Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, June 19th, 2014

I could be mighty foolish and fancy myself mighty witty; Reason still keeps its throne, but it nods a little, that's all.

George Farquhar

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


When this four-spade deal came up at the Dyspeptics Club, all four players joined in a post-mortem that was (as usual) distinguished by considerably more heat than light.

After winning the heart opening lead, East had shifted to a low club at trick two. Declarer drew trumps and gave up a diamond, after which the defenders took one heart but then played a second club, allowing declarer to make his game.

North accused South of being an idiot. South told North that East should have found the fatal shift to a trump at trick two. Meanwhile, East was trying to explain to West why he could never have worked out that South would play this way when holding three losing hearts. West said East knew South well enough never to make such an assumption. Who was right? Can declarer make his game against best defense?

As to whether East could ever have worked out how to defend, the answer might have been easier for him if West were playing ‘third-and-lowest’ leads. Even then, the heart three might have been from 9-6-3-2 if South concealed the two. Still, West’s signal on the first club should have made it clear to East who had the club king.

But to sum up: Best defense after the heart lead is a trump shift. Declarer wins with the spade ace and ducks a diamond. Now, as long as diamonds are 3-2 and spades no worse than 4-2, declarer cannot be defeated.

Here you have a clear choice between two perfectly acceptable alternatives. On the one hand, you could bid your second suit, which is certainly consistent with a holding as weak as this. On the other, you could limit the hand by rebidding one no-trump. The fact that I have values in my short suits pushes me toward the latter, but both calls make a great deal of sense.


♠ A 6
 Q 8
 A K 8 6 2
♣ 10 8 5 3
South West North East
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


MirceaJuly 3rd, 2014 at 11:52 am

It appears that even if West starts with a trump, 4S makes on this layout. Declarer must assume a favorable break in diamonds to make his contact no matter how the defense proceeds.

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Hi Mircea,

Yes, you are 100% right in your assessment.

On the one hand this is a very simple situation and one which only has the 3-2 diamond break to worry about. However, much of high-level bridge is concerned with simple situations not properly understood, or, even if they are, not properly executed.

Although today’s hand is not complicated, there are principles involved (ducking the 1st diamond, not the 2nd) and doing it immediately. The lesson which should boldly stand out is that, the declarer in this hand cannot safety play anything, but only be bound by demanding a 3-2 diamond break for success.

Sometimes declarer, in an effort to not put all his eggs in one basket, tries to find ways to not have to, and because of that, goes off the rails. If I had one quality to suggest all wannabe top players must have, to eventually succeed at a high level, it is confidence in himself (or herself) to analyze correctly and then go full speed ahead.

Half measures rarely work and usually wind up over the cliff in failure. Never ever, not trust oneself, but even if, by forgetting something (or over analyzing) we fail, do not lose confidence in yourself since when and if we do, we need to take a hard look or alternately, just give up ever trying to be a high-level player.

MirceaJuly 3rd, 2014 at 1:32 pm

This is a highly valued advice, Bobby, thanks for it. Please allow me to extend it a bit: under no circumstances is partner allowed to criticize when things don’t go as expected, especially during the game. A top level player once said that he and his partner had an agreement not to talk bridge at all during high level games, just so they can maintain their self-confidence and concentration required in such games.

jim2July 3rd, 2014 at 4:45 pm

My favorite Howard Schenken story is one that a casual partner related. It went something like this:

“I went down one and when i asked him how he would have played it, he said, ‘Exactly the way you did.’

“That made made me feel better and we went on to [do well]. It was only later that I realized that I had – in actuality – misplayed the hand and that he must have known it and said nothing.”

Bobby WolffJuly 3rd, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Hi Jim2 & Mircea,

No doubt, the ability to get the most out of one’s partner should be on the top of “the need to do” list.

However, though likely in the small minority of what works, was my experience when I, though totally committed to our wonderful game, was just coming out of my teens.

At that time fate dealt me the opportunity to play with some of the all time greatest players, Oswald Jacoby, Curtis Smith, Sidney Lazard, Tobias Stone, Dave Carter and Johnny Gerber to mention a few (they cut through their partners like a sharp knife through butter, usually leaving them in a terribly confused and abused state.

However, because of both my tender age and more so, my burning and all consuming desire to take advantage of their knowledge, caused me to accept my fate, not unlike military basic training or fierce college fraternity hazing usually effects desired results by toughening up their victim’s mindset, acquainting them with what life may be about and how to take the bad with the good.

Pleasant?, NO, Effective?, MAYBE, Wish it never happened?, I DON’T KNOW. The upside (discipline) is that it provides forced concentration, like soldiers need to save their lives, and traffic controllers to save others.

One fact comes to mind and that it is widely known that, if one doesn’t learn about high-level bridge what he needs to know when he is young (before 30) there is NO possibility of him or her all of a sudden becoming what I will define as world class, to which I would hold that title to higher standards than most.

To me, it only proves what to me, is worth learning early, the journey through life is unpredictable at the very least and what is sauce for the goose is perhaps not for the gander.

I realize that what I am saying is controversial, but at least I think, worth relating.

Good luck and may fortune deal everyone whatever it takes for them to be happy, especially if a life in bridge is on the table.

SlarJuly 4th, 2014 at 1:57 am

On BWTA I like bidding my second suit here. However if pard bids 1H (almost guaranteeing my Q is useful), I probably bid 1NT.

Regarding the comments about keeping your confidence, I believe the most important thing you can do is review your results whenever possible. A 47% game feels frustrating at the time but usually you find that you were either unlucky or had some valuable learning experiences. By the time the next session rolls around, you are ready to take on the world.

MirceaJuly 4th, 2014 at 2:57 am

What you’re saying is very interesting, Bobby. I cannot thank you enough for sharing these thoughts. The more I play this game, the more I see parallels between it and our day-to-day life. Maybe our life is a game, in the real sense, not in the playfulness one.