Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 20th, 2015

I’ll publish, right or wrong:
Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.

Lord Byron

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


When you have no hope of making your contract by legitimate means, subterfuge just might see you home. On the following hand Denmark’s Thorvald Aagaard probably initially assumed with some justification that the deal belonged to his side. When he opened two clubs and West overcalled four hearts, it was passed back to Aagaard, who bid five diamonds.

Had the North and East hands been interchanged, this would have been a fine contract. As things were, five diamonds was an excellent sacrifice, there always being 11 tricks available in hearts for East-West.

So far so good, but there was better to come. West made his natural lead of a top heart, and when this held, continued with another, on which South discarded his club four!

Look at the problem now from West’s perspective. Had South originally held ace-queen third of spades and a doubleton club ace, a spade lead away from the king now would have handed declarer his contract. Since a third heart by West would present declarer with a ruff and discard, to allow a spade to be discarded from dummy, it seemed that the only option was to shift to a club.

Aagaard seized upon this gratefully. He drew trump in two rounds, cashed his second top club, then entered dummy twice in trumps, overtaking first the three and then the diamond six, first to ruff a club, setting up the suit, and second, to utilize the clubs for two spade discards. Five diamonds, bid and made.

You did well not to open two spades with such a ragged suit. Don’t spoil your good judgment by jumping to two spades (either to show your six spades or to show a maximum pass). Neither of those reasons makes the slightest sense. This is a simple one spade response. If partner passes you won’t have missed anything, and there is no need to preempt your own side when clubs could be your best strain.


♠ A 9 8 7 5 3
 J 5
 J 8
♣ Q 10 3
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 ♣ 1

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 WarheitSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 9:13 am

Eleven tricks available in hearts? Yes, but I would bet just about anything that W would make all the tricks, since it seems almost impossible for N’s opening lead to be a club. Poor W, not only did he not get the play right, his pre-empt turned out to pre-empt his side, not the opponents. Isn’t poker a wonderful game? Oh, sorry, I guess they were playing bridge.

Mircea1September 3rd, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Do you agree with West’s 4H preempt? It’s difficult to fault East for not doubling 5D to show some defense, which could have allowed his partner to find the vital spade shift.

If West bids just 2H, the spade fit can be discovered, as well. This will allow East to bid 5 of either major perhaps making it very difficult for North to sacrice in 6 with his Yarborough.

Just a thought.

jim2September 3rd, 2015 at 12:37 pm

David Warheit –

And in spades, as well!

slarSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 1:09 pm

The late Mike Cappelletti would have loved West’s hand. So many ways to play it, including straight.

David WarheitSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Jim2: No, not in spades, unless somehow W was the declarer. Surely S, as opening leader, would lead clubs.

bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Hi David, Mircea1, Jim2, & Slar,

So little to say, so much to think, and then conclusions to be reached.

South, no doubt overbid. Surely he had a good hand, but IMO not a GF start. West though also vulnerable, was within two tricks of his contract and with his king of spades behind the very strong opener seemed a decent bet to hold 4 hearts to only down 1. Therefore my conclusion is that while South was guilty of somewhat reckless overbidding, West’s action was justified and IMO would have been the consensus choice among experts.

After North and then East did what was expected and, of course, passed, South followed through with his responsibility to maintain consistency and bid where he lived. West then maintained discipline and passed as did, of course, North and what was East supposed to do? He had scattered values with no way to tell whether they (mainly the ace of spades and the queen of clubs) would rather help his partner go down fewer trick(s) and after all, if South was pushing (which he was) no guarantee could be made that his 11 trick contract would succeed.

Then one genius moment occurred, when declarer seized the opportunity to discard a club on West’s 2nd heart honor. Should West be clairvoyant and predict South’s exact hand and does the dummy look like there will be two entries in trumps for accomplishing what was to happen?

Sometimes there is little warning (especially when playing against a very wily coyote, I mean, declarer) when a defensive disaster is about to occur, unless the plot to do so is somehow triggered and the defense becomes blessed with the epiphany of disclosure (happens much more with almost world class defenders who all have extremely numerate vision).

Lessons to be learned, especially when playing against excellent players:

1. Take plays by the opponents seriously as indicative of high-level meaning rather than just random nothing to be gained.

2. Never underestimate the ability to create a source of taking tricks, usually by suit establishment, complete with sometimes the manufactured facility, as here, of doing what is necessary.

3. Use the above to advantage when behind in a match played against equals who will not be inclined to ever let down their guard. The secret is to make 2nd choice bids (and sometimes percentage plays as well, on both offense and defense) in order to create a different result than the other table, but one which will still have a reasonable chance at success (such as an opening strong two bid on today’s example).

4. Trust in the game itself to create enough opportunities to, with good playing luck, overcome adversity in the form of being behind.

5. By learning and then understanding the gambles required, use a cerebral approach to attempt to outsmart your worthy opponents.

Yes, David, no doubt 13 tricks in hearts would be scored up by EW, as a matter of fact, those 13 would actually result in an overtrick, totaling 14.

Mircea1, it is unrealistic and my guess a losing tactic for West to not jump to 4 hearts immediately since South had opened with such a strong bid and truthfully, East is not likely to be able to help at all, allowing their enemy more room to rumble in search of their eventual best contract.

Yes Jim2, spades would also work, but with South on lead, chances are two less tricks will be forthcoming.

