Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 17th, 2013

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.

Sun Tzu

North North
Neither ♠ A Q 6 5
 Q J 9
 9 8 4
♣ 9 4 3
West East
♠ 8 4
 8 7 4 2
 A 6
♣ K J 10 5 2
♠ K J 10 3 2
 K 10 6
♣ Q 8 7 6
♠ 9 7
 A 5 3
 K Q 10 7 5 3 2
♣ A
South West North East
Pass Pass
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
3 Pass 3 Pass
4♣ Pass 4 Pass
5 All pass    


Bob Hamman was among the few to bid and make five diamonds in today's deal from last year's Olympiad in Lille.

You receive the lead of the heart seven, fourth highest or second from a bad suit, and if you had to play the hearts for no loser, the right play would be the nine. But here you may not need to make that desperate a move; finessing the queen leaves more tension in the ending, whether East covers or not.

East covers the queen with the king, reinforcing your opinion that the heart 10 is likely to be wrong. You advance a high diamond and are delighted to see the diamond jack falling from East, giving you an extra entry to dummy. Better still, the defenders play back a club instead of a major. Time to take advantage of their generosity!

You win the club, lead to the diamond nine to ruff a club, then cross over to the heart jack, eschewing the finesse. When you ruff out the third club and exit with a heart, you endplay North to lead a black suit and take care of your spade loser.

Had the defenders continued with a heart at trick three, you would have needed to rise with the jack and bring East under pressure by running all the trumps.

On the even more challenging spade shift at trick three, you would have had to rise with the ace to squeeze East — not easy, but maybe the indicated line?

This hand is at the lower end of the range for a penalty double that suggests your side has the balance of the high cards, so it typically shows at least 9 HCP. Your balanced hand pattern may make it somewhat unlikely that you have a big penalty coming, but then again, why shouldn't partner have extras?


♠ A Q 6 5
 Q J 9
 9 8 4
♣ 9 4 3
South West North East
1♣ 1 NT

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


Patrick CheuAugust 31st, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Hi Bobby,some West leads the second highest from 1076x,the 7 could be the case here..,as for not taking the spade finesse,is that obvious given no bidding by opps,except for the singleton trump holding in East?True East is squeezed,by South’s diamonds,and West has not got Kx of his spade switch at trick 3..Would you have played the hand this way? Possibly Yes!Best regards~Patrick :0)

Wen TaoAugust 31st, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,
Thanks for the interesting hand. β€œOn the even more challenging spade shift at trick three, you would have had to rise with the ace to squeeze East β€” not easy, but maybe the indicated line?” In this scenario, I guess that the play near the end will depend on what cards East keeps. If he keeps 1 spade and 2 hearts, you throw him in with the spade Q and collect 2 heart tricks at the end. Otherwise, you cash 2 good hearts and give up a spade at the end. What is your preferred short-cut and efficient method for card counting and tracking in such a situation? I guess what I mean is that if it is a championship match, one has to count in tedious and hard way; no excuse allowed. However, more often than not, I just play for fun and would like to use a short cut method so that I can get it right most of the time but easy on the efforts, assuming the opponents are intelligent, not ditching a spade jack or ten in the last minutes. Thanks.

Patrick CheuSeptember 1st, 2013 at 9:10 am

Hi Bobby,my apologies for missing your comment on the lead of the second highest from bad suits in the above hand.Bob Hamman’s play of this hand is based on his great experience over many years of playing at the highest level,mostly with you,and thanks to you,we can understand the reasoning of such play that little bit better,and look forward to playing the next challenging hand. Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Hi Patrick & Wen,

Sometimes the logistics of the questions and answers, although entwined, are given on different hands causing some dismay to those who do not have the time to conveniently devote themselves to that difficult task.

Bob Hamman’s Friday, August 30th hand (2 weeks delayed from its original date), was just such an occasion. Yes, Bob’s opponent could have been leading away from the 10 of hearts (1087 or 107xx) making the nine from dummy, an automatic winning play (East would not have covered the jack except with K10 doubleton and/or third which would be optional, depending on how he viewed the hand), but if he wasn’t and East produced the 10 our prospects would dim considerably, then depending on the king of spades being right and no heart ruff available to the defense.

No great player likes to play for those stakes, if possible, at trick one and therefore Bob adopted a play (the jack) which kept alive his chances and, at the very least, postponed his living to fight another day or in this case, perhaps 10 minutes.

And fight and win he did suceed, so let me now turn to Wen’s important queries. On Friday’s hand I commented that I think good playing judgment trumps great bridge technique among our very best.

The reason is quite simple, though probably not totally understood by every bridge enthusiast aspiring for greater goals. First West is unlikely to be switching to spades with the king since he might be giving the contract trick away if declarer holds the jack. Rather he would want to develop a club trick (playing partner for the queen) so that if declarer had one less heart and one more club, he might then opt to take the losing spade finesse later.

Now, Wen, to directly answer your question about great bridge judgment (although you didn’t specifically ask it that way). While declaring at the high level one, if he possesses world class talent, he will somehow feel the opponents anxiety (call it mental telepathy) and those brain waves (mind reading) are usually transmitted, although not one spoken word is exchanged. It is probably based on something similar to what lie detectors try and find out, whether or not a person is telling the truth, based on his body transmissions and general emotions which translate through an attached machine.

The thought process between very good players cannot be totally obscured, although all top players try to camouflage it in whatever effective way they choose. Therein could be called the very pronounced poker element in bridge, which is very common when our highest players compete against each other.

Perhaps now when bridge experience is mentioned, the above is a very basic lesson, on what is meant, and why younger players (and 40 years of age is very young for top flight players) need to develop only that to reach their top form, but, believe me, talking about it will not get it done, but rather only playing against the very best and including all four players is necessary and even with that preferred format, it still takes longer than some of us want to admit.

Patrick, you are indeed a wonderful communicator who possesses a sincere manner which, in turn, makes everyone who comes in contact with you feel better about himself (herself). You indeed make this tough world a better place. NEVER, NEVER CHANGE!

Wen TaoSeptember 2nd, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,
Thanks for your comments.