Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.

Henry David Thoreau

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


Since my column started appearing online, my correspondents have been writing to me from all around the world. But I believe today's deal may be the first provided to me by an Indian correspondent. Shantanu Rastogi from Lucknow passed on a deal that arose in the finals of the Indian Senior trials in April this year.

As you can see, six diamonds looks like a very comfortable affair, but North took the precipitous decision to leap to the no-trump slam, and East alertly doubled. This is the Lightner double, named after the American expert Theodore Lightner, asking for the lead of dummy’s first-bid suit.

I could not resist a smile when I read Shantanu’s somewhat acerbic description of the West player as a Godzilla — the same term Zia Mahmood had used to describe a partner more dangerous to his side than the opponents. Be that as it may, West led a club, and declarer won in dummy and advanced the heart queen. East took the trick, and found out to his dismay that after the run of all the minor-suit winners, he could not now protect himself from the spade-heart squeeze whether he returned a heart or a spade.

As the commentators sagely noted, after the event, the slam still goes down if East refuses to take either of the first two heart tricks, since declarer no longer has any communication between his hand and dummy. I’m not sure why this play is hard to spot, but it is.

This hand is surely strong enough to drive to game, since even facing a minimum balanced hand, your singleton may still leave partner cold for game. That said, some play mini-splinters (a jump to three no-trump over one spade or to three spades over one heart showing a raise to game, with 9-12 points and an unspecified splinter). I'll write about this soon in the Sunday letters column.


♠ K Q 5 2
 A 10 8 7
 10 9 7 2
♣ 8
South West North East
1♠ 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


Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hi Bobby,

Maybe east shouldn’t double opposite such a partner but the parable about casting the first stone still applies – ouch! On BWTA, however, is it worth noting how much better that hand is (or might be) than if the majors were reversed

Reg ards,


Bobby WolffOctober 22nd, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Hi Iain,

Both your parable and your bridge valuation are, as usual, right on target.

While West was not knowing (about Lightner doubles and such), East was not aware of the rectifying the count principle inherent in many final squeeze positions where the defense should, of course, not cooperate with the declarer’s desire to lose the necessary trick so that the squeeze position would materialize, usually at trick 12 in a slam.
(of course, declarer may not have held the jack of hearts, making East subject to having to guess).

Also since KQxx opposite partner’s long trump holding is usually more valuable than is A1087 which is often better to handle various shorter holdings (especially a singleton) in partner’s side suit.

Without even knowing you, which I, of course, now do, I would be impressed with your natural overall bridge talent, and even, above that, the way you find intelligent ways to express it.

Iain ClimieOctober 22nd, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the kind comment but I noticed something odd in a couple of defences tonight. Your column hands often feature the need to stop and think rather than just playing the obvious card. Tonight I ‘d have been better off going for the obvious as my thoughts misfired and the results were poor. Jim2 may have thoughts here.


jim2October 23rd, 2013 at 1:28 am

Welllll …


Many a time experts have said that it is often easier to play against players who are good enough to be trusted to make sound plays, hence the expert is able to rely on their bids and carding and draw inferences with reasonable certainty.

Since you “asked” for a jim2 story (invoke my name, will you!):

The place was a DC club championship and I was defending a contract. The year was 1994, I think, plus or minus a year. True story. Either the opponents had misjudged or maybe we had defended well, but they were already down and we were going to get a very good board.

I had won the trick and had to decide what to do next. I took a minute to try to deduce what declarer’s holding must have been, based on the bidding and play.

I was at a key decision point. Declarer’s play only made sense if he (a man, a short guy, in fact) held a very, very unlikely holding. Could he really have that? I wondered about it for all the time I dared.

Eventually, I concluded it to be so unlikely that I led what seemed to cater to the more probable situation.

Maybe it was ToCM ™ but, of course, his holding was indeed the very, very strange one. The result was that we got a very good board. However, if I had “believed” him, we would have had a complete top.

As we left the table, I muttered about it. My partner asked me why hadn’t I “trusted” him. After all, he was Steve Robinson.

“What?” I half-shouted, turning and staring back at the table. I knew almost no players by face and Robinson is a common name, if indeed it had been on their card. “Why didn’t you warn me?”

My partner shrugged. “I was afraid you might be intimidated.”

Moral: if I had known my opponent, I would have known how to defend.

OTOH, I probably would not have doubled ….

Iain ClimieOctober 23rd, 2013 at 7:48 am

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for the enjoyable story and it raises a good question – against good players, should you kplay the hand, them or both?


jim2October 23rd, 2013 at 11:46 am

Iain –

Glad you liked it!

As for your Q, remember, I am NOT an expert. I am not sure I am even good enough for an expert to “trust” what I am doing!

Iain ClimieOctober 23rd, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Hi Jim2,

My favourite boss used to accuse me on occasions of being expert – defined as ex is has-been and spurt is a drip under pressure. A little cynical, but apt on my bad days!


Bobby WolffOctober 23rd, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

Hopefully other readers have enjoyed your back and forth as much as I have.

You both, at least the way I feel, regard bridge the way I do, extremely challenging but above all, humbling.

Your attitudes represent reality, certainly including the respect both of you usually have for your worthy opponents.

When bridge is played between two high-level partnerships, the game itself comes to life, like an early Spring day, the playing and bidding interchanges are usually thrilling, the conversation demands respect, and the winner is up for grabs. Add to that the practiced Active Ethics of both pairs, and bridge heaven thrives.

Most, if not all, of the above characteristics need to be present, but when they are, there are very few experiences in life which can match that atmosphere.

At least, the above is the way I feel and hearing your own stories, where modesty and substance are emphasized, jogs my memory and encourages me to seek it for others.

Thank you both!