Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

The gods are on the side of the stronger.


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


When North set spades as trump after South had shown 12-14 points and a balanced hand, South had enough to show slam-suitability with a cuebid of four diamonds. That was enough for North, who checked on aces using Keycard Blackwood and drove to slam after hearing the response of two aces and the trump queen.

Slam would have been excellent on any lead but a diamond; however, that was West’s natural lead. South ducked the diamond king and won the continuation of the diamond jack with the ace. He then ruffed a diamond high in dummy, cashed the club ace-king, and ran all the trumps.

This is an example of a Vienna Coup, since it transfers the club menace to the South hand, and produces a three-card ending where declarer has three hearts in dummy and two hearts and the club jack in hand. As the last trump is led out East has to discard a small heart, and declarer now has to guess from the demeanor of the various players at the table whether East has come down to the doubleton heart 10, or Q-10 doubleton. If the former South must run the heart jack; if the latter, South must play hearts from the top and the nine will be good at trick 12.

There is no correct way to play the hand; South must gauge from the players’ demeanor at the table and the ease with which they make discards how likely one position is compared to the other.

There are players who will not be able to look beyond the small doubleton diamond and the relatively weak spades, and who will open one club. I strongly advise against that if you are playing a 15-17 no-trump, as most do nowadays. This is in essence a balanced hand, as are most hands with a 5-3-3-2 shape. So open one no-trump, announcing the strength of your hand at one go.


♠ Q 10 2
 A K 9
 5 2
♣ A K 6 3 2
South West North East

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 RastogiNovember 25th, 2014 at 10:04 am

Hello Mr Wolff

The layout and Key Card Blackwood responses as given in column do not match. South should have shown three key cards.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2November 25th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

It’s that Queen of Spades again, causing trouble.

Perhaps North might bid 4H over 4D and let South bid Blackwood to find Her Majesty.

jim2November 25th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

How does the squeeze line probability compare with the straight heart double finesse?

Both lines succeed if the QC drops, but declarer need not otherwise worry about the QC location.

bobby wolffNovember 25th, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Right you are. We got mixed up as to who was asking for aces (and the trump king) and since it was North, not South, the response should have shown, as you suggest, three key cards.

It also shows the nature of our game, where reasonable actions in the bidding still led to unlucky combinations (especially in clubs) but also in hearts where we would have happily traded the rounded suit two jacks into only one queen and, if so would likely score up a grand slam instead of just a small one.

While at least some luck will always likely be present with key hands, but, as in this example, making the best of what has been dealt is the key to success.

Again, sorry for our senseless gaffe.

However, with determination, the declarer was still in a position to score up the slam, provided he guessed the ending. I can only add that in the play and against top opposition, the order of discards and their tempo will be less telling than against lesser experienced players. While it is against bridge ethicality to fake angst, one is not obligated to do any more than just play his cards and let, in this case, the declarer try and guess what to do.

That part of the game is what some great players live for and have the scalps on the wall to prove their success.

bobby wolffNovember 25th, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, it is that naughty queen of spades who is stirring up the trouble.

Perhaps we should tell her to stick to the game of Hearts, where she has a notorious past of being the villainous object all players want to avoid taking.

It is close to 3 to 1 against both the queen and ten of hearts being in the West hand as against the queen of clubs being in the same hand (either) with both the Q10 of hearts leaving only a better mathematician than I to figure those odds (probably close to the same).

However, as always, the squeeze, being gaudier, thus ringing more sensational, would be the choice from someone who seeks fame.

jim2November 25th, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I thought the straight math might favor the squeeze, but I do not know how to factor in the probability of guessing WHICH squeeze has happened. That is, which heart doubleton. I always either guess wrong or TOCM ™ MAKES my guess wrong.

Iain ClimieNovember 25th, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

The slam is odds against on a diamond lead, needing the CQ to drop or the hand with Qxx to have both heart honours. I just wonder if an early lead of the CJ is worth a shot, relying on west being unlikely to cover with Qxx. True, TOCM may give west Qx in clubs, but how much is the bluff worth trying? After all, if declarer had CJ10, west needs to duck smoothly and hope declarer plays for the suit being 3-3. Brazen bluffs can work when they shouldn’t as Mikhail Tal said at chess – there are 2 kinds of sacrifices, correct ones and mine.



bobby wolffNovember 25th, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Hi Iain,

Obviously, your ruse may be pulled off, but by doing so and finding out you were destined to win, (queen fell in two rounds) but your aggression caused it not to (feigned finesse not covered but lost to a doubelton queen) might be just too horrible to contemplate.

No one could possibly know for sure and its every person for himself, but we all likely feel differently about how to accept defeat.

Iain ClimieNovember 25th, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Point taken, so maybe only with a go if really desperate for a swing. It could be minus a fair few IMPs of course.

Out of interest, have you any advice for playing a match when well behind?


bobby wolffNovember 25th, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Hi Iain,

Just one logical one and one probably less so (or at least I think they have stood the test of time).

If seeded, and the team which has that privilege the last quarter sometimes gains. Play partnerships (if possible) which have different systems than their counterparts at the other table. Such as strong clubbers vs. standard bidders. Or even very aggressive or passive players vs. the opposite type. All in the hopes of getting different approaches at the two tables in order to better generate swings (hopefully the favorable kind).

The other less traveled approach, but sometimes effective is to instruct one of the two pairs on the then losing side to not overcall or get in the bidding early even when most all would enter. The idea is that more often than thought those overcalls lead to tells with the declarer which oft times enable the make of close contracts, instead of not.

Of course, the time honored way of winning is not to be placed in the above position to start with.

Of course, any marked deviations or instructions of strategies to any pairs are expected to be told to their opponents before the start of play, otherwise it will be deemed as unethical and subject (at least sometimes) to adjustment.

Good luck to all who try, and do not expect miracles, but nothing wrong to go out swinging, instead of remaining docile.

The key theme is different bidding sequences at the two tables.