Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time … and you can't see it if you refuse to face the possibility.

William S. Burroughs

North North
Neither ♠ A 10 9 8
 J 10 9 7 6 5
♣ A Q
West East
♠ J 4
 K Q J 9 4 2
 A Q 8 4
♣ 6
♠ Q 7 6 5
 10 7 6 3
♣ 9 5 4 2
♠ K 3 2
 A 8
 K 3
♣ K J 10 8 7 3
South West North East
1 Pass
2♣ 2 Pass 3
4♣ 4 5♣ All pass


This week I am going to give you a defensive problem that occurred in the World Mind Sports Games. Cover up the East and South hands to put yourself in West's shoes before reading on.

Against five clubs you lead the heart king. Declarer wins with the ace, ruffs a heart in dummy, cashes the club ace, and plays the diamond jack to the two, three and your queen. What now? You can be pretty sure that partner has a singleton diamond, so you can count on a second trick in that suit. Where is your other defensive trick to come from? If partner has the spade king, you could switch to a spade, which would have the added advantage of knocking the entry out of dummy. But if declarer has the spade king, you risk allowing him to pick up the suit for no loser.

The one play that caters to all eventualities is to play back a small diamond now, allowing partner to ruff. Partner can then get off lead with a trump or a heart. Now, unless declarer has both the spade king and queen (impossible on the play so far), you must come to another trick because declarer cannot establish the diamonds.

This was a big swing to the eventual winners of the event, because in the other room South had made the rather more practical rebid of three no-trump at her second turn, a contract in which there were nine top tricks on any lead.

Since three clubs set up a game-force, your partner should simply have raised clubs or rebid hearts if that was practical. His jump to four no-trump should be quantitative (suggesting a balanced 17-19 or so). With decent controls and a respectable source of tricks, this hand looks as if it is worth six no-trump now.


♠ K 3 2
 A 8
 K 3
♣ K J 10 8 7 3
South West North East
1 2
3♣ Pass 4 NT 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


jim2June 11th, 2014 at 11:58 am

Holding the North cards, I think I would have bid 2S over 2H.

David WarheitJune 11th, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Surely W should have bid 4H over 3NT. Par on this hand is for EW to play 4HX down one.

Iain ClimieJune 11th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Hi David,

I sympathise but west might have hoped east had CJ10xx or similar when 3N is doomed.



bobby wolffJune 11th, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Agree with you, since bidding 2 spades, is what is sometimes called a slide, (little bidding room is lost and there really is no such thing as a “free bid” anymore where “old style” used to show extras, when pass was available due to the opponent’s competition), but doesn’t anymore.

However, if done, and partner now hearing 3 hearts by his RHO, South should now pass (already GF) since neither 3 diamonds nor 4 spades is held, (together with a little less than a robust club suit to consider rebidding). However, when his partner is next to speak, at least to me 5 clubs, or at least 4 should be bid in case West also passes. The possession of the AQ of partner’s primary suit is certainly not swiss cheese and “wild horses” perhaps a slight exaggeration, should not keep North from it.

Do you agree?

bobby wolffJune 11th, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Hi David,

No doubt about that, since with a “working 6-4” and partner very likely to have at least 4 card support (since both opponents are vigorously bidding, leaving few high cards left for partner) always winds up with a trick or so taken more than expected, meaning a plus 590 may result with no more than a 1 trick down -100 (one trick doubled, in which you predicted) to occur.

However if the opponents risk 5 clubs, while 5 hearts doubled would appear to be a good save, and is, it is usually better tactics to not be tantalized into taking a phantom sacrifice, done too often by inexperienced opponents.

bobby wolffJune 11th, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Hi Iain,

Your example is only one of many holdings which may doom 5 clubs, with then yours and my advice not being any specific holding, but in the fullness of playing an 11 trick contract there are often all sorts of poisoned flowers possible to derail it, including faulty declarer’s play.

In another way to describe it, just let Dame Fortune apply her feminine wiles rather than to disclose what the murder weapon might be to execute it.

jim2June 11th, 2014 at 5:29 pm

If I had been North and bid 2S, then heard South pass 3H (and NOT bid 3N), then I would probably bid 4C.

