Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 27th, 2014

The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

Oliver Goldsmith

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


Today's hand occurred in the quarter-finals of the 1995 Marlboro Venice Cup between USAI and USAII. The match was eventually won comfortably enough by USAI, who lost the finals to Germany.

Both tables finished up in the inferior contract of three no-trumps rather than the excellent five diamonds, and received the lead of a spade round to the king.

It is worth giving a moment’s thought to what declarer’s best line is now. Would you rather play a straightforward percentage line, or go for the psychological line? I suppose a lot depends on the quality of your opponents. The unsuccessful declarer for USAII decided to postpone the decision of which minor to play on till the last minute. She cashed four rounds of hearts, on which West, Carol Simon, threw a (discouraging) diamond 10, and an encouraging club two. After a lot of thought, South decided to believe the defenders, and took the diamond finesse, to go two down.

At the other table the declarer was Rosanne Pollack, who could see that if the hearts did not behave, the simple diamond finesse would not be enough; she decided instead to play for the combination shot of laying down the diamond ace at trick two, then taking the top hearts. Finally she took the club finesse and ended up with 11 tricks. I think USA I earned their swing on this board, don’t you?

Having shown your minor-suit pattern accurately, you should now bid three no-trump, to indicate you have a spade card. Let your partner look at his own hand and decide what to do next. You have painted him a nice picture of what you have.


♠ K 4
 A 9 8 5 2
♣ A J 9 8 7
South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
2♣ Pass 2♠ Pass
3♣ Pass 3 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 ClimieJanuary 10th, 2015 at 11:45 am

Hi Bobby,

I’m not sure I would have believed that D10 or C2, although clearly bluff and double bluff are involved. How would you suggest reaching 5D, though? One possibility based on UK practice with a weak NT is to treat 1H – 2C / 2D – 2N as 15-19 and game forcing, based on a 12-14 NT. Then the sequence might go 1H – 2D -2N -3C -3D – 3S (4th suit and clearly twitchy about spades), Dbl from west, pass from north and now perhaps 4C from south, 5D from North albeit not that happily – it does look like 2 potential quick spade losers and a possible hole elsewhere.

This is partly hindsight, of course, but can you suggest a good natural sequence to reach 5D (obviously played by South)? I suspect the pernicious influence of match point pairs was responsible for the decision to play in 3N in each case. Still, credit the declarer for cashing the DA and getting an extra chance that way. TOCM would have given West the stiff D10 and the CK, of course.



jim2January 10th, 2015 at 1:04 pm

TOCM ™ — yes! 🙂

The realization that many more king-onside diamond holdings still failed than king-onside club holdings was, of course, the decisive insight. Even if the card spots had been equal in both minor suits, however, playing as the successful declarer did was still indicated (I think). Simply, missing four diamonds versus missing six clubs meant the probability – however small – of dropping a singleton king was far better in diamonds than clubs. Thus, cashing the diamond ace then finessing in clubs looks correct.

bobby wolffJanuary 10th, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt the bidding (and the play) on this hand is worth discussing, even if the conclusion still leaves significant doubt.

There often develops a time on many game and certainly most potential slam hands when one partner or the other, needs to state or, at least, indicate direction. If so, I believe that time arrives when the bidding starts 1 heart, P, 2 diamonds, P, 3 diamonds, then back to South.

At matchpoints, lines are clearly drawn, since, because of the scoring differences (sometimes 10 only points becomes huge), and even though poor judgment is used, most of us will fly to the greedy principle of NT, if for no other reason than partner could easily hold:
s. QJx, KQJ10x, K10xx, K making 3NT a virtual laydown and 5 diamonds very sketchy.

However, while playing the game, IMPs or rubber bridge, that we all (or at least most) think best represents the sensational beauty
of the game itself, we usually need to direct our partnership to the safest eventual game or higher level contract.

Back at the ranch, I lean to chirping 4 clubs over partner’s raise to 3 diamonds, then 4 hearts by partner followed by 4 spades by South, showing a control (K), but then a resounding 5 only diamonds by partner who has nothing left unsaid.

All the above is nothing more than ho, hum, but (I hope) some experienced judgment by both parties who have learned to respect each other for thoughtful enterprise.

Obviously in high-level bridge laboratories throughout the civilized world these kinds of bidding challenges are constantly discussed, with your types of thoughts regarding initial rebids and all which goes with, constantly hashed.

All of this analysis will eventually lead bridge lovers (with enough natural talent) to watch our game improve, provided, of course, that our administrators are doing what they need to be doing to keep our cherished game alive.

And the above means concentrating on the game our site speaks to, not the interloper, High Card Wins (HCW), which might now mean only a nice salary for some, but not for the future, since HCW has nothing more to lure others, much less stand up to scrutiny for posterity.

bobby wolffJanuary 10th, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for your comments, to which I certainly agree.

We need to find an antidote for TOCM tm, even if long lines at bridge clubs are needed to inoculate all those effected. If eventually discovered we need to name it. How about “Jim2 the rescue”, “Messieur Cure”, or even “Passtorize”?

Please, after the cure, remember what your first feeling will be like, when partner, after all these years, congratulates you, for either taking a winning finesse or a suit breaking evenly, when your contract depended on it.