Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 20th, 2015

In a serious struggle there is no worse cruelty than to be magnanimous at an inopportune time.

Leon Trotsky

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


Vlad Isporski (a regular player and also non-playing captain on the Bulgarian national team) spotted the winning line in five diamonds. Yes, three no-trump would have been far less dramatic, but who cares about efficiency when we can have the aesthetic delight of a squeeze?

Isporski told me that East had implied good values and a spade suit. In five diamonds, you get a spade lead and observe that if the diamond queen doesn’t fall you need something good to happen in hearts.

You win the spade ace, cash the club ace and club queen then lead a heart from dummy. East wins the heart queen and is endplayed. He has nothing better to do than exit with the spade king, and you ruff, cash the top diamonds (both follow but no queen appears) then lead a third club.

East must discard rather than ruff in. so you win the club king, cash the spade queen, and have now reached a four-card ending — three spades, one heart, two diamonds and three clubs having been played.

When you ruff the club seven in dummy, East is squeezed in three suits, one of which is trumps. If he overruffs, he can lead a heart and surrender his trick there, or play a spade for a ruff-sluff and let you discard your heart loser.

So East must discard, but pitching a heart will unguard his king, while letting a spade go allows him to be endplayed with a trump to lead hearts at trick 12.

The general rule in responding to one club is to bid majors first on any hand that is invitational or weaker in strength. But with any game-force you should bid your suits in their natural order. So here, with such good diamonds and relatively weak hearts, you do not want to distort your hand by bidding your weaker and shorter suit first. Respond one diamond.


♠ A
 A 9 4 2
 A K 7 5 3
♣ Q 6 4
South West North East
    1♣ 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 ClimieApril 3rd, 2015 at 9:35 am

Hi Bobby,

If east took the HQ and smoothly returned the D10 or D4 (almost impossible I agree) would anyone really believe he had led away from the Queen and put up the DJ? I’m not sure it helps, mind you, as I think the play can just go as before.

Would you have bid 4C as South, though? I’d be kicking myself for having opened that pile of tat and would bid 3N in the hope of staying low. Neither my heart nor diamond holdings suggest that 5D is going to be worth trying while partner could presumably have bid 3C (forcing) over 2N if he wanted to explore possibilities in either minor suit.



Mircea1April 3rd, 2015 at 9:53 am

Hi Bobby,

How does declarer know to play exactly two rounds of clubs early on?

Bobby WolffApril 3rd, 2015 at 11:23 am

Hi Iain,

Your intelligent probing and excellent feel combine for difficult to answer questions, but although with only guesses and marginal accuracy, I will. at least, try to shine a little light on what really happened.

Yes, East’s possible 10 of diamonds switch might result in a bell ringer, since by all reasonable standards, almost no defender would chance such a gambit with both the bidding he heard and his holding in that trump suit.

I might go even further and state that during my very long bridge career and my opportunity of playing against the very best who ever played this game, I might just call the play you suggest as likely the greatest defensive play ever made (except possibly the right card for the wrong reason falling out of some usually fictional character’s hand). No doubt though, with the specific hands around the table, it, is the best effort, and would likely succeed to find a way to counter South’s brilliant declarer play.

However, back in this real world, South’s hand, as you mentioned and I wholeheartedly agree, that his 4 club encouraging cue bid, instead of the obviously discouraging, but right as rain 3NT choice, was nothing less than pure folly.

However, this declarer wouldn’t have gotten the kudos he richly deserved by not trading a terrible bidding choice for an extraordinary declarer’s effort.

Such events lurk in the shadowy attempt of writing bridge columns, and, if so, players of your ability to analyze are the ones who add to the lore of what then, it takes to succeed.

Bobby WolffApril 3rd, 2015 at 11:59 am

Hi Mircea1,

He probably didn’t know for sure, but after the bidding, the opening lead and the sight of dummy, two would be the approximate number East would be expected to have started this hand with. Keep in mind that West led the deuce of spades, consistent with him having either 3 or 4 and with only 3 there is not as much room in East’s hand (6 spades to 3, but only 5 to 4, if the lead was from originally 4).

Since this hand would not materially benefit from a 3-3 club break (an extra losing heart remaining in dummy) the count became more important than the clubs breaking evenly.

I’ve said before and I’ll repeat it now that the very best players are the ones who are most accurate at guessing worthy opponent’s distribution (and approximate high card content) since all top players possess flawless technique (much easier to grasp and then learn than the murky world of piecing together 13 card holdings, based on the bidding and the play up to that time).

