Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

The common problem, yours, mine, everyone's
Is — not to fancy what were fair in life
Provided it could be — but finding first
What may be, then find how to make it fair
Up to our means.

Robert Browning

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


Today's deal comes from Patrick Jourdain's "Problem Corner," published by Master Point Press, an excellent collection of problem hands. The author sets the challenge here: How should West play six diamonds on a spade lead?

One perfectly sensible approach is to draw trumps and rely on clubs breaking (protecting yourself against the unlikely eventuality of West’s having the length by starting clubs with a lead to dummy’s ace). If clubs do not break, you can fall back on the heart finesse — a line that gives you close to a 95 percent chance of success since West is relatively unlikely to have six spades and four clubs. Moreover, if he does, the heart finesse is almost sure to work. However, this line would fail against the lie of the cards today.

This is admittedly truly unlucky, but you can do better. Win the spade lead and make sure of the contract by drawing the trump, then eliminating the majors with a ruff in each hand. Now you can lead a low club from either hand, and when the next player plays low, put in the eight (or nine as the case may be). If on the first club a defender follows high, win that trick and duck the next club by leading to the spot-card in the other hand.

In either case, the defenders are helpless. Either the clubs will break, or whichever player wins the trick will be endplayed.

With extra values on auctions of this sort, you are better off making a forcing pass, then taking strong action at your next turn to show decent high cards. A direct call of two clubs shows extra shape, but denies extra high cards (so it should be a minimum hand with 5-5 pattern or 5-4 with all its values in the minors).


♠ A 8
 A 3
 K J 9 5 2
♣ A 8 5 4
South West North East
1 Dbl. Rdbl. 1

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 ClimieJuly 2nd, 2014 at 9:08 am

Hi Bobby,

Isn’t the deal as shown slightly flawed since cashing the HAK drops the queen? West needs another heart. Also, if south does draw trumps and leads a club to the ace, he can still recover when the queen drops
. Eliminate the majors and then duck a club to west, assuming HQ hasn’t fallen. This doesn’t detract from the optimal line of course; it just shows how unlucky declarer would need to be if he tried an inferior approach.



Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2014 at 9:37 am

Also, commiserations to USA’s football (soccer) team last night, especially Tim Howard who played brilliantly. Deservedly went further than England.

bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2014 at 11:59 am

Hi Iain,

You make a good point about the queen of hearts dropping, so why worry about the bad club break since, if played that way, would not matter.

Our point of view on this and related matters is that an alternate line of play, clearly inferior, might be to first test the clubs, find them not breaking and then fall back on the heart finesse (since most sensible declarers, somewhat of an oxymoron, would play East, not West for the heart length and therefore more likely to hold the queen).

Surely the above alternate line fails, not because it would normally not work, it would, however, today the TOCM tm would destroy the contract, with the moral to us all, of being a well deserved ending (at least, probably, if necessary, decided by Aesop).

To your everlasting credit, your alternate lines include trying for extra ways to overcome, which means only that, even when wrong, you choose better lines than other wrong choosers.

Yes, although far from being an avid soccer watcher, Tim Howard’s athleticism and fervent desire shined brightly, but until soccer wins the hearts of Americas very sports conscience masses, we will not devote enough time, money and energy to be world competitive. At least England will often succeed, only not this year.

Perhaps the USA with their relatively loose, though sometimes positive, but political and somewhat random immigration policies will soon harbor potential soccer giants to change the above. Is that overall assessment good or bad? You tell me.

Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think your assessment on the US soccer team making good use of the country’s diversity is right, and that the US will continue to get better. Nobody treats them lightly now although look up their result vs. England in 1950 for a laugh from your side of the ocean anyway.

England, apart from bad luck in 1970, 1986 and 1990, have been living mostly on the memory of 1966. In the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, Douglas Adams describes an amusing scenario where 2 missiles approach a spaceship above a planet but are transformed into a whale and a bowl of petunias by use of the infinite improbability drive. Both plummet and the whale’s thought processes are given in detail before its gruesome demise. “Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias was – Oh no, not again!”. England football fans know the feeling.


bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Hi Iain,

Your whale, petunia story reminds me of trying to compare the horrible side of losing a highly competitive contest (such as a high-level bridge match against hateful opponents) and the event of just dying, something most of us will likely one day, encounter.

The consensus determined that losing the match was significantly worse, since when done, it is likely that it will happen again.

At least the above is somewhat comforting, yes, only somewhat.

Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Hi again,

Chess can provide pointers here. Bill Hartston said resignation in a “friendly” game should be accompanied by appropriate words e.g. I hope that makes you happy, you smug *******, as there’s little else in your philistine, abject existence to be cheerful about.

One strong player was more spectacular after losing to a weaker opponent. He stood on a chair, hurled his king across the room and yelled “How can I lose to this idiot?”. Oh dear!


MirceaJuly 2nd, 2014 at 1:26 pm


On the BWTA hand, if West also passes and assuming partner’s Rdbl shows 10+ with no fit for us and no suit of his own, is he required to use the red card for blood? If yes, do we leave it in?

bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Hi Mircea,

Partner’s redouble could be different type hands, including trump support, although some partnerships frown on such a thing, but always a reasonable one strength wise, (10+).

While no one, in this case partner and after redoubling, is required to do any specific thing next round, except of course, not to pass does opt to double, yes we should pass with glee since my expectation would be to set it 2-4 tricks. That sort of result may not be in the cards, but only one which would justify the double. Even down 1 would be just fine, if we, because of bad breaks or location of cards for our side, could not make anything approaching a game.

The only worrisome aspect of the BWTA hand is that we could have opened 1NT (my choice) since the strength of my NT range (15-17) plus even the slightly skewed balanced nature (2-2-5-4) is perhaps a more apt description than 1 diamond, enabling a faster realization by partner how to then judge his hand after the bidding gets under way.

However that result is to be determined and until it is, we will have to reserve our opinion about how to get there from here and the most convenient and sure way to the optimum contract. Such is the everyday bidding of a hand, in order to determine how the language of bridge should have gone.

The above description is intended to sound like what bidding really is, a code language to do the best our partnership can do in using what we have to work with to follow the Yellow Brick Road, to our intended location.

Nothing close to perfect should ever be expected, only a mental bonding with partner as to what we are attempting to disclose requiring, experience, consistency, consideration, and most importantly a good sense of humor.

Remember, stay away from the poisoned flowers of lost concentration and being unilateral, because those two afflictions are very hard to overcome.

bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Hi Iain,

Although my chess knowledge reeks from what some loser to me (really a far-fetched imagination) and using your suggested name identification would think and say, borders on being a criminal abuse, although, somewhat unusually, without contact.

And to your last example involving hurling while doing it, could that have been known as, in the days of yore, of castling one’s king?

Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Not exactly, as Ii think it was a case of a known psychological diisorder i.e.

T ension
A ccentuated
N eurological
T rauma
R esulting (in)
U ncontrolled
M ayhem
S yndrome

or something like that!