Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 10th, 2014

When is the perfect time? Who can say? but probably somewhere between haste and delay — and it's usually most wise to start today.

Rasheed Ogunlaru

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

*Checkback for three-card heart support


After the lead of the spade jack against three no-trump, South won in hand and led a heart to dummy's king, then, before putting all his eggs in one basket, he tried to develop the diamond suit by making the correct play of running the eight. West won cheaply and pressed on with spades (won by declarer in hand), then scored his heart ace and played a third spade. Declarer cashed his heart queen and pitched a club, but found hearts were 4-2, and so he needed to try to develop a second diamond winner.

He led a diamond to his nine, and West scored his queen, cashed his spade winner (East and South pitching clubs), and exited with a low club. That left declarer with a diamond loser at trick 13 when the king did not drop.

Down one, and South moved on to the next deal, never realizing that he had failed to take his best play for his game, which was to run the heart nine at trick two, rather than leading to the king. When he leads to an honor in dummy at his next opportunity, this play brings in the heart suit for three tricks (all that declarer needs) when the suit is 3-3 or the heart ace is doubleton onside. That is a combined chance that comes in at over 50 percent.

The problem with leading to the king or queen initially is that East can duck with honor-third, thus killing the suit.

You should double to show cards, not a penalty double. You expect that your side will want to defend here, but if partner is low on defense to spades and has three hearts, he is allowed to bid three hearts (or even to introduce a five-card minor). Since you passed over two hearts, you can't insist on defending.


♠ Q 8 6
 K Q 8 6 5
 8 4
♣ 9 7 4
South West North East
Pass 1 NT Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
Pass 2♠ Pass 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


David WarheitJuly 24th, 2014 at 9:46 am

The suggested line of play also works if either opponent has J10 doubleton in hearts. Also, I think it is better to lead the H2 rather than the 9, intending to play dummy’s 8. If W has J10xx of hearts, it is very unlikely he will play an honor. If S leads the 9, however, W will split his honors, winning the trick. Now S has to guess if W has J10xx or AJx (A10x).

I think I’ve covered everything, but it’s early in the morning and my head hurts a lot from thinking about this problem, so I leave this in your good hands.

jim2July 24th, 2014 at 11:28 am

I confess that I have a problem with the last sentence in the column:

The problem with leading to the king or queen initially is that East can duck with honor-third, thus killing the suit.

Was that supposed to be ace-honor-third? (AJx or A10x)

jim2July 24th, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Or maybe ace-third? (Assuming declarer plays a Board honor on each lead such that West would still have the J or 10 remaining)

Bobby WolffJuly 24th, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Hi David & Jim2,

Please forgive me for answering, or I should say discussing this with both of you together, since it concerns a frequently held card combination, but, at least to me, an unusual way of choosing to go about actually playing it.

You both add pertinent and accurate facts surrounding the logic involved, but to fulfill our combined intention and responsibility to give other readers what they deserve, all of our views need to aired.

First David, your head may hurt, but doesn’t keep you from summing up the back and forth very accurately and with as few words possible.

Second, Jim2 adds a key factor, and one in which cuts deeply in favor of what the column suggests, basically taking the deep finesse (8 or 9) the first round. Of course, the playing of the 9 from hand may or may not elicit a cover, my guess not, at least from most West players, however whether West does so or not, if declarer guesses well, he will remain in the cat bird position of being in control.

Third, while going deeper, this discussion goes directly to what all wannabe world class bridge players, all possessing great analytical talent, but needing to be also blessed with superior psychological ability, making the above combination as rare as a very cold day in July while living above the equator.

However, it is not necessary to be all of that to appreciate what it takes and that alone, at least to me, makes bridge thinking and its spin off, a superior logic to be learned. In doing so we are equating the obvious music talents of Mozart and Beethoven, art talents of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, soccer talents of Pele and Maradonna, tennis talents of Federer and Nadal, golf talents of Woods and Nicklaus, basketball talents of Jordan and James, American football talents of Manning and Montana and baseball talents of Ruth and Koufax …..

It always comes back to me that we MUST get bridge into our schools in order to indelibly guarantee bridge the future it so richly deserves. Nothing can more accurately demonstrate, and to an adoring worldwide audience, the tantalizing lure of a mind sport which is off-the-charts healthy and competitive (Bridge for Peace) and, at least up to now, has no equal and likely never will.

