Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Nobody works better under pressure. They just work faster.

Brian Tracy

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


Declaring six spades, you duck East's heart jack. He returns the heart king to your ace. Obviously East will have the spade king; if it is singleton or doubleton, making 12 tricks will be easy enough. What is your plan for overcoming the cases where he has three or four trumps to the king?

After winning the heart ace, cross to table with a club and run the trump eight. When that wins, lead the trump jack. East covers, and now you draw East’s last trump with the queen.

East’s most likely shapes in the minors are either 2-3 or 3-2. Thus West has to keep at least four cards in each minor. To exert some pressure on his minor-suit holdings, you cross to dummy in a minor suit, say clubs. When you ruff the heart six, what can West do?

You should assume that he will probably discard first from his five-card suit. If West discards a second club, you will cash the club king and ruff a club before returning to hand with a diamond ruff to cash the good club. If West discards a diamond, a diamond to the ace and a diamond ruff will establish a long diamond, and the club ruff is the entry to reach it.

Finally, if East had turned up with four trumps, you would need him to have begun with a 4-5-1-3 distribution. This would allow you to ruff a club in dummy and then squeeze West in the minors.

There is certainly a case for using two diamonds as natural here and two hearts as a raise of spades. Regardless, two hearts seem to be the most unambiguous way to show a constructive spade raise while keeping the partnership at a safe level. You would make a simple raise to two spades with a small diamond instead of the ace.


♠ J 8 4 2
 6 4 2
 A K 6 2
♣ A 6
South West North East
Pass 1 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 ClimieNovember 9th, 2013 at 10:53 am

Hi Bobby,

I recall a similar hand in Terence Reese’s “Practical Bidding and Practical Play” where ruffing the last small card with xxx opposite Ax is a key play (Ch 43 – Innocent Appearance). Reese comments that it is often right in these situations to play for a positon with onme trumpmin each hand.

Can I ask how much you rely on such general guidelines when playing squeezes yourself, how much you work out from first principles and what advice you would give here to club, tournament and “wannabe” top class players?



ClarksburgNovember 9th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Mr. Wolff,
N-S got to their slam with 25 HCP and two not-very-shapely hands. Would a large majority of top players likely reach it?
Curious about N-S’s presumed evaluations and thinking during the column auction:
What would South’s 3C typically show / ask / tell at that point?
Was North’s 3D control-showing typically obligatory at that point, or a considered choice to co-operate even with the minimum.
South’s decision to bid it over North’s sign off?

Bobby WolffNovember 9th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Hi Iain,

Since I have not had any educational training nor am I a natural teacher (being somewhat short of the patience required) I am probably not the right person to answer your provocative question.

Since Terence Reese was undoubtedly (IMO) the best bridge writer of his time (at least up until the Argentine affair in 1965) any advice he might have given, would be what I would follow.

Squeeze play in bridge has many variations and Clyde Love’s original book, specifically on that subject, might have been the best (considering its simplicity), where he describes the learning process. I only, when counting the hand, apply the squeeze principles, such as losing all trick(s) necessary early (rectifying the count), before hoping to eventually then create the right end position to effect it.

No doubt squeeze positions come in different shapes and sizes with the complex ones needing the most care and nurture. Geza Ottlik, the great Hungarian bridge genius who hardly ever played the game (but preferred kibitzing), wrote excellent books and articles on his specialty.

In answer to your last paragraph, one does not have to have the special talent to understand most difficult squeeze endings, but a general knowledge of what is required and above all, why it works, is very helpful to understand and be able to execute the more simple ones, which more than we realize, are ever present.

Bobby WolffNovember 9th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First a compliment. You have a positive knack of finding your way to ask important (pertinent) questions concerning as to what you consider departure from the norm (only 25 HCPs, no special distribution) but bid to slam.

Those 25 points included all the aces and 2 of the kings (both of which are undervalued as being worth 4 and 3) as well as a finesse being onside and the necessary elements for the squeeze effective, present. When Mr. Goren’s suggested 33 points being necessary for a small slam to be bid he was expecting 5-8 of those points to be wasted. On this hand, no waste at all of either the high cards or the distribution.

This hand was not real and so being contrived, resulted in rosy views by NS, to overbid. You are right in your assessment of a slam not usually being bid. However, once South raised to only 2 spades (no other rebid was even vaguely in the ball park) he liked his AK (diamonds), together and, since he had limited his hand. chose both the cue bid and then the jump to 4 spades, since he had 4 trumps for partner instead of only 3.

Six spades is not a good contract, but worth reporting, expressly for the play. And do not forget, whether the contract was game or slam, making the most tricks possible (as long as the contract is not being jeopardized) is the order of the day.

You apparently (at least all the evidence points to it) that you are a very good student of the game, and by being so, you will undoubtedly progress quickly as long as you have the time to maintain your positive interest and your special attention to what is important. Now it may be right for you, if possible, to find a bridge partner, if you haven’t already, who has the same winning attitude as yours and, most importantly, has the same desire to improve and will work hard to so achieve.

I, for one, am really rooting for you and once you reach a certain level, then achieving the next level and continuing to move up, will be much easier to secure as long as you are not adversely affecting other areas of your life.

In other words, GOOD LUCK!

ClarksburgNovember 9th, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Thank you very much for the compliment.
For perspective, I will probably never be anything more than an average Club player, as I lack the natural talent / gift of being able to count well.
I am 73 years of age and have been playing for about 7 years, as has my partner.
Being a compulsive learner and teacher in general, my frequent questions, particularly on Sunday, are not just for myself; every time I optimistically hope that many others are reading and benefitting.
I have a wonderful, compatible partner. We are both Club Directors. I’m pasting in here, below, our general approach to the game, and our goals.

Our Partnership’s Culture and Golden Rules
We play primarily for fun. Scoring well is a bonus!
Continuous learning and improvement is part of our fun.
We are always nice to each other.
We always trust each other’s bidding and play.
On any given day we both just do our best for that day, and make good-humoured allowances for Partner’s occasional slips and falls. (There will be those days!!).
We never say, ask, or suggest anything that might embarrass one another at the Table.
We respect our opponents.
We cooperate pre-emptively with the Director
We pro-actively and generously help new or developing players enjoy Duplicate Bridge

Our General Style, Our Strengths and Areas for Our Improvement
We now play a relatively sophisticated bidding system, mainly because it’s challenging and fun.
However, we are not bound by rigid rules and constraints. We place a high value on simple, natural, direct bidding when it’s best in the context of the auction.
We feel free to take the occasional flyer, gamble or leap of faith just for fun. Partner will appreciate our sense of adventure and our courage.
Our main strengths are incisive hand evaluation, precise bidding methods and sound bidding judgement.
Priority areas for our improvement are card play, particularly on defence (including listening to their auction, counting, signalling and co-operative work). Counting is very important and difficult; our goal is simply to improve; on the way, we can only expect so much of ourselves and of each other.

Patrick CheuNovember 9th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Hi Bobby,playing pairs last night,this hand causes a headache in the play,your thoughts would be much appreciated..EW Vul South dealer.N-5 AK5 K53 KJ10876 E-43 Q642 8764 A95 S-KQ8 1087 AJ102 Q43 W-AJ109762 J93 Q9 2.South1N(12-14)West2S North 3C(forc)East pass South 3N.West leads 9S,I won and play a club to the JC(holds),and a second club to QC(holds),LHO shows out.Now I decide to play JD and run it and 33 split,this fails as Q9 n 42 split,as playing AKD would have succeeded.Pard points out ducking the first spade was the winning line.Is this logical given the bidding and if AC is in the West this just a pure guess as to the right line of play?5C succeeded 5 times and 3N makes once,plus other minus scores in NT.Which is better AKD or D finesse n 33 break? Regards~Patrick.

Iain ClimieNovember 10th, 2013 at 12:49 am

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the words of wisdom and also can I ask Clarksburg a question. His stated approach to the game is first class and does him huge credit while he also shows that it is never too late to take up the game or to return to it after a break. Is his partner at the bridge table also his spouse, though? I’m just being nosy and appallingly impertinent here as some married couples play brilliantly together while others shouldn’t be allowed in the same room, let alone being teammates or partners. My wife refuses point blank to take up the game (probably sensibly) while many years ago I treated a delightful, rich and intelligent young lady very badly at the bridge table and blew a relationship with her away from it as a result. I hope I’m better now, but my wife isn’t taking any chances.

On the lighter side, can you suggest any guidelines for married couples not winding up at each others’ throats, in the divorce court or doing a Myrtle Bennett? One couple I know have a rule that they don’t discuss hands following a game until the next day, although occasional mild explosions do seem to occur at the time during a session.



ClarksburgNovember 10th, 2013 at 1:49 am

Answer for Iain,
My partner is not my spouse (who plays quite well, but is not interested in 3-hour sessions, nor has interest and time for learning and advancement). They have become friends.
To my mind, a pair will not get the best out of each other in a climate of giving performance reviews, publicly, at the Table.
We have a little code to signal, between Boards, what we might want to discuss very quickly between Rounds or after the game.
Two of the strongest players in one of the local clubs have expressed interest in playing with me occasionally. I will not play with either of them, as I would not enjoy it, because of the unsolicited, unwelcome public lessons at the Table.

Bill CubleyNovember 10th, 2013 at 3:06 am

Hi Bobby,

I am back to reading these columns. We just moved to a Del Webb Sr community near Hilton Head. The local internet company hooked us up yesterday.

Played in the sectional and got a defensive problem right twice. I had to ruff partner’s high card to get a cross ruff going. Bothe declarers went down 3. Great when both partners cooperate on defense. Nice to get that section top.

I hope you and Judy are well.

Iain ClimieNovember 10th, 2013 at 9:50 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Thanks for that and I fully understand you turning down games with good but less than pleasant players. I play ocasionally with a guy I regularly partnered before my 25 year break from the game. He is intelligent and cultured away from the table but a total misery at it. To be fair, he beats himself up if he does something wrong, but sessions with him are a strain. He is a good player, but who needs the aggravation?

Ironically, when I did take the game too seriously (1978 to 1985), I found that the really good players I was lucky enough to have played against (including Zia and Boris Schapiro in British tournaments plus Jean Besse, Paul Chemla and Omar Sharif in my single foray abroad) were all charming opponents and never grouched at the table. The many more players I knew who were good, but not that good, were often quite different.



Bobby WolffNovember 10th, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Hi Patrick,

You, of course, have a clear 3NT bid over partner’s forcing 3 club bid. Also winning the 1st spade is also by far the percentage play, since if the opponent’s spades break 6-3 (at least 50%) then against good opponents whoever had the ace of clubs would do you in. After living to fight another day (and why wouldn’t East win the first club since you obviously had entries enough to run them if you had a 2nd spade stop and also plenty of entries (AK of hearts) to get to them.

But do not look a gift horse in the mouth and I would probably lead a diamond to the dummy and finesse the 10 coming back since that will pick up Q fourth or 5th with East and even if it doesn’t, may give the opponents rope to hang themselves.

However West then needs to get out with a heart, upon which you win in dummy, cash two rounds of good diamonds in hand and possibly try to end play West with his queen of hearts (no luck this time) but that is probably how I would play it, but, of course, might play it differently if I was at the table.

You can’t win em all, even though you should always try to do so.

Bobby WolffNovember 10th, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Hi Bill, Clarksburg and Iain,

Bill, I am happy that you are well situated, defending well and ready to roll.

I’m no authority on dealing with vocal partners. Yes, there are many reasons for discussing many aspects of any particular session of bridge whether it is system, techniques, signalling (legal), deception, or just why bidding options are so selected, but there is a place for everything and everything has its place.

In a quiet uninterrupted venue with no kibitzers or outside influences around to distract, is probably the better choice, without which no normal mind can concentrate and/or be humble enough to profit from that type of discussion.

All human beings have different priorities and for future good results, all of the bridge discussed, needs to be subject to the proper sensitivities, seemingly always present.

Patrick CheuNovember 11th, 2013 at 7:43 am

Hi Bobby, my very sincere thanks for all your help and encouragement, this game has so much to give,and thanks to you we can appreciate its many intricacies.Very best regards~Patrick.