Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Weapons speak to the wise; but in general they need interpreters.


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


Sometimes you can see that if you play your hand in a certain way, your opponent is bound to succeed. In such an instance the only option may then be to do something different and hope that he or she will go wrong.

Look at the defense of the following hand from East’s point of view, covering up the West and South hands for the moment.

Against four hearts, West led a spade (yes, a club would have been better, but one can hardly criticize his actual choice). East won with the ace and switched to the club king, won by declarer, who cashed the spade king to discard a club before playing a diamond to dummy’s queen. It was clear to East that if he won the diamond king, declarer would be certain to succeed, since on the bidding he was marked with the heart ace. So East ducked the diamond queen smoothly, and declarer now played a heart to his jack, won by West’s queen.

West next played the spade queen, which declarer ruffed in the dummy. It is easy to see that declarer could now succeed by cashing the diamond ace and ruffing a diamond high before drawing trump ending in dummy and claiming the remainder of the tricks. However, declarer was convinced that West held the diamond king, so instead he drew trump first, and then took another diamond finesse. East won, and the defenders cashed the rest for three down.

In third seat all bets are off as to the best way to describe this hand constructively. At any vulnerability your objective is to make life miserable for the opponents, and the best way to do that seems to be to open three diamonds. They don't know what you have (and neither does partner), but you have ratcheted the stakes up a couple of levels and made them guess at very little risk.


♠ 2
 K 10 4 2
 A Q J 10 3 2
♣ 4 2
South West North East
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


jim2September 25th, 2014 at 11:43 am

The following does not seem completely correct:

“… and the defenders cashed the rest for three down.”

If I read the text correctly, South still had a trump at that point, thus could not avoid taking another trick (the seventh).

MirceaSeptember 25th, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I think the most difficult thing on this hand is for East to duck very smoothly. In order for that to happen, East would need take some time to think it through, or at least a less experienced player (like myself) would. The only opportunity that I can see is at trick three, when declarer plays KS. Is it OK now for East to pause now and plan ahead, even though he obviously has no problem following suit? Is there a danger of him being accused of hesitation in order to convey unauthorized information to his partner?

I would be curios to see the thinking process of a top player in the East seat, trick by trick.

slarSeptember 25th, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Regarding BWTA, how do you feel about opening 4D with favorable vulnerability?

bobby wolffSeptember 25th, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, no doubt, declarer, after taking the losing diamond finesse at trick 9, lost 3 of the last 4 tricks (to go 3 down), but did of course take his last trump, since all other trumps had been played.

I agree with you that there is no substitute for accuracy in reporting, even though the writer is sometimes tempted by the phony god of brevity.

Perhaps, probably because of your malady of lethal TOCM, tm, your sense of justice demands that you will not concede a lonely, but isolated, last trump in hand, which could not be conceded under any legal circumstance.

Anyone who thinks otherwise, should throw the first stone (or change the concession bridge laws), but I must say, over all my long playing years, after declarer would go set several tricks on such a hand (or close) he would probably want to further penalize himself by declaring down 4 instead of 3.

Been there, done that.

bobby wolffSeptember 25th, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Hi Mircea,

First, to your everlasting credit, you have assumed the productive role of championing the learning process of the ambitious, though relatively inexperienced player (something every learned bridge player goes through from continuing novice to world class), but keeping in mind that all eventual world class players are born with large amounts of numeracy, always enabling one with, to cut through the swath of applying that gift to the specific task, of both the ability and, most importantly, the concentration at the table to coordinate the just completed bidding and the play up to the key moment (as in this hand) when East’s ducking the diamond must be done in tempo, otherwise the jig will be up with the result, just another made game by the opponents.

To delve deeper (and, at least to me, and then to you, but maybe not to others) to pause earlier would be a dead giveaway to the location of the diamond monarch. And still going even deeper, some really great players have the facility to appear to be thinking, with or without the elusive king, avoiding the reputation of being unethical, which, in this case, would be leveled against anyone who broke tempo, when theoretically there was no bridge reason to do so.

The above is a capsule distinction of determining the great players from the even better ones (I’ve had the questionable pleasure of losing to the latter group, but, I hope, not without giving them some of the same treatment and thus emotion).

Mircea, unless you are fooling me (and I do not think you are) my experience is never to have had anyone asking me the sophisticated questions that you have. This exercise has convinced me that, assuming your numeracy and quick wit are up to snuff, that, upon proper application to our great game, you could go as far as the time available for you would take you. And to add a new incentive, A potential great bridge mind is a terrible thing to waste.

A study by East could never be (perhaps never is too strong) construed as unauthorized information (UI) to partner (simply because any worthy bridge committee or non-fledgling tournament director) should immediately realize that the break in tempo (BIT) would help the declarer more than the defense. However shrewd bridge playing lawyers (and there are too many) perhaps could find hands to protest such things, but I fervently wish that the then authorities will be able to sort out unethical illegalities from players who only want advantage when it can merely be instead characterized as part of the game and not subject to protest.

Thanks for writing.

MirceaSeptember 25th, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your elaborate response. I had to read it a few times, perhaps because even though I have lived almost half of my life on this side of the pond, English is still my second language.

