Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Though this may be play to you, 'tis death to us.

Sir Roger L’Estrange

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


It may well be better to be lucky than good, and on today's deal one could argue that the team that collected the IMPs had simply been in the right place at the right time to collect a helping hand from Dame Fortune.

The deal came up at a world championship four years ago, when England played the USA. The English pair had done well to reach the small slam, a contract that could only be troubled on the lead of the diamond king, when declarer would fall back on the heart finesse. After a spade lead declarer simply drew trump and played on hearts, secure in the knowledge that he could establish an extra trick from that suit.

At first glance it looks as if the English pair had done well to pre-empt the American auction, forcing them too high, but look at what happened.

Declarer, Sam Lev, won West’s spade lead with the ace and played off all his trumps. His last four cards in hand were his two diamonds and two hearts, while in dummy he had heart A-Q-8 and the diamond jack. West had retained his four hearts to the king, but what should East keep?

If he keeps three hearts and one diamond, as happened at the table, declarer makes the diamond eight as his 13th trick. If East had kept fewer than three hearts, declarer would simply have run the heart jack, making three heart tricks whether that card was covered or not.

This hand is not worth a game-try, and clearly should not end up in no-trump but in a major. The question is therefore whether to repeat the spades or rebid two hearts, and both actions are quite sensible. With such weak heart spots my inclination is to repeat the spades — a 6-1 fit would not be so painful whereas a 4-3 heart fit might be no fun at all.


♠ Q J 7 6 5 3
 K 6 4 2
♣ 8 7
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1♠ Pass 1 NT 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


Michael BeyroutiAugust 27th, 2014 at 9:37 am

Hi Mr Wolff,
I hope you won’t mind this question unrelated to today’s hand.
What would explain the difference of opinion between you and… yourself?!. Here are the E/W hands of Problem No 1, Bidding Box, November 2006:
North deals, None vulnerable, N/S silent:

S. 873……….AK52
H. 54…………AKQ8
D. QJ986……10
C. 543……….AQ92

You gave the following scores for the plausible E/W contracts: 3D = 12; 2C = 10; 4D, 2S = 9; 1NT, 3C = 7; 5D = 5; 5C = 4; 2H, 2NT, 3S, 4C = 3; 3NT = 2; 4S = 1.

In March 2013, almost the same hands were given as Problem No 4 of the Bidding Box:

West deals, Both vulnerable, N/S silent:

S. AK53………876
H. AKQ7……..54
D. 10…………QJ984
C. AQ92……..543

This time the scores are: 2S = 10; 3S = 8; 3D = 6; 3C = 5; 2NT = 4; 3NT = 2; 4S = 1

Yes 2S deserves a good score… if anyone can stop there. However my disappointment is to see that the score of 3D dropped from 12 to 6! ??!!

Any words of consolation from you would be much appreciated.

Iain ClimieAugust 27th, 2014 at 11:10 am

Hi Bobby,

Just looking at what 7C needs today. HK right and H109 on the right is one option. East bolding HK and any 3 diamonds another although declarer still has to read it. Without the bidding, West having long hearts with the K and 3 diamonds (or KQ alone) would work, or HK109 and a similar diamond bolding even with long spades. 7C is not as awful as it looks, but Napoleon’s comment on lucky generals clearly still applies!



Bobby WolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 11:25 am

Hi Michael,

Even though the genesis of the problems involved with the official scoring of this hand, one originating in 2006 and the other 2013, are bordering surreal, I’ll have a go at doing it.

First of all I have no remembrance of this particular hand, although I have no doubt that the facts you suggest, because of who I think you are, will be 100% true. Truthfully I had no idea I have been doing the scoring for almost 8 years, but I can assure you that no one informed me in 2013 that a very similar hand had been used approximately six and 1/2 years before.

To now jump to the grist of your question as to why the scores appear very different. Obviously, with the hand being a total misfit, a game contract with any suit as trump or 3NT for that matter should be only a question of how many tricks it will go down.

What makes it a fair bidding contest hand, and I will vouch for that, is both competitive partnerships bidding it, will be faced with the same problem, one in which conservatism will be the order of the day, however even with that caveat, whats a partnership to do? The only reason 3 diamonds scored tops in 2006 is that the magic 10 of diamonds singleton enabled 3 diamond tricks to be scored up with that suit as trump, but, unless this hand got woefully inadequate defense, it will not score any tricks in diamonds when they are not trump.

No doubt, it is a trick hand, possibly one which I, nor anyone else, would likely encounter. Add that to the impossibility of scoring it correctly since how would it be even remotely possible for a contract of 3 diamonds to be the final contract, we then return to the actual meaning of surreal being dreamlike.

Bidding Box, at least at this time and for a number of years back, is also prematurely scored by a foreign bridge service, which I have found to be less than wonderful, mostly amateurish, not to mention not realistic nor accurate. Here spades looks like the best opportunity to score tricks, since a heart ruff of the low heart in the poor hand will enable a club finesse and if that finesse works, both black suits break 3-3 then presto, magico perhaps 10 tricks will even be made. However if the more likely 4-2 breaks occur and the club finesse fails those possible 10 tricks can spiral down to 6.

