Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Whenever a man can get hold of numbers, they are invaluable: if correct; they assist in informing his own mind, but they are still more useful in deluding the minds of others. Numbers are the masters of the weak, but the slaves of the strong.

Charles Babbage

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

*Roman Keycard Blackwood

**Two of the five keycards, counting the trump king plus the spade queen.


These days the Jacoby two-no-trump response is a common way to set partner's major-suit as trump, and to find out whether opener has extra values, or extra trumps, or side-suit shortage. The situation is more complicated when the opponents butt in, though. Opener needs to be able to show shortage or control in the opponents' suit — or even to be able to penalize them for their temerity.

In today’s auction, when the opponents intervened over North’s Jacoby two-no-trump, South took the opportunity to show a second suit. North construed this as a decent five-card holding and did not have the mechanism available to check on the quality of the side-suit, so took a shot at the grand slam. Then it was up to South to justify his partner’s optimism.

The heart two was led and ruffed. Declarer cashed the spade ace, king, and queen. Now it would have been natural to assume that the overcaller was short in a specific side-suit, but South saw there was no rush to commit himself.

Next came the diamond ace and king, and a heart ruff to hand and a diamond ruff in dummy. This was the critical play, as it revealed that East had started with only a doubleton diamond, and thus precisely a 1-7-2-3 shape.

It was now an easy matter to cash the club king and then to finesse against East’s club queen. Note: that if declarer discards his diamond loser on the heart ace, he never finds out the critical piece of information.

Some questions are unanswerable without knowing the vulnerability and form of scoring. I would not consider bidding if vulnerable in any form of the game; I suppose I must be getting old. At matchpoints or teams I would bid three diamonds if nonvulnerable, assuming I was playing with an understanding partner.


♠ 9 7 3
 10 6 2
 Q 10 9 6 3 2
♣ 3
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


bobby wolffNovember 4th, 2014 at 11:46 am

Hi Everyone,

As great as Charles Babbage’s quote is to the playing of bridge, the asterisk placed against 2NT instead of where it should be, against 4NT, is harmful.

Gremlins, in the probable form of sloth, can only be an excuse, and, of course, for what it is worth, I apologize and will attempt to right that wrong, although it may take some hours.

jim2November 4th, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Ruffing the opening lead (instead of winning the ace and discarding) is a pretty strong play, but it is usually done to postpone the decision on what to discard. Delaying a critical decision while trying to get a count is also a strong play. However, combining those two plays as in this hand is true expert level stuff.

Declarer has to see ahead right at the opening lead that preserving the diamond spot for ruffing (instead of discarding it on AH) will allow playing off three rounds of diamonds instead of two and thus improving the count for the club play.

I am not at all sure I would be able to do it at the table. I mean, I spotted it here, knowing there was a play problem and under no time pressure. But, at the table? I doubt it. If this deal is taken from real life, I tip my hat to the declarer, and would even go retrieve one from my closet to be able to do so!


Iain ClimieNovember 4th, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Hi Bobby,

What if east had really pushed the boat out with only 6 hearts but 4 clubs? Declarer has to be very careful then with club pips, or does cashing the HA late to drop a club squeezes south’s club holding. If he reduces to CAJ109, can he pick up the suit given entry problems, as he has to finesse twice. If he comes down to AJ106 and leads the 10 to the King, east can cover the C8 if he started with 4C!

Shades of Kelsey and Ottlik,



ClarksburgNovember 4th, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Having seen your many, always expert and incisive, posts I’d suggest you greatly underestimate your at-the-Table play.
Declarer, planning the play thinks:
” Hmm, the only issue here is finding the club Queen.
Hmm, the only choice / option is my play to the first trick.
Will discarding the small Diamond on the Heart Ace help me find the CQ? No.
Could arranging to play a third round of Diamonds help? Oh yea, sure it could.
Play a small Heart please.”

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 4th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Hi Jim2, Iain and Clarksburg,

I’ll answer when I return from my Tuesday bridge game taking place now. Sorry for the delay.

