Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

No man thinks there is much ado about nothing when the ado is about himself.

Anthony Trollope

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


Paul Trent was one of the top players in the country in the '60s. His wife, Sandy, may be less well-known but is no less accomplished, as this deal from the second qualifying session of last summer's von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs demonstrates. Sandy was South.

Against the club slam, West led the diamond nine to the king and Sandy’s ace. She played a trump to the queen and ace, won the diamond return to test trumps, and found the bad news.

Now she cashed the spade ace and king, carefully discarding the heart ace. She ruffed a spade to hand, led a heart to dummy’s 10, then ruffed another spade to play the heart queen from her hand to dummy’s king. Next she advanced the heart jack, prepared to overruff if East could ruff in. Whether East could follow or not, his sure trump trick was about to vanish. At the table Sandy could discard her diamond when East followed suit, and the lead was in dummy at trick 12 for a trump coup.

Note that the defenders would have probably beaten the slam on a spade lead. Declarer’s normal line of play is to win the ace and play a trump (though yes, ruffing a spade is probably better, to prepare for the possible trump reduction against the 4-1 break). East can take the first trump and return a trump, dislodging a critical entry from dummy. After that, declarer would be unable to make the contract.

The question here is whether to drive to game because of your intermediates or to consult partner. At teams, if vulnerable, I would bid game. At any other form of scoring I would only invite game. At matchpoints, try to go plus and not risk thin games. At teams, if nonvulnerable, you do not need to stretch to 50-50 games.


♠ J 10 9 8
 8 5 2
 K J
♣ A 10 3 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 NT Pass
2♣ Pass 2 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 ClimieAugust 6th, 2013 at 11:27 am

Hi Bobby,

I take the point about ruffing a spade early on today’s play hand but I’m bemused by the bidding on it. South may have been angling for a diamond lead all along (by not bidding NT over 2S or 4D over 4C but North didn’t try 3D over 3C and, from his/her viewpoint, could be facing a hand like x AQx QJx A10xxxx when 6C has no chance on a D lead. Looking at the NS hands, 6C is a good place, but how did North bid it when SOuth’s hand could be very different? Am I missing some subtleties here e.g. NS had a rather different approach to cue-bids?



Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2013 at 11:58 am

Hi Iain,

You rarely, if ever, just miss something pertaining to the bidding nor play in bridge and so it is with this hand.

Perhaps, instead, you sometimes overestimate the science you have grown to expect from very good players.

Although this hand was plucked from a recent National tournament, the players mentioned shined about 50 years ago, and although obviously still a force today, their bidding still resembles what it used to be all those many years before.

Old time bidding had its flaws with sometimes laydown slams not being bid, and down slams (with the right lead) bid instead. However, while not recommending this projected randomness, it sometimes, perhaps more often than any of us suspect, worked, since the inferences of what to lead were not always valid. On the hand today, the diamond lead made the trump coup easier to execute, but West expected to be leading through a good diamond holding instead of up to it.

Nothing of much consequence to worry about, only the lack of certainty, which in turn, sometimes makes scientific pairs easier to play against.

Iain ClimieAugust 6th, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this although I note from a book on the Bermuda Bowl (1950 to late 90s) that you often played more sophisticated methods yourself. What was the Orange Club, for example?

Having said that, I’ve had many good results over the years from auctions like 1S 3S 6S leaving LHO with a blind guess in many cases.



Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, at times, especially in the field of slam bidding, in order to keep pace with my then fierce competitors my partner and I certainly needed to raise our slam bidding to the highest level we could achieve. However sometimes, especially when bidding space is taken away by the preempting opponents, some non-scientific guessing and pressure from the strong hands will need to take place, and, at that time, either join in, or prepare to not get an optimum result (which certainly might happen anyway), e.g. with unfavorable vulnerabilty (We are, they aren’t) 1 heart P 2NT (GF heart raise) 4 spades by our RHO and the 1 heart opener (our hand) has either:

s. xx or s. void
h. AKxxxx h. AQxxxx
d. void d. AKJxx
c. AKxxx c. xx

6 Hearts would be my choice on both hands and to the tune from Gilbert & Sullivans “Let the Punishment fit the crime!”

If left to be played in 6 hearts you will either make it or not, but do not discount the opponents taking the save, sometimes markedly to your side’s favor, but other times not. The poker element in bridge comes into play and science, because of the crowded competition flies out the window.

In other words I agree with your example and what the British used to call a punt and make what can facetiously, but accurately called a “slam try”.

However, while doing so be sure you and your partner keep your hands held up and out of eyesight to your wily opponents.

Iain ClimieAugust 6th, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Thanks for this and one former regular partner (an older guy called Dick Shadbolt) will definitely approve. In the first 7 sessions we played together, he bid 6 slams for me to bid, all bar one without Blackwood or similar but usually with huge jumps. All of them made.
He did admit later that one reason for this was the entertainment value when I sometimes struggled to keep a poker face – he used to take the game very seriously by all accounts but has developed a more flippant streak now. I have a club session with him tonight, so am practising deep breathing and calming thoughts now to ensure I don’t accidentally fall down an ethical hole. I’ll be inwardly gibbering by 9:30 I expect.