Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 15th, 2015

He has no hope who never had a fear.

William Cowper

W North
N-S ♠ A 10 9 6 4 2
 K 10 5
 7 6 2
♣ 5
West East
♠ 8 7 3
 J 4
 10 9
♣ J 10 6 4 3 2
♠ Q J 5
 Q 8 6 3 2
 A K 4 3
♣ 7
♠ K
 A 9 7
 Q J 8 5
♣ A K Q 9 8
South West North East
  Pass 2 * Pass
4 ♣** Pass 4 Pass
4 ♠ All pass    

*Weak with either major

**Bid the suit below your long suit


After the Nickell team lost the finals of the 1997 trials they had a second chance to qualify for the world championships in Tunisia. This board comes from their victory in that match over the Jacobs team, but it features a nice defense by the losers.

Brian Glubok and Sam Lev defended four spades by South after a multi two diamond opening bid. This opening bid shows a weak hand with either hearts or spades, and South arranged to be declarer by getting his partner to transfer into his major. (Warning: don’t try this at home!)

With a blind lead, Lev got the defense off on the wrong foot by leading the heart jack rather than a diamond, and now declarer was in with a chance. He rose with the king, unblocked the spade king, and played the club king, then ace, discarding a diamond. Lev followed with two middle clubs, neutral suit preference to imply no real interest in either red suit. When Glubok ruffed the second club, he carefully returned the heart queen!

This entry-destroying play (sometimes referred to as a Merrimac Coup) left declarer in hand for the last time. It allowed him to throw one more diamond loser from dummy on the third top club, but Glubok could ruff again. He could then play a third heart, to take a third ruff for the defenders, with the diamond ace to come as the fourth winner.

A jump to three diamonds would be invitational not forcing, and despite the fact that some of your major-suit values may not be pulling their full weight, you are far too good for that action. Instead, set up a game-forcing auction by bidding two spades, then raise diamonds at your next turn to show your hand type.


♠ Q J 5
 Q 8 6 3 2
 A K 4 3
♣ 7
South West North East
    1 Pass
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


David WarheitMay 29th, 2015 at 9:40 am

You say that declarer “had a chance” after the opening lead of the HJ, but the only chance I can see for declarer is if E doesn’t return the HQ after ruffing the second C. Am I missing something? Now if W had made the opening lead of a C or a S, that would have given declarer a chance.

bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 11:41 am

Hi David,

Are we talking about “in with a chance” or being in control by not allowing the opponents to have the last word and still defeat your contract?

If you and I were watching BBO together (for safety sake, each of us wearing boxing gloves), would you felt lied to if I uttered, declarer now has a chance as opposed to a diamond lead. It turns out, as you have correctly analyzed, that the defense is in control, but would that, or could that mean that my reference to a chance wouldn’t still be evident?

Merrimac Coups do not grow on trees and it flows to Bryan’s bridge genius to execute one, but I do not think that every time this hand will be defended, starting out with the jack of hearts as the opening lead, that it will be defeated.

However your point is well intended and are you looking for a job as the Aces proof reader, which of course you would be very welcome, however I must warn you that the pay will not likely match your need?

JeffMay 29th, 2015 at 12:24 pm

If E had doubled the 2D open, would that have been considered lead-directing or take-out? And against this particular opening bid, would take-out with a major and diamonds make sense or be asking for trouble? Thanks!

jim2May 29th, 2015 at 12:25 pm

They duplicated those boards for the Lower Slobbovian Mud Cup that year. I remember this hand all too well.

Pard had to pass, as we had a stronger suit requirement for first seat Vul Weak Two bids. East bid 1H, and we eventually settled in with me at the helm in 3N. West led the JH — just as Sam Lev had — and I had to cope with that Trojan Horse of sorts.

I decided my best chance was to give up on spades and hope for good luck in one minor or the other, so I won the KH and advanced the 10H. East covered, I won and advanced the QD. East had four red tricks but I ended up with the other nine.

The reason I remember the hand was that 3N was also played at the other table and West led a club, for no swing.

Iain ClimieMay 29th, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

I double checked the related Deschapelles coup and found a brilliant example by Hegelmo quoted on Wikipedia which also had Merrimac overtones. Well worth a look.

I’m surprised South didn’t explore for NT, though. If North has SAQxxxx then 4S is better unless he has a side entry but the tendency to have poor suits suggests at least looking around. Perhaps NS have a more disciplined style than the hoi polloi like myself!



slarMay 29th, 2015 at 2:58 pm

TOCM works differently when I play. If I play a hand correctly, the cards organize themselves so that any old play would work. If I misplay a hand, I get punished.

I had K987xx opposite Jxx. I could not remember the best way to play it so I played towards the J, losing to the stiff queen and torpedoing the contract (and my shot at winning the session). If I played it correctly (I looked it up and I have to play low to the 9), the cards would have broken 2-2 and it wouldn’t have mattered how I played it.

On another hand I opened 1NT a little light (KT/xxxx/KJ2/AQJT) and partner had a rock-crusher. All 30-odd pairs (from newbie to flight A) were in 6.

jim2May 29th, 2015 at 4:36 pm

It’s like a virus, mutating to infect us all!


bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Hi Jeff,

Here is a short cut answer to an important query which needs both understanding and serious thought.

The correct defense to a Multi 2 diamonds opening which is a very common convention, especially played throughout Europe involves usually a 13+ balanced hand enough to double the original Multi opening as a beginning thrust to get in the bidding, so that it is a TO intended action.

However the continuations, although not overly complicated would, at this juncture, be difficult for me to fully explain. Rest easy, in that IMO, if defensed right, Multi’s opponents will have at least and likely better than a 50% chance to be on the right side of the final results.

Watch the skys for the answer, but to facilitate a quicker answer go to a Multi veteran who will expand on what to do. Try it, you’ll like it, and Multi itself, at least against you, will no longer bother any pair who knows how to defend correctly against it.

For the time being, Multi, because of its unknown nature is not allowed to be played in the USA, except in certain highly expert events, and in fact, even in those, has not appeared often, likely due to what is trumpeted above.

bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Hi Jim2,

Played like a genius, but whether it was the best line of play or not, let the winner (you) explain and not someone who managed to go set.

I’m all for getting a club lead and anyway to accomplish that I’ll do hand flips to succeed.

And to do that at the “slush” tournament and among all those enthusiastic players, especially Lena the Hyena, is enough to celebrate. Bet you cannot wait till next year.

Meanwhile we all miss the wonderful anti-paradise of Lower Slobbovia and its charms.

bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Hi Iain,

Discipline is only necessary when one feels beholden to his partner.

Sometimes, perhaps often, just blasting to a final contract will, in turn increase one’s chance to make it, since on balance the opponent’s will more likely get off to a helpful lead for you than they would if the bidding laid out for those worthy opponents how to defend.

The blaster will almost always make more tricks than the scientist, the question demanding only then that the final contract is at least in the ball park and not too far off being the right one.

You and I think alike as to what, if anything is likely to work. And I won’t show anyone your failures if you also do not disclose mine.

slarMay 29th, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Against Multi and its cousins, Pavlicek recommends something similar here:
It is too much for me (and my partners) at this stage. I prefer doubles of all artificial bids to show that suit.

I have to admit I don’t get why this is a mid-chart convention here. Is the simplified approach really all that deficient? Opener’s LHO will always get a second chance to act so when opener names his suit by passing or correcting, he can double for takeout.

bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Hi Slar,

I do not call your 1NT opening a real stretch, the AQJ10 holding making up the extra point for a 15-17 normal type. However if partner had the ten and you the nine that flexibility could be the difference in the contract fulfilling trick, but how’s a fella to know and at the very least, if necessary the 10 with the other 3 honors would allow you to just lead them out from your hand if necessary to only score 3 club tricks.

All of the above is just to show how tentative a bridge hand can be. No great science there, just practical trick taking.

When holding the K987xx opposite Jxx and deciding to lead from hand, be sure and choose the nine for effect on reading the opponents, even worthy ones. Slight advantages such as the specific card led from equals sometimes go a long way for a shrewd bridge psychologist to be able to judge what to do, based on your opinion of a protracted huddle from LHO.

Those are tricks of the trade, which do not appear in many bridge books probably because of lack of substance, but Stephen Potter, the author of both Gamesmanship and Oneupsmanship would beg to differ.

“Little by little we can learn great things” is worth applying.

bobby wolffMay 29th, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

You are the lucky one. Since all of us will be dead a much longer time than we are alive, you alone among us, will probably become more famous than any other and no one will be able to forget who was the first victim of TOCM TM. Think of it, in the year 3500 AD your name will still be mentioned as being the active scientist, like the Curies, who discovered how the mind can both undercome and overcome the frequency of horrible layouts while the now famous game of bridge has taken over the entire universe (the earth just being one of many different planets).

The Curies were left with the discovery of radium, I think one of the first treatments available for cancer, while you were the scientific genius to deal with card migration and its influence.

Culbertson, Goren, Jim2 will all be mentioned in the same breath while the rest of us will be left without any special identification to which our relatives will be forever unforgiving.

slarMay 29th, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Thank you for confirming my thoughts there. I feel that many of my peers at the B/C level play by rote and don’t look for opportunities to upgrade (or occasionally downgrade) a hand. Thanks to TOCM, it only matters when I fail to do this. 🙂

Here is another example. I had xxx/jx/kqjxx/qxx and partner opened 1NT. I downgraded the HJ and invited. Partner had a flat 15 and declined but the opponents couldn’t locate their 5th trick and we made 3 anyway. I know it is a shaky decision. In IMPs I would go for it. Most of the AXers were 3NT-1. In the BC game the score distribution was gaussian and fortunately it was still an average+.