Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 5th, 2015

To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow.

William Shakespeare

East North
Neither ♠ J 8 6
 5 4
 K J 7 5
♣ A J 10 6
West East
♠ 5 3
 A Q 10 8 4
♣ Q 9 8 5 3
♠ A 10 2
 K Q 8 7 6
 9 6 2
♣ K 7
♠ K Q 9 7 4
 A J 10 9 3
♣ 4 2
South West North East
1♠ 2 2 Pass
3♠ Pass 4♠ All pass


As Eddie Kantar wrote, if you have any ambition to be an expert defender, count, count, count!

Against four spades West led his singleton heart to the queen and ace. A low diamond was led toward dummy and West hopped up with the ace and shifted to a low club. Declarer won, and pitched a club on the diamond king, then led a heart from dummy. East took his king, then played the spade ace and another spade but South had the rest easily enough.

What happens if East ducks the heart at trick five? West ruffs declarer’s jack and gets out with a trump. East wins the ace and returns a spade, and South can only trump one heart in dummy, thus has to lose the setting trick to the heart king.

Can East find this defense? He knows that South rates to have started life with precisely one diamond and two clubs. If he had more than two clubs, he would surely have finessed the club jack. Equally, West’s lead of the lowest outstanding card in partner’s suit shows real length or a singleton. As West never supported hearts, his partner’s suit, he could hardly have heart support.

The lead therefore rates to be a singleton. If it is a singleton, it is much wiser to let partner ruff the second heart and get out with a trump. Conclusion: experts count; the rest don’t count — in more ways than one.

A jump to two no-trump should definitely be a better put-together hand than this. I'd say if your diamond five was the 10 you might stretch to make that call. But as it is, your honors do not seem particularly well-placed, so a simple call of one no-trump looks enough. I prefer that action to introducing a minor. If you have a game, it rates to be in no-trump not clubs.


♠ J 8 6
 5 4
 K J 7 5
♣ A J 10 6
South West North East
1 Dbl. 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


Mircea1March 19th, 2015 at 11:32 am

Hi Bobby,

Nice problem hand.

I have so many questions about it, but time to ask only one: if this hand was played at a major tournament with all the brightest stars present, what percentage of them do you think would have set the contract? I’m asking this, because I think there are many ways that declarer might be able to succeed and equally, many ways that the defense can prevail. I am pretty sure that in BCD of any tournament, the results for this hand will be all over the place.

Bobby WolffMarch 19th, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Hi Mircea1,

When you simply mention that you have many questions about this hand, you, in fact, are screaming out to me that this particular hand represents what high level bridge is all about and that you both know that and furthermore you want to get to that level and ASAP.

That journey begins, at least on this hand with the unusual nature of the bidding. From East’s viewpoint, his partner chirped 2D, a value showing bid, but because of the competitive nature of an intervening overcall, can be lighter than normal and above all not GF. Then, should whisper East to himself, partner on leading the heart 2 can not have heart support and not show it (in other words, not bid 4 hearts over South’s jump to 3 spades). If he would have deemed his hand to not being good enough, while holding 3 hearts, to do such a thing he MUST then choose to either raise to 2 hearts or make a limit raise (3 hearts or whatever that partnership played as such).

Of course West may have chosen to make a negative double instead with both strength and of course, holding both unbid suits, but when two five card unbid suits are held, it is unduly optimistic to expect partner to bid a three card one with all fairly normal hands.

Back at the ranch, and with confidence, East can then plan the defense and then understand that declarer’s great practical heart holding (behind the heart bidder) not high card values, which has prompted his jump. When the next two tricks unfold, partner winning the diamond and switching to a club (East needs to understand that he only knows what is going on and his partner may worry about a later second diamond finesse, if in fact he, East, has longer hearts and therefore a different distribution).

That visualization (to add to counting EVERY hand) is precisely what high level bridge is all about, without which, lesser experienced players will wonder why very good ones, seem to gravitate to on target defensive plays, while the overall picture to them and many others, always seems to be hazy, at best.

Mircea1March 19th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thank you for the encouragements, they mean a lot knowing who makes them.

In your opinion, what are the chances to get really better for someone who is passionate enough about the game, obviously if enough effort is put into it? Under my current circumstances, getting really better means routinely placing in A at the local Regionals. What I mean is, do you think anyone is capable of that? I heard some (real) world class experts claiming that only those with special card skills can reach Everest in bridge.

