Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being, you’d be a game show host.

Gabriel Heatter

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


Today’s instructive deal comes from the 2010 match between the Houses of Lords and Commons in England took place just 10 weeks after the 2009 event. With an election looming and several MPs retiring it seemed a good idea to stage it early. This year’s event ended in a comfortable victory for the House of Lords.

Consider the deal first of all as a declarer-play problem: how would you play on the lead of the diamond jack lead? I wish I could report on the brilliance of the politicians’ play but they all just played it the way one would expect a regular club player to tackle the hand. The diamond jack was covered by the king and ace, the switch to the spade jack went to the queen and king, and a spade continuation was won by declarer. In due course declarer drew trump and lost another spade and a club for down one.

As is so often the case, declarer’s (admittedly pardonable) error came at trick one. By covering the diamond jack, he allowed the defense to succeed. Suppose instead that South breaks all the rules and plays low from dummy at trick one. If East wins his ace anyway, there are now two spade discards available, so declarer will lose just one trick in each side-suit. When East plays low on the first diamond, West cannot lead spades himself. Say he continues with another diamond. Declarer ruffs, draw trump and plays a club, establishing a winner on which to discard one of dummy’s spades.

This is not the right hand on which to pass for penalties, so the real choice seems to be whether to bid two clubs or whether to respond one no-trump — and yes I suppose a choice of one spade is not entirely from out of left field… or maybe it is? Be that as it may, I’ll opt for bidding my long suit with a call of two clubs; I’d need a fifth club to jump to three clubs here.


♠ J 10 9
 A 7 6 4 2
♣ A 9 6 3
South West North East
  1 Dbl. Pass

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David WarheitJuly 21st, 2015 at 9:57 am

Suppose the Q & 8 of D are switched. I think the bidding would be the same. W leads DQ and declarer plays small from dummy. Can you see E rising with the A and then, of course, leading S?

Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2015 at 11:32 am

Hi David,

No I cannot, but I can see another bridge writer now incorporating this idea into an instructive hand for the immediate future.

Possibly the next question to be asked a competent bridge player is that, if so, should East then make the winning defensive play of overtaking partner’s queen (of course, with declarer not covering the king) with his ace in order to get the spades going before the ace of clubs is dislodged.

If I was asked that question (not that I should call myself competent) what would be my answer? Probably not, unless South would have disclosed his exact distribution in what could be a Flannery sequence (4-5-1-3) and then still somehow wound up being the declarer instead of the dummy.

Going further, it would be quite common for declarer, upon the lead of the queen from an opening leader and the dummy coming down with the king, to not go up with an unsupported king in dummy even though holding a losing small doubleton in hand or for that matter even possibly three or four.

However, if declarer had telegraphed his partner (and the entire table) his distribution during the bidding process, then, definitely yes it is a defensive possibility (even a probability), when that specific dummy is viewed (for all to see).

The lesson to be learned is one that I, at least IMO, have preached (perhaps overly so) that accurate information passed in the bidding is often necessary to arrive at the right percentage contract, but when it just looks right to bid it, although lesser information has been exchanged, go ahead and just do it, rather than lionize a perfect defense by those worthy opponents who are hell bent on beating you.

Can I prove such an hypothesis? No way, but as I have also often stated, my hundreds of years of experience (somewhat of an exaggeration) has convinced me of its validity. “Loose lips sink ships” might rival “specific bidding, who are we kidding”? which often results in almost always receiving both a sometimes devastating opening lead, followed up by right-on further defense, especially by opponents who have been there, done that.

What is my final opinion on information to be exchanged during the bidding?

Likely the winning answer is only enough to suggest the final contract, not having to take the ego trip of being able to explain later (for column purposes) how much superior one’s bidding system is than others.

A possible sports analogy might be comparing quarterbacks in American football when both throw very accurate, tight spiraled darts, but one tips his hand to a quality defensive back before the ball flight, while the other one is deceptive enough to not.

Joe1July 22nd, 2015 at 12:29 am

This one again illustrates to study the hand before playing to first trick, or, measure twice, cut once, in carpentar’s lingo. Knowing it’s a column hand, I got it. In real play, may not have. Surprised MPs and Lords didn’t. Are our politicians too short sighted? In bridge apparently, in real life, unfortunately, they often are as well. Maybe bridge lessons for them as teaching tool before taking the seat in congress or parliament, to help learn how to think problems through? Daniel kahneman won Nobel prize, explained in “thinking fast and slow”, on our human cognitive biases. Fascinatingly, bridge can illustrate some of these.

Bobby WolffJuly 22nd, 2015 at 1:07 am

Hi Joe1,

Thanks for your wise philosophical comments. No doubt bridge mirrors life in many ways, especially with letting logic, considering the entire picture, dictate action. but not forgetting important details usually evident in politics, how both sides, even the one favored, might suffer.

In bridge, often there is only one winner, but in very close situations the law of averages will even things and events out, if given a long enough time period.

Similar to life when there is a time to love and a time to die, there should be and definitely is, a time to think fast (sometimes confusing the gifted opponents) and certainly a time to think slow, when many factors create a need to consider.

Somehow mind games seem to take on greater meaning than do physical contests which often masquerade as brutal.

Bridge players seldom go down for the count, but do not think for one minute that being outwitted isn’t very painful.