Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 23rd, 2014

It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.

O. Henry

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


The general rule about winning or ducking tricks is that when in doubt ,you should win the trick if you can. But there is a whole class of positions where ducking in a suit in which you do have the top cards has a much more devious purpose than generating extra tricks from that suit alone. Your duck is strategic, in that it relates to the play in the side suits, and not just in the suit itself.

Imagine that on today’s deal you play in four spades, that being the only suit bid, and West leads the heart jack. If you take this and draw trump before conceding a heart, East will surely win the third heart and should find the diamond switch. This will be enough to beat the contract when the club finesse loses.

But say that you duck the first trick and follow with the eight, trying to make East’s spot card look as large as possible. West will surely feel happy about continuing with the heart 10, won’t he? That will give you time to develop a heart, on which you will discard one of dummy’s losing diamonds.

Do you blame West for not shifting to a diamond? It is hard to be too critical, since you might hold a 5-4-3-1 pattern with your actual honors — except that you have the diamond ace, not the heart ace. Now a diamond switch would be the only way to let the contract through.

If you believe, as I do, that two-level overcalls are not to be taken lightly, especially facing a passed partner, then a simple bid of three hearts does not do justice to this hand. You should bid four hearts, since you were planning to show a limit raise had East not stolen your bid.


♠ 7 5
 J 10 9
 K J 9 7 3
♣ K J 3
South West North East
Pass 1♠ 2 2♠

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


ArunJune 6th, 2014 at 10:21 am

What makes this more interesting is that East will encourage with both the H Queen or the H Ace. So, West has no reason to not continue hearts.

bobby wolffJune 6th, 2014 at 11:01 am

Hi Arun,

Absolutely yes, so chalk it up to a clever falsecard (legal ruse) by declarer and to the game itself for creating these psychological challenges within.

You may find interesting that in the early days of the Aces (the first professional bridge team, gathered in Dallas, Texas by Mr. Ira Corn in February 1968 and continued full time until the summer of 1972) they played 128 board bridge matches most every weekend (except when important, country and world tournaments, were being held) against the best competition available in the USA, flown in as opponents.

Then on the following Monday and Tuesday all boards were individually thoroughly critiqued where every player (plus our marvelous coach, the late and great retired Lt. Colonel Joe Musumeci), had a say on what he thought, before a few kudos and mostly charges were assigned.

They came in white (poor result but no one had a good reason to not do it, eg a difficult opening lead or a truly unlucky bidding choice), black (clear error, no-win and shameful) and gray (either by technique or by legal table feel, not including partner’s unethical body language or intonation) the bad result (possible on this hand a small hitch by declarer before playing the eight of hearts at trick one) could have been avoided, but wasn’t.

Today’s column defense would be gray, but with a white tint, not counted but noted. Perhaps some readers will think harsh, but in those days our team was not striving for mediocrity and excuses.

Bill CubleyJune 6th, 2014 at 1:13 pm

In ‘he Color of Money,’ Paul Newman as Fast Eddie tells Tom Cruise, “Money won is twice as good as money earned.”

We all love to swindle the opponents and long remember the results. One of mine is +1660 compared to -170 at the other table.

jim2June 6th, 2014 at 3:20 pm

On BWTA, I must confess that it would never occur to me to bid four hearts.

I have little shape, no quick trick, and my KJs are in front of the opening bidder. Partner could easily hold something like:


bobby wolffJune 6th, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Hi Bill,

Back when I was a kid, (probably around the year 1750), a very common expression was that “X” was a person who would rather earn a dishonest dollar than an honest 10 dollars and sometimes, especially in the bridge world, which applied often, right as rain (those who love to psyche or described as an euphemism, “tactical bid”). Later those bids grew to be called “fertilizer” or better still, which Edgar Kaplan described as “Particularly Unusual System” “PUS” (perfect name).

Belongs in Robert Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” column, popularly printed around the same time.

bobby wolffJune 6th, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

I must confess to you that I agree with your quantitative judgment and only think that the responsive hand is worth a 3 heart raise instead of a jump to 4.

However, a thought for today, sometimes, often depending on the vulnerability a confident jump to game will illicit a “phantom sacrifice” from the opponents (in this case 4 spades), the “X” factor in decision making (especially when one is vulnerable and the other is not).

However, do not count your hatches before they are chickened since, by doing so you are waging a psychological war, not always won by the “good guys”.

And so it goes, but, no doubt you chance 3 only hearts since you, can concoct a hand where even 3 hearts goes set, while 2 spades would have also. TOCM tm.

Iain ClimieJune 6th, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

If east plays the H4 at T1 and south the 8, is there a slight rodent smell? South could clearly be false carding but would. East play the 4 from AQ5432? Something odd is going on although I’d have probably played another H without much thought.



bobby wolffJune 6th, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, always possible, but not necessarily, however because of West’s minor suit holdings, in the absence of that almost exact heart holding there appears to be little to no damage to continue hearts, that is, until declarer springs the trap he craftily set.

Dame Fortune sometimes deals extraordinary “ruse” opportunities to those who covet, recognize and then execute them, in which this declarer benefited. An important factor, as it is so often, is total concentration by the declarer as dummy is putting down the dummy, in order to create the proper tempo (and card played from hand) in order to “set the trap” and even the poor mouse (West) will usually fall for it since we all seek “tasty cheese” and then learn to live with “hasty decisions”, not that this one can logically be figured out.

Mircea GiurgeuJune 7th, 2014 at 11:33 am

Following Iain’s thought (and assuming West takes his time to think) shouldn’t he be suspicious of declarer’s 8 when the 5 has not shown out? If partner’s highest card is the 4, presumably an encouraging signal, why isn’t declarer playing the 5?

bobby wolffJune 7th, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Hi Mircea,

Good detective work. However sometimes holding the Q654 or Q543 defenders temper their enthusiasm by not giving the highest card they can afford, thinking that their partner will get a better idea of exactly what they hold.

Probably too optimistic a position because of the falsecard possibilities, but still often practiced by would be perfectionists.

Sherlock Holmes would delve deeply into what you say, but mere normal bridge players (if there is such a thing) may only hitch at that thought.

Keep on trucking and your love for the game will sustain your consistent improvement.