Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 14th, 2013

It is a very great thing to be able to think as you like; but, after all, an important question remains: what you think.

Matthew Arnold

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

*An opening bid with five hearts and four spades


In the Dutch bridge magazine IMP, Onno Eskes has investigated the limits of computers' abilities at bridge. He predicts that the next generation of bridge programs will beat world champions within the next five years. Here is the computer at work.

Against three diamonds doubled, West leads out the three top clubs and East follows suit with the two, eight, and jack (suggesting an original odd number). Can the hand still be made?

The problem is virtually an open book after West’s Flannery opening, the penalty double, and East’s signals. It may not seem possible that you can prevent East from taking three trump tricks, but for the computer, these types of problems are a cinch. It ruffs the third round of clubs, takes the heart finesse, and ruffs a spade in dummy. The heart ace is cashed and we have reduced to a five-card ending where dummy has three trumps, a club loser and a heart loser, South has three trumps with a spade and a heart loser, and East has all his five trumps.

When the last club is led from North, East must ruff high to prevent the diamond eight from becoming South’s ninth trick, allowing declarer to discard the heart eight. East is now forced to exit with a high diamond, taken by North’s ace. East is then forced to play yet another high trump on the lead of dummy’s heart, and now he is endplayed, having to lead away from his 9-7 of trumps; his third trump winner has vanished!

You have a nice hand with real potential, but you do not need to communicate that message all at once. Your initial choice is either a cue-bid of two spades to show a limit raise or better in hearts, or a negative double to show both minors. The advantage of the double is that it keeps the auction low and lets partner describe his hand — if the opponents allow him to.


♠ K 5
 A Q 5
 A K 3 2
♣ 8 7 5 3
South West North East
1 1♠

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 ClimieDecember 28th, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Hi Bobby,

To be fair, can we have an even better computer lead a heart at T1? Flippancy aside, there is a serious point here; computers haven’t killed top level chess and the point for many players is still enjoyment. Perhaps advances in bridge algorithms should point us back to ZiA’s comments. “Ask yourself why you play bridge. I play because It is fun!”



bobby wolffDecember 28th, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Hi Iain,

While certainly agreeing with you, I have perhaps taken unfair advantage and show hands like this, which are only sensational because they are so contrived in order for declarer to seem like he is using smoke and mirrors to take 9 tricks in diamonds.

As you say and quote Zia, bridge is very entertaining, without which many would lose interest and the wide variety of what may happen is a great calling card for analysts who love to strut their stuff.

Yes, a heart lead will defeat 3 diamonds, but, of course, is unlikely to be found at the table. But if an author can contrive such a hand, what good is a computer if it cannot find a counter to declarer’s intent?

Perhaps in the future, computers will adopt human qualities, but if so, we then must be very wary of “Hal” the star of 2001, A Space Odyssey, who turned out to be a “bad guy”.

Humanity represents intelligence, but along with, it also represents human error as well as flawed human judgment e.g. on opening lead for example, so perhaps computers do not belong in either chess nor bridge, but, if so, we need to not compare them with human actions.

Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder if others have opinions on this?

Jane ADecember 29th, 2013 at 5:43 am

Hi Bobby,

I enjoy my computer a lot, but I don’t talk to it, and I don’t want it as a bridge partner or opponent. I prefer the interaction with people, at least most of them. A question- how many computers can be at a “table”?

bobby wolffDecember 29th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Hi Jane,

As a response I will manufacture a contrived answer to your question, which might have been given in the long ago popular radio quiz show “It Pays to be Ignorant” aired nationally in the 1940’s.

It depends on whether the computers are male or female, since the interaction might really be fun. And, as you know, 3’s a crowd.