Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 28th, 2013

Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!

W.S. Gilbert

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

*Jacoby(!) Transfer to hearts


It is almost three decades since the death of one of the world's stars, Oswald Jacoby. Ossie played in the first Culbertson challenge match in 1929, but continued to win national titles into the 1980s, when dying from cancer.

Not only was Jacoby the youngest-ever actuary, but his skill with numbers led to his being referred to as a human computer. He lied about his age in order to serve in World War I, and re-enlisted to serve in counterintelligence in both World War II and the Korean War.

The following hand demonstrates his skill, and illustrates the danger of a defender painting too clear a picture of his hand.

North’s two-diamond bid showed hearts, allowing Jacoby as South to volunteer a bid at the three-level over East’s revealing two-suiter bid. The defense against four hearts started well enough with two top spades and a ruff, and East switched to a diamond. Jacoby won the ace and made the essential play of a heart to the seven, East pitching a club. This was followed by the heart ace, East discarding a second club.

When Jacoby led a trump to his king, East could see that if he discarded a diamond, declarer would be able to ruff out his diamond honor, so he let a third club go. Declarer ruffed a club in dummy, came to his diamond king, ruffed a second club, dropping the ace, and his hand was now high.

Today's hand looks as if it might belong in a club slam; but if partner does not have a spade control, you might not be able to make any game at all. Start with a cue-bid of two spades to ask partner to define his hand in terms of spade stoppers. After that, you can bid or jump in clubs.


♠ J 6 5
 K 6 4 2
 A K
♣ K Q J 7
South West North East
1 1♠
Dbl. Pass 2♣ 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


jim2November 11th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Oswald Jacoby is one of the great colorful figures in bridge. I really enjoyed when he participated in Bridge World bidding panel articles (“Masters Solvers”, IIRC). Oft times, his answer would vary greatly from the others or even be outright abstentions because he said that he would have to BE there at the table to know what to bid. This column hand is actually one of the more simple examples of his putting table feel into action.

I followed his march through the Reisinger in 1983 (that you referenced in the column) with awe.

Edgar Kaplan (one of his teammates – I think the others were Norman Kay, Bill Root, and Richard Pavlicek) handsomely credited Jacoby (Kaplan was the editor/publisher/Raj of Bridge World then) with the win, saying something like Jacoby had dragged them relentlessly along with him with his will to win.

I have no idea what he must have been like as a person, but I took from his writings that he was an intense competitor with a powerful analytical intellect going all the way back to his 1931 partnership with Lenz against Culbertson. Oswald would later say that they had been handicapped horribly by being required to play the system Lenz-type system against the more modern “approach forcing” championed by Culbertson. (But, of course, it had been billed as a showdown between systems all along, just another shrewd move by Culbertson). His real-time math skills must have been truly amazing, based on his achievements not just in bridge, but in poker and other forms of gambling (by which rumors had it he made a steady living at times).

jim2November 11th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

On BWTA, what should South bid if North responds with three clubs?

Bobby WolffNovember 11th, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, let me answer your BWTA question. Over a mere return to 3 clubs, I would suggest a repeat cue bid of 3 spades, encouraging partner, if possible, to show a partial spade stopper such as Qx, or, of course Kx, but a very minimum hand e.g. Kx, Q, QJxxx, Axxxx or Qx, Ax, Q10xx, Axxxx.

Over that slow and minimum response of now 3NT, I would simply pass.

And now to the very remarkable Oswald Jacoby, the Wizard of Odds. He, while living in Dallas, along with Johnny Gerber of Houston, were two of my three mentors in bridge since I was born and grew up in Texas’ third largest city of San Antonio. Tobias Stone of NY was the third.

I was very fortunate to play a great deal with Ozzie as my partner while in my late teens and early twenties. While he was a very tough partner, and sometimes expecting too much (he loved to win), I endured his severe criticism (it is not as embarrassing when one is very young) and became a MUCH better player because of it.

He was truly a one of a kind and original mathematical and overall genius (being able to multiply 4 and 5 digit numbers in his head as well as doing the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink with never even an attempted erasure) and would easily rank as the greatest combined well known games player ever to exist (at least as far as I know).

He wrote many of the so-called consummate books on bridge, poker, gin rummy (the adjacent card principle), canasta (very popular in the 1940’s and 50’s) and mathematics in general, often focusing on odds.

He was probably in the top ten in all of the above games, at least in the USA and likely in the world, but had the disturbing habit of challenging who might have been Number One (at the time) in all of the above games, some of which I was personally there to kibitz, with, unfortunately for him, predictable results.

Yes, Ozzie played an important and necessary role in my bridge upbringing and development through his life and even his death in 1984 (in which I was one of his pallbearers). He was always one of a kind, mercurial, off-the-charts patriotic (enlisting in the Navy on December 8th, 1941 after hearing about Pearl Harbor on Sunday while he was playing in a bridge tournament).

He still has the distinction of being the youngest actuary ever at the age of 19 or 20 and will, of course, never be forgotten by me as both a true genius and a very loyal character and role model, both for and to me, never to be duplicated.

Patrick CheuNovember 11th, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Hi Bobby, if South ‘passes’ 2NT by East, and West bids 3C,does North pass or make a competitive double? If South had doubled 2NT to show three hearts,and West bids 3C,what would North bid-3H or 4H or double(meaning?) If East did not bid 2NT,South bids 2H,North presumably passes that?Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffNovember 11th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Hi Patrick,

You seem to be more pessimistic with that North hand than I would be.

I would always make a game try by probably bidding 3 diamonds (after transferring to hearts) whether South has bid or not.

Also, I would immediately jump to 3 hearts or bid 3 hearts as South did, holdiing 4 hearts and a maximum opening 1NT. Granted that game in hearts opposite only 2, is problematical, but since East is showing the minors and North is void in one minor makes his hand better than first thought, although that defensive bid is then more likely to catch a bad heart break than normal.

At any rate I would consistently bid one more than you with the North hand and from South’s viewpoint I would venture hearts a little faster than you possibly intend to do it.

In other words, I go set more often than you do, but in return, I am often playing for higher stakes, not money, but only glory!

StepanovaApril 17th, 2014 at 8:44 pm

February 12, 2013 – 3:20 PM The best deterrent in my case comes from my todlder boy; he grabs my hands and asks that I get up every time I’m sit at my desk to use the computer. My desk is in the living room next to his play area. I can use it mostly when he is not around.What you wrote, Donna, is so pertinent. It touched a cord because experts highlights the importance of talking to your baby as often as possible; it helps to build language and to develop their intelligence. We started to read to my son the first day he was born. That doesn’t mean that I stopped to be connected. I try, to the best of my capacity and obligations, to not use my computer or iPhone when he requires my attention.