Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, September 6th, 2013

From the east to western Ind,
No jewel is like Rosalind.

William Shakespeare

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


Today's deal came up during one local segment of the Pakistan Bridge Federation's trials, held in Karachi a few years ago.

We all know that pre-emptive bids are designed to be obstructive by stealing bidding space from opponents, but they can backfire spectacularly, as here.

Against six diamonds West led the spade king. Declarer surveyed dummy and saw that life would have been easier had his diamond spots been just one jot stronger and North’s one weaker. He would then have had no problem in ridding dummy of its losing spades if he held the diamond eight and dummy the seven.

But given what he had to work with, he had little choice. Declarer quickly formed a plan that relied upon East’s cooperation. For the plan to work, East had to have at least two diamonds, one of them being the queen.

South took the lead in dummy, then smoothly cashed the diamond ace, hoping that he would catch East playing by rote. It would have taken great imagination on the part of East to divine South’s hand and jettison his diamond queen under the ace. After the diamond ace drew the two and three, declarer proceeded to cash dummy’s top cards in the rounded suits, then played a low diamond. In with the queen, East had no option but to give declarer access to hand with a club or heart, and the slam came home.

The opponents are surely about to bid or jump in spades. Do you want to encourage them or partner to do more bidding? While you are not overloaded with high cards, you can offer partner some ruffs. I'd guess it was right to raise clubs. If nonvulnerable, I'd make a pre-emptive raise to four clubs. Vulnerable, I'd simply raise to three clubs, or pass if my partner is an aggressive bidder.


♠ 9
 9 8 7 6 5 2
 Q 3
♣ 9 8 7 6
South West North East
Pass 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


ClarksburgSeptember 20th, 2013 at 11:28 am

Question unrelated to today’s column. I would normally have asked on Sunday’s Q and A. It’s here so that we might hear, in addition to your reply, the views of others who participate (even if they’re from Elbonia or Lower Slobovia).
Regarding Losing Trick Count (and related “Cover Cards): There seems to be quite a “buzz” amongst local Club players. I’d like to know whether the “rebirth” of this, which seems overly complicated and brain-scrambling, is mainly fad and fashion, or whether it could be useful.
Suppose an intermediate Club pair already does a respectable job of hand evaluation and bidding judgement, recognizing suit lengths and quality, good hand shapes, working and not working cards, useless Quacks, duplication, law of total tricks, right-sided Kx, etc. Would overlaying an LTC assessment, as a second stage, be likely to improve their bidding?

Bobby WolffSeptember 20th, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Perhaps to them, a losing trick assessment overlay, at any stage might lead them to think it would improve their and, for that matter every ones game.

All of us, especially with the way different bridge players approach evaluating hands, use, or attempt to, some consistent method of trying to “guess” correctly.

However, at least to me, bridge is in charge, making the game itself, possibly similar to trying to guess what a woman is thinking about, almost impossible to fathom, at least, in trying to stay on the Yellow Brick road on the way to the Emerald City.

The playing of bridge is, at least to me, the supreme test of the need for logical thinking with a cogent example being: “No one’s hand can ever be called good or bad, but rather instead, only in relation to the previous bids made by that hand”. That type of logic is never ending and applies throughout an entire auction with evaluation constantly changing depending upon the other three players bidding or not bidding, as the case might be.

The Losing Trick Count has been attempted ever since Contract Bridge was invented in 1927, with minor (and some not so) variations, but regardless of its name, sure tells during the auctions should greatly influence a player’s judgment both as to high card location, and, at least as important, what the distributions figure to be. For example, to quote what should now be taught in American schools in early grades just to begin to understand numerical logic is if the bidding would go, 1 club, pass, 1 heart, pass, 2 hearts, pass, pass, pass. and the trump suit held by the declaring hand is KJxxx opposite A10xx with perhaps 21 HCPS held to the opponents 19 the hearts, instead of the percentage table suggesting a 3-1 heart break 50%, 2-2 40% and 4-0 10% should instead be IMO 3-1 14%, 2-2 85+% and 4-0 much less than 1%. Of course, the opponents continued silence is the entire reason.

