Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 27th, 2014

A fool… is a man who has never tried an experiment in his life.

Erasmus Darwin

South North
Neither ♠ Q 8 4
 A 10 6 3
 K 9 7
♣ A 7 5
West East
♠ A J 9 6 3
 8 2
 10 6 5 4
♣ 10 2
♠ 2
 J 9
 Q J 8 3
♣ Q 9 8 6 4 3
♠ K 10 7 5
 K Q 7 5 4
 A 2
♣ K J
South West North East
1 Pass 2 NT Pass
3 Pass 4♣ Pass
4 Pass 4 Pass
4♠ Dbl. 5 Pass
6 All pass    


Although the defenders can take a spade ruff to beat six hearts on this deal from the second semifinal session of the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs from Phoenix last fall, many declarers were given the chance to make slam after the West player had given away his spade holding by an incautious overcall or double.

On a passive trump lead, declarer can play West for a singleton spade jack or spade nine, by stripping off the hand and leading the spade king from hand. If you guess well, you might succeed against a doubleton holding of one of these cards. An alternative and winning approach would have got your name in the Daily Bulletin.

After a heart lead you win in hand draw a second round of trumps. If they didn’t split you would need to take a club finesse against East now but when hearts are 2-2 you ruff out the clubs, then the diamonds. You have reduced everyone down to five cards, and you have four spades and one trump in hand, with three spades and two trumps in dummy, and the lead in South.

At this point you must lead the spade king from hand, to which West has no answer. He must win or you will simply lead to the spade queen next. However, after taking his spade ace he is endplayed, forced to lead away from the spade jack round to your 10 or offer a ruff-sluff by playing his diamond.

While there is a case for a simple call of three hearts, I prefer to rebid two no-trumps, to describe the essentially balanced nature of my hand. The only concern about this call is whether it would be consistent with a hand with short spades and three hearts, but with that hand one would rebid three clubs now.


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


Iain ClimieDecember 11th, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

I don’t understand west here – he made a lead directional double then lead a trump! Frivolity aside, a double here needs to be more specific given the lack of an overcall earlier and that he is on lead. If it guarantees the ace, east could then double asking for that suit to be led, although this might in some cases (not here) allow opponents to bid 6N. Careless talk, as Terence Reese never tired of saying.



Bobby WolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, I totally agree.

Delving deeper, West, during the auction, should (must) settle in and realize that North’s 2NT bid was a GF heart raise, virtually ensuring that hearts (with South as declarer) to be eventually the trump suit.

Therefore, as you explain, why allow “loose lips to sink ships”, since by simply not doubling the spade cue bid (2nd round control) will, no doubt, prevent a wise declarer to play the hand as if he could see through the backs of the cards.

A full slam swing, and all because West did not do, (as top players always learn) to begin concentrating (regardless of one’s hand) at the beginning of the bidding and do not let up until the death of the play.

Just another caveat on the road to improving one’s play, and although seeming like unnecessary work most of the time, sometimes, as here, is vitally necessary to prevent giving unnecessary and critical information to one’s worthy opponents.

Table discipline is one of the easier tasks in achieving big time status, but too often either overlooked or, if so, cast aside.

Enjoy the game after the hand is over, instead of taking a leave of absence during.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 6:29 pm

After marrying Norman I thoroughly enjoyed kibitzing him and his partner Edgar Kaplan. It was then I was shocked into disbelief — learning the difference between “novice bridge” and its “fiercely competitive” counterpart … the real thing. ‘No nonsense’ quiet permeated the room. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. I observed a part of the game I had never witnessed before: Cerebral battles — without a word exchanged other than bridge calls.

It was not until after the session when I returned with them to Edgar’s suite that I was clued in by their conversations what had transpired as I sat as a silent onlooker. For someone who had been playing for a while (but was merely a captivated novice), my mind saw the transformation from a relatively free (anything goes) competition to a deadly serious war of the minds. That is what determines top partnerships: two brains uniting as one!

Iain ClimieDecember 11th, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Hi Judy,

This could explain why I never achieved the success I craved and which (apparently) some much better players than myself thought I could have achieved. One year at the Brighton summer congress (1982 or so) somebody asked if I’d been seen yet. “I haven’t even heard him yet” was the reply. I never could “put a sock in it” often enough!



bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Hi Judy,

Thanks for a graphic display of what high-level bridge is about, the challenges in developing a successful partnership, concentration required, fierce mind battles, and above all, the satisfaction from doing it well and once in a while even finishing at the top.

The difference back then as opposed to now, is that then (when I was young, assuming I ever was) all (or almost all) new on-the-scene bridge lovers, craved the opportunity of playing against the very best, if only for the optimistic possibility of rising to that level.

In almost all other sports or competitions, that dream would be impossible since physical (rather than mental) ruled and bodies needed much time to even think about arriving at the level needed. Even then, very few have (or had) the athletic ability to approach what was necessary.

