Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Gamesmanship: The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating.

Stephen Potter

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


Erstwhile President of the European Bridge League, Bill Pencharz, who was both a top player and for many years a nonplaying captain of the Great Britain team, now resides mainly in France. Today's is deal from the French interclub tournament, which allowed him to reach the finals last summer.

To see the problem that led to his qualification, put yourself in declarer’s shoes and cover up the East and West cards. Plan the play in four hearts on the lead of the club king. East overtakes the club king with the ace and continues the suit to West’s queen. West now plays a third club. Do you ruff, and if so, with what?

Now β€˜the trump 10’ from dummy sees East play the two; what next? At the table declarer carefully overtook the heart β€˜10’ with the ace, planning to strip off the diamonds and exit with a second heart in an attempt to endplay someone with the second round of trump. This would succeed unless West had neither heart honor. All of that sounds reasonable; but there was a catch, as you can see when you look at the full deal.

Pencharz’s decision not to overruff had given declarer a problem that he did not solve. Would South have got the trump right had East overruffed? Only the Shadow knows!

After three suits have been bid (or if LHO had raised his partner instead of bidding a new suit), your partner's double is takeout. It shows values and typically both unbid suits, if there are two, or else the unbid suit, together with tolerance for partner's suit. Here you have a straightforward call of one no-trump to show your hand-type and honor location. Two clubs would be my second choice.


♠ A 7 5
 A 8 7 6 3
 K 6
♣ J 10 5
South West North East
1 1♠ Dbl. 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


David WarheitDecember 25th, 2013 at 9:24 am

I assume that E discarded a D on the 3d club (a spade would surely mark W with the SQ, so S should then make the safety play in H-play the DAK and lead a low H toward dummy). When E discards a D, however, I still play DAK and led a low H, winning when E has the singleton HK or when W has the singleton HK & either S honor, or when someone has HKx and W has the SQ. If E overruffs the ruff of the 3d club, however, now S has to guess whether to finesse E for the HK and W for the SQ or to play for hearts now to be 1-1 (and W have the SQ). So my conclusion is that E should have overruffed. Note that E knows that his partner has no hearts.

bobby wolffDecember 25th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Hi David,

My take on this hand, which was real and was reported, is that indeed, East played his deuce of hearts under ruffing the 10 played from dummy (perhaps he did not correctly hear declarer calling the 10 of hearts) whereupon declarer blundered when he overruffed himself with the ace.

This set off a chain reaction which led to the unfortunate ending for declarer. Since the spade finesse was onside all the time he was blessed into making the hand, assuming he guessed the location of the heart king, after the normal overruff with the jack by East at trick three.

If your assumption (as to what happened with East discarding a low diamond instead of the heart 2) is correct, then your analysis is indeed, and as usual, right on (except I do challenge your statement that if East discarded a spade, that would deny his holding of the queen since excellent defenders are capable of such misleading discards and for the right reasons).

At any rate I apologize for the confusion, brought about by unnecessary sloth on our end.

Happy Holidays!

jim2December 25th, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I am confused. If declarer ruffed the third club with the ten and East under-ruffed with the deuce, how could declarer over-ruff with the ace? Declarer still had a third club?

Iain ClimieDecember 25th, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hi Folks,

Shouldn’t South cash 2 D ending in hand then take spade finesse to find out if he can afford to safety play trumps?


Iain ClimieDecember 25th, 2013 at 10:11 pm

XpS Assumes a non spade discard at T3

bobby wolffDecember 25th, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, because of the confusion caused by me, this hand has gone from bad to worse.

Continuing on, after, as David surmised the 10 of hearts won the trick (with East throwing a low diamond), South eschewed the safety play (thinking East does not have the jack of hearts and might be void) and led a heart, (not the 10 which theoretically had already been played) to his ace and got the news that he was now set when East showed out.

David suggested that he would have taken the safety play (was this iinterclub tournament IMPs or matchpoints?). In any event East, by not overruffing, and at the very least, enticed the declarer to go wrong.

Sorry for the distractions, but Bill Pencharz did make a good defensive play and, whether he deserved it or not, won the battle.

bobby wolffDecember 25th, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Hi Iain,

Probably, but whether the contest was IMPs or matchpoints probably becomes vital in choosing the safety play or not.

Also, since there are 2 ways to safety play the trump combination, low from hand or low from dummy barely beating the card from East and there is a very low percentage risk of a ruff after losing the trump trick makes it all moot, which in turn is driving me crazy, mostly because of my earlier ineptness.

Iain ClimieDecember 25th, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks but relax – it is Christmas! We’re the better for drink here.


jim2December 26th, 2013 at 2:46 am

Iain –

Playing on spades first adds a ruff risk. For example, say East has four spades to the queen and West the singleton heart king. Declarer plays AS, spade finesse, and East wins and gives West a ruff.

I confess to sympathy with the actual declarer here. Conceding a trump trick after stripping diamonds guarantees the contract by avoiding any spade finesse with the endplay unless trump are 3-0 in the East. If trump are 3-0 in the West, declarer can still succeed if spades behave.

If I knew the actual declarer’s name, I might offer him some consolation by sending him a copy of my TOCM ™ thesis.

Iain ClimieDecember 26th, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hi Jim2,

I take your point about the risk of playing 2 rds of spades so the plan (unless east sheds a spade at T3) is to take a first round spade finesse after 2 diamond winners ending in hand. If it loses, then the HA has to be played; if it wins, then run the H9 if east plays small.. If he shows out, then HAx does the trick.

I agree with your sympathy, though!



bobby wolffDecember 26th, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Hi everyone,

On some of these hands (perhaps many) our best and brightest students only need to wait it out, until the smaller points have been debated, with the result usually being a positive educational experience for would be future experts. Such is the advantage of having a cadre of high-level, patient, determined, bridge analysts who, above all, care for the game and the accuracy which is needed to play it at a high level.

I, for one, am very proud of how this process has grown. And BTW, at least in my opinion, respect for each other is ever present and in NT.

If anyone has not noticed, Iain chooses the better safety play (of the two that I mentioned), by leading a heart from the dummy, just in case the singleton heart king is with East.

Shantanu RastogiDecember 29th, 2013 at 7:03 am

Dear Mr Wolff

The quote of the day is interesting. What is gamesmanship in bridge ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi