Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 15th, 2013

I speed through the antiseptic tunnel where the moving dead still talk of pushing their bones against the thrust of cure.

Anne Sexton

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

*Slam-try in spades


In the quarterfinal of the Olympiad from Lille last year, Italy met Poland, and this was the last board of the third segment. Put yourself in the position of Giorgio Duboin. Your partner, the effervescent Antonio Sementa, has forgotten that you are playing teams, not pairs, and has thus put you in seven no-trump rather than seven spades. The good news is that the opponents lead hearts. When you play the queen from dummy, East contributes the four. How do you continue?

You can see that seven spades would be easy to make with the heart king onside. But how to make seven no-trump? Finessing for the diamond king is at best a 50 percent chance. Is there a way to take 13 tricks when the diamond finesse does not work?

Duboin found the solution: a double squeeze. He cashed the spade queen, and both opponents followed. Now he cashed the heart ace – maybe the king would be doubleton. Then he led a spade to the ace and a diamond to his ace.

Now Duboin ran the spades to reduce to a three-card ending in which he had kept three clubs in hand. Dummy had a diamond, a heart and a club, and each defender had to retain a red king against the threat in dummy. This in turn meant that when the club ace and king were cashed, declarer’s club 10 would be good for the 13th trick.

Despite this, Poland went on to win the match by a single IMP.

This is a minimum in high-cards for a simple raise to three diamonds, but it is a call that you must make. First of all, you really want a diamond lead against West's final contract. Second, with ruffing values in your hand, you have to assume that you will be offering your partner a trick or two if he becomes declarer.


♠ 10
 8 7 6 3
 K 5 4
♣ Q 9 8 7 2
South West North East
1♠ 2 2♠

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


David WarheitAugust 29th, 2013 at 9:40 am

You say that 7S would be easy to make with the HK onside. This is true if a) S is declarer (which he might be after a transfer sequence) & b) W leads a H. But suppose W leads his S? If I were S, I would win in dummy, cash the CAK, discarding a D, and then lead the DA and then DQ. If W covers, I claim. If he thinks for a long time and doesn’t cover, I let it ride. But if he nonchalantly plays low, I ruff, cross to the SQ (making sure dummy has one S smaller than S’s 6) and lead another D, covered and ruffed. Now I cross to the S6, cash the last D pitching a H, ruff a C, and run S. At the end, with no squeeze having worked, I take the H finesse. Ok, making 7, but that wasn’t easy. I believe that my line is just slightly better than taking a finesse in either H or D, but not by much. Furthermore, if S were 3-0, I think I would simply draw trump and take the D finesse. What are your thoughts?

jim2August 29th, 2013 at 12:44 pm

The column explanation of he bidding confused me. Antonio Sementa made a slam try in spades and bid 7H which, I thought, offered a choice of grands. It was Giorgio Duboin who called 7N.

Also, perhaps Sementa suggested 7N based on “Darvasian” whispers from the 9D.

Iain ClimieAugust 29th, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think David’s line in 7S looks pretty good – QJx of clubs dropping, Kx(x) of diamonds coming down, residual squeeze chances and still the H finesse at the end. I think on purely IMP odds, a grand slam NV attempts to gain 500 (11 IMPs) while risking a loss of 1030 (14) always assuming the small slam is bid in the other room, suggesting around 56 percent as a breakeven point. Hence 7S by S looks ok on David’s line; 7N is rather dodgy especially as south can bid 7S anyway to keep his hand closed.

Is it me or is slam bidding getting more frequent and occasionally reckless? True, modern gadgets help here, but there does seem to be a trend towards a more optimistic view here.



Bobby WolffAugust 29th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hi David,

At least as far as I can analyze, your card for card play in 7NT is the best order of cards, and I also agree with your statement that your play is only slightly better than just a straight out diamond finesse, surely true, as you also pointed out, if spades had been 3-0.

Thanks for your tedious efforts to educate other younger, aspiring players to seek the best line by pointing out timing, card manipulation to preserve necessary entries, and, of course, emphasizing card order to arrive at the necessary squeeze ending, while, if possible, preserving another winning ending in the event of cards not being where they could be.

The only caveat I could add is that regardless of the location of the king of diamonds and playing against top players you will not get a hesitation over the diamond queen, since he will be prepared for dealing with that contingency by thinking what to do while you, the declarer, are thinking how to time the play (but perhaps, since he has only king third and thus decides to cover, it will then make it easier)

Perhaps a bridge playing computer in about 20+ years will be able to play this hand as you suggest, but play it fast enough to catch West unaware.

Thanks again for your considerable effort.

Bobby WolffAugust 29th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

After careful reconsideration, I now believe that Antonio Sementa was only attempting to transfer the playing of 7 spades to the strong 2NT opener, Giorgio Duboin as opposed to suggesting a 7NT contract. Spades had not been bid yet, so a transfer was necessary to get the lead coming up, instead of through the strong hand.

The above only proves the moving parts of bidding sequences, which doesn’t always mean the exact same thing to even two world class players who have formed one of the best partnerships in the world.

Do two world class doubles tennis players ever move in wrong directions during their important tournaments? Probably, but it would take a very astute tennis commentator to realize it and then point it out to the viewer.