Bobby WolffMarch 19th, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Everything, regarding the way to improve in bridge, is perception, not necessarily fact or reality. What is good and proper for one person may be horrible for another.

You already start with the tools (love of the game and the ability to think like a very good player) for success in bridge. The next move is to try and find someone (preferably an acquaintance) who has similar designs as you. One may be available at your local club, but, depending on your time available, and how you want to go about it, (slowly or instead intensive) try and find a partner who is in a similar situation as you.

He (or she) MUST be somewhat flexible and not expecting miracles (patient). Then decide on a simplified bidding system with NO conventions which are disliked by either one of you. Also approach the task with an open mind or else bridge itself will rise and not let you proceed.

Your first serious partner may or may not be the answer. However, the learning process will be very educational and I’ll be happy to entertain your questions, especially the ones which involve a concept (Captaincy, discipline, techniques, etc.). I will also be painfully (at times) frank with you and, if you excuse the phrase, call a spade a spade.

All this will not happen overnight, but at least its a start and from there so many different things could happen, we couldn’t list them all.

Good luck! and #1 we must learn to accept adversity, but still stay on the straight and narrow. Learning high-level bridge is a very jealous mistress.

Mircea1March 19th, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

You are very kind (as always).

I do have a partner who is as eager as I am to improve, we’re just not sure what’s the best way to do it. My theory is that after each session we must analyze the results as objectively as possible and then, through training, try to improve in those areas that need improvement. The problem is that none of these tasks are trivial.

Would you mind sharing a bit from your experience rising on the bridge ladder, not necessarily getting to the top but more getting half way through?

Bobby WolffMarch 19th, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Hi Mircea1,

At this point I’ll just suggest a few generalizations:

1. Yes, play as much as you can and, if given a choice, in the highest rated games in town.

2. The Vanderbilt round of 16 is being presented live on BBO (Bridge Base Online) to be followed by the l/4 finals, semi-finals and finals on successive days starting about 1PM CST and going on to about midnight. Pick out an established star (scalps on the wall, not hearsay) and watch him until he either wins or is eliminated, and if so, go to your next choice etc. all the way through the finals. Do not only be interested in big or just exciting hands since you learn the least from big distributional hands, but most from common variety hands which involve expert technique (even if that does not produce much). Learn to be careful, fundamentally correct and judgment in the bidding.

3. Watch the order of discards from really good defenders and read their minds when play to that trick becomes a tip-off to the distributional count around the table. Of course, the bidding is the first indication and concentrate what is in his mind before he makes his choices. If you have doubts, copy it down, put it into comment form and ask specific questions such as: What was (blank) thinking about when he was confronted with this? It is not nearly as much what he does, but rather the options he was considering.

4. If given a choice, stick with common modern systems, since, at least in the bidding, unusual approaches demand knowing the choices and why.

5. Pay special attention to the tactics used in competitive hands when going face to face with fellow experts and how one chooses to get advantage.

6. More often than one may think some well known expert will fall off the rails by missing a situation he should have recognized. It can happen to almost anyone, no matter the importance of the event and then we will discuss the possible factors (fatigue, loss of concentration, bad result on the previous board, etc. acrimony within the partnership, which may have contributed).

7. Then the next day you may see your idol do something very different in a similar situations, but that may be the result of a different opponent, different score at that time, loss of concentration or many other things.

8. Choice of opening lead is often quite different from hand to hand and you, the kibitzer should notice all the choices, and if you have a question we will discuss it. For example, there are super players who lead trump often (the French, at least the ones I used to play against causing my partnership to not do well, Chemla, Peron, Mari, Lebel, Svarc, Boulenger, Delmouly, Levy, Mouiel, (only old timers are singled out by me simply because I didn’t want to omit someone I shouldn’t) and there are other great players who shy away from almost ever leading one. From this educational experience you will be presented first hand the facts, very good players playing in an important event and how those individuals go about trying to win.

There are other caveats to both do and not do, but this comment is already too long.

Happy choices!

Mircea1March 19th, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Thanks Bobby,

I will watch the Vanderbilt as much as I can afford to. Thanks for all the good advice.