Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, June 12th, 2014

You, that are going to be married, think things can never be done too fast; but we, that are old, and know what we are about, must elope methodically, madam.

Oliver Goldsmith

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

*Positive values with short hearts


Today's deal, from a Danish Teams' Championship, strikes me as a good example of how it may not be sufficient to find the best play. You also need to make the play in good tempo so as to make your opponents' lives harder.

With little practical information being conveyed to the opponents, South ended in the unattractive contract of six hearts. When West led the spade jack against the slam, declarer saw serious problems ahead. One spade discard on the diamond king — even if it proved to be a trick — would not help, and even if the ruffing finesse in clubs was right (with East holding the king), there was only one quick entry to dummy.

At some tables, in the same contract, declarer won in hand and tried a diamond. With the ace badly placed, South had no practical chances, and had to lose a spade as well as a diamond.

Only one declarer succeeded in the slam. He appreciated that, to use the clubs, dummy would need two entries, so he allowed West’s spade jack to win the first trick. Clearly a diamond switch would have beaten the contract out of hand, but West, who was not clairvoyant, continued spades at trick two.

Now it was all over. South won, drew trump, cashed the club ace, and led the spade nine to the king. The club queen was covered and ruffed, and dummy was re-entered with the spade eight, allowing South to discard his losing diamond on the winning club.

Even if your partner may have shaded his opening bid in third seat, there is no reason not to redouble now, to suggest a maximum pass, and relatively short hearts. Your call should in theory suggest suitability for defending at least two of the unbid suits, and you certainly meet that criterion.


♠ K 8 4 3
 K 10 8 6
♣ Q J 8 4
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Dbl.

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


Iain ClimieJune 26th, 2014 at 10:06 am

Hi Bobby,

I recall a BOLS tip called “Your tempo is showing” you produced. Despite my frequent failure to do so, (you don ‘t get bonus points for fast play) clearly a pause at T1 is worthwhile even on the simplest of hands.



ClarksburgJune 26th, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Those tips are compiled here:

Bobby WolffJune 26th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, tempo is ultra important, especially when playing against high-level players, who while on defense and after a very few declarer plays, become very adept at being aware of what is going on.

This hand illustrates what can be possibly done early to bail oneself out of a very poor contract, if some kind of winning plan can be readily established.

Of course legal deception does not always work, especially against sharp opponents, but when it does, it becomes a two edged sword, psychologically favorable for the winner and horribly demoralizing for his (or her) opponents.

And the faster on the uptake for the declarer the better the chance for success, but unless he is fiercely concentrating, the winning play on this hand will not immediately come to mind.

However, the same is not necessarily true for the defense where I will suggest that West should take enough time at trick 2 to find the winning switch (the important clues are in the bidding) as well, of course, as the reason why.

Iain ClimieJune 26th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I bought a 2nd hand copy of the tips a few years back but many thanks – there may be some extra ones. Of course there is still the huge gulf between reading the tip and using it sensibly at the table, as my regular brainstorms prove. Mollo: A theoretician is a person who knows the perfect bid or play 10 seconds after doing something else; I wish it wasn’t so apt so often.

Hi Bobby,

Should declarer drop the S9 at trick 1? This makes his pointed suit holdings appear reversed.


Iain ClimieJune 26th, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Also, should east double 2D? West may not be solely to blame.

Bobby WolffJune 26th, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, declarer should drop the 9 of spades at trick one, but this only confirms a fact that I have known for some time.

It is often suggested by a few that, at trick one, both the third seat defender and the declarer can take an inordinate amount of time without ethical implications, e.g, no real problem to the play at trick one by either 3rd or 4th seat, but rather the planning of the whole defense (or offense) and therefore no valid assumptions should be availed to the other three players after a study.

Whether it is ever stated that this method gives full advantage to the perpetrator rather than his opponents, since he can study with a singleton or whatever, plan the play without any unethical considerations and not be held liable by a bridge court for his deed(s).

Wouldn’t one say “Pretty clever in getting that action OKed”?

Now back to the table on this hand. When the declarer studies before playing the spade 9 at trick one, poor West would have no idea that the 9 is not a singleton, since the ethical strictures have been changed (if one goes along with the proposed, but, as far as I know, not an officially accepted exception to the rules on ethicality (but often mentioned), “hesitating with a singleton”.

Two things come to mind with the above. 1. Beware of bridge players suggesting ethical rule changes, and 2. Examine the person(s) overall bridge morality when suggesting what he or she is claiming for the good of the game before considering his or her suggestion(s).

Without that above ill begotten rule change, the declarer has to think faster without giving the show away. To me that above fact goes hand in hand with the way bridge is structured and even the difficulty incurred by the problem declarer faces on this hand, is just part and parcel of what it takes to be a great player.

Also, yes, it would be better for East to double 2 diamonds for the lead, but not without running several viable risks. First sometimes 2 diamonds redoubled becomes the final contract, making many tricks and other times, since the location of the diamond strength now becomes transparent it may make the opponent’s judgment better to allow them to better estimate their final contract (especially when only holding the 432 of diamonds behind the AQ). With more entries to the weaker hand a diamond lead may enable declarer to perform miracles and carve out enough diamond tricks to make whatever contract become final.

So my answer, Iain, is only to double 2 diamonds when it sets the final contract. It is up to you to fill in the blanks. No, I still continue to adore you (and always will), in spite of my sometimes threatening language, since your questions and answers are always right on point, not to mention your to die for, superlative quotes from everywhere.

Iain ClimieJune 26th, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Hi Bobby,

Very kind, although two quick points. I don’t mind 3rd hand having a think regardless, but surely declarer, if holding a singleton in the suit led, can’t have a think before playing after RHO? Thinking before playing from dummy is naturally different.

Secondly, is an eyebrow being raised quizzically (shades of Mr. Spock) at home ? Think about the description of Ayesha in Henry Rider Haggard’s “She”.



Bobby WolffJune 26th, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you are not only practical, IMO you are right-on in describing the declarer’s ethical responsibilities to follow suit in tempo. However, the 3rd seat ethics are still in limbo.

Although I must admit to naivety and lack of sophistication in the description of “She”, except for the African venue and the probably far out somewhat supernatural storyline, I only wanted to discuss different interpretations of supposedly already settled methods of dealing with tempo matters and their self-serving suggestions.

It is quite a challenge for me to keep up with your significant literary knowledge. Please, for my sake, let’s both remain at the bridge table where at the least, I may be able to hold my own.

Adele BarasJune 26th, 2014 at 11:53 pm


Judy Kay-WolffJune 27th, 2014 at 1:29 am

Hi Dellie: Bobby is not accustomed to getting love letters from long lost cousins but is looking forward to meeting you at the Nationals.



MirceaJune 27th, 2014 at 11:01 am


On the topic of ethics for the third seat player at trick one, is it not better if he puts the singleton in the suit led face down before pausing for thought?

bobby wolffJune 27th, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Hi Mircea,

It could be, except for the chilling thought that by doing so, the opening leader will now be better placed to know how to defend with blatant unauthorized information being passed his way.

However, in reality, ethical players find creative ways to be ethical and not so remain not so. The twain will never meet, but hark, at the higher levels the players know which is which, and therefore who is who, and that reputation itself is, at least to me, worth as much as winning more than one should.