Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.

H.L. Mencken

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


The percentage tables are unforgiving. If you follow the best chance to make your contract on every deal, you will end up a big winner. Meanwhile, the player who takes the second-best line will trail the field.

Today’s deal came up in the semifinals of a regional knockout event played at a recent Nationals, where the quality of the field should have been good enough to expect both declarers to have found their way home. However, that was not the case here, and neither South brought home the no-trump game.

What happened at both tables was that the defenders led clubs against three no-trump. South could see that ducking might produce an extremely unwelcome spade shift, so he won and unblocked diamonds, then led a spade to the jack. The defenders won and cleared clubs, leaving South with just seven tricks when neither spades nor diamonds behaved.

South had missed a small extra chance, which would have brought home the game. After winning the club lead, South must overtake his diamond queen with the ace, then play the diamond king, followed by the diamond eight. This works when diamonds are 3-3 or whenever there is a significant doubleton double honor in diamonds. Surprisingly, this is nearly a 10 percent extra chance.

Of course if the diamonds were 3-3 all along, you have given up an overtrick, but the beauty of teams play is that you can afford to sacrifice the occasional overtrick and undertrick to achieve your main target.

You have limited values, but your shape entitles you to issue a serious invitation to game. The best way to do that is to cue-bid two clubs, planning to raise partner's response in a major to three, or to bid two hearts over two diamonds to get partner to pick a major. You do not need to drive to game here; let partner get involved in the final decision.


♠ K Q 10 6
 K 8 7 5 3
 J 9
♣ 7 6
South West North East
Pass 1♣ Dbl. 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


Shantanu RastogiAugust 20th, 2014 at 10:12 am

Dear Mr Wolff

Just a side question. What is your opinion on the new continuous 20-0 scale where on adifference of 1 IMP the scale changes ? If you make safety plays and sacrifice overtricks you might even lose to a team which makes way inferior but overtricks plays. In the deal in the column the 10% higher play loses to a side which plays for diamonds to be 3-3 if they are all along so. Is this fair ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

LeonAugust 20th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hello Bobby,

It is always nice to read your column.

Isn’t it so that unblocking the diamond queen and then playing a spade towards dummy also has some extra chances?
For example if west holds KQ of spades (probability is 25%), you will overcome ANY 4-2 diamond split. Of course this works only if W can cash only 2 clubs (so not if he has 5 originally). But I think the probabilites for the two lines are not so very far apart as you suggest, or am I missing something?


Bill CubleyAugust 20th, 2014 at 1:42 pm

How about something nice. I overtook the queen of diamonds. I still won’t get any offers to join a Vanderbilt/Spingold team.

There is only one outside entry to run the diamonds so I must pray for a 3-3 split or a doubleton honor to make the hand.

I leave for Palm Beach Gardens in the morning.

bobby wolffAugust 20th, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Hi Shantanu,

While on the surface, the so-called continuous IMP scale is more exacting than the former scale where each IMP (won or lost) has some value, rather than being lumped together as a group (usually 1 or 2 early, but 3 or 4 later) it might be similar to either choose chocolate or vanilla as his or her favorite flavor.

Your point of by doing so the scales are then sometimes tweaked to favor going for every IMP available, even at the cost of safety plays, which from the beginning of contract bridge, has been an integral part of playing the game the way it was intended, instead of the somewhat bastardization of the game to which matchpoint bridge unfortunately caters.

However, OTOH, the new scale perhaps breaks ties better when the extra IMP or IMPs comes about because of superior play or defense while securing overtricks or undertricks by just generally playing or bidding in a superior manner.

No doubt, our founding fathers didn’t really address the ancient scoring system (since 1927) when and if they had determined that bidding and making nine tricks in a major (140) counts more (and should) than ten tricks in a minor (130) something they, no doubt, did not want to occur.

Instead they no doubt tilted that system so that different suits needed different numbers for game (which added to 100 or more) and the immediate part score conundrum was just an unwanted fallout which now, under the revised scoring system, becomes law.

Some arithmetical nerds love the new method, while other old fogey traditionalists prefer the former, causing me to sometimes wonder which treatment really serves our game best.

No doubt tournament bridge, even including the old traditional game of total point scoring KO, which ruled tournament bridge until the 1950’s had its place in our development. However, the invention of the IMP scale (Europe) immediately offered a serious improvement, but IMO the new tweak still remains to be seen because of so much luck being involved anywhere and everywhere in bridge scoring (what about 100 or 150 honors in our original versions of contract bridge, not to mention the honors out on every hand which its father, auction bridge indelibly included).

