Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 10th, 2014

There is no royal road to geometry.


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


There are some people for whom the word “counting” at bridge has the same effect as the sight of a spider. They throw up their arms and run screaming from the room. I exaggerate a little, I confess, but you get the picture. One cannot hope to become proficient at bridge without a modicum of hard work. And one of the most challenging aspects of the game is the need to count every single hand (unless you are dummy — and even then…).

Today’s deal is a fine example of a hand where your first reaction as declarer is that you can claim your grand slam, but if that were the case, I would not have given it to you as a problem, would I?

You win the spade lead and draw trump in three rounds, discovering that East has the length — the first clue but only a small one — as West discards a club. Then you play a club to the ace and trump a club, lead a spade to the king and trump another club, finally cashing the spade ace and leading to the spade queen, on which East discards a club. Bingo!

If you go back and do the arithmetic, you will see that West has followed to three clubs and discarded one, and thus started with five spades and two hearts. He cannot have four diamonds, so cash the diamond ace and lead to the queen, prepared to finesse against East if necessary. And today it is necessary.

Dummy rates to have a near Yarborough and you have no stand-out lead, so you may have to decide if your personal philosophy argues for aggression or passivity. At one end of the spectrum is the club lead; I'll vote against that on the grounds that the risk of surrendering a trick unnecessarily is too high. At the other end is the choice of majors; I have a slight preference for hearts over spades.


♠ 10 7 4
 J 4 3
 A J 4
♣ K J 7 2
South West North East
2 NT
All 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgMarch 24th, 2014 at 11:48 am

Great quotation! And I just learned recently of the contributions of Archimedes to music theory! Great minds of the past!
To be able to SEE every card played, REMEMBER them, and then RECALL and CALCULATE…
In your opinion, just generally speaking, to what extent is this primarily a gift, possessed by few, and to what extent can it be learned by practice, practice, practice, determination, and some kind of a system or memory aids? Are there any useful memory aids to be recommended?
Oh, that reminds me…it was an ancient Greek who introduced the concept of the “memory palace” where one remembers an ordered list by associating each item with a stop along a sequential walk through one’s memory palace.

bobby wolffMarch 24th, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your comment is indeed, also instructive. To consider one of the obvious great minds of the past, Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer whole life began BC and now learn that he also contributed to music theory.

What a constructive life he must have led, the basis of which helped mankind no end and yet never lived to see how highly he is now regarded and for so many centuries.

However to, at least temporarily, skip his plight and discuss your plea, my opinion, and for only what it is worth, numeracy is the answer. That term applies to the thinking of and therefore the application of numbers while in thought. It has become my experience that this talent (if you so call it one, and I think it is), one is basically born with, but it definitely can be cultivated, especially while playing bridge, and if so, it is only the ability to concentrate on the 52 cards present in every hand, and even then it is usually not necessary to remember exactly the specific card, only the suit distributions around the table, when declarer, the two opponents and when defender, the declarer and one’s partner.

The beginning of this bridge odyssey starts with the looks of one’s hand and then expands to the bidding when educated guesses begin, topped off when the dummy goes down after the opening lead is made and the play starts. Then first the distribution starts taking on form, followed by the high card content, and then presto, magico, all 52 cards will soon be accounted for (not necessarily the low spot cards, which are rarely critical except sometimes for signalling).

Next will come matching up the bidding (not forgotten) and soon the theoretical hand(s) become likely if not almost certain. It is all a process which, like learning to ride a bicycle, is never unlearned.

One may say, easily said, much more difficult done, and that is certainly true but our minds are wonderful machines, not always tested to do such things, but the one constant required is the ability to totally concentrate which, little by little, will get the job done.

Even after all these years, I do not believe that while playing and applying the above that I could play or defend (even as dummy) without automatically sensing where all the cards are and who has them, with the average bingo occurring around trick 5 or 6.

No doubt without the above, a difficult low ceiling is cemented in place against progressing above a certain level, which we all must reach in order to at least close to master our beloved game, but once done, always enabled, and believe me it is worth it, even if bridge only becomes a sometime thing.

No doubt, yes it is easier for some rather than all, but it is available to almost all who make an effort to do it, and (at least to me) it is well wroth the trouble since it will continue to provide a great exercise in thought, effort, and reward.

As to memory aids, I do not suggest them since it, at least to me, only gives another task to be remembered. For practice, play a session with partner and then (although hand records are available) try and recall each and every hand and the problems associated with each. Then, if necessary consult the hand records to verify one’s concentration and my guess is that, each time one of us does such a thing the next time gets easier.

Let me know your progress. I bet you will find your own way to make it as easy as possible, but remember the most important ingredient is total concentration and do not let anything cause you to lose it. Soon you and your partner will only have to mention one suit of one of the 26 hands just played and both of your minds will jump to that hand since that specific card combination will have been a large factor in the success (or failure) of your execution on that hand.

I will be anxiously waiting later reports on how well you and your favorite partner are doing. Do not play bridge when other important mind robbing events are taking place, until you learn to do the above automatically.

To say my wish of good luck to you and yours is understating it and by a great big margin.

ClarksburgMarch 24th, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Many thanks.
Partner and I decided, about a month ago, to put any further development of our conventions and agreements “on hold”. Our current main focus, and private post-mortems for learning purposes, covers opening leads, defensive signals, and counting (cards and HC points). We are working hard, particularly at counting as defenders. This effort, and seeing some improvement, adds immensely to our enjoyment of the game.