Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.

Yvonne Woon

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


Today's deal saw West lead the club seven against six hearts (third from an even number, low from an odd number), and declarer discarded a diamond from the dummy. Plan the defense.

It might look easy for East to win the club ace and shift to a heart, but East paused to reflect on why declarer had chosen to discard, apparently giving him a free trick.

Clearly, dummy had great trumps and controls, but was short of fillers. Declarer’s cue-bid of four spades indicated he surely had short spades, and if he had the diamond queen in addition to that, he would surely have ruffed the first trick and led toward the diamond queen after drawing trump as an easy route to 12 tricks. Therefore, West must have the diamond queen — in which case it was almost guaranteed that declarer had the missing high honors in clubs. West had led from a doubleton club, or third from a three- or four-card suit, the former situation being nearly hopeless for the defense, since declarer could then probably crossruff 12 tricks.

East also realized that if his partner had 10-third or -fourth of clubs, he should not win the club ace or he could count declarer’s 12 tricks — two aces, two high clubs, five trump tricks in his hand, plus three ruffs in dummy. So he put in his club jack at the first trick, and declarer could win cheaply, but was left with two diamond losers he could not avoid.

Some might consider driving this hand to game, some would invite game, some would say it was worth a splinter raise to four clubs — showing short clubs and spade fit. I fall into the middle ground: I'm going to go to game here, but a splinter jump seems excessive with such feeble hearts. I'll settle for a call of four spades.


♠ A 8 7 2
 Q 9 6 3 2
 A 10 6 3
♣ —
South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 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


MirceaJune 14th, 2014 at 11:04 am

This is an excellent example of thinking on defence, thanks for sharing Bobby.

What’s your take on 3rd/5th (or 3rd/low) leads vs standard against suit contracts for an established (and aspiring) partnership? From what I see, a lot of experts favour them in one form or another, so am I right to infer that they are superior once the elevator is at a high enough level in the bridge tower?

On the BWTA hand, one should splinter only with slamish hands, not just because the hand fits the mold for such bid, am I right?

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Hi Mircea,

Yes Mircea, bridge (at least the fair to high-level game) is a thinking man’s one and today’s hand is a good example.

To answer your question I want to borrow a direct quote from the late and great Bobby Goldman (one of the original Aces) after he did a thorough investigation (and, as far as I know, never took shortcuts) of various opinions of 3rd/fifth, low/fifth, attitude, 4th best, signalling methods involving right side up, upside down, suit preference, count etc. and came up with the following conclusion, which my gut feeling seemed to immediately agree (although mine was definitely not scientific):

He said: “All of them, including one’s social security number could be used (where the first digit meant something different than the second one etc.) with almost no difference in overall value, except perhaps the “shock” value of a new meaning, which, in turn, might have a pronounced effect on the opponent’s (depending how novice they were) and throw them into a “tizzy” causing them to stop thinking. Two notable exceptions in signalling are odd and even and Smith echo where tempo becomes very “telling” making it difficult to conceal unauthorized information passing to partner, determined by the time taken (and sometimes body actions) which occur. Of course, since that possibly advantages the user, some might rationalize it to the extent that they would choose that method without going to extreme to practice it in an actively ethical way.

I would consider that above reason of “shock” to be, at the very least, slightly unethical, with the tempo variations even worse, since bridge, in order to maintain its long ago quality of being called a “gentleman’s game” (also including ladies) is not meant to thrive on that feature.

I must add that this thought of mine is not always agreed to, by some of the very high level competitors, both past and present, but I guess that is what makes both bridge and horse racing interesting and, yes, occasionally results in life long, enemies.

In answer to your concluding question, I totally agree with you that some high level (4 and higher) splinters should always be a slam try. It follows, why would one want to inform the worthy opponents sometimes important information which will only help them, not one’s partner, in the opening lead, overall defense, and at the same time lose the advantage of blasting (the English call it punting) instead of providing tactical information, which often results in the opponents doing the wrong thing, like doubling your partnership in a contract which will make (sometimes with an overtrick)?

To answer a question before it is asked, yes, legal deception is a very useful part of the game, including occasional psyches, but sadly, some players, at their relative beginning stages of learning the game, get that confused with other ethical issues which are opposite in nature.

Thanks for having a penchant for asking probing questions which could provide an educational opportunity for many to learn and therefore discuss with others and grow in stature, all about what a superior game it is, we play.

MirceaJune 15th, 2014 at 1:16 am

So, am I to understand that if played in tempo even odd/even and Smith have no advantage over anything else?

Bobby WolffJune 15th, 2014 at 5:58 am

Hi Mircea,

I would say that odd/even and Smith, played in tempo are sensible and my guess, one rung up from not playing them even when considering that the declarer at times is advantaged more than the defense, but if one adds the rationalization of playing those two conventions to the equation (playing them without regard to the ethical responsibility which should automatically go with), instead of one rung up, it jumps higher geometrically instead of arithmetically.

The Winter of 1970 (January through March) when the Aces, Bridge Circus (including the three great Italian players, Benito, Giorgio and Pietro) were traveling to seven big American cities and played bridge for one whole week at each destination I had the experience of playing with those three and others as partner’s of the Omar Sharif Circus team (open pairs where the two invited teams played on Wednesday and Thursdays with most of the time the Aces playing with a player on the other team, odd and even and I can remember that I almost never had a problem on defense simply because the tempo, while not necessarily apparent to our usual worthy opponents, but obvious to me just how effective odd and even dual message signals really were.

BTW, those experiences also convinced me just how great those three players really were (in comparison and at that time unparalleled and if I had to say, still), even without the extra benefits from how they went about it and even though all the other members (which I played against many times and their ability and talents resembled that of slightly above average bridge club players).

All of the really great bridge players realize in spades (even in NT) how impossible it is to win at the highest level with only three out of whatever six players chosen being superior when the others are what I define them as.

Furthermore, my experiences through my bridge life cause me to not pay much, if any, attention to others, especially fairly recently on the scene, perhaps only 30 years instead of 60, who profess to think they know what was going on, instead of being there, doing that, and seeing it first hand, like a basketball slam dunk!

To make matters even more complicated, the three great Italian stars were wonderful, thoughtful, caring, good looking, impeccably dressed, modest, charismatic people who everyone adored being around and, to set the record straight, odd and even signalling itself was only a small fish in the big sea of World Championship Bridge.

Go figure!

I won’t go any further, but I will chance that you understand what I am talking about and furthermore while doing that, it appears to the outside world that no unauthorized information is being passed, but if one believes that, there is a big bridge (structure, not the game we play) in NY I would love to sell you.