Iain ClimieJuly 24th, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Hi Bobby,

I agree with you about bridge in schools, and potentially also encouraging it at college to get new recruits. It makes obvious sense from our viewpoint (of wanting a healthy future for the game), but how do we sell bridge to youngsters? Given the choice between (say) playing several hours of ferocious computer games (Mortal Wombat VI, or something like that) and spending an evening in the company of (generally) much older people, how do convince them? We can plug the potential benefits in numeracy, of course, but they are probably after something more fun. How do we dispel the common belief that the game is for the middle-aged and older person only? I apologise in advance for the odd mad comment below.

Perhaps the game’s administrators need to emphasise the social benefits which youngsters could obtain. One possible area is that older people not only have a wealth of anecdotes, but can give practical advice about business, colleges, good places to live and careers, even if only “I was an xyz for 40 years; I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole but there is a real shortage of staff in profession abc, and most people I know there love it”. This does need a willingness to be pretty open with youngsters and also to realise they may have a few rough edges socially in their teens (I had more than a few, incidentally). I did offer a youthful player at one club where I play a character reference if he ever needed one, and the potential for college graduates to wind up with a job opportunity via their bridge contacts could be emphasised. Still, the idea that the game can be a meeting point and common interest for the generations, especially at social and club level, is perhaps worthwhile.

Clubs are the backbone of the future tournament game, and ensuring that someone greets potential new recruits is essential. David Gold, a strong British player, tells a horror story here, where a club he tried to play it aged 16 or so suggested he come back when he was rather older, preferably after university. Another possibility is for stronger pairs in a club to be prepared to split up occasionally, each play a session with one of a weaker and/or newer pair and then compare notes afterwards.

Poker has managed to attract a younger market (albeit largely male, despite Victoria Coren) and major TV coverage, although the game itself is far easier to learn. In terms of TV, I recall watching a Vu-Graph’ed bridge match years ago with great pleasure, but British TV tried the same approach with bridge they once tried with chess i.e. having a commentator but also getting players to replay the game (or hand) and talk through their thought processes. This worked well with chess but fell completely flat with bridge as it was far too slow. A better idea (I think) would be a 48 board match between top players filmed live, but edited down to some 4 or 5 programs with brief summaries from a commentator on the less interesting hands, Vu-graph commentary during a (near real-time) replay of the interesting hands, and perhaps interviews or voice overs with the players (filmed post match) cut in on the big decisions. One thing, though; screens, bidding boxes and the like should perhaps NOT be used, and maybe simple systems only despite the good players. There is no point in persuading social players that duplicate involves alien life forms and some sort of pagan ritual (so please be careful when mentioning sacrifices).

Finally, in terms of advertising, the flippant and non-PC might suggest that the ACBL sponsor teams of cheerleaders (to play not spectate) although equal opportunities legislation would demand that half be male and common decency requires that they shave their legs. Recent warm weather in the UK has exposed the pallid hairy limbs of the 60+ British male wearing shorts for the first time in years to the horrified gaze of many; it is not a good sight, especially if you want to eat soon after. A more sensible advert might be for a bridge game in a glamorous setting where 3 players await the arrival of a fourth. A 50+ man in a dinner jacket and a younger woman in evening dress approach; he kibitzes her playing, not the other way round.

Flippancy aside, I hope some of this may help! I had the unfair advantage of my card sharp grandmother teaching me how to play cards as soon as I could count, and whist then bridge as soon as my parents would let her.



Iain ClimieJuly 25th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

PS Hard luck in the Spingold.

jim2July 25th, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Iain –

Additionally, did you see what happened late in Nickell’s next round?

Iain ClimieJuly 25th, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

No, as I haven’t really been looking closely. Shall I look or are you going to enlighten me?


Iain ClimieJuly 25th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

OK, I looked. Quite a comeback by Hamman.

Bobby WolffJuly 25th, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Hi Iain and a little Jim2 (not meant as an offence on your height),

Although not in any special order, IMO, throughout history, all the really top teams including Nickell, Monaco, The Aces, the Precision team and several others throughout history (excepting the Blue Team who for obvious reasons I exclude) have one thing in common.