In any event with diamonds as trump, the hand is easier to visualize with 3 diamond tricks assured plus 3 heart tricks 2 spade tricks and 1 club trick also probably available, but not 100%.

Just how should this hand be scored when any even remote bidding sequence will not allow a 9 trick stop in diamonds? With poor defense NT should take 6+ tricks even against normal 4-2 breaks since we start with 6 high card tricks, but getting a 7th won’t be easy, although it will be very difficult for the defense to not allow an extra club trick to be eventually scored, regardless of the location of the king.

Michael, I guess I could go on and on, but what does it all mean? Someone has to guess a fair way to score this hand and truthfully I do not think it possible, other than just a polyglot of assumptions. signifying nothing.

When this hand emerged, (I never had anything to do with arranging the problems), it is curious to me that I do not remember posturing the scores, especially for the original thought 8 years ago. I am not doubting that it occurred, only trying to get across the sometimes difficulty of arriving at a justifiable decision.

I will leave you with this thought. Can you imagine yourself playing a random contract, but with many options, and one time playing it one way and at another interval and with approximately the same assets and traps, playing it quite differently. If so, I will ask you to join in to what is involved in scoring a bidding contest when it has to be speculated, usually based on bridge percentages, the likely best way to do it. Bridge is not like chess at all, as a matter of fact it is almost a complete opposite, since in chess everything is transparent with no surprises (except perhaps a brilliant, not foreseen, move by one player or the other). However in bridge every result is determined by the specific distribution of where the cards happen to be when sometimes a medium card such as an 8 or an 87 combination becomes crucial when one or both of those critical cards (only on that hand) is not present. And for bidding purposes or for that matter, defense and declarer’s play, only sometimes adds to the randomness of results often based on the experience and talent of the players playing. Suffice it to say that in the long run percentages win the day, but not necessarily on any one or even ten straight hands.

Bobby WolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 11:42 am

Hi Iain,

Well thought and explained.

In addition and probably secretly, I have possibly unknowingly mirrored the great Napoleon’s thoughts when, while playing an important bridge team game, wished my teammates good luck which was merely echoing his comment about winning wars requires having “lucky” generals.

Playing well in bridge often favorably breaks ties in one’s favor, but being lucky against formidable opposition, almost always, rules supreme.

jim2August 27th, 2014 at 12:53 pm

On the 2006 versus 2013 written answers, since Our Host is in Nevada, perhaps Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. ยง 11.010 et seq. should be applied.


Bobby WolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Hi Jim2,

Will that allow Harry Reid to interpret that Nevada Statute?

jim2August 27th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Just don’t mention Yucca Mountain and all should be fine.

SlarAugust 27th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Doesn’t 4S have a reasonable play opposite Axx/Axx/Axxx/xxx?
I know it is controversial, but I prefer NMF to show game invitational values. With this in mind, I would have bid 2C to invite because it brings both suits into play. I suppose that if 2C is a game force then you have no safe invitation.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, in the BWTA, with a club lead 4 spades has about a 20% chance of success, almost double that if the 10 of spades is also included, but how about:

s. AKx
h. Jxxx
d. QJxx
c. Qx

where bidding and making 2 spades or of course 2 hearts, is also in some jeopardy.

Two-way checkback Stayman (2D=GF and 2C=NGF) is now popular and often played since all that is given up is an attempt to play in 2 of a minor in return for a more fluid approach for games or higher.

At least to me, 2 spades (with a 6-2 or 3) offers a much better resting spot than does 2 hearts (even with 4-4) because of the possible difficulty of dealing with poor trumps. Sure game is possible, but at least to me, too remote to hope for.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes nuclear waste may even present more of a problem than mud floors, if only because of the image. Yuck, or is it Yucca?

The real sadness has to do with the residue from politics which often is even more harmful, not to mention hateful, than either of the above.

Patrick CheuAugust 27th, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Hi Bobby,if one is playing Sayc,how would you arrive at 2H? North-KQ84 964 K87 KQJ-South A6 QJ753 1096 642.Bidding went 1C-1H,1S-1N,pass out.+90 Hearts score better.I suggested 2H or 1N(my preferred choice) by North..pard wanted to show four spades cos KQxx-regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Hi Patrick,

We can like it or lump it, unfortunately (but not necessarily), all roads lead to 1NT, not 2 hearts.

If North rebids 1NT instead of 1 spade, my choice, since a 1 spade rebid should also promise at least 4 clubs, South, with his balanced hand, no singleton and only 5 hearts, should pass. Yes, because of the too slow development of long suit heart cards the suit contract wins out in effectiveness, but, at least to me, the gods of dame fortune determined that and to try and change it, will not likely work.

Sorry for giving up, but we will do better to try and fix what can be fixed.

SlarAugust 29th, 2014 at 3:40 pm

And naturally almost the exact same hand came up last night. I had AQxxxx/Kxxx/xx/x and the bidding went 1D/1S/1NT. I listened to your advice and rebid 2S. Partner showed up with Jx/AQx/Kxxx/Axxx and we made an undeserved +170 when my RHO failed to cover (from K985) when I finessed the SJ. Too bad that was about the only thing we did right yesterday but I’ll remember that hand!