but yourself. And, yet, players frequently bemoan their “bad luck” when they lose and often entirely fail to see any reason for victory other than their own skill (ie, it was not due to the errors of their opponents, but rather to their own relentless brilliance).

Professional players, grandmasters, do not seem to delude themselves in this fashion which no doubt helps explain how they became grandmasters. By the way, I do not exclude myself from the above – it is very hard to escape those feelings of good results being your own skill and bad results being strokes of bad luck even if you know it isn’t any truer for you than it is for anyone else.

Bobby WolffJuly 29th, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Hi Jeff S.,

The only comment I dare add to your very educational expose is a suggested title, “Welcome to the Real World”!

Iain ClimieJuly 30th, 2013 at 7:49 am

Hi Bobby,

I’m flattered by your comments but strangely I don’t claim to be a good player (some might disagree, although it is all relative) or, even odder, aspire to be one. Instead, I try to play well, help partner to do so and to cut the blunders.

This may seem like a pedantic distinction but I think there is a useful underlying point. Trying to play well can reduce the flights of ego which lead to unsound bids and plays – “I’m a good player so I can do this” can end very badly. I had a session last week where exactly this happened and we wound up with a very poor score in a fairly weak field. The same dodgy mindset can apply at chess and other games too, of course.


Bobby WolffJuly 30th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Hi Iain,

Your descriptions, since I have been around bridge and its players for so very long, have indeed an interesting psychology.

Perhaps a similar mindset occurs with other relatively high-level players, when during an important bridge match, they never think of winning or losing, but only about the hand they are on, how to get the most out of it, with absolutely no regard to the overall current score.

I endorse that last sentence by calling it, the best psychology possible, and perhaps your mindset at the table is similar, but only expressed by trying to guard your ego against dealing with too much optimism, which, in turn, keeps you within the straight and narrow in dealing with your bridge bids, leads, and plays and especially mixed results which accompany every encounter played against worthy opponents.

Anyway, right or wrong, it is a thought.