Whatever way one wants to look at it, whether the improvement is clearly better, or whether the fractions necessary to be used under the new regime, only tend to confuse rather than improve, may remain to discuss and therefore argue. One thing is certain and that since many of the very top players have scientific bents rather than practical application, at the present moment and no doubt to last some long amount of time, there does not figure to be a concerted move to return to the old method anytime soon, so I cannot offer any other advice than “Get used to it”.

Thanks, Shantanu, for having the foresight to put your thoughts on paper. “Little by little we do great things”, but only by always taking the time to express both sides.

bobby wolffAugust 20th, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Hi Leon,

First, welcome to the AOB site and many thanks for your kind words.

While you are not missing much, perhaps the following should be noted. If you lead a spade and West plays the queen (which he probably should, while holding the unsupported queen or both the KQ) and you win, you must do so after cashing the queen of diamonds.

Once that is done, there then becomes very different dynamics present, ones in which are obvious, mainly regarding tempo, allowing (with a 4-2 diamond break) the opponents to get the upper hand in the development of their defensive tricks in clubs.

What I am saying is not totally discounting your salient point, but even if West has the KQ of spades (somewhat less than 25% because of the lead and the empty room in one specific hand) there are other fish to fry, before exact percentages come into play.

Again thanks for your wise contribution and please feel welcome to always join the discussion. Your opinion as well as your kind expression will always be desired.

bobby wolffAugust 20th, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your contribution.

Regarding the Spingold and Vanderbilt, do not despair since my first one was in 1955 (Chicago) and my last was just one month ago 2014 (Las Vegas). I lost in both of them and ignominiously at that. Somehow and in both years mentioned, while I guess I enjoyed participating, losing has little to recommend it except the experience gleaned. For that, 1955 was much superior to 2014, but I cannot quite, dullard that I am, put my finger on why.

I’m glad you took the recommended line in today’s column hand and good luck in Palm Beach Gardens, especially if it is the venue for a bridge tournament.

jim2August 20th, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I must confess that things took a strange turn when I played this hand in the annual Lower Slobbovia Invitational team game. BTW, they invite anyone brandishing an entry fee.

I was South and I prefer a doubleton to bid three notrump directly in this situation. (This is due to innumerable calamities where a long suit would not run due to entry problems.)

Instead, I marked time with two spades, beginning to bid out my pattern cheaply, etc.

Partner surprised me by raising me to three spades. I was about to convert to three notrump when East placed the Double card on the table.

As I stared at it, I realized that East had just picked off the late entry to North’s diamond suit. This was going to be a game swing, sure as mud (and after so many Spring and Fall tourneys in LS, I reckon myself an expert on mud).

So, I did the only thing I could think of: I redoubled!

It went all pass, of course, and West led the QC. I just hoped he feared sandwiching East with a trump lead, instead of not having one!

I won, cashed the QD, and led a small heart. West rose and shifted to a trump.

I went up with the AS and advanced the 10H. East covered and I won the ace and led my last small heart. West ruffed with the 9S and I over-ruffed with the JS.

Next came the AD (pitching club), but East’s JD convinced me that the KD would not survive, so I led a small club to hand and ruffed my last club with North’s 3S.

East over-ruffed, but could not prevent me from scoring a now-long small trump and the JH for my eighth and ninth tricks.

bobby wolffAugust 21st, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Hi Jim2,

Both congratulations and condolences for your making 3 spades redoubled.

You overcame the diamond overtake issue presented in the column, by enticing East to make what he considered a lead directing double (although right, his overall result became dead wrong) and wound up with -760.

In this case and because of a LS rule that the winner of this particular board would win the right to escort Lena to the Saturday Night Gala in the beautiful hall provided (although the mud floors do not add much to the occasion).

In the other room East, while not being able to double a spade bid to his right did double the final 3NT contract which North did redouble, but West guessed wrong and led what the column suggested, the Queen of Clubs.

No victory (-800 3NTXX making), no Lena since the lusty declarer used his inspiration to overtake the diamond and score up his contract.

To the victor went the spoils and although no one could be sure what happened later, Lena’s smile the next day may have said it all.

Win some, lose some, but all in the eyes of the beholder.

jim2August 21st, 2014 at 5:26 pm

If the accounts of Lena’s, er, beauty bear any resemblance to reality, then that was the best 1 IMP I ever lost!

bobby wolffAugust 21st, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

Beauty is in the eyes of whoever is gawking. Ask any male hyena, but I, for one, agree with your assessment, although I am only a different species, a wolff.

jim2August 21st, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Bobby for the win!