Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 28th, 2014

A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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

*Pick a minor


Today's deal from the Phoenix nationals cropped up in the second qualifying session of the Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs.

In three clubs doubled dummy’s shape is no doubt a disappointment to you, but you have to make the best of your contract. You receive repeated spade leads: play on. At the table declarer went down one for a near bottom instead of making his game for a top score. See if you can do better.

The auction has told you that spades are 4-4 and clubs surely 3-3, so is it too much to expect both opponents to be 4-3-3-3 given that East would have bid hearts had he held them? Yes, you would need West to hold the diamond jack, but that is hardly an unreasonable request.

So you ruff the second spade, play a diamond to dummy’s 10 (whew!), ruff a second spade, play a diamond to the ace, ruff a third spade, and now exit with a club to the ace and a second club. In practice, when East follows with a low trump, you will see West win the club jack and return a heart. By now you know West has three or four HCP in clubs and the spade ace-king plus the diamond jack. East’s double of two no-trumps and three clubs must therefore include both the heart king and queen, so you duck the first heart honor East plays. Now in the two-card ending the defenders are endplayed to give you your ninth trick.

Rather than drive your hand to four spades, start by cuebidding two diamonds to shows a strong hand, asking your partner to describe his hand by bidding suits up the line. If he bids two hearts, you can bid two spades, which is forcing as far as suit agreement here. This gives you room for proper exploration.


♠ A K 5 2
 10 4 3
 J 7 5
♣ K J 4
South West North East
1 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 WarheitDecember 12th, 2014 at 10:14 am

Last Friday, declarer & dummy each had the exact same 4-3-3-3 shape. I almost commented at the time that this was something one would likely see maybe once a year. I was wrong. It’s a Friday hand!

Iain ClimieDecember 12th, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi Bobby,

Today’s comment (the end of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) suggests another part of the poem is relevant to bridge. Imagine partner has let several beatable contracts through in a session. He could be the A.M. – It is an ancient mariner, and he stoppeth one of three…”. Also applies to a range of sports, but I thought something silly would be a good lead in to the weekend.



bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Hi David,

Yes, the most balanced distribution, any 4-3-3-3 is not the most common (a random 4-4-3-2 wins that prize) but still it ranks fairly high in frequency.

Of course, you are referring to mirror distribution where both partners have not only the same overall layout, but identical suits in number. Those hands usually produce the fewest tricks when declaring (no ruffing values) with this hand a good example, by producing only 7 offensive tricks with a good 4-4 fit and a combined 22 high card points.

Going a step further, the NS hands with only the reciprocal 18 HCP’s and a 7 card trump fit (weak to boot) then could produce 9 tricks, after a normal, but unfortunate opening lead by West. Of course, the location of the jack of diamonds and the king queen of hearts (smartly guessed) contributed mightily to that success.

Whether theoretical or actual, bridge (and at all levels of expertise) will often, on any one hand, continue to surprise, but when the shouting and the hurrah die, justice will triumph with the best partnerships on top.

Thanks always for your scientific bridge comments. All of us know to whom to turn when wanting to learn more about abstract bridge truths.

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Hi Iain,

Silly is certainly not the adjective to describe your contributions. Perhaps highly educational and worldly traditional would be much closer.

Try: Good opponents, excellent table presence seem everywhere and how my confidence does wane, poor results and certain losing occur, and nothing more to explain.

With sincere apologies to S. T. Coleridge.

Bill CubleyDecember 12th, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I liked Johnny Carson on “He stoppeth one in three” and the answer was former catcher Bob Uecker.

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Hi Bill,

Bob Uecker was a great comedian, but also an above average (at least I suspect) major league catcher, but later, was much better known for his comedy, as a baseball announcer.

Most of us remember emotional and prophetic quotes, but not in their entirety. For example, “Water, water, everywhere and all the boards did shrink; water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink”.

And how about, Shakespeare’s “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never tastes of death but once. Of all the wonders that I have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.”

Jane ADecember 12th, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Why did south bid three clubs when his diamond suit is much better? You said north’s two NT bid was to pick a minor, and since west opened a club, that should be a clue that diamonds is a better choice. I realize it does not mean west has good clubs, but since south has good diamonds, why not bid them?

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Hi Jane,

Many very experienced high level players, use a 2NT response and then a redouble, when doubled, in this sort of balancing as a scramble, which would include the opponents minor suit (which could, of course, be short) as a valid option.

While I agree with you that neither Axx (to invite) not 108xx (to accept) basically fit the bill, some others may disagree with both of us.

In other words, to each his own, but the above may qualify as a minimum holding to some. In any event, it then becomes up to declarer to make butterflies out of caterpillars.

South may have expected to catch 5 of them in dummy.

Good luck!

Iain ClimieDecember 12th, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Hi Folks,

Just out of interest, what happens on a trump lead? I know it is almost impossible for West to find this at trick 1, but I think declarer is now in deep trouble (well -200, anyway). Would anyone ever find it, on the basis that south will need to make lots of ruffs?


bobby wolffDecember 13th, 2014 at 1:05 am

Hi Iain,

Of course, a trump lead is always a likely lead, but when that fickle gal, Dame Fortune deals the opening leader KJx she will have much to do with playing with the opening leader’s mind.

Also, our minds sometimes have illusory memories of all the hands we could have improved, but instead we did what came naturally, the king of spades lead.

At least I think we must learn to accept such results and not look back, otherwise we will never really ever move forward either.