Of course, players other than rank novices would need to be playing, but that is always to be assumed since the teaching of bridge has to accept that the players know enough to at least have their minds somewhat involved in the thinking and have enough experience to be trying to do as well as they can.

In other words, bridge is by far the greatest mind game ever invented as long as we are talking about players who at least like the game and give their God given mind the incentive to get as good as they can, regardless of their individual needs and time which can be spent learning it.

The above will never happen until our administrators and bridge politicians (along with considerable pro bono volunteer work from our bridge professionals) devote their time to getting bridge into our public schools as has been done in many countries in Europe, all with spectacular results, and, as we speak, now being taught to 200 million students in China.

To not do so, is, at least to me, destructive to our educational system with far reaching consequences which will set back Western Hemisphere education by bounds and leaps for the many years ahead of us until the above deed is accomplished.

Please excuse the above commercial but I am old and basically deaf so I need much help in getting done what the USA’s educational system should demand.

In answer to your question about the fad of the Losing Trick Count is that yes it is important, but it should come naturally to a talented bridge mind without having to have concrete rules. And, in addition, if concrete rules are necessary there are too many variables to even begin to discuss it properly, but when bridge is taught within a school curriculum something intelligent will be discussed which will tend to bring us together with the consistency required for it to be effective.

For the non believers out there (which undoubtedly are many) there is so much to be learned with life’s logic through the game of bridge that, IMO we cannot afford to miss that opportunity to present it to, at least, our very best and brightest youngsters.

Sorry for the rant, but I hope I at least, touched on what you were looking for.

jim2September 20th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I waited for Our Host; he’s the expert (and World Champion), not moi.

With that said, I would offer (humbly) that hands vary so much that probably no one accounting/evaluating measure can fit all. When I was young, HCPs were the major metric, with a small head nod to distribution, as popularized by Goren.

The term “source of tricks” is a key aspect for some evaluations that consider “stoppers” and winners more than losers. That is, the apparent losers are presumed to be discarded.

Hands with very long suits or others with two long suits are troublesome with HCP systems. In such situations, some have recommended counting winners or losers.

One relevant hand demonstrating the above has stuck in my head since I was dealt it at a DC National (the 1984 one remembered by most as the one where Edith Rosenkranz was kidnapped). I picked up:



Playing Precision which suggested that 16 HCP min for 1C could be lowered for two-suited hands, I judged this 12-pointer worth it.

1C – 1H – 1S – 4H

1S = 5-8 HCP and 5+ spades (not a positive response)

I bid 6S, got doubled, pard winced (his only HCP were the KQJ H) and his brow furrowed when I paused, and he realized I was considering redoubling! Pard needed only the KC. AC, xC, void-C, or even four clubs with a 1-1 split.

I passed and the lead was AC. Pard ruffed …. (10xxxx KQJ xxxxx – )

So, we had 18 HCP and all his were wasted ….

Bobby WolffSeptember 21st, 2013 at 12:21 am

Hi Jim2,

Much obliged and many thanks for, at least for my tastes, to tell it like it is, not the way a number of other would be scientists would like it to be.

The adjectives I could think of to describe our game are:

1. Challenging
2. Exciting
3. Competitive
4. Numerate
5. Psychological
6. Technical
7. Diabolical
8. Worthwhile

but never easily mastered, boring, easy to figure out, or possible to achieve anything close to perfection.

I hope Clarksburg appreciated your story as much as I did.

ClarksburgSeptember 21st, 2013 at 2:26 am

Yes I certainly did!
Part of my reaction was “wow, that one must have been fun”.
And I’ve decided not to put any time into learning the complex mind-numbing rote-based calculations of LTC.
I fully expect partner will agree, and, if asked, will find a polite way to tell her well-meaning LTC friends, “thanks but no thanks”.