Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

Thomas a Kempis

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


There was a defense to South’s contract of four spades on this deal but it required imagination by West. It proved no surprise when he failed to find the right switch at trick two – to be fair, not many players would.

The opening lead of the club king was easy enough but a glance at dummy made it clear that his partner could hold virtually nothing in the way of high cards. With just three defensive tricks himself, West decided that the only chance lay in finding East with a void in diamonds. Accordingly, he switched to the diamond jack, and dummy’s queen won. True, when West took his trump ace, he was able to give East a ruff, but it was only a loser that he trumped, and now the diamond king had no further part to play.

Do you have any thoughts on how the defenders might have prevailed? Try the effect of the diamond king at trick two! Declarer takes this and plays trump, but West wins the first round and follows with the diamond jack. Dummy’s queen is ruffed away and South is still left with a losing diamond.

It may be slightly fortunate to find East with just sufficiently good hearts to deny declarer four tricks in the suit, but this was surely more likely than finding him with a void in diamonds. In any event, the contract will probably still be defeated on best defense if East does have a diamond void.

There are two schools of thought. One suggests that responder should bid suits up the line when holding at least invitational values; the other focuses on major-suits and ignores diamonds. Put me in the latter camp when the diamond suit is as weak as this. I'll respond in hearts and hope to facilitate getting to game in one major or the other if appropriate.


♠ K J 9 3
 K Q 7 6
 Q 8 4 2
♣ J
South West North East
1♣ 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


ArunApril 1st, 2014 at 10:39 am

Quite a beautiful and humbling deal – could not see the defence even with all 4 hands

Bill CubleyApril 1st, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Great hand. A recent Bridgewinners discussion indicates the defense might well have been found by a pair in a recent WBF report. It certainly is a brilliant defense.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 1st, 2014 at 12:43 pm

HBJ : Applying sound logic West should realise that if declarer has the Ace of diamonds to three he can only make one trick in the suit… matter who or how the suit is tackled.
Therefore it doesn’t appear at first sight to be of any importance whether the jack or the king is played first. Yet if West is banking on his partner to ruff a diamond then it becomes a futile defence to make him ruff a loser : he needs to ruff declarer’s second diamond winner.
This means the king has to be played first , in order to force declarer to cover the jack with the queen , when diamonds are played next.
This might have been that one rare occasion where I might have got it right at the table.

bobby wolffApril 1st, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Hi Arun, Bill, & HBJ,

Today’s hand represents a test for the defense, 100% on West, to imagine a card combination which will allow 4 spades to fail.

His thoughts, with probably some needed experience with card combinations, could (maybe should) hit upon the combination present on this hand. It is easy (yes downright simple, if taught to think the proper way), to realize that declarer has all the outstanding high cards and only a “lucky distribution” of those ducats will enable the defense to prevail.

Therefore the 2nd step is to embark on taking advantage of that remarkable set-up (distribution) to tackle your prey for the “kill”. When one thinks about it, every card does not have to be exact, only the overall distribution. And, if so, the unusual play of the king of diamonds is required to complete the gambit. In fact that play of the king first is the only way to, with your next lead (after winning the spade ace), to kill the queen (which happens to be the contract trick unless setup for the slaughter).

The beauty of bridge is that if even that was not the exact distribution it is still a coup of the highest order which should make West a hero even if it only turns out to be a theoretical (not an actual) victory.

In the early days of the Aces we used to talk a lot about defensive planning and, of course, a hand like this would be a treasure.

Is it easy?, NO!, Is it possible?, YES!, Is it worthwhile?, YOU BETCHA!

And from this type of training which involves problem solving, comes forth, a wonderful exercise, whatever one’s occupation happens to become. Should bridge then be taught in our earlier school system? Of course, since there are very few projects which lend themselves to the overall thinking of bearding the lion better than the playing of bridge, when almost in all cases, the facts are laid out requiring various sorting out in order to sort out the solution, but only after the facts presented lend themselves to the realism also required as to their existence.