The issue I raised has to do with the actual play at the table of a hand such as this, which given the mannerism involved can be quite different than when you see the hand in print. What I’m saying is that if declarer forces a quick play at every turn, I may have a problem not guessing to duck KD in tempo, unless I take time to study the situation ahead of time.

If I remember correctly this issue has been raised here before, but I don’t think we had a definitive answer. Is it best for the 3rd hand to pause at trick 1 and take the time to develop the plan for the defence if declarer plays quickly from dummy or if the defender needs more time than declarer to make the plan? If yes, should he announce “thinking”.

bobby wolffSeptember 25th, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi Slar,

Now coming back to earth after a flight to fancy (or perhaps the proverbial Emerald City) your question also deserves a heart felt answer.

Yes, opening 4 diamonds is an appealing choice as a third seat opener with favorable vulnerability.

However, at least to me, the real danger of such would occur if the high cards were basically distributed equally around the table (about 10+ or -) and, of course, the kicker, that it would go all pass and I would go 1 down -50, when I could have bought it one round lower (only 9 tricks required).

Obviously worse things could happen such as partner having 5 decent hearts with the diamond finesse on, allowing us to easily score up 10+ tricks in hearts, or instead to go down 300 on a misfit with partner allowing the possible worthy opponents to reopen with a double together with it going all pass and no game being present the other way (partner having length in spades, which should never come as a surprise).

However, in spite of the above, my choice, definitely at IMPs and playing against above average to good opponents would choose 4 diamonds as my opening thrust. The upside is, of course, taking away space from my worthy opponents and thereby narrowing their path to exchanging knowledge to their best contract. The solidity of my diamonds somewhat compensates for my having only 6 of them.

Just to remind you and everyone listening, bridge is nowhere close to an exact science and the more legal tacks in the highway of bidding any one side can throw at the other is to force them to start their exchange of information at a high level. Opening 4 diamonds, at the very least, accomplishes that goal.

Good luck with all your future preempts, meaning hope for most of them (certainly not all) to work for you.

bobby wolffSeptember 25th, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Hi Mircea,

And still again your follow-up question also rings a bell.

There is a process, even directly mentioned in the bridge laws, about being a 3rd seat defender, as long as that partnership makes it known to the declarer that the partner of the opening leader will always study before playing to trick one, to cater to just what you are referring.

However to choose that regimen, the 3rd chair player must be totally consistent and always do so, otherwise his partner will be presented UI anytime he violates that procedure (for example if partner leads an Ace against a suit contract and 3rd seat has a singleton he must wait at least 12-15 seconds (longer than most people expect that time frame actually to be) and not let one’s adreniline cause him to be unethical.

Since my experience with players who advertise doing this (and almost all of them who advocate this, are top drawer) have trouble with remaining consistent, causing me to practically not be in favor of it (merely my take). Yes it could be done, and, if done with active ethics in mind, might improve the game itself and increase its accuracy in defense, but up to now, I have not found it to be so (and I am very old).

Yes, to pause when (from one’s actual holding) there is only one play to make, the partnership, particularly the opening leader, but also if not, then the 3rd seat player should remind the declarer of their defensive agreement.

Finally two more points before closing.

1. Very fast declarers sometimes abuse the game, by taking advantage of the ethicality rules of forcing their defensive adversaries to be poorly placed in not giving their hands away. Since I sometimes violate what I am talking about, I can vouch for its undue advantage, leaving the reader to decide for himself whether I, or anyone else, intends to unduly benefit.

2. Advocates of the 3rd seat automatic hesitation are IMO taking equal advantage in using the rules (basically adjusted to whatever the top players prefer, but not having much of an against element on this subject). Again, I need to say that it is barely OK to automatically hesitate at trick one as a partnership law, but if ever one violates his responsibility (by playing quickly) the TD MUST be called immediately (if for no other reason than to have it officially recorded), a happening which will be very impractical to be properly executed.

Iain ClimieSeptember 25th, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Hi Bobby, Folks,

Spare a thought for declarer who may have been snared by his heart intermediates. If he hadn’t had the HJ10 between the hands, he might have won the CA at T2, cashed the SK shedding a club from table and taken two high trumps then the D finesse. If it loses, he is home even if east cashes the HQ now. If it wins, and diamonds aren’t 5-0, he can just play the DA. East can maybe ruff and punch dummy, but declarer can now just drive out the DK.

Basically this needs hearts 3-2 and diamonds not 5-0. It may not be optimal, so how much better can others do, at least assuming IMPs.



bobby wolffSeptember 25th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Hi Iain,

By your accurate discourse (all of us are used to that) you call attention to what seems to be somewhat off center in bridge with our direct competitions (mano v. mano).

Many choices in bridge, both declarer play and defense, become easier with fewer assets to choose from, since with less weaponry we have to accept and go from there in our search for (usually) making our contract. Yes the additional good heart spots gives thought to guarding against certain 4-1 breaks, unnecessary to worry about when left on an island, and when and if that happens we are then saddled with our last chance, so, here goes.

All of the above reminds us of just doing the best we can with what we see before us, and let the devil take the hindmost. And, on the days to which poor Jim2 has become accustomed, just grin and bear it.

Easy to say but harder to accept gracefully.