And finally Slar, yes Mike Cappelletti would have had much delight in being either in South’s or West’s seat. However as we speak he may be doing just that and who knows maybe, where he now resides, everyone always wins, whatever he bids or plays, but in retrospect perhaps that condition has more minus than plus.

jim2September 3rd, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I only meant that 5S was cold as well as 5H.

If E-W were in 5S and a diamond was led, then declarer could ruff the opening lead, then take six spades and seven hearts for 14 tricks …

bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Hi Jim2,


1. I have little doubt that if South chose a diamond lead you would to score up 13 tricks, since no one would have any cards unplayed at the death, but if somehow the rules would be changed allowing tricks galore, there would be 14 tricks since West held 8 hearts not 7 (however, since the eighth heart is sort of hidden, (the direction W, is sandwiched between the 7 and the 4), I will forgive your lack of knowledge of higher math.

2. However if South (AKA as “Humpy”), while defending a spade contract, selected a diamond lead instead of a club he would immediately straighten up and he has been a hunchback all of his life.

jim2September 3rd, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Hey! At least I did not bid in competition a 14-trick contract like someone we both know!

Miircea1September 3rd, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your reply. Very instructive, as always.

Totally new topic: what is the last bid in 1C – 1S; 2S – 4D!, please? Is it a splinter bid or a control bid? Is there a rule when such bid is one or the other?

bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Hi Mircea,

Mark this date, September 3, 2015 and remember from here to eternity (sounds like a good movie title) that unnecessary jumps after a suit is raised (actually or inferentially) are always shortness (void or singleton). Control bids are never jumps except in the UK or parts of the world I am not familiar.

Be sure to tell your favorite partner and others you want to know.

RyanSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 9:55 pm

How reasonable would it be for West to lead a low heart on trick two? The thought being that East would win the trick unless South ruffs in and East could lead a spade through South’s “ace”. I’m interested to hear if there are any negatives to this line of play after the 6H falls on trick one.

Joe1September 3rd, 2015 at 11:43 pm

Sorry to come in late. I typically study the hand, before reading the comments. Should E have raised H, or alternatively, doubled to show S(my initial thought was raise)? If south has 20, for opening 2C, and E has 8, then pard has on average 6, but probably more, since N passed, and given the preempt, likely solid H, so for E, Jx, with side A isn’t bad, a very reasonable sac, and in this case, a make. I guess I have seen worse sac’s, in this column and elsewhere. Question is philosophy of when to sacrifice?

Iain ClimieSeptember 4th, 2015 at 8:04 am

Hi Folks,

A stray (late) thought. Suppose west takes the push to 5H, is doubled and North shies away from the diamond lead. He tries the SJ instead, small, Queen, KIng. West draws trumps, cashes a few more for fun but now has a losing option!



bobby wolffSeptember 4th, 2015 at 11:26 am

Hi Ryan,

Your lead at trick two is nothing less than genius, especially so since declarer discarding on it, instead of trumping, is so unexpected.

However, once it is done, discarding a club by declarer, loses its intended deception and away will go the contract.

But not before your being at the table to do what you did will bring you fame. If, however, you could relate what you were trying to guard against, having to lead a spade up to, instead of the preferred through (assuming partner had the singleton jack, when played at the first trick).

Ryan, you have just imagined a great play, one that covers all the bases, since partner is undoubtedly solid in diamonds for his bid, allowing partner to ruff comfortably with an insignificant trump to do the positional spade return, in this case the ace (and then another).

Please hurry to the bridge table and not waste your considerable numerical bridge aptitude on unimportant vocations like architecture or space science where it may just be a waste.

Thanks for your marvelous bridge advice.

bobby wolffSeptember 4th, 2015 at 11:50 am

Hi Joe1,

Instead of “let your fingers do the walking” an advertisement for using the yellow pages in the phone book in order to look up where to find what one is looking for” let your partner’s preempt do the damage” without adding to letting your guessing opponent escape a bad result.

Granted, EW, because of a combination of bad luck and a great play by declarer (throwing a club on the 2nd heart, together with the location of the adverse spade honors and, of course, an unlucky defensive guess by West) brought on a great coup for his side.

However, for East with his relatively bland, likely featureless hand, should, at least IMO (and certainly not playing results) merely allow 5 diamonds to be defended rather than upping the ante with a bold 5 heart effort.

In bridge, like in the kitchen, “too many cooks can spoil the broth” just sit back and hope your partner’s 4 heart effort has caused a possible good result for your side instead of bidding on (which would work in wondrous ways on this hand) but on most would just add an additional 300 to your carnage.

If there is one thing to say for the experience gleaned by talented players now playing at the top of the game is is that bridge success is measured by consistency of performance, not by any lights out result on any one hand and at least IMO to bid on with that East hand in this more or less blind auction will get you more bad scores than it will good. However one wise person, years ago gave me good advice and worth listening to. “Always after the hand and by giving the post-mortem, let the winner explain”.

So I’ll shut up!

bobby wolffSeptember 4th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Hi Iain,

Your devilish bridge mind has concocted yet another poisoned flower to stand in poor declarer’s way on his way to success.

However, by doing so, you are educating all potential (and already there) bridge lovers into different paths to which one partnership or the other can pick up “key” or sometimes just extra tricks from clever ruses.

Is there no end to what this current hand can generate? Instead of the late Jimmy Durante’s famous calling card remark, “I am surrounded by assassins”, I instead feel enriched by so much imagination suggested around the 52 cards displayed today and to finalize that thought, I think I will, post haste, take up this game.

And finally as Bob Hope used to remind us with his theme song, “Thanks for the memories”!