Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face.

W. H. Auden

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


Today’s deal helped decide the world junior championships 12 years ago. In the final set, the Israelis were making a charge to catch up the US team and in one room had played for a swing by stopping in four spades here.

But in our featured room declarer, Joel Wooldridge, thought his partner had the ace-king of hearts, while John Hurd believed the five heart bid showed the king not the queen.

After the sneaky lead of the diamond 10, the best line seemed to be to unblock the heart ace, then use minor-suit entries to take two heart ruffs. When the heart king fell, declarer could switch plans and draw trump. If the heart king did not fall in three rounds South would continue the crossruff, hoping all the minor-suit honors would stand up.

Wooldridge actually won the diamond lead, unblocked the club king, crossed to the heart ace, then played ace and another club. When he cashed the diamond queen and saw West produce the jack, he ruffed another heart and led the fourth club.

Once East discarded on this trick Wooldridge ruffed low, ruffed a heart and then ruffed a diamond with the spade nine. When West could not overruff, declarer had a high crossruff for the contract. The US team went on to win the match by a deceptively comfortable margin.

But notice that in this ending if East had ruffed the fourth club with the spade 10, declarer is stuck. He can overruff, but he never gets to score the spade six, since West can overruff him in both minors.

Maybe you are regretting not opening one no-trump now (not an absurd action by any means) but it is too late to go back. The hand is not really strong enough for a reverse, so unless you are prepared to treat your three-card spade suit as worth introducing, you had better bid one no-trump and live with the underbid.


♠ K J 7
 K 8 5 3
♣ A J 6 3 2
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 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 ClimieSeptember 12th, 2015 at 11:05 am

Hi Bobby,

Three stray thoughts today on the play hand. Firstly, cross-ruffs, especially if played at speed, are very difficult to defend; secondly, was east clutching his S10 in the hope of using it at trick 14 or 15? Thirdly, although I can understand West trying something, there are sound reasons why the general advice is to lead a trump against grand slams. Does this kill it, or is ideclarer OK if he crossses various digits and plays for the HK to drop on the 3rd round? Take spade in hand, H to Ace, C to K, H ruff, D to Ace, Heart ruff, diamond to hand works here, but is this line best in %age terms?



bobby wolffSeptember 12th, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Hi Iain,

Because of the long trump hand being with declarer, it seems natural to attempt to establish hearts rather than clubs in dummy, which may require the club queen to be tripleton (or possibly even fourth with some layouts) with the ace of hearts the entry to it. The heart line may also lie well, even in the event of the heart king not coming down early enough with the overruff possibilities.

However for exact percentage lines, my guess is that one of our superior regular contributors could give us a better take using his greater unfettered mathematical mind.

Your description is also very clear and all I can offer is that Joel has always, since a very young age, been an excellent declarer, but, of course, as to the very best percentage line, one may need nothing short of a well working computer to tell us. Deep Finesse anyone?

I also agree with West’s choice of a deceptive lead (ten from jack ten in a random suit) against a grand slam, since their opponents have declared bridge war on them by attempting to score up a close grand slam. All is fair in love, war, and defending slams.

Finally since the Israelis only bid a game, rather than a small slam, on this key hand from the match no one should shed a tear for their eventual loss.

Maybe someone may notice that I usually take the low road and only discuss philosophy rather than very tough exact percentages, allowing some to think, that I either evade hard work, or else a better image for me, no fool, I.

jim2September 12th, 2015 at 4:01 pm

My head hurts just thinking about it!

Still, if one posits the opening lead as shortness, I think the odds improve for clubs over hearts. Declarer always makes it if s/he guesses which round suit has the key honor tripleton.

In the column text, the way home once the hearts are Kxx is presented. If Wooldridge had seen the QC fall tripleton, he could have similarly simply unblocked the second D honor, drawn trump ending on Board, and had 4 trump, 1 heart, 3 diamonds, 4 clubs, and 1 club ruff for 13 tricks.

If the QC is in the long hand behind declarer instead of being the one to fall third (instead of KH), then declarer seems to have better chances than for hearts. Here, w/o the 10S, East had no defense. In contrast, the column line requires diamonds to be 4-3 to allow the KD to stand up. After the opening lead, that appears unlikely.

bobby wolffSeptember 12th, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for stepping up and analyzing it in a clinical way. Do you reckon that your TOCM TM
affliction helped create that superb talent.

Now where is David when we might need him.

jim2September 12th, 2015 at 9:27 pm

You are kind.

While I disagreed with the column (thus, agreeing w/ Wooldridge’s line), the math differences would seem to be pretty small. Most of those differences follow from the diamond opening lead inferences. That is, the Hxx odds are equal in hearts and clubs, but which additional chance is more likely?

1) Diamonds being 4-3 despite the 10D lead, or
2) East either not having 10S, holding 10S but failing to play it with the obvious over-ruff looming, or holding BOTH the 10 and 8S (so that West cannot over-ruff declarer’s 6S).

I judged the second line slightly better, and that is what Woolridge did.

David WarheitSeptember 13th, 2015 at 6:54 am

I thank you for your very kind remarks, but I think that Jim2 and Iain have done a very fine job going through the various lines. I would like to wish everyone a very happy new year, or as it is better known, Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 13th, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Hi Guys (and a gal or two). I am ‘more from the writers” than “the readers,” but I have to confess how much fun it is surveying your comments. AOB has really brought into existence a delightful confederacy of bridge lovers who adore the challenge of our unique game (and hurdle its accompanying frustrations).

Happy holidays (whatever you celebrate) .. and for heaven’s sake .. don’t forget it is NFL kickoff .. another great love of Bobby’s even before he knew an ace from a king!

And, If I behave myself and not do any masterminding, I might end up a strong third.



bobby wolffSeptember 13th, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Hi Judy,

Do not despair. If a team I love loses today, you’ll certainly move up with adoration and status but if you crave a Sunday kind of love, you’ll probably have to wait to January.

“Oh, it’s a long, long time from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September”. When the autumn weather
turns the leaves to flame one hasn’t got time for the waiting game. Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few, September, November, and these few precious days, I’ll spend with you, these precious days, I’ll spend with you.

jim2September 13th, 2015 at 4:43 pm


bobby wolffSeptember 13th, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Hi David & Jim2,

Yes a New Years or RH positive return greeting.

Back at the bridge ranch, since the nine of diamonds is missing to declarer, the opening lead is not necessarily suspect and likely may be thought of as only a default suit led beginning.