Peter PengApril 1st, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Hello Mr. Wolff:

Thank you for this beautiful play, one that we dream about making at the table, and one that robs us of our sleep for days when we miss it.

This brings me to my point – Had I, as West, missed it, I would have loved to have it pointed out by partner or opponents. But by and large this is not how the common clubs operate.

You may or may not be aware of the atmosphere of, shall I say, a kind of, political correctness (Zero Tolerance off-shoot) prevalent in the clubs where for an East, as dummy, to point out to a West that he had a winning defense against any declarer play would not be generally well received, at least not in the circles I play.

In fact, my attempts to discuss hands in order to grow are usually dismissed as – You are hard to please, P – since we may have won, against very average opponents, who may have regaled us with gifts, as I find people here with very thin skins, and easily take comments as criticism and shut-off. After 20 years away from the game, and returning in the recent months I certainly see that Zero Tolerance bit curtailing the game.

Although oriental by blood and birth, I grew up in South America, where a loud discussion at the table can be
friendly and normal, and any problems among people are forgotten the moment they walk off the table. They say Zero Tolerance is for people to have fun, but I think that they are also always walking on their toes, and not having fun.

Could you comment on your impressions of this aspect of the game – the passion – versus earlier days?


Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 1st, 2014 at 8:59 pm

HBJ : Well said Peter . I’m with you on the inherent downside of ZT policies if zealous officials and directors apply it to the extreme. I would much prefer to see ZT standing alongside common sense and gentle persuasion in an effort to set a boundary between constructive criticism and unnecessary badgering.

bobby wolffApril 2nd, 2014 at 12:59 am

Hi Peter,

Since I am often not a conformist, I appreciate your subject and will be happy to discuss it, yet my answer will probably not be thought of as being politically correct.

As starters for this controversial subject, let us talk about defining the human condition and the present state of how (at least I think) the state of the overall bridge world.

Sensitivity rules and, at least to me, Zero Tolerance, may have produced an overrated reaction to what some of us may just regard as a learning experience.

Having gone through both basic training while being indoctrinated into the military (when I was young) and fraternity hazing while being enrolled at the University of Texas (when even younger) I understand and appreciate the purposes for both. Of course, at least back then, being male instead of female, may have presented different reasons for those experiences, but with female liberation (at least to some extent) it seems they, too may experience the same feeling.

One of the rights of passage from being a relative youngster to growing up to be an adult is the extra responsibility of understanding what is expected of an older person, especially the different moods and behavior of many of newer people who are arriving on the scene. Those people are all types, some being bosses, others being equal and still others being somewhat younger and therefore subservient (at the very least, expected to be).

An adult is supposed to be qualified emotionally and usually intellectually to deal in a proper way with all, so the prior training, especially if not learned earlier as taught by one’s parents needs to be both instilled and practiced.

Without going through the laborious and sometimes boring examples, let me finish by saying that bridge behavior should expect to be accomplished in relatively the same manner, keeping in mind that different people react quite differently in a competitive environment.

In other words, longer leashes should be allowed for people who mean nothing malicious, but nevertheless their zeal causes them to react in what could be considered as Zero Tolerance violaters.

I could go on and on, but my point has been made and only proven would be psychologists and/or even bridge psychiatrists should be consulted before any drastic solutions be attempted.

We all would do better to after hearing of a possible (or likely) case, to step away from it for a while and consider what happened in a totally objective way, before issuing a punishment.

Yes we should always consider moderation and put ourselves in the shoes of a would be transgressor before making final decisions on punishment.

I’ll reserve any more discussion of this volatile subject until specific cases are presented, but meanwhile we need an even handed approach considering 1, the human condition, 2 bridge is a volatile, competitive game, and 3, no one is perfect as a competitior.

However, as a final rejoinder, at least for now, anyone who considers that bridge is only for the enjoyment of the players who play “high card wins” are missing out on determining the wondrous nature of the game and are 100% wrong in trying to dumb down the intelligence needed to play it as well as possible. Without this consideration bridge is destined to fade completely out in the Western Hemisphere as a game unworthy of its reputation.