I think I would not bid 5C. I cannot know that pard has the AH and good club spots. For example, give East Axx of hearts instead of 10xxx, and exchange round suit 10s with South.

South, who can see the AH and good spots, would take the 5th

bobby wolffJune 11th, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Perhaps the most underrated part of taking the slow (or in cases of bridge genius, relatively fast) ride up the elevator to bridge excellence and with it, winning, is the counting on partner to make the right bid or play (both declarer and defense) and, of course, especially in bidding for the right reason (in your example, either the ace of hearts or possibly no wasted honor and another asset in another suit, or distribution, to compensate.

When, even in a wannabe situation, which hasn’t happened yet, an elimination of partners who are not as aware as he or she needs to be, in particularly hand evaluation, and it sometimes changes from card to card (or bid to bid) simply will result in a low ceiling, above which the partnership will not rise.

Some players soon will break through that barrier and sadly, some will never, causing one who already has, to sometimes have to make a sensitive, but necessary partnership decision.

Sad though it might be, the already broken through player is not doing himself nor his partner a favor by not being forthright with him or her and instead, biting the bullet (being honest) since bridge and its demands will simply not allow a lesser participant to offer enough talent to compete effectively.

There are many splendoured reasons for selecting a partner to play bridge, but if enough expertise and guile to compete with the best is the goal, than I do not see any other way to judge and eventually accomplish.

MirceaJune 12th, 2014 at 8:01 am

Bobby, in the main column you’re saying that if West finds the right play, East can return a trump or a heart. Doesn’t a heart return allow declarer to sluff a spade from hand? IMHO, at that point, going after the entries to dummy is paramount since the diamond suit looks very menacing.

David mentioned the par result. I have strong disagreements with my partner about the importance of it and in general about double dummy analysis of a hand. What is your advise in the matter? It would be interesting to learn how the Aces did it in the pre-historic times of no computer aid available. (I read your recent post about the 128 board games on the weekend followed by two days of harsh analysis)

In light of your last reply to Jim2, how much effort should an aspiring player put in improving the partnership as opposed to improving himself?

Apologies if too many questions.

David WarheitJune 12th, 2014 at 10:58 am

Mircea: As to your first question, N, by that time, is out of clubs, so declarer himself has to ruff a H return.

MirceaJune 12th, 2014 at 2:36 pm


I thought declarer played only one round of clubs, at trick 2. Apologies if I’m mistaken.

jim2June 12th, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Mircea –

The second North club was used to trump the 8H.

jim2June 12th, 2014 at 3:40 pm

On partners and players, I would offer two words: Howard Schenken.

One of my favorite stories about him was how one player related how he had asked Schenken (his partner) during a tournament how he would have played a hand that the story teller admitted (after the fact) that he had butchered.

“Exactly the way you did,” Schenken answered.

Gratified and reassured, he went on to play the next hands better.

The storyteller later realized that Schenken had almost certainly known he had misplayed it, but also knew the best thing to say at the time.

Bobby WolffJune 12th, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Hi Mircea,

If indeed one player has a regular partner, the improvement of both, and around the same time frame, is interwoven and of the same importance.

Obviously in the beginning, one has to worry much more about himself (or herself), but after such a stage, almost every effort needs to be taken to improve partnership defense, system discussion, table behavior, and necessary special considerations about how to win and lose together and “treat those two imposters just the same”.

Many sports are team sports where only certain members are linked together such as a football team on offense as opposed to defense and even to special teams. Others like soccer are entwined, probably small groups working together, but sometimes overlapping.

In bridge everything has to do with playing a winning style, which in 100% of the cases has to do with the partnership, not the two individual players.

On a pure basis a professional and a student playing together is the most difficult combination (usually because of the disparity of talent), but without it, the professional may not be able to afford to continue to afford the time away from making a living (which bridge will always demand).

Therefore a big problem when it comes to competing for international competition, with no reasonable solution readily available.

Until that gets solved our wonderful game of World Championship bridge will stay below the radar in importance wherein the competition will never rise to the pinnacle we could achieve if that wasn’t so. Tough to consider, but no doubt, sadly true.