Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Speak in French when you can't think of the English for a thing.

Lewis Carroll

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


I was given this deal with just the North and South cards and was told that this hand was originally published in a French newspaper. I thought it was an extremely challenging problem. Do you agree?

As South, you reach four spades after making a disciplined pass in second seat, despite the vulnerability. However, facing partner’s double of one heart, you can hardly do less than bid game. When dummy comes down, you see a disappointing wastage in hearts. How should you plan the play?

A natural move is to come to hand and lead up to the spade king, hoping for the ace to be favorably placed for you. As the cards lie, that line will not work. A better approach is to assume that at least one of the two missing aces must be onside, but you should first try to find the diamond ace onside. If it is not, you can fall back with complete confidence on the play of leading to the spade king.

Almost the only line to succeed is to ruff the first trick and lead a diamond toward the king. If West ducks his ace, you win dummy’s king, pitch your diamonds on dummy’s hearts, then lead a spade to the king for overtricks. If West flies up with his diamond ace, you have only one diamond loser, so can discard both your club losers on the hearts and again play on spades for overtricks.

When the opponents intervene over a transfer bid, you should not go out of your way to complete the transfer at the three-level with only three trumps, unless your hand offers considerable extra offense. Here your hand is only average for play in hearts so you should pass. By contrast, if partner had transferred into spades, your fourth trump would make it clear to bid three spades over three clubs.


♠ K 9 3 2
 A K 4
 K 6 3
♣ K 8 2
South West North East
1 NT Pass 2 3♣

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


Michael BeyroutiDecember 24th, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I think this play is called Morton’s fourchette…
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee a Bobby Wolff, Judy and all you readers.

Jane ADecember 24th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

So on the BWTA hand, if you pass with those nice hearts, albeit it only three, and partner doubles three clubs, now what? That would mean to me that he holds some values. Do you go for the game, or the gold? It is Xmas, after all.

Honestly, I would probably have to sit on my hand to prevent me from bidding three hearts holding AKx, but it is a partnership game. Partner would think I don’t hold three hearts however, or if I do, I don’t have values in them. I assume you are saying it is better to give partner a chance to double back in if he chooses, or say thank you to the opp for giving us the chance to get out of this auction.

Happy Holidays to you and Judy.

Bill CubleyDecember 24th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

BWTA reminds me of a pro-am sponsored by Bridge Today and Matt Granovetter which you also played in in 1992.
1NT p 2D x
2H all pass.
I figured if Kyle Larsen wanted me to declare in hearts, who was I to say no despite holding H 9 7 doubleton. I held up my ace on a singleton queen of diamonds, got a switch into my AQ of spades and led the 7 of hearts. I thought and let it ride when LHO ducked. Picked up Grant Baze with a stiff 5 of hearts and the comment “He’s playing the Hell out of this hand”

It is rare to get a great player to comment you made a good play especially at trick 3. A memorable 7 1/2 matchpoints even after all those years.

This was a 13 table event with 14 world champions in the field. I am still proud I scored better than half of them.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Judy.

bobby wolffDecember 24th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Hi Michael,

Yes, and in English that play is called “Morton’s Fork”, both languages having honored the person, Cardinal Morton, Chancellor under King Henry VII, habitually extracting money from wealthy London merchants for the royal treasury. His approach was that if the merchants lived ostentatiously it was obvious
that they had sufficient income to spare some for the king. Alternatively, if they lived frugally, they must be saving substantially and could therefore afford to contribute to the king’s coffers. In either case they were impaled on Morton’s Fork.

In bridge it symbolizes the defender sitting in front of either the king or queen, while holding the ace, suspecting that he is between a rock and a hard place, meaning if he wins it, he gives declarer an extra trick in the suit, but if he doesn’t he still gets “forked” or “fourchetted”.

Our site has been blessed with many wonderful people, like yourself, who in addition to teaching and discussing bridge have so added in quality and tradition to our game that the spotlight shines directly here.

To that I can only say thank you and back at you for wishing you, yours, and everyone connected with us, a cherished holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.

bobby wolffDecember 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Hi Jane A,

Yes after passing and having your partner double back in, I guess, because (as you allude) to having the AKx in hearts I would now bid 4 hearts, but with certain partners and opponents, I might opt for passing because of my sound defense.

It may depend on the tendencies of my RHO to compete, and if judged somewhat reckless, I may take my option of defending.

Happy holidays to you and I hope to see you today at the Bridge World.

bobby wolffDecember 24th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Hi Bill,

You indeed have a marvelous memory, an important positive in becoming a superior bridge player.

Your bridge recollections are always interesting and provide satisfying remembrances (not all pleasant) especially for those of us who were present at the time.

A most happy season to someone who makes everyone else’s life more enjoyable, which is what these holidays should represent.

Jane ADecember 24th, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Hi again Bobby,

Not playing today, but wanted to speak to your comments about knowing your opponents, and of course, your partner. My mentor told me one of the most important things in bridge is to know the opps. If an opp tends to be somewhat reckless, as you said, and my partner decides to put the big red X on the table in a hand such as the one today, I might well decide to sit for it. Greed can be a dangerous thing however. Sometimes gold appears, sometimes not, but always fun to try and get rich!

My mentor also told me to give considerable thought before I ever double Bobby Wolff. Very sound advice.

Have a nice game today.

angelo romanoDecember 25th, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,
I don’t think it’s an extremely challenging PROBLEM, I mean if it’s presented as a problem the solution is quite easy, but in real world …
Does it ever happens to you, at your level ?

bobby wolffDecember 26th, 2013 at 1:16 am

Hi Angelo,

While I agree with you that as long as a bridge player is thinking accurately, leading a diamond first (executing the Morton’s fork) is not an extremely challenging problem.

However, when a player (no matter his quality) starts taking bridge for granted he could easily get careless, thinking the spade ace is onside and lead a spade and cover the queen with the king and before one knows it, back comes a heart. Away goes the winning tempo and down he goes.

Yes, in my very early days when I was trying to climb the sometimes difficult bridge ladder in ability I would stumble, and that experience forced me into admitting that bridge itself is the master (something Zia has consistently reminded others) and looked before I leaped.

It happens in all sports, mental or physical. Whether it is soccer, American football, basketball, tennis, golf, baseball and, of course bridge, poker and chess, the mental aspect of the game is underrated while everyone appreciates the sensational athlete, the great ones bring their minds to the game as well and that aspect alone, at least in my opinion, often determines the winner among more or less equal talents.

Shantanu RastogiDecember 29th, 2013 at 6:52 am

There is an alternate line for making 4 S double dummy and not as good as presented in the column. On heart lead cash AK heart discarding clubs ruff heart, eleminate clubs and exit with spade ducking Spade Queen. West is end played now. If he plays diamond there are two tricks in diamonds or he gives ruff and discard. East can not overtake spade queen as then second spade trick disappears. This line assmues only 10 tricks.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi