Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

A gambler never makes the same mistake twice. It's usually three or more times.

Terrence Murphy

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


One of my readers, Orville St. Clair, sent me this deal. He was playing a practice session with three students of his, on which he took a shot at six clubs.

He won the heart opening lead with the ace and pulled a round of trumps, revealing the 2-1 split. So he led a second round, winning in hand.

Now the spades had to be played for one loser. St Clair realized that he would make if East had either the king or the J-10 of spades. But before leading spades, he cashed the diamond ace in case he could drop the king. Next he led the spade seven, intending to run it to East, but West put in the 10, covered by the queen and king. Back came a diamond, ruffed, followed by a heart ruff and a diamond ruff. When the king did not appear, St. Clair finessed in spades for his contract.

In addition to the bridge hand, St. Clair mentioned that he had been a gambler on the horses when he was young. In a fashion that would make all of us investors proud, he recently correctly named all winners in a Pick-Six. For the first time in his life, he bought a brand new car, and will now focus on mentoring younger players as his way of paying back the friendly folks who helped him when he was just starting in the game. It is very satisfactory when good things happen to nice guys.

Your partner is NOT bidding two no-trump in an attempt to play there or in a no-trump game. As a hand that passed twice, he is scrambling for the best trump suit. He rates to have a weak hand with both minors and wants you to pick your longer suit. It is good strategy for responder to bid the cheaper suit in such instances, so bid three clubs and hope for the best.


♠ A Q 8 2
 Q 5 4 2
♣ K J 3 2
South West North East
Pass 1
Dbl. 2 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 2 NT 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


jim2September 4th, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Could declarer have improved his chances some by cashing the diamond ace before touching trump and then getting in two diamond ruffs before spades (instead of one)?


– AH
– AD
– JC
– D ruff
– KC
– D ruff

Playing a spade into East now also makes that defender’s exit tougher.

Bobby WolffSeptember 4th, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

I think the declarer accomplished the same thing, but in a different order, once, after first getting in with the king of spades (West rising with the 10) and after declarer had cashed the ace of diamonds, East led a diamond back and then declarer crisscrossed by ruffing a heart and then ruffing another diamond, before he took the second spade finesse which landed the contract.

However, the column was not as clear, nor as accurate as is necessary (once confusing East and West) and I can certainly understand the problems for the reader associated with the play by play.

jim2September 4th, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Ah, fair enough.

Getting two diamond ruffs in before touching spades also seems to make East’s exit a bit tougher, though perhaps that is too small an effect to be worth mentioning.

Patrick CheuSeptember 4th, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Hi Bobby,sorry to bring up this hand again,East opens 3H vul,and south bids 4NT minors on void 7 AK10732 AQ7542,NS missed 6D or 7D,question being how would you distinguish between a super 2 suiter in minors and a 5521 or 55 weak minors 11 count say?Do you double with the strong minor 2 suiter then bids 5c over their 4H or 4S?Reserve 4NT for weaker minor 2 suiter?Does Vulnerability come into it ,4NT strong minor 2 suiter?Your thoughts would be much appreciated,just to stop my having a sleepless night..:)regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuSeptember 4th, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Hi Jim and Bobby,If East has 2542,and declarer runs the seven of spades and lose to say 10 or J and East exit with a 4th diamond,is declarer now on a guess to drop the KS or finesse the QS pending who has the King of diamonds?Or is it just a guess?Think Jim’s line gives East very little option apart from a 2542 shape..I stand to be corrected..regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffSeptember 5th, 2013 at 1:29 am

Hi Patrick,

To answer your first question would be to suggest an immediate jump to 4NT before hearing from the partner of the vulnerable 3 heart bidder is a good hand, (not normally up to the strength of the hand held, but always a very sound, at least 10 card minor suit hand, suggesting a make opposite perhaps one trick furnished by partner. With 6 diamonds, 5 clubs and medium strength e.g xx, void, KQ10xxx, AJ10xx I would merely bid 4 diamonds and then 5 clubs if it went 4H by LHO, P, P. With xx, void, KQxxx, AQ10xxx I would bid 4 clubs first and then upon hearing 4H, P, P then bid 4NT to show at least 4 good diamonds and perhaps 5.

