Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.

Robert Wilensky

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


Over the last few months I have been addressing this question: How well do computers measure up to humans when it comes to the bidding and play of the cards?

Much depends on how well they are programmed, of course, plus computers still don’t cope with bidding that well. But they frequently best humans in cardplay, especially when the auction has been properly explained to them.

Today’s deal shows how computers stack up against the world’s top declarers. Onno Eskes of the Netherlands tested the computer with the following hand from the Macallan tournament in London a decade ago. At all eight tables the contract was four hearts, against which West led the trump jack.

Three experts went down but five out of eight declarers played the hand in exemplary fashion. The computer GIB joined this expert group (Andrew Robson, Gabriel Chagas, Franck Multon, Lars Blakset and Mark Bompis) by carefully taking the heart queen and leading a spade back to the ace. Then came a heart to the ace and a spade from the table. East could ruff in front of declarer, but he knew he would be ruffing a loser; therefore, he did his best by discarding a diamond. All the declarers won the king, then ruffed a spade in dummy, and were overruffed. East played a diamond to the ace and West exited with a club. But South ruffed, ruffed another spade in dummy, and had the remaining spades plus the diamond king for his 10 tricks.

Were you tempted to overcall? Remember that the minimum requirement for a two-level overcall is a six-card suit or a very decent five-card suit, but the quality of your clubs is unsatisfactory. If the club two were the king, you might overcall, but you would feel you might be be flirting with disaster.

♠ 4 2
 A Q 7 5
 K J
♣ Q 7 6 3 2
South West North East

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


Jim LawrenceAugust 20th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Because you have limited space you have to leave out steps. Therefore the reader has to figure out those steps. I think I have figured out this hand. E/W won the ace of diamonds, the ace of clubs and east ruffed a spade. East had to take the ace of clubs and lead another club (K) before south could ruff.

Bobby WolffAugust 20th, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi Jim,

The opening lead by West was the jack of hearts (shown directly underneath the hand diagram). Declarer won in dummy, led the ace of spades and then made the key play of going to the dummy in hearts to lead a spade from dummy forcing East to commit himself before declarer turned loose of the king of spades, East refused to ruff, since by doing so, would not have helped his side.

All of the above was explained in the column and showed the proper technique of not allowing an opponent (East) to ruff the king of spades, but rather if he did ruff to have to do so in an untimely and ineffective way for the defense.

Since West would never get in, the dummy’s diamond holding was protected and all turned out roses for the declarer, a deserving result for a well played hand.

Thanks for writing and please continue to do so.

Bobby WolffAugust 20th, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Hi again Jim,

I should have written, “led to the ace of spades instead of led the ace of spades”.

jim2August 20th, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I think JL was referring to the fact that South ruffed the second round of clubs, not the first one when “West exited with a club.”

jim2August 20th, 2013 at 7:25 pm

On another note, concerning the BWTA hand, you mean you don’t advocate 1H???


Patrick CheuAugust 20th, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Hi Bobby and Jim2, do you think JL meant on a club lead,declarer is likely to go down due to ruffing the second club and upsetting his timing in setting up the spades??As regards BWTA,I would not like to play in 4-3 hearts at a higher level and being forced to ruff,prefer hearts to be AQ109 or AQJx,a bit more substance,old fashion I guess..but maybe Jim is expecting to get a heart lead if they play in spades by LHO…regards Patrick.

Bobby WolffAugust 21st, 2013 at 3:34 am

Hi Jim2 and Patrick,

Yes, I would probably overcall one heart on the BWTA hand, but it is one thing to do it and another to preach doing it. Living in that fast lane of mediocre 4 card suit overcalls, even at the one level, is controversial.

However, yes it is better to have the strength of AQ109 or AQJx, but it seems to work to bid something rather than meekly pass, but that is not universally agreed and partner needs to be understanding when it doesn’t work.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is when the opponents do not venture 3NT because of a 4 card suit overcall, only to find out that they were in no danger of the opponents taking the first 5 tricks against them.

However, the downside is also ever present so it is something for an aspiring partnership to talk about, agree upon, and then establish their individual partnership personality at the table.

Iain ClimieAugust 21st, 2013 at 8:44 am

Hi Bobby,

Looking at how a computer programme should play, the interest would be in how to pose and answer questions e.g. West has made a passive trump lead rather than the unbid suit – doesn’t this suggest he has the DA as North might havr some strength in hand when he bids 4H. I remember reading Mike Lawrence’s “How to place your opponents’ cards” years ago and being hugely impressed by its thorough approach. Although human players may not work in such an algorithmic way, it is still worth asking such questions.

One thought, though. If east had followed to the second spade, how would you continue? After all, spades could be 1-4 and west would be unlikely to lead one into South’s suit.



Kenyon StevensonAugust 21st, 2014 at 5:59 am

What happens if East doesn’t over rough the third spade, or the fourth one for that matter? Doesn’t south have serious transportation problems?