Michael BeyroutiNovember 4th, 2014 at 9:14 pm

In all, the heart ace was treated as waste… in a grand slam no less.

Iain, here’s a double dummy solution to your Kelsey-Ottlik conundrum:
A, K of spades.
A, K of diamonds.
Third spade to the queen.
Club to the king.
If clubs 4-1, take first club finesse, then ruff diamond in dummy and take second club finesse.

Iain ClimieNovember 4th, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Hi Michael,

Thanks for that, although was there a typo – clubs 4-0 not 4-1? Well spotted, though, but I suspect the weird suicide squeezes may occur more often than realised. Imagine declarer needs the last 4 tricks in 3N with dummy holding HA D10xx opposite DAQJx. Do you run the D10 or cash the HA and play for DKx left on your right (bad pun)? Obviously this depends on how many diamonds (if any) have been played and inferential count but it is a mundane layout.

This does raise the question of how often such possibilities pass us by – even though not you.



bobby wolffNovember 5th, 2014 at 12:40 am

Hi Jim2, Iain, Clarksburg and Michael,

Most everything which was needed to be said was. A few small points with not 100% answers but perhaps helpful hints.

Of course the possibility of what Iain mentions, the pre-emptor having only 6 hearts, is worth noting, but being at the table, in full mind, like no doubt a world series of poker veteran views most poker hands, especially one with heavy betting, or unusual moves. Obviously no one is right 100%, but all wannabe top players must score, at least in the 90%+ category, otherwise, until he or she does, he or she will have work to do on his or her psychology.

Only experience, not any real analytical intelligence. is necessary.

I almost totally agree with perhaps the youngest commenter, Clarksburg, in his routine toward what needs to be thought, and also his take on Jim2’s modesty.

The time for thought is early and then fairly prompt action will be the tempo for the rest of the hand.

Little by little we all together can do great things, and I am particularly proud to be associated with every one of our group who regularly contribute and even the ones who only show up occasionally, but often mightily.

jim2November 5th, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Dear Our Host –

I would sure like to know if this was a hand from real life ….

bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2014 at 6:32 am

Hi Jim2,

No, it was not. Like a fairly large percentage of our hands (perhaps around 50%) are contrived either by us, or by a similar theme which turned up in a wide variety of bridge publications.

The secret, which has been a common one with bridge publishers (newspaper columns and, for that matter, bridge books) is thinking of a theme, this one as many are, about counting, and then working backwards to find a legitimate need for getting the count, before knowing (not guessing) what to do at the death.

At least to me, this hand, and similar themes, separate the good from the better, all the way to the best. No top player alive fails to count every hand he plays, both as a declarer and a defender.

Throw the same exercise in when dummy and that about covers the bridge front.

As an added bonus, when one acquires that habit he then retains where all the cards were dealt in the previous large number of sessions, since his concentration allowed him to once remembered to not forget for a significant period of time.

My guess is that the practice discussed here is certainly true in chess as well as baseball when certain pitchers are pitching, in football when a quarterback must know everything about where all his players will be trying to be and what that particular defense will do to counteract it as well as basketball, tennis and probably even more so with golf.

Some young players flunk out early, not for physical reasons, but rather for not having the mentality to devote what needs to be given in order to succeed.

Believe me when I suggest that all of us need to use our minds more, because few of us come close to getting the most out of what we can both accomplish and prove if we train our minds to maximum use.

When it has been said “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” bridge was not the focal point, but in the beginning and at an early age, it is a good starting point.

jim2November 6th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I have read that some mystery writers also write backwards, though some have suggested that they themselves do not always know “who did it” until the story gets to where the author must decide.

jim2November 6th, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Anyway, thanks!


bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

Rather indeed, thanks to you for your incisive comment on mystery writers.

And to prove how right you are just examine the many episodes of today’s seemingly (and justifiably IMO) countless excellent, though fictional, episodes of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, & Law & Order which, although often violent, do likely exemplify the “working backward” theme discussed.