And getting back to bridge, you are possibly right in your supposition of the nine of diamonds whispering its location (later to be used as a necessary squeeze threat) to the Italians, but since the nine of diamonds will forever be thought of as the “Curse of Scotland” since Italy was playing Poland instead, it is doubtful. However Robert Darvas with his magnificent “Right Through The Pack” tale of all 52 cards telling their tale of how they had an opportunity to shine would agree that the nine of diamonds, with Scotland not involved, would have lacked incentive to add to its reputation, but he, no doubt, would have intentionally overlooked that special nine’s other life.

Bobby WolffAugust 29th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hi Iain,

Thank you for your right-on critique of David’s accurate description of the play in 7NT. If I am right, that the mix up was unintended by Antonio, but rather misread by Giorgio, it then should be dismissed since the intent was different, but merely showed the poisoned flowers awaiting all players while attempting artificial and scientific special meanings to key bids.

In answer to your direct question about the sometimes reckless present slam bidding, perhaps the answer lies in expecting the meeting of minds between two familiar partners to be automatic instead of iffy, and maybe because of that, some more conservative partners (me especially included) triy to be very careful before accepting to be part of a highly scientific approach to achieving perfection.

My experiences of attempting perfection long ago has resulted in settling for lesser goals, in the interests of winning rather than dreaming of what might one fine day would result, but somewhere in the path of achieving needs to reach the confidence of being sure, which to my judgment is not as close as others may think, and, at least to me, is now just a gleam in the eyes and hearts of combatants who so want it to happen and continue to risk disaster rather than to settle for less.

At least, to me, life is just too short to take those chances.

Jane AAugust 29th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Just a chime in from the flight B peanut gallery, but why bid a grand off two kings? Yes, I know, fit and shape are certainly important, and lucky that where the cards are in this hand, it makes, but really???

And then to bypass what could the the best slam of seven spades to go even more rogue and bid seven NT? I assume the six club answer to five NT was a specific king, so with two kings still not accounted for, why did this pair think a grand was even in the room? Sounds like they felt they needed the board. Guess they did if they still lost the match, even if only by one IMP.

Bobby WolffAugust 29th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hi Jane A,

First, please accept a gift promoting you to where you belong, a comfortable and comforted seat, hobbing and nobbing with equal very good players who love the game and always are making important contributions to it.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, I think Sementa was only trying to play the hand from the strong side (spades had yet to be bid by either partner), with the opening lead coming up rather than through, but Deboin misread it
as a choice between spades and NT.

Also, North did have a 7 card suit, often taking the place of not held kings, but while stating this, I agree with you, that a small slam was what this hand probably only called for.

Another feature to be kept in mind is that if a grand slam is in the cards, when playing at this high level it doesn’t often pay to be conservative since your opponents sitting in the same chairs as you are at the other table also are holding that 7 card suit, opposite a strong 2NT by partner, so do not expect them to become wimps.

Again, I agree with your judgment, but am only discussing the specific conditions which exist. And since they lost anyway, although by the smallest of margins, perhaps their judgment was OK.

Thanks for writing and always adding important contributions to the discussion.

Jim LawrenceAugust 29th, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Why can’t East keep his J of clubs?

Jeff SAugust 29th, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Hi Jim,

The way I read it, he can keep the JC, but he can’t keep all three clubs because he has to keep the KH.

Bobby WolffAugust 30th, 2013 at 3:51 am

Hi Jim & Jeff,

Yes Jeff, the dummy still hold the queen of hearts, the nine of diamonds and a low club, forcing West to hold the king of diamonds and East to hold on to three clubs (including, of course, the jack). Presto, chango, the double squeeze works and the grand slam, in spite of the bidding misunderstanding, comes home.

A glamorous end to a difficult beginning and middle.

Jim LawrenceAugust 30th, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Is it not possible for East to keep 3 clubs. I think declarer does not have and entry to the Hs in the N hand, so east can dump his HK.

Bobby WolffAugust 30th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Hi Jim,

I think, at least according to the column description, that South had, after leading a diamond to his ace (a Vienna Coup once described as intentionally establishing a trick in an opponent’s hand and then squeezing him out of it), he then led his 3rd spade to dummy and ran the spades keeping the 9 of diamonds, queen of hearts and, of course a small club when each opponent had to hold a card to beat dummy, West the king of diamonds and East the king of hearts. while declarer kept AKx of clubs.

Then at trick eleven, declarer led a club from dummy and his clubs in hand then had to be good since each opponent had too many fish to fry in their defensive responsibilities.

A classic double squeeze, which though somewhat rare, does occur every once in a while and, like riding a bicycle, once learned, usually remembered.

This very advanced play is not a prerequisite for becoming a good player, but still it does not hurt any of us to see it in action, which, in turn, helps make the playing of bridge a great experience and convincing all educators who understand the mental agility required, willing to teach it in school for its pure numerical value in thought process.

The science of numbers and logic together are a powerful duo.

Jim LawrenceAugust 30th, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I finally got it. When he plays the small club from dummy and east dumps his HK declarer puts in his CT.

Bobby WolffAugust 31st, 2013 at 5:46 am

Hi Jim,

No he doesn’t have to do that, because on the last good spade led from the dummy East must hold the king of hearts and so discard one club allowing South to then score up the three clubs he has left (AKx). West could not keep the clubs guarded because he had to hold the king of diamonds since dummy’s nine would have been good otherwise.

Put out the cards on a table and you will see the double squeeze work, which will make the next one which comes up, much easier to understand. Once learned, never forgotten!

Good luck and hang in there.