They are ALL overrated (as are probably most, if not all superstars and overall well publicized teams in many competitive sports). Thus, it results in too much admiration which lauds them to the sky. Add that to the intimidation factor of the suspicious best players, teams and groups of people (particularly the subject players and teams). Because of that, the individuals and groups begin believing what is being thought, and while enjoying it, actually start deceiving themselves.

If what I say above is at least, bordering on the truth, (and others may tend to disagree), it causes an undue advantage for the revered team and/or alleged individual superstars, resulting in the destruction of confidence by their opponents, preventing an almost equal counterpart to have the aplomb to play well enough to be in their opponents’ ballpark. It is akin to having the result already posted before play actually begins.

Before moving on concerning the last statement, let me recognize bridge history when the Aces (with me on it at the time, having won 33 straight Spingold matches 1993-1997) before finally losing in the semi-finals in 1997. During that time we probably played about 20 matches where our opponents were just not good enough to have a chance, but also winning perhaps about 13 matches which did not represent how well we played (we didn’t) but how our otherwise worthy opponents did not come close to playing up to their respective abilities. My guess is that is also too commonplace in much more publicized sports (around the world), but nevertheless could be called the human condition, apparently a staple in normal competitive combat.

And now to Iain, while I agree (as usual) with most everything you say, perhaps a few personal comments are in order to amplify my beliefs about the necessity to secure schools in the USA (and for that matter, all of the Western Hemisphere) to prevent the without doing it, which might mean the elimination of the high-level game first and then not very long later, even the game of high card wins which, if lost, would probably die without a whimper.

Yes, plenty of young people would and will always prefer to play Mortal Wombat VI rather than the sophisticated game of bridge as we know it. That majority would never be candidates to opt for an elective bridge course in school, and consequently never the twain will meet. No problem, but the upside will only occur to the minority who do. Yes, that fact remains, along Lenin and Marx’s communist doctrine of young people being able to follow their aptitudes, but instead markedly differs in youngsters making their own choices, rather than the state deciding it for them.

From their kid’s choices comes loving parents directing them to follow their hearts which reminds me of an oft made comment by mothers many years ago while talking to their daughters, “Honey, since bridge is a social grace, you will probably be better placed in learning it in order to lure a more qualified man as your future husband”.

Maybe it is time in the world’s constant evolution to go back to the future in promoting seriousness (learning to play bridge) with the frivolity which occurred in the USA with our inclusion in the despicable Viet Nam war.

Social skills will automatically be enhanced along with healthy competitive ones which is the principle thought behind the WBFs right-on motto of “Bridge for Peace” which if left to its own device, brings people together with respect, instead of tearing them apart with jealousy in living conditions brought on by a basic lack of respect which will always be present when not enough familiarity or knowledge of their adversaries, contributes to hatred.

To cover other areas, it is vitally important for our top echelon of players to give back to the game at least, part of their time, in order to showcase their talent and ethical behavior in promoting our game. Without it, bridge at its finest will suffer because too many potential stars (from all around the world) will never be encouraged to take it up.

No doubt, all of the social problems with screens, scandals and even perhaps bidding boxes should be analyzed before inclusion. Believe it or not, the Aces (in 1973) produced a TV show, an hour on bridge, heard country wide, one Sunday in April and sponsored by Sheraton Hotels which included an Aces bridge match against the Goren allstars (taped earlier) which featured voiceovers where all players discussed their thought process and why they either bid and played the way they did.

While the reviews were fairly good, the real essence of our wonderful game did not necessarily come across, making the whole project questionable, especially considering the huge expense in presenting it.

Perhaps it could have been thought to going in the right direction, but needed to be followed up with constant improvements in presentation, but the money was just not there for such an enterprise.

Yes bridge language such as “sacrifice” could have different meanings to non bridge players, especially cult followers or even normal well directed religious followers, but that is just a minor problem which could be overcome but somewhat humorous to ones who think about it.

True, high level psychology should demand a male kibitzing a female, except perhaps the religions or cults, which might think it ridiculous or worse, blasphemous, and in fact, raining on their parade, and thought to be by them, not a role they ever want women to be considered.

And the discussion could go on and on, but unless we find solutions in the next years to come, the ones still alive, may witness a sad ending to the greatest game ever conceived