Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 24th, 2015

It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.

Noel Coward

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


Today's deals from an international trials held in the US nearly 20 years ago. The declarer was the late Bill Root, one of the great players and teachers of an earlier generation, who is not remembered these days as well as he should be.

Root was declarer here, playing with Richard Pavlicek, an expert who is still with us and who has done much to contribute toward making bridge teaching online more educational and enjoyable. Root ran into an interesting variation on an old trick here, playing against some New York experts.

After reaching the normal spot of four spades on a club lead, he won the trick in hand, and played a diamond to the ace, to run the spade jack.

West won, and the defense cleared clubs and tried a third round of the suit. Root ruffed high, preparatory to drawing trumps and trying to locate the heart queen. On the auction, the fact that East appears to have two hearts would probably have led declarer astray. The percentages would have indicated that he play West, the man with heart length, for the missing queen.

However when Mike Kopera underruffed the third round of clubs as West, he made declarer’s task even harder. Now Root was convinced that Kopera was protecting something in hearts, and confidently played West for the missing queen. One down.

Your action here depends on whether you play the two heart call as game forcing. If you play the call as game-forcing I would bid two spades before raising hearts, but if a simple rebid of two spades or a raise to three hearts would not be forcing, you may feel obliged to jump to three spades to set up a game force. A jump to four hearts feels premature since strain and level are still in doubt.


♠ A Q 10 9 6 3
 A J 10
 7 5
♣ A J
South West North East
1♠ 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


bobby wolffFebruary 7th, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Hi everyone,

I am dismayed and downright embarrassed at the presentation of today’s hand. It could not have left our offices in the condition in which it was presented since it had been proof read twice, and would be again before it went to press. Since my hometown does not carry my column, when this hand was presented in real life two weeks ago I was in no position to receive it, but even if I was, it was too late to correct it.

No other excuses, just disappointment. I apologize for all the confusion caused and will indeed try and prevent this type of horrible sloth to happen again.

In any event, the under ruffing by Mike Kopera showed what a tough competitor he is, and how his maximum deception misled a sensational declarer into going wrong.

If a lesson is to be learned, it might be as simple as, when one is not as well known as he is going to be, that stage in expert development sometimes allows him to be taken for granted in a losing way for his opponents. Such might have been the principle reason for his game swing gain on this hand.

We’ll never know for sure, since Bill is no longer with us, but even with a heart discard, it would appear that the heart count would still make a player as good as Bill Root play the original longer heart holding opponent for the heart dame but another way to look at it, is similar to a loving mother feeding her sick child chicken soup when his stomach is upset, an underruff instead on the club, “cannot hurt”.

Jane AFebruary 7th, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Hi Bobby,

Hey, stuff happens. The computer gremlins got you. We all figured it out anyway, but as east, I would have preempted three clubs on the hand to muddy the waters. It would not have mattered as north/south should still find their spade game, but at least gets a lead off in the right suit. The last thing I want is a heart lead. Make declarer play the hand.

Thanks for all the time you take to help us improve. I feel very lucky to have you and Judy so close by in person as well.

Bill CubleyFebruary 7th, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Bill Root once held AQX behind declarer’s KJT. Declarer could take 2 finesses into Root or take a finesse in another suit but there were entry problems.

Bill won the jack with his ace. So declarer took the marked finesse against Richard Pavlicek’s “known” queen. Root apologized as he won the queen and set the contract.

Maybe this was karma for that great defense.

Richard smiled when I asked if his partner’s size [6′ 8″] was the basis for the size of bidding sceeens. He also said he preferred the screen as Root’s extra long legs gave him very little space under the table.

bobby wolffFebruary 7th, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Hi Jane,

Much thanks for your kind words, especially after today’s atrocity.

What you suggest, together with your bridge acumen, helps make you a very tough competitor. Needless to say, I agree with both what you say and, if anything, being a consistent battler may be the most underrated attribute in having scalps on the wall.

Continued good luck to you while playing our beloved game.

bobby wolffFebruary 7th, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Hi Bill,

Yes, Bill Root, giraffe that he, was 6’8 or so was always felt at the table and not just because of his height.

You point out just another advantage for screens to go along with much kudos for not
allowing partner to be able to talk face to face, after I had made a mistake. Why?, I just took that opportunity to raise the screen.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 7th, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Putting bridge on the back burner (as difficult it is for some of us degenerates) .. the two gentleman cited herein were both very softspoken beloved heroes in their own respective modest statures for many eons till Bill’s untimely death ending the career of perhaps one of the most popular partnerships of modern times!

I got to know them both well as they were frequent teammates of Norman and Edgar and were assets to any team and enhanced the honor of our game. On occasion, I’m still in touch with Richard and his sense of humor continues to titilate me as none other. At one point I took poetic license and printed one of Richard’s hillarious renderings on my own bridgeblogging site. If you have any interest, let me know and I’ll research them and do a reprint.

SamFebruary 8th, 2015 at 1:46 am

Hi Judy

Bring ’em on

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 8th, 2015 at 2:01 am


I have selected just a few which caught my eye. They were classified as Rich’s “Daffynitions:

Bath Coup: Getting to use the tub before your roommate.

Free Bid: All of them, once you pay your entry fee.

Gerber Convention: A meeting of baby food manufacturers.

Law of Total Tricks (with apologies to our good friend Larry Cohen): Recent Las Vegas Ordinance to reduce prostitution.

Key Card Blackwood: An ingenious convention that allows you to get to a grand slam off the ace of trumps.

Vienna Coup: The mating sound of Austrian doves.

Wolff Sign-Off: The ending of Little Red Riding Hood.

Corny .. but cute!