Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

Jane Austen

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


The names have been omitted in today's deal from last year's trials for Bali to protect the guilty.

Against four spades West led his singleton diamond. Declarer won and played ace and a spade. West followed with the 10 on the first round, then won the queen and returned the heart three (conventionally, lowest from an odd number). Declarer won the ace and led a club to the king in dummy. The first mistake came when East won the ace, despite West’s echo to show an even number of clubs. East should know that declarer must have exactly three diamonds. Partner must have five hearts, giving declarer one heart. So, declarer must have exactly two clubs. Best defense is therefore simply to duck the first club, eliminating dummy’s entry to the clubs.

Now for mistake number two: East returned the diamond queen instead of a heart. Partner can’t possibly need a ruff, since he followed with the spade 10 and queen. Leading a heart would have clarified the situation for partner.

Declarer played the diamond king and now West trumped in, rather than waiting for a possibly useful discard from partner. When he exited with the heart queen rather than playing a club to break up the squeeze, declarer ruffed it and ran the trumps. This squeezed East between the club jack and his master diamond.

In the ending, declarer had to guess what to do in clubs, and he did — at least SOMEONE did something right on the deal!

The first issue here is how high you want to push the opponents; the second is what you want partner to lead if East ends up declarer in a spade or diamond game, or even slam. You should get to the four-level as fast as possible to take away space from your opponents, and you want a club lead. A jump to four clubs should do the trick; it shows the heart fit and a club suit you are happy to have led.


♠ 3 2
 10 9 7 2
 8 7 6
♣ K Q 10 5
South West North East
2 Dbl.

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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bill CubleyJanuary 21st, 2014 at 2:17 pm

So how badly did EW opponents play in the USBF trials? Why am I never the beneficiary of errors from expert opponents.

David WarheitJanuary 21st, 2014 at 3:13 pm

At the critical point (trick 12) S knows that E started with 1 spade, 6 diamonds & at least 3 hearts, meaning that he had no more than 3 clubs, leaving W with at least 4 clubs. So the odds favored the club finesse. So the final mistake was when S went against the odds to try to drop the club jack, right? I don’t think so. If it turned out that he was wrong, well, he never should have made this hand in the first place. But if he was right, he knew word would get back to: BOBBY WOLFF!

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Hi Bill,

Not to dispute your real feeling of why don’t good players ever make costly mistakes against you, but to rather try and explain this possible illusion, let me throw this theory to anyone who wants to embrace it.

If there is one immutable law in every (or almost) form of competition it is simply the law of averages (LOA). That law enables mega businesses in the way of gambling casinos such as Las Vegas has to offer, to make untold amounts of money manifesting itself in lavish spending with the hope of enticing even more hopeful but basically helpless gamblers to ply their trade, but in reality face hopeless odds for success.

Bill, my intuition tells me that errors are made by your expert opponents, but you and especially your partners and teammates need to upgrade their abilities only about 1 notch and to be kind, perhaps only 1/2 a notch, to be able to use their mistakes as the leverage necessary for you to win, advance and achieve which you are very close, but not quite there, ready to accomplish.

I think it wrong to blame luck, which equals out over a relatively short period of time, and rather for wannabe winners to think through their own games, examining everything possible, including being hard to play against, instead of going quietly.

In the example hand perhaps declarer made the final right guess because West holding KQ10 of trumps (2 certain trump tricks on the bidding) did not double, perhaps because he did not possess that (what turned out to be) game changing card. Also if East did not hold that key jack he is more likely to have made the correct play of ducking the first club, a play he should have made anyway.

Another way of looking at it, is that EW, by not ducking the club made the worst mistake (debatable) and so the LOA was just plying its trade.

Enough of all this philosophy and a final reminder. Bridge is lucky to have bridge lovers like you, who are painfully honest and bring to the game an enthusiasm which makes the game more enjoyable for any and everyone you touch

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for the plug about someone making an against the odds play in the hope of getting his name written up. Be it ever so, but IMO it was not a factor.

At least to me, computing mathematical odds in bridge, while at the table (and those are critical words) are at the very least, totally subservient to other real factors which occur such as tempo both in the play and during the bidding, the defense up to then, not so much that one person started with 4 and the other one 3, but the both physical and psychological plays (and that special word tempo) which, in fact sometimes materially change the real odds of where the cards are.

To try and take some of the mystery out of the above and therefore make it more intelligible to the mathematician (who has sometimes based his knowledge and even occupation on its importance and to him, dominance) the human condition, which when the very best bridge players over the years have competed against each other, my guess is that this spooky to some subject has determined who won about 90% of the time when the match comes down to single digits in IMPS or in the old days total points.

Call it the real deal or rather, if it pleases you, think of it as a phantom factor, but to not acknowledge its critical presence, while on the elevator up to major relevance, will erase that player’s opportunity to challenge for its position.

That is why I rate experience at the top as what all super playing juniors (probably, although starting out much younger with great talent do not get there while under 50 years of age) need to stumble through, before they will arrive at the Emerald City of success.

Jeff SJanuary 21st, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Not that it changes anything, but didn’t the squeeze actually come at the second-last trump lead? At that point, the board should be down to two clubs and the 10H and West earlier led the QH so East would have to hang on to the master heart and master diamond and let go the club 8 right then, wouldn’t he?

Like I said, I don’t think it changes anything; I am just trying to get the sequence straight in my mind.

Wen TaoJanuary 21st, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,
Thanks for the hand showing some of the complexity and intricacy of defense. After the declarer ruffed partner’s heart queen, if East then realized that he had given the declarer 2 gifts, it was time to get something back. So when declarer ran the trumps, East would pitch club 8 well in advance, and then discard Diamond Jack at 11th trick, retaining Diamond 3 and club Jack. Do you think declarer will fall for it (I know I would at the table if not painfully tracking every diamond played)?
Thanks and regards,

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Hi Jeff S,

You are 100% correct in your description of when the squeeze occurred and by being so, you can better feel the intensity of the situation and possibly help determine how and why declarer guessed it right.

Your type of thinking, and on a consistent basis, is one reason that you will become better at guessing what to do, both as the declarer and of the defender when put under pressure.

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Wen,

What you are discussing are the keys to the kingdom when top players play against top players, Yes, in order to be that particular brand of “world class” not only should the defender qualify, but also the declarer must know, that at this moment in time so does that defender (sometimes it is defenders, when both need to contribute to the ruse).

In reality, it puts the declarer back to square 1 when he looks for non-existent real clues as to what to do, and (in order to make up for what some may consider an earlier rude slap by me at mathematican’s roles in determining what to do) leading declarer to go back to percentages to decide. Isn’t top-level bridige a great game or what?