To get there from here one needs the numeracy to constantly think in terms of numbers, the ability to understand and, at least be up to the counter psychology (accurately evaluate tempo breaks or to quote Sherlock Holmes, “the dog who didn’t bark”) of one’s worthy opponents, and most importantly, the experience of playing against top drawer players who take the game just as seriously as your partnership.

Aren’t you glad you asked? As a somewhat overblown statement, I would take Benito Garozzo’s opinion, as a declarer, while at the table judging one of his opponent’s closed hand holding about as much as a random player at a bridge club who was directly looking at his hand.

An exaggeration to be sure, but you get the drift.

jim2April 3rd, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Plus-500 is also pretty undramatic.

Bobby WolffApril 3rd, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Ah, Yes, but that would require a bidding system (emphasizing penalty doubles) similar to the defender who switched to the 10 of diamonds aka Big Casiino.

Even in the brutal early days of the Aces when the results of our 128 board week-end matches were thoroughly analyzed would we likely even comment nor score as gray (or more so black) any partnership which overlooked +500 on this 52 card layout.

What if East had 9 spades for his bid plus the KQ of hearts (aka the combination Jim2’s opponent would have) we might have a little trouble beating the hand?

Mircea1April 3rd, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Bobby, is I/M on the list of your favorite cconventions? If so, do you have a preference for flavor (GF vs Inv + Criss-cross) and continuations (showing stoppers vs quality of the hand)

Bobby WolffApril 3rd, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No, inverted minors is not on my list of favorite conventions, since what goes with, preemptive minor jumps, 1. too often winds up -200 without getting doubled, 2. at least playing against good opposition does not come close from keeping one opponent or the other out, only since most players require 5 of the minor to jump, boding well for the opponents to come in. especially when the strong defensive hand has 3 or more of the minor.

I do NOT like conventions which tell good opponents (or at least wary ones) more about what to do than they tell the ones using them. Players love to invent things to get their names in lights, but like real life, the use of them needs to be checked out for what it is worth.

However, if played, might as well play them GF since to not, only creates problems the next round when stoppers are held, but strength is minimum or in some cases stoppers are not held but the hand, because of the 2 extra tricks needed for game, would only make 3NT. not 5 of a minor.

So wth KJx, K10x, KJxxx, Jx I MUCH prefer a NF 2NT than a diamond raise or, of course, over a one club opening and with KJx, K10x, KJxxx, Ax, a 3 club jump over 1 diamond to show a GF diamond fit and over a club opening a 2 diiamond bid to show a GF in clubs if, of course, the minors are reversed. Giving up the strong jump shift is only a minor loss due to frequency.

Where you or other bridge lovers can learn such things I do not know, but the ACBL or someone should plug good conventions, but to do so they need to find bridge players not only salesmen to promote them.

ClarksburgApril 3rd, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Hello Mr. Wolff,
Your response to Mircea said in part:
“…So wth KJx, K10x, KJxxx, Jx I MUCH prefer a NF 2NT than a diamond raise…..(and) with KJx, K10x, KJxxx, Ax, a 3 club jump over 1 diamond to show a GF diamond fit…”
I’d like to be sure to grasp the difference.
I can see that the NF 2NT limits the strength, with a valid description of shape and nudging toward a NT contract.
Since the second hand has identical shape, but is stronger in HCP / controls, is the main reason for the GF raise simply that the hand is too strong for a direct 3NT call, and the second reason being slam potential on the radar ?

Bobby WolffApril 4th, 2015 at 1:41 am

Hi Clarksburg,

I guess I could say more, but because of your summation I need not do it. You seem to grasp all the reasoning behind the choices.

Having the ace of clubs instead of the jack, certainly raises this hand to slam potential, while with only the jack, the diamond support should be eschewed in favor of the higher scoring NT game, for both the diamond fit producing many diamond trick and the Jx of the other minor hoping to help stop the clubs (picture AQx with partner).

No guarantees, only the likelihood of a game in the cards, but where the nine tricks are, will certainly depend on what partner has for you.

Another significant plus is that the bidding (assuming partner merely raises to 3NT) has given very little away, only the possession of a diamond suit by the opener and the knowledge to the opponents that you, the responder, do not hold a 4+ card major suit, about the least information game bidders can ever offer their opponents.