Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 16th, 2013

Oh! My name is John Wellington Wells,
I’m a dealer in magic and spells.

W.S. Gilbert

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


At last year's Olympiad tournament in Lille, Fredrik Nystrom demonstrated that he is not just an Olympic champion, but also an illusionist creating magic. But first, before looking at what happened, take Cezary Balicki's position as declarer to try to solve the problem.

You are in four hearts, neither of the opponents having interfered in the auction. You win West’s lead of the club six with the ace; East follows with the queen, indicating the jack, but not the king.

Your contract looks to be comfortable unless you lose three trump tricks. Since the easiest singleton to cope with is the queen with West, you play a trump to the king, but West wins with the ace and plays back the club four. You ruff away East’s jack and continue by playing the heart jack. You realize that you misguessed trumps when West follows suit and East wins the trick with the queen. East now cashes the diamond ace and returns the spade nine, which you win in dummy. Then what?

Balicki quite reasonably concluded that Nystrom had the singleton diamond ace. So instead of playing a diamond to try to get back to hand, he tried to cash the spade king and ruff a spade, hoping to reach his hand to pull the defenders’ last trump.

However, since Nystrom had his singleton in spades rather than diamonds, he could ruff the second spade and defeat the contract.

In context you have three great features to your hand. Good diamond support and a working card in your partner's second suit, plus short spades. You might just jump to five diamonds, but maybe it is right as a passed (and thus limited) hand to bid three spades, then follow up with five diamonds.


♠ 9
 Q 5 2
 A 8 2
♣ Q J 9 7 5 3
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 1♠
2♣ 2♠ 3 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


jim2August 30th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

On BWTA, there is a very good chance that it would be easier to take 10 tricks in hearts than 11 in diamonds.

Bobby WolffAugust 30th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

If only losers were considered in helping determine final contracts your judgment would be a bell ringer. Also if one is used to playing matchpoint duplicate the extra trick score in making equal numbers (or sometimes not even equal since 10 tricks in hearts, 120, is worth more than 11 tricks in diamonds, 100) is highly profitable in racking up matchpoints since 30 per trick for major suits as opposed to 20 per trick for minor suits can be huge.

However, (and you probably felt this coming) holding that eighth trump (and sometimes ninth is so incredibly important in the play and, for that matter, in keeping from losing control of the hand altogether, that to think otherwise could be thought of to be a revolutionary way of thinking (remember 6 cards out in a suit are more likely to be split 4-2 than 3-3).

Since, although being weaned on opening 4 card majors, a method I still prefer to play, I did not shy away from occasionally playing 4-3 fits, but in reality I must admit, that in the long run, at least I suspect, it is a losing philosophy on normal hands, particularly against strong opposition.

Of course, with this BWTA, it is no cinch that partner has 5+ diamonds, but until convinced otherwise (by partner’s next bid) that he either does not have 5 diamonds or does have 5 hearts (with a heart rebid) I will opt to play diamonds even at the cost of a level higher and a lower matchpoint score if others are successful in a heart game contract.

The above is only my opinion and not to be taken to the bank, but playing a 4-3 fit at the game level is not exactly like sitting in a rocking chair, but if so, then while, at the very least, on the edge of a precipice.

jim2August 30th, 2013 at 4:37 pm

You are the expert and world champion, not moi.

Still, West’s tame raise together with East’s failure to compete with 3S makes me think pard is very likely to be 3-4-5-1 and the opponents lack lots of distribution. If we are off the black aces, pard is not making 5D unless BOTH red suits are solid.

Yet, if both red suits are solid, 4H will always make unless the defense engineers an unlikely club tap, probably setting up that suit in the process. Even in that case, declarer still has chances (3-3 trump plus some 4-2 splits since declarer should be able to read the distribution after the club plays).

Bobby WolffAugust 30th, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Hi Jim2,

Well said and, at the very least, a large percent true. Unlike my last comment, there is no however, so the case either remains unsolved and perhaps is ready to go to the jury or, more likely, the bridge table to be decided, although the communication and thus results learned, is unlikely to be distributed.

You are indeed, a very sharp bridge analyzer and do not say things you do not believe. That, at least to me, is worth even more than being right almost every time.

Patrick CheuAugust 30th, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Hi Bobby,playing pairs,is there any way for NS to reach 6D after this auction:EW vul /North P-East 3H-South 4NT(minors or Blackwood,no agreement)West P~North 5D Pass out.North J10972 AJ6 QJ98 J East Q Q1098543 64 K109 South void 7 AK10732 AQ7542 West AK86543 K2 5 863.How would you bid with the South hand? What would 4H by South mean?If 4NT is minors,could North bid anything else but 5D?Nobody got to 6D or 7D.Your thoughts would be much appreciated ~regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffAugust 31st, 2013 at 5:37 am

Hi Patrick,

East leaned into it with an unfavorable (vul vs. not vul) preempt, but should have rolled in the matchpoints by so doing when NS played only 5 diamonds cold for a grand slam.

South was correct to bid 4NT over 3 hearts which most all top level players play for the minors, but after doing so he was worth a raise to 6 diamonds. Of course, North could (should) bid 6 diamonds whereupon South should kick the bridge extra point and bid 7.

Bridge is not an exact science, not even close, so when the opponents take away invaluable bidding space as East did here with his dangerous overbid vulnerable of 3 hearts it is every person for himself or herself and chance are the minor suit great hand should find either the ace of hearts or the king of clubs, or a singleton as he did here.

Battle risk by them with risk by you, the other side, and if you look for safety take up another game, since all guns are blazing and Katie bar the door.

As a tidbit, when the great hand raises to 6 diamonds sometimes if the opponents have a reasonable heart fit and some spade honors they may even take a phantom save over the opponents 6 diamonds, even if sometimes the diamond slam doesn’t come home.

In other words, play poker with them or if you rather call it, bridge roulette, but whatever stand toe to toe with them and fight it out.

It is difficult to believe that in a reasonably sized duplicate not one pair reached as much as a small slam, but that’s bridge, mister.

Sorry to be so blunt, but some explanations just demand it, otherwise I will not be giving my all to suggest the right thing.

Good luck, and bid em up, but be prepared to sleep in the streets sometimes, but collect the trophies most of the time.

Patrick CheuAugust 31st, 2013 at 6:49 am

Hi Bobby,I held the North hand,and had difficulty in bidding six diamonds,but your succinct,and humorous,analysis has concentrated my mind to take the plunge..:) my sincere thanks for all your encouraging help~best regards-Patrick.

jim2August 31st, 2013 at 11:11 am

I waited for Our Host to respond before commenting on Patrick Cheu’s intriguing deal.

I confess that I would have simply bid 6D, but what would a 5H response by North have meant? On the face of it, it would seem to be telling the 4N hand that North felt the hand belonged in at least in 6 of a minor and was bidding a first round control on the way. Thus, if North had first round control of spades, North could then bid 5S and see what South had in mind or just blast to 7C and let South correct if necessary to 7D.

Patrick CheuAugust 31st, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Hi Jim2, your 5H and 5S bids are certainly worthy of discussion as to showing or asking for first round control from a partnership perspective,consultation is perhaps the key to bidding 7C or 7D.Thanks for your suggestion.Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2013 at 5:06 am

Hi Jim2 & Patrick,

I totally agree with Jim 2’s response to 4NT with 5 hearts as well as agreeing with him that the 6-6 great minor suit hand bid 5 spades to suggest a grand slam, which invitation should be accepted by a jump to 7 clubs (pass or correct), although not being guaranteed to make.

Cue bids usually tell not ask (possibly with the exception of Western Cue Bids which supposedly shows half a stop in a key suit for 3NT purposes). They also show interest in going higher and anyone who has categorized in his own mind of some cue bids demanding partner to also cue, if he has a first round control, I would usually not agree, but rather review and feel the bidding up to then, to decide whether our side has underbid, overbid, or bid about right. If I have already overbid, I may pass over a cue bid, but this is all judgment, but, after all, bridge is a game of judgment and I’ll take as my partner a player of magnificent experienced judgment and let my opponent have the greatest bridge technician who has walked the face of the earth, and, if so, the money should be bet on the side of the player with superior judgment.

Stronger comment will not follow!