Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

A smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities.

Herman Melville

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


The East hand might be too good for a strong no-trump, but when you decide to open one, North-South compete aggressively over it to four spades, trying to put you under the maximum pressure at favorable vulnerability. Your double closes the auction; plan the defense on the lead of the club queen.

It may look appealing to overtake partner’s club queen and switch to a diamond, but there can surely be no hurry to do that. Your partner’s take-out double of three spades makes it clear that the hearts are not a serious source of tricks from declarer’s perspective, so you should focus your attention on preventing declarer from utilizing dummy’s other assets, namely the third trump.

The defense to keep all your options open is to overtake the club at trick one, winning the king to make the position plain to your partner. You should then switch to a low trump. If declarer plays a second club, the earlier play should make it plain to you to go up with the king of clubs, and play ace and another trump.

Declarer’s best move, incidentally, is to win your first trump play in dummy and advance the heart jack, which you must cover. He can win the third round of trumps in dummy and exit with a club, but you will win this and shift to the diamond nine. Your partner should duck declarer’s king, and later collect two diamonds tricks, for down 500.

Even when you are a passed hand, you should beware of responding at the two-level with a five-card suit and less than real invitational values. Here, for example, a response of two diamonds would be acceptable if your heart two was the diamond queen. However, on your actual hand it is wiser to respond one no-trump, so as to avoid having to play in spades unless your partner really wants to do so.


♠ —
 8 7 6 4 2
 A J 7 5 4
♣ Q J 10
South West North East
Pass Pass 1♠ 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 30th, 2014 at 10:07 am

Great defense, but EW can make 6C! I would find it hard to believe that they could ever get that high (or should get that high–the diamond situation plus the heart finesse is a bit too much to hope for), but it seems to me 5C is a reasonable place to play. So, do you think that EW should have found their contract or is this one of those hands where you simply have to accept what actually happened?

bobby wolffDecember 30th, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Hi David,

First, an extremely accurate analysis by you, since making 6 clubs (EW) against the best defense is a cat & mouse game and difficult, but possible to effect. That being, after East wins the opening spade lead with the ace (in order to preserve the precious 3rd club in dummy for an entry to the soon to be established diamonds by, of course, finessing the jack if South ducks, but ducking if South rises.

Let us assume dummy throws a heart, won by the ace and a low diamond is led, ducked by South and the jack wins, then ace and a diamond ruff, followed by 3 clubs winding up in dummy gets the job done (after the late heart finesse also works), without the red herring of trying to secure at least one spade ruff in dummy, before the trumps are drawn, although the defense may unsuccessfully force it, but due for frustration, since the timing is there to secure the elusive club slam.

Back to your question about the possibility of arriving at a high club contract, either 11 tricks or Holy Moly, 12. East, based on the first round of bidding around the table, can be morally sure that his partner has no more than a single spade and likely void.

Therefore East has fallen heir to an enormous playing hand for clubs and could just jump to 6 clubs (the only plausible excuse for contracting for a club slam). However West’s hand (lacking that crucial 4th club, law of total tricks in operation, then needs that dream NS layout of cards for success, but nothing ventured, little gained.

Dame Fortune then sees fit to reward expert imagination, assuming East is up to the daunting task of following up his gamble, by excellent play, causing NS to feel victimized.

Finally, a remembered quote from the late and great Edgar Kaplan. “There is a small difference between being daring rather than foolhearty”, having to do with it working instead of not”.
David, you continue to fill the role of high-level analyzer extraordinaire and our group wouldn’t be the same without you.

However, Bob Hamman’s long ago apt comment of, “Don’t ever expect me to have a perfect hand for you, simply because I never will” still rings true and except for daring analysis and attempting to write exciting bridge columns, should be strictly followed.

Ray FinkDecember 30th, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Hi, just a minor correction. “If declarer plays a second club… you go up with the *ace* of clubs” since you played KC on the first trick.

Iain ClimieDecember 30th, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Regarding Bob Hamman’s comment, does this contradict or complement something Jeff Rubens once said (in “Secrets of Winning Bridge”, I think) – Make a game or slam try if partner holding a perfect minimum will make the contract lay down. I’d add a caveat of “near enough” here – 6-0 breaks scuppering a good contract via a first round ruff can probably be ignored.



bobby wolffDecember 30th, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Hi Ray,

Yes, the king of clubs is an important card, but the rules allow only one of them, so another proofreading mistake slips through.

Thanks for your “eagle eye”.

bobby wolffDecember 30th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, Jeff’s comment does somewhat contradict Bob’s advice, in spite of Jeff carefully adding “minimum” to his caveat.

The overall problem emphasizes the contradictions of our game, wherein the judgment during the bidding is often faced with an overwhelming number of possibilities, all possible and even plausible, but purely in the hands of the fickle Dame Fortune.

Optimists will bid too many slams, pessimists too few, while players claiming, like the 3rd bear to be just right, will only lie about their results.

If guides are what one wants, then consider “all generalizations are incorrect, including this one”. 6-0 breaks only live in the minds of people who hate others.

Iain ClimieDecember 30th, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, espeically the ursine humour. The sort of example I have in mind would be Ax AJ10xxx KQxx x when you open 1H, pard bids 3H and he could have (say) Kxxx Kxxx xx Axx – OK, some 3-0 trump cases might wreck it but it gets close to the point. Maybe opener needs DKQJx instead, or AQ10xxx of trumps.

In terms of over-generalisations, though, surely JIm2 is excused here – he doesn’t hate people, as we all sympathise with his regularly gnawings from the monster of TOCM – is it related to the creature from the ID in Forbidden Planet, I wonder? Cards hate him!

In terms of why absolutist comments or rulings can be a disaster, though, think Creon’s comeuppance in Sophocles Theban plays, specifically Antigone. He lays down a terrible edict that anyone covering the body of a traitor with so much as a handful of earth (necessary for the soul to enter the Greek underworld in anciuent myth) will be subjected to the most appalling punishment. By the time he tries to repent and withdraw the edict, the carnage amongst his own family is too dreadful for words.

Wishing everybody a much, much better time than all this, and recalling that even the best oracles (e.g. our host) can give advice to which there can be exceptions, all the best for 2015 as I’ll probably be away from the computer tomorrow.



bobby wolffDecember 31st, 2014 at 1:12 am

Hi Iain,

Learning heretofore Greek myths and any and everything cultural, especially from historical sources is truly a miracle of Internet communication. Sometimes both worldwide history and bridge share both commonality and, of course, unique differences.

Speaking to slam tries in bridge, under game cue bids, which merely give thumbs up to looking for a magic fit would coax me (on your example hand after a mere limit raise in hearts) to bid 3 spades rather than just accept a game is, to me, clear cut. Then partner could try 4 clubs and hear a further 4 diamonds by me.

In this way both our partnership and bridge itself are honored by making this hand a partnership effort which, if partner now goes past 4 hearts with his next choice (I would with 4 spades since my values are prime, with likely no wasted values) the dye would probably be cast. And not to worry about no trump loser since with 10 trumps (including the AKJ10) between we not only start out 95%, but also the opportunity to guess whom, if anyone has a void, should raise our luck another notch.

Partnership is the key word and unilateral then becomes the bridge poison. Tough words, those, but chemistry between the few really world class players who are blessed with equal partners who believe in the same disciplines are heaven sent.

Happy New Year to you and yours and every one of our superior group who share the respect for one another which shines brightly.