Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 1st, 2014

When people come and talk to you of their aspirations, before they leave you had better count your spoons.

Logan Pearsall Smith

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


If simple arithmetic tells you that your partner is highly unlikely to have an entry, there may be a better defense than trying to set up his suit and hoping for a miracle.

Against three no-trumps West led the heart 10 and East overtook with the queen. South played low on this trick, and ducked again on the continuation of the heart king. East now continued with a third round of hearts, and South won and set about the diamonds. East was able to come to his ace and queen, but that was all; nine tricks made.

By adding up declarer’s and dummy’s high cards East should know that West can have a jack at most. Since the spade or diamond jack cannot help the defenders’ cause, the only suit in which the defenders might be able to establish an extra trick is clubs. For this to transpire, West must be assumed to hold the 10. Accordingly leading a third heart could accomplish nothing, and more importantly, it was a waste of a tempo.

Having taken his two heart tricks, and with the confidence of two more tricks to come from diamonds, East should have switched to his low club at trick three. If South held the club 10, along with the ace and queen that arithmetic tells you he possesses, then nothing has been lost – even assuming declarer guesses to put in the 10. But, on the actual lie of the cards, so long as East returns a club each time he comes on lead in diamonds, he can defeat the game.

Dummy rates to put down a 5332 pattern, or perhaps a hand with four spades and five hearts, the latter being far less likely. In these situations, while one can make a case for leading spades – in that your partner may well have four of them, the lead is also quite likely to cost a spade trick. I'd settle for the fourth highest diamond. Even if partner has no honor in diamonds, the lead may not cost a trick.


♠ A 7 4
 Q 10 5 3
 K J 6 4
♣ J 8
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1 NT
All 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 15th, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Hi Bobby,

A good lesson about being on autopilot but can I come up with a case of TOBM (theory of brain migration) as a remote possibility. South normally plays a weak no trump and forgets he is playing a strong one. West has led a heart from A109x(x), declarer doesn’t cover and east plays the HQ, then HK. West assumes east hasn’t got HKQ alone and sees no point in overtaking, especially as he might have H8xxx if west only has 4. When the club comes through, south has started with CAQ10xx so lets it run with a despairing shrug. 9 tricks later east west have a discussion unsuitable to a family-friendly blog!

Just kidding of course, but can I pose a question. At adverse and IMPs, you hold K10 Qxx Kxx AQ108x. LHO starts with 3S, a normal pre-empt, pass, pass. What (if anything) do you bid?



Iain ClimieDecember 15th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Sorry, the 8xxx is a possible declarer holdiing.

bobby wolffDecember 15th, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Hi Iain,

You present an interesting scenario, where declarer has forgotten his system (while actually playing strong NT, he has remembered weak NT).

No penalty, since he has basically psyched (although with no intent) his opening bid. However, unless he indeed has a notorious reputation for chicanery, he has not committed a bridge crime, since by doing what he did, there would not have been any predictable and foreseeable advantage for him to expect.

Therefore it is just an unhappy turn of events which by luck alone, should not involve any score adjustment or any other penalty.

HOWEVER, when a pair is playing a convention (and NT ranges do not a convention make), both partners need to be responsible to the table and to bridge itself to inform their opponents, and to the game itself, of all things necessary which should be told to allow their adversaries privy to the information for them to be able to defend themselves. For examples, and particularly when bidding with weak hands (vulnerability is often important) what 2 suits that conventional bid may include would be a very important element, allowing their worthy, but uninformed opponents to be able to then have cue bids available for progressive bidding to hoped for right contracts.

Without the above caveat, very good players, perhaps even world class, can open up poison gas bridge labs to take advantage of the opportunity to bamboozle their opponents by conveniently forgetting what suits are involved so as to take away those cue bidding opportunities from the hapless, but blameless, disadvantaged partnership.

Has this FAR OUT atrocity ever happened? You betcha it has and it continues to occur because our bridge police are naive enough to not directly address it.

However with your described situation, it is extremely unlikely that there is any evil conspiracy involved with your assumed distortion.

What is the answer to “getting it right”? Have experienced enough TD’s and then committees with no political connections (professional bridge creates difficult environments) involved who then should then punish severely transgressions by these perpetrators of “poison gas” and threaten banishment with repeat offenses, in order to stop it in its tracks.

Is this done? No, not up to now it hasn’t, with little prospect of that changing. E’nuff said!

In answer to your bidding problem, simply 3NT and let the devil take the hindmost.

Guaranteed?, definitely, NO, but still IMO the right bid, with no reasonable 2nd choice in sight. However, if it would then go P, P, double, I would probably, depending on who the doubler was, then bid 4 clubs and hope for the best, but fear the worst.

Better to die with one’s bridge boots on than without.

Iain ClimieDecember 15th, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, and your bravery might well have worked. Pard has little – xxx 98xx AJx J9xx but RHO has not just the CK but both top hearts. If west makes the obvious lead of the spade Q, he finds pard with a singleton and a very lucky 3N might well make. Unfortunately I started thinking and, despite the risk to the SK (which 3N protects) decided I was too good to pass and doubled. Pard bid 4H, which is why I should have had one more H and bid something else anyway. RHO decided we might have a better spot despite having AKJxx in H and we wrote down -500 undoubled for minus 8 IMPs. I’d really wanted to bid 3N but talked myself out of it – ouch.

It was one of those days where thinking bit me in the behind. I wound up in a dreadful 6N with H9x on table and AQ1086 in hand. It felt right to play a small H to the queen but running the 9 is surely a better % play – if it didn’t lose to the J I’d have a real chance of making a lucky contract for an undeserved swing. It lost to singleton J and I wanted to scream. Next time I play by “feel” of course, logic and percentages will rule.


LeonDecember 18th, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

I guess east could have made up for the loss in tempo if he had taken the first diamond trick with the ACE. After a club switch south would have taken the ace (confident that diamonds would be running……)

bobby wolffDecember 18th, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Hi Leon,

Your comment merely confirms what a wonderful game we all play.

I totally overlooked what you so rightly explained, proving that like skinning a cat, there are often other ways to succeed in many different plays and bids in bridge, than only the most obvious path.

Thanks for your education.