Please keep in mind that all of your bridge heroes are not invincible or anywhere close, just experienced, numerate, tough minded players who stick their necks out, but can be distinguished from equally talented players by their judgment being better than their peers which almost always shows up with more important big time wins, as long as the opportunities are there for both players described above.

There are absolutely no guarantees to anyone in a high-level competitive bridge game, but for one reason or another those who are bolder and have great poker type instincts are destined for the larger victories. Since all of the great players practicee good bridge technique, it is only a very small advantage (if any) to be slightly better than someone else. Concentration, numeracy and knowing how to win (playing one’s best under the greatest pressure) would be on my short list of necessary qualities to possess and the only way to improve all of those qualities is to be enabled to have the experiences of playing at that level among the world’s best.

In answer to your second question, if the first spade loses to the ten or jack and RHO is 2-5-4-2 then the odds are great that his remaining spade is NOT the king, but if it is, it is nothing less than foolhardy to play for it to be. Yes RHO did overcall 1 heart, but being NV vs. Vul, most players do not have very high requirements for such a bid and also East may have 6 hearts.

A rule to remember while defending as the partner of the overcaller is never make a helpful discard against a great player since he is always in the process of trying to plan his play around what he knows to be true and for that reason West should not let declarer know that he started with 4 hearts.

Just a word to the wise, and I certainly think that you fit the category.

Patrick CheuSeptember 5th, 2013 at 6:17 am

Hi Bobby,bridge at the top,as you say,is certainly based on judgement and the boldness to go that extra distance where there will always be Risk.My sincere thanks again for your much appreciated comment,which will certainly fuel more partnership discussion.Regards~Patrick.

jim2September 5th, 2013 at 6:21 am

My point about East’s exit was that he would likely be down to only major suit cards when in with the first spade, depriving him of a clear safe exit.

He would know from West’s lead that his partner did not have the QH or the JH, meaning that a heart shift had risks. For example, if East returned the KH and declarer held QJ53, then dummy’s losing spades would go away. OTOH, if West held J109 of spades, a spade return would be safe.

If West avoids a fatal heart return, at the least declarer is no worse off than before.

However, things become interesting (to me) at this point.

Consider the play after a heart return. It sets up a (sadly meaningless this time) heart winner for declarer, effectively marking West with 3 diamonds because a diamond return would have been clearly safe. This marks West with diamond king-fifth.

Now South could ruff the other heart (if xH was exited), and run trump. (if West returned the KH, it transposes)

When South plays the last trump at trick 11, West must keep the KD, and so must come down to only one spade. Declarer pitches the QD from dummy and plays a spade towards the AQ at trick 12 and knows that West is playing the only spade held.

Bobby WolffSeptember 5th, 2013 at 10:34 am

Hi Jim2,

Yes, no doubt declarer could have done exactly as you say, ruff two diamonds early, using club entries to dummy for entries, as long as by doing so, he would not lessen his legitimate chances in spades by being in the right hand at the right time to lead spades from hand (when the king of diamonds didn’t fall first). However, as long as he would be able to include the diamond king falling early as an increased extra chance, without jeopardizing his spade finesses, he should realize that, with the heart layout being what it is, that the opponents will have a safe out.

Of course, when given the chance, some defenders will do the wrong thing, so anything extra you can lay on them, by all means give them a chance to err. When playing matchpoints and in a random field your philosophy is even more important for winning, so in no way am I either doubting what you are saying nor am I thinking it too trivial to consider.

However, for column purposes, often we only have time and space for specific points and so, by necessity, we pass over discussing peripheral advantages.

jim2September 5th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I do not disagree at all, but I am drawn to hands with layers.

Your contributor still has a bit of luck remaining, it seems to me, because if I had played the hand his way the W-E hands would surely have been:

10643 — KJ
763 —— K109842
K10873 – J96
5 ——— 107

With the variation I suggested above, declarer would know to drop the KS at trick 12.