Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Vanity can easily overtake wisdom. It usually overtakes common sense.

Julian Casablancas

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


Early last year eight pairs took part in the Belgium open team trials for the European Championships in Opatija, Croatia, which took place last July. The top three pairs would qualify through an exhaustive round robin process over a seven day period, and with one day to go, those top three places seemed decided. However, the third-placed pair (Philippe Coenraets and Steven De Donder) were overtaken at the death by Patrick Bocken and Olivier Neve. This was the decisive board in their individual encounter.

After the lead of the diamond king and ace against Neve’s five clubs (East showing an odd number), West switched to the spade queen. Neve took the ace, and realized that East rated to have seven spades and three diamonds; thus he would have to be short in one of hearts or clubs. Since North-South had nine clubs and seven hearts between them, it was far more likely that East’s shortage was in clubs.

So South cashed just one top club, then played the heart ace and queen, and finessed the heart 10 as East helplessly discarded. Now he could take the heart king to discard a spade, and ruff a spade back to hand. Finally he could take the marked trump finesse for an impressive plus 600. Note that if declarer uses his heart entry to take the early finesse in trumps he can never get back to hand to take the heart finesse.

There is a real temptation to raise to three hearts, but if you play New Minor Forcing (where a bid of two clubs is forcing and the way you start describing most invitational or game-forcing hands) then this sequence is weak and denies invitational values with both majors. North should have less than invitational values, and you should pass and hope to go plus.


♠ Q 7
 J 8 5 4
 A K Q 2
♣ Q 10 5
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
1 NT 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1January 17th, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Hi Bobby,

Very nice play problem, it illustrates the lifeblood of declarer play: communication between the hands.

Regarding NMF mentioned in BWTA, do you favor it? Is 2-way NMF preferred?


bobby wolffJanuary 17th, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Hi Mircea,

You have described it perfectly when you measure the importance of declarer play communication and timing.

Believe it or not, when I was young (yes, I was once) courting was often done with an evening of dancing to a band and sometimes playing a difficult hand reminds me of navigating oneself on the dance floor with his ladylove since the beat of the music often like the melody of a bridge hand, dictates the moves of both the dancer and/or the declarer.

For some no good reason ballroom dancing has faded off the screen and with it, I think romance has also stumbled.

Regarding NMF mentioned in the BWTA and also including 2 way Drury, 2 clubs by a passed hand 3 card major support and 2 diamonds 4 card support, I certainly favor both treatments since each one is simple, consistently helpful, making them both easy to remember and implement as well as not losing much of value in going artificial.

Bill CubleyJanuary 17th, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Good quote. I would have thought it came from Rachel Maddow. 😉

bobby wolffJanuary 17th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Hi Bill,

No, if it was Rachel. would not “usually” be replaced by “always”?

Iain ClimieJanuary 17th, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Lovely play on the hand, which I think I’ve seen before, but if I’d even thought of the play, reasonably placing East with 1C and 2H, I suspect Jim2’s nemesis would have given East HJx. TOCM has caught me too on occasion, especially given that the rule of restricted choice seems to work far less often than theory predicts – Terence Reese used to think it gave odds of 2-1 on when missing QJxx (say) in trumps and an honour fell on the first round. This raises a stray thought.

Many clubs use pre-dealt computer-generated hands, and relative frequencies can be checked against hand records. A few clubs still use hand dealing, albeit with computer scoring. To what extent do you think imperfect shuffling makes any significant difference e.g. pushing the odds on 2-2 and 3-3 breaks up from 40% and 36% respectively? I could of course be imagining things here.

The quote on vanity is spot on though, especially when good players think they can get away with almost anything against weaker opponents. If playing weaker oppo, I suspect it is often simpler just to play fairly soundly, although applying some pressure, and to let them make the mistakes, rather than trying what one author called trick cycling.



bobby wolffJanuary 17th, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Hi Iain,

You touch on old mysteries, still under suspicion.

I, different from your experiences, have come to accept the 2 to 1 odds which you are correct to attribute to what Reese thought favored “Restricted Choice”. However, I well can be under an illusion, with your feel being on target.

For a while, not along ago, computer generated hands seemed to stray from the normal calculated percentages most players expected from different distributions. However that fear has now long since left us in favor of computer generation being closer to what the mathematical tables suggest and people dealt hands not as consistent.

Any straying from the odds by people dealt hands must be thought to be random in nature, and yes perhaps a queen taking the jack before the shuffle might still leave those two cards together, but to play for such a thing is a giant fantasy, but Barry Crane, the late and great matchpoint American player always swore by that, but if that view was not more superstition than fact, there wouldn’t be a cow left in Texas, which means an illusion.

Finally, confidence at the table transforms to an advantage, especially when their opponents do not show the character necessary to stand toe to toe with them.

The power of positive thinking sustains many flawed players who just do not let themselves think that they have any disadvantage, even if their play could stand improving. In other words, fighting on is always the answer and nothing less is even to be considered.

David WarheitJanuary 18th, 2015 at 6:58 am

You say that if declarer takes the trump finesse before the H finesse, he can never get back to hand” to take the H finesse. Wrong! He can get back via a trump. The problem, of course, is that if he does so, he no longer has a trump to ruff dummy’s S.

Okay, do I win the Most Trivial Comment of the Day award?

bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Hi David,

Before I answer the end of your comment question, I do appreciate (within reason) your desire and preference for exactness. To me it is similar to the current educational?? (phonetic is a better description) use of the letters u and r instead of you and are in order to shortcut letter writing (I cannot imagine any other good coming out of it, with laziness not to be considered a plus or should I use the symbol +).

True, my disdain for the above may be brought about by my wanting the younger generation to respect tradition much more than they seem. Can anyone believe that USA, circa 2015 can even begin to hold a candle or any other measure to USA 1941+ in any form of morality measurement or, to the point, of any substantial form of what constitutes overall character? If truth is the goal, NO will be the overwhelming answer and one wouldn’t have to have been alive back then to also be sure. Gut feel (and, lacking that, history books will do)!

Just like, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”, “dilution, to the point of invisibility of role models almost everywhere, is a terrible thing to occur”.

In truth, I do have a more than grudging respect for the same “exactness”, but my experience with mentalities and their values may have relegated that quality?? to compete with “puns” and their relationship to humor.

Next, I do want to be clear that all of us are indeed somewhat unique and not always what some thinkal peep I am.

Finally, probably yes, but since the day is young, it may be too early to tell.