Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

There is always a pleasure in unravelling a mystery, in catching at the gossamer clue which will guide to certainty.

Elizabeth Gaskell

N North
None ♠ Q 5
 10 9 4 3 2
 7 3 2
♣ 9 8 3
West East
♠ K 10 9 8 4 2
 J 7 5
♣ K Q 5
♠ 7 3
 A K 8 6
 9 6 4
♣ J 10 7 4
♠ A J 6
 A Q J 10 8 5
♣ A 6 2
South West North East
    Pass Pass
1 ♣ * 2 ♠ Pass Pass
3 All pass    

*Strong, 16+


Today’s deal comes from the San Remo Mixed Teams. Jeff Meckstroth would have many people’s vote for the title of ‘Best Declarer Player in the World’. Would you have played as he did on today’s deal?

Both tables in an international match reached three diamonds here. Where the American team was defending, West led the club king, ducked, and continued with the club queen, won by declarer who now played a low spade. He was hoping to force an entry to dummy with the spade queen in order to be able to take the diamond finesse. However, West went in with the spade king, played a club to East’s jack and East cashed one top heart before playing a fourth round of clubs to force a trick for West’s diamond king.

At the table where Meckstroth was declarer, West led a low heart to East’s king and East returned a spade to the king, for another spade. Notice that Meckstroth could have won in dummy and taken a diamond finesse, but instead he overtook it with the spade queen with the ace, and laid down the diamond ace, dropping West’s king.

Why did he do this? East had passed on the first round of the auction and was already marked with the heart ace and king. Presumably he had a club honor or else West would have preferred a club lead (I imagine declarer thought East was favorite to have started life with a higher honor than the jack). Ergo, West must hold the