Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Man is the only kind of varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, and falls into it.

John Steinbeck

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


Gunnar Hallberg is not only one of the best players around, he is also a fine analyst, with a good eye for a deal. He sent me this apparently simple board from an online teams game, telling me that both his partner and his opponents could have done better. But now you are warned, you won't fall into the traps, will you?

At the table the contract of four hearts received a top club lead. Declarer won the ace and drew trumps, then stripped off the clubs, and led a diamond to the king and ace. Back came a spade to the jack and queen and West cashed his diamond winner then played a second spade; 10 tricks made.

The defensive error is easy to spot; had West underled his diamond queen, East would have won his 10 and played a second spade, for down one. But declarer’s slight slip is far harder to spot. He could surely have made the defenders’ life more difficult if he had given up on the overtrick after winning the club king at trick one. After taking out the trump and leading a club to the king, a low diamond from dummy would have made East’s life VERY hard. He needs to go in with the 10 to have any chance to set the hand. Be honest, would you have found the play?

I suppose one could argue that the play is unlikely to cost; but I’m not sure I would see the position coming unless I was very wide awake.

Having rebid hearts (which suggests five good ones or a six-card suit) you do not need to re-emphasize that suit. The choice is to rebid two no-trump to show the diamond stopper, or to give preference to clubs on a doubleton. Though this sequence would, traditionally promise three trumps. I prefer to give preference now rather than later. We can always get back to no-trump if partner simply needs a single stopper.


♠ 8 4 3
 K J 7 6 4 3
 K 2
♣ A 4
South West North East
1 Pass 2♣ Pass
2 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


Iain ClimieJanuary 24th, 2015 at 11:38 am

Hi Bobby,

What a wonderfully counter-intuitive hand. It does seem a bit harsh to criticise South, as his line only needs 1 out of 3 key cards to be placed right (87.5%) while the chance of the defence not being able to get east in twice or failing to do so makes it even better. The double also makes it more likely than not that the DA will be well placed.

Nonetheless, it is teams, so the 12.5% has to be addressed. What makes things difficult at the table is the realisation that if the DA is right, you need not to benefit from it – how brain mangling is that for most of us? Equally both spades must be wrong or the hand is trivial. Is there a case for not eliminating the clubs, though, tempting the defence with a nice safe exit which gives another chance for a defensive slip? Elimination play should always sound warning bells to the defence.

Finally, if west had weaker clubs and/or better diamonds and had preferred a diamond lead, declarer has to duck trick 1, while on a club lead, imagine declarer just wins in hand, draws the trump and plays a diamond to the King. East wins and plays a spade through, west wins and exits safely with a club but now a trump to hand and the D9 puts extra pressure on west, although east’s carding on the spade may be crucial – was it the 9 or the 7, an argument for not playing MUD or 2nd highest as the 7 could be from J97 – maybe that is why west thought he could get out with a spade.

Such possibilities are why I still kick myself sometimes (not always) for the quarter-century break from the game.

Regards, and thanks for brightening Saturday morning before I muck out our chickens,


bobby wolffJanuary 24th, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks, always, for your constant enthusiasm for our game.

Yes, when you use the words, counter-intuitive to describe (usually) high-level bridge, it does ring the bell.

It’s one big reason why some of us play, always to stay alert, never to be ho-hum, and above all, ready to accept new challenges.

Sadly, that quarter-century break you took from the game, likely dulled your interest to fully return, but happily, your considerable talent overcame that to now become a very positive ambassador to all who will closely follow you on our site. Perfect?, No, but Acceptable?, Quite!

Finally, if Gunnar’s above hand (and he really is a great bridge player), had occurred at matchpoint duplicate, what intelligent player could possibly play this hand correctly (to make his contract) when, if the ace of diamonds was onside and the spade honors split (not even necessary), probably more likely on the bidding, the declarer would no doubt have a below average result (making only four instead of five), instead of the scintillating one achieved with spectacular play.

Sorry to inject that ugly thought, but to seek the truth and have that truth set ye free, seems to be a constant worthwhile goal, one that would make this very troubled world a much better place in which to live.

And now, get thee to your chickens, since you have already brightened it up for all of us.

jim2January 24th, 2015 at 6:31 pm

I confess that I would never choose a line of play on this hand that gave up on the AD being in the hand of the take-out doubler. Thus, I would never lead small diamond away from the KD on the board.

I would, however, most definitely NOT strip the clubs before playing on diamonds. If the AD is onside, the hand is cold no matter what West does when I lead towards the KD. If the AD is OFF-side, though, I want it make it as easy and natural as I can for East to play back ANYthing but a spade.

So, I would win the opening lead on the board, come to hand with a trump, and lead towards the KD.

Now, if anything but a spade is returned, I’d advance the 9D or cash the other club and the hand is now cold when I do the first spade finesse.

Bobby WolffJanuary 24th, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Alas and alak (not a word), the proper IMP way of playing this hand, away from the king of diamonds in dummy, is 100% as long as the ace of diamonds is with West, the TO doubler, but, of course, not until the clubs and the solitary trump have been eliminated, as out cards for the defense.

Therein, at least to me, lies the beauty of playing the diamonds in a backward manner, and forcing East to rise with the 10, while also holding the ace in order to insure the set.

New imaginative strokes for old tried and true folks and best of all, giving oneself the best (and only reasonable) chance for success, when, like you face with every bridge hand, the worst possible distribution of the ducats.

jim2January 24th, 2015 at 9:34 pm

I’m not saying I was making the best play for IMPs. Rather, that doing that one would never have occurred to me.

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

You have spoken exactly how you feel and, as always, with the honesty that so becomes you and all others who also subscribe.

No doubt, since that special handling, low diamond off the table, is so counter intuitive, anyone who even suggests that he might consider such a play, might cause many to wonder and therefore, doubt.

However, while constructing hands or only singing the virtues of our hoped for high-level game, the above combination of cards merely accents the possibilities of just how high we can aspire.

From a practical viewpoint, one could be a very good player without ever considering what to do in today’s example, but when the shouting and the hurrahs die, our wonderful game merely moves up another step toward the immortality it so richly deserves when the correct way to play this hand at IMPs or rubber bridge becomes apparent.

May our high-level game always stay on the radar on this side of the Atlantic and whatever happens, any non-all out effort not to do so, be met with the horrible scorn that such an omission and then sad result, demands.