However bridge is the exception — a mind game which only required devoting enough time to learn, a mentor available (which a local club could instead provide), and enough competitive spirit and grit to overcome early pitfalls in the process. To further help, instead of an athletic career which slows considerably when one reaches 40 years old and usually vanished completely before 50, bridge can be played for a lifetime, with only oneself (or poor health) to blame for being short circuited.

With the above in full mind, why has the ACBL (and its Board of Directors) taken an about face in catering to the have-not crowd (recreational and less competitive) rather than to rise to making our great game the absolute best it can be. It can be achieved by encouraging and, more importantly, challenging everyone, to become as good as they can be, which would go along with lionizing and showcasing our best players, like other major competitions do when putting their best foot forward.

They should strive to accomplish what many countries in Europe have done and all of China in getting bridge in our primary and secondary schools in order to insure its continuation for decades and even centuries.

At least to me, the above is the number one responsibility of our organization and anything less should not even be on the table, or even a possible consideration.

When our administrative leaders assure degradation of our rating points by awarding them for 40% scores (and sometimes even lower games) and then follow through by having our highest level players having to help defray the cost for having table screens used (a proven creation to help prevent cheating) — are we not going in the absolute opposite direction for which we should be striving?

If the reason is, in order to keep our lesser game (High Card Wins) alive for the next decade or two so that those still involved can keep their administrative positions, we should hide our faces in shame.

Bridge is truly the best overall mind and competitive game ever invented, with many qualities lapping over into real life, making our game a great learning experience which also helps with the challenge of being an ethical citizen, a thinking and logical person who understands how to solve problems, and a knowledge of simple arithmetic often necessary in many other endeavors.

My suggestion is to go to extremes to follow the lead of these other countries who have taken the bit in their teeth, succeeded and are now hearing nothing but rave notices from the students and teachers who are involved.

bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hi Iain.

Well, to be sure, you have been heard of now.

Furthermore, what you always say is accurate, to the point, witty, modest (overly so), and presented in an entertaining way.

No money on your table for it, and no special awards to put on your shelf, but, at the very least, a world wide recognition of wanting you, and your no doubt electric wife, to be included as a dinner guest (at least by Judy and me) if ever we had our dream dinner party.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 7:56 pm


As long as that ‘dream dinner party’ was at a lovely restaurant .. and not at our home as cooking is not my forte!

jim2December 11th, 2014 at 9:57 pm

So, what would a double of 6H have meant by East? Still Lightner?

Iain ClimieDecember 11th, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the kind comment and also the good point about the openness of bridge competition – at how many other games or sports do you get such chances? I also found that the very good players I encountered (Schapiro once, plus Besse, Chemla, Mari, Perron and Omar Sharif in Switzerland in 1979) were unfailingly charming even when fixed. The results usually went the other way of course.


bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

My reply could be similar to a return letter from the IRS which might begin: “I regret to have to inform you that (and then branch off), while a double of 6 hearts would definitely be Lightner (partner, please lead something unusual, but please decide from your hand, what that is most likely to be)”.

In this case, a singleton spade may not be following that theme, since it might be suspected by the doubler, that (assuming partner had the ace of spades, instead of something else which may be preferred like the KQ or even the KJ), making that hope by the non-leading defender, who doubled, only a small light (perhaps invisible in the darkness.

Bridge and its conventions added to its uncertainties makes subjectivity (a nasty word in many vocabularies) rule supreme. I would not double with East’s singleton spade, thinking it a better chance that partner would lead the ace (only if he had it, ha ha), but possibly reason that somehow the declaring side was either 5-4 or 4-5 in diamonds and that partner was void.

Of course, there would then be a case to lead the ace of spades first and then still switch to a diamond, making my determination to center around which poor lead, if it turned out that way, I could withstand, and still be able to set this slam. The lead of the spade ace, also holding the J9 would make me very leery in leading it.

The highest level bridge can become very frustrating.

Iain ClimieDecember 11th, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Hi Jim2,

How about “If you had any sensible reason for doubling 4S (the ace in other words) this is going off if you lead 2 rounds.” If the double was pointless, I’ve just blown match points or imps but west does still have long spades…. It would be a shame if east had a diamond void but then SA still beats it if followed by a diamond.

Having said that, I’d be mentally prepared for 6H X making if I doubled as east.



Judy Kay-WolffDecember 11th, 2014 at 11:56 pm


After a lifetime of bridge, I have found the better they are .. the more gracious their demeanor. I can tell you after running the Sharif Circus in Philly more years ago than I care to admit to .. you’d never know that Omar was a world celebrated actor. He was just one of the guys!

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2014 at 12:24 am

Hi Iain,

The players you mention were or are of the highest quality. Omar was also an excellent player with his daring and card sense, not to be underrated. He learned bridge after he became an actor, while waiting around between “takes”.

Boris Schapiro was also a fine highly competitive player who lived into his 90’s and had a lovely wife Helen, who adored him. We often traveled together when he visited the states, usually to attend the Cavendish Invitational tournament when it was held in Las Vegas.