Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, June 21st, 2014

In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Orson Welles

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


One of the world's greatest players never to win a world title was Jean Besse of Switzerland. Whether as a player, an analyst, or a commentator, Besse was a master of his profession.

Today’s deal was deemed interesting (by him); an indication of its difficulty and elegance. Besse was sitting in the South seat.

Declaring six spades, Besse won the club lead in dummy, led a spade to the ace, and a spade to the nine. The good news was that he had no trump loser, the bad that he could not ruff a heart in dummy without giving up on the trump finesse.

When the diamond king and queen revealed the bad news there, he led a club to the ace, on which West had to throw a heart. Next came the top hearts and a heart ruff in dummy. The diamond ace then reduced everyone down to three cards.

South and West each had two trumps and a diamond, West having the master diamond, while dummy had a spade, a diamond and a losing club.

Now, with the lead in dummy came the coup de grace; Besse led the club six, and discarded his diamond loser, as did West. East could now take his pick between a heart and club lead; either way, declarer would ruff in with the spade eight, and West’s sure spade trick was smothered. Whether he underruffed or overruffed, he could no longer score a trump trick.

I'm not completely averse to the idea of rebidding one spade with diamonds and spades, but only if the suits are so good (or the club guard so weak) that I want to avoid suggesting suitability for a call of two no-trump. With only four diamonds, I really have a balanced hand, and this is what a jump to two no-trump suggests.


♠ K 9 3 2
 A 2
 A 7 4 3
♣ A K 6
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


Iain ClimieJuly 5th, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi Bobby,

The smother play is one of those plays which make players stare in utter disbelief. Another is the devil’s coup where the trump suit in a grand slam is distributed A10xx (declarer), Qxx (West) K98x (North) and Jx, but a favourable lie of the side suits allow the trumps to be picked up – declarer doesn’t lead trumps at all, but comes down to three trumps in dummy, two in hand and leads a plain card through West at trick 11 West has to ruff (high or low doesn’t help) and the certain trump trick vanishes.

Just out of interest, how often have you encountered such plays over the years? I remember years ago that one partner defensively managed to smother my trump trick in such a way at Trick 12. He could have just led a trump to take out dummy’s singleton Ace but picked the other card and bang went my Kx sitting under the cosh. We had a good score anyway, and the amusing absurdity of the certain trick vanishing far outweighed any annoyance I might have felt.



jim2July 5th, 2014 at 11:24 am

If I were up to that declarer play, East would surely bid seven clubs.

Michael BeyroutiJuly 5th, 2014 at 11:49 am

Jim2: East would go down 7 if North gets a heart rough… 1700 for N/S… and you would be happy…

Iain ClimieJuly 5th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Hi Jim2,

Or possibly you’d have been transported to the West seat, sitting with SQ10x and heard East take the save. Smother coups still seem slightly unreal to me, though.

Hi Bobby and everyone in the US who contributes to the blog or reads it,

Hope you all had a good day yesterday celebrating not being forced to play cricket, drink tea instead of coffee, wear bright red when trying not to get killed in battle, talk mainly about the weather, be overseeen by a fairly mad King (at the time) and adopt a stiff upper lip backed up by emotional repression and sadistic boarding schools (at least for the rich). I know the historical reason for the Declaration of Independence was no taxation without representation, but the founding fathers could have come up with a few more good reasons for it. Mind you, I love Britain and its many quirks but I’ve had a lifelong phobia of drought!



Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your remembrances of smothers and devils together with the emotions you felt while encountering them, especially when your partner disdained leading a trump (with the singleton trump ace in full view with dummy) subjecting you to the spotlight for the declarer to forever exclaim your obvious facial expression when his off-card hit the table.

I first remember learning about smother plays and devil’s coups from Autobridge almost seventy years ago and because of that, reality and fantasy sometimes get entwined in my thinking causing me to not remember for sure, but my guess is that I have had perhaps one or two legitimate smother plays and probably no actual devil’s coup to occur, at least one recognized by me. Perhaps at smother time I will have a clearer recollection.

Also, thank you for reminding us Yanks of what yesterday should mean to us all. The concept of freedom, while too often taken for granted for many who have it, represents the one most important blessing possible, making whatever is in second place pale in insignificance.

Anglo Saxon heredity with England still the mother country should fill Americans with pride and make us appreciate what has been passed down to us.

No one nationality is superior to another, but the lessons of equality, opportunity, common law, and civility ring paramount to me fitting nicely under the banner of freedom for all.

Perfect is never the case, but with the horrible examples of oppression, incivility, violence and hate in full view, one has to be deaf, dumb and blind not to appreciate, at the very least, our intended way of life.

The USA has gone from taxation without representation to taxation for the benefit of others and to fulfill political obligations, but what else is new since greed and other excesses are human conditions which accrue to the party in power. What I mentioned above concerning perfection, was grossly understating it.

Anyway, a happy fifth of July to you and yours.

Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi Jim2 and Michael,

Jim2 experienced the seven club sacrifice many years ago when down 7 doubled and not vulnerable was only 1300 not 1700.

That is the trouble with this modern age, they don’t remember the good old days when sacrificing was sensible. Besides TOCM tm is always insidiously careful to punish its victim in a maximum way and never shows pity.

jim2July 5th, 2014 at 4:18 pm

We’d never find that heart ruff.

At least I would not have bid eight, or tried to like someone else once did ….


Bobby WolffJuly 6th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Hi Jim2,

Who can fault someone for at least trying to bid eight of something when he was playing against a conservative sort who would likely continue on with eight of his own higher ranking suit, just to be safe.