Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Life is not found in atoms or molecules or genes as such, but in organization; not in symbiosis but in synthesis.

Edwin Grant Conklin

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


This deal from the 1993 Epson Simultaneous Pairs was played at the top of the Post Office Tower in London with a host of dignitaries and assembled top players. It demonstrates the principle of not giving unnecessary information to declarer to allow him to count out your hand, an idea espoused by the great Jean Besse, who referred to the irrelevant small cards as neutrinos.

At the table North-South (who were playing weak no-trumps) reached six no-trump. On a heart lead declarer cashed the club ace and king, then ran the hearts as East discarded enthusiastically in diamonds. West — a former World Champion — threw three diamonds, and declarer played a spade to the queen and king.

West now returned a low club to the queen, East throwing a spade and South, a diamond. So far so bad from declarer’s perspective, but the diamond ace forced a spade from West. Now declarer knew that both defenders had only one spade left, as East was guarding diamonds and West clubs. He could thus play a spade to his ace in complete confidence.

Do you see the small defensive error? West knew she was going to have to discard a spade eventually, so she should have thrown one on the sixth heart. Then declarer does not get the complete count on the diamond suit and has to guess the spade suit in the ending. By showing a void in diamonds, West turned declarer’s hypothetical count on the deal into a sure thing.

Your partner's double is takeout, not penalties. (After doubling for takeout, you cannot convert the meaning of a second double to takeout; it simply shows extra values.) In the context of your pass over one spade, you could hardly be better for diamonds than you actually are. While a call of two diamonds could not be faulted, this feels like a hand worth three diamonds now.


♠ 9 7 6 5
 5 4
 K 10 7 6 5
♣ 9 7
South West North East
1♣ Dbl. 1♠
Pass 2♣ 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


David WarheitAugust 30th, 2014 at 10:18 am

6H is a much better contract and should make as the cards lie (assume a H lead; N wins, draws trumps and finesses the S10; he then plays the SA and ruffs a S, dropping the K). Playing strong NT, I think S should open 1NT, N then transfers to H and then bids 6H. Assuming you are playing weak no-trumps, how would you bid this hand?

Michael BeyroutiAugust 30th, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Yes, an early spade discard from West will pay dividends in the end… but only if East does the right thing. I put the blame on East!
We reached a three-card ending where declarer has A-10 of spades and the queen of diamonds. At that point East should have blanked his diamond king, retaining two spades in hand!
When the diamond ace is played – and West follows suit – declarer has a complete count of the hand. He knows West is left with the club jack and a spade. And when the diamond king falls under the ace, declarer knows that East has two spades left.
When a spade is led from dummy and East follows low we reach the thrilling moment of the hand: Should declarer go up with the ace and the jack drops or should he finesse the 10… convinced that East is protecting the spades? South must be thinking “surely West did not discard a spade from KJx”.
This is what the upper stratosphere of Bridge excellence looks like… pure thrill till the last drop!

Shantanu RastogiAugust 30th, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Hi David

If South opens strong NT there could be some interesting variations. Every North would transfer and would reach 6 H in uncontested auction but some Easts would throw in lead directing double of North’s 2 Diamond which may prompt redouble from South though some South may pass such double. Over redouble should North force upto 6H/7H ? Based on given layout he should but on some layouts 2Dxx may play better. So its interesting bidding problem.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffAugust 30th, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hi David, Michael, and Shantanu,

Yes, each of you has captured a feature of this many splendored hand worth pursuing.

David, I am almost positive the Epson Pairs (back then and always) was a matchpoint game and as all of us can see, a stray jack or even this exact hand on another day (of course without a diamond lead, but that was South’s opening bid) would likely score it up.

When a jump shift is the first response, it limits bidding room and after a natural continuation, with North now showing a strong NT (by his jump) North just took the aggressive course to 6NT for the added matchpoint emphasis.

Perhaps only after a relay type system could a good partnership divvy out the advantage of playing 6 hearts (a clearly superior contract, but not perhaps at matchpoints).

If N, while playing strong NTs (15-17) opens one, South should bid 2 diamonds (FG Stayman), one of my favorite conventions and then after 2 spades, 3 hearts, 3NT, North should then jump to 5NT which clearly, in high-level partnership language asks partner, “to pick a slam”. Assuming South offers 6 diamonds (a 4 card suit), North would then bid 6 hearts and South would either pass or go for the gusto and venture 6NT.

Of course, we all would now simply pass 6 hearts, but two bad things would happen:

1. This column hand may not have occurred.

2. The declarer would not have had a chance to shine.

Playing WNT (12-14) the column sequence is in the mix, with of course, South now having the option to bid 5NT over 3, connoting the same meaning (pick a slam) or merely to jump to 6NT, doing as he did.

Michael, since declarer is discarding behind East, when you suggest that he throw away the king of diamonds almost at the death, South will then discard the queen of spades and keep the high diamond for his 12th trick.

Of course, from East’s perspective, perhaps declarer only has the jack, not the queen of diamonds, but it is, of course, not true in this case.

Shantanu’s exciting suggestions about possibly playing 2D doubled and redoubled, if in fact NS are playing 2 way Stayman, is wild indeed to double with such a poor hand that early in the auction. To me, that is a recipe for a disaster unless the doubling opportunity presents itself later. However, one thing (at least for me) is for sure and that is not to signal partner, especially while defending a slam, since even just fairly adept declarer’s then will guess how to play a very tough hand much more easily, making the signalling side rue the day that positive signals were invented.

Believe it or not, I will challenge any decent pair to almost always know what a declarer has by the way he goes about playing the hand, especially while navigating a slam, rendering signals by partner only advantageous to the declarer not the defenders. Unless, of course, the signals are used as a legal ruse, in order to fool declarer into doing the wrong thing. BTW, as long as a partnership does not secretly have an agreement to do such a thing, it is A OK to do, as a sometimes unilateral ploy.

Learn to be the toughest opponents you can be and your results will rise with it.

Bill DanielSeptember 2nd, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Don’t you have a 3 suit squeeze by winning the first heart in dummy and finessing the spade plus the additional option of the spade finesse winning? That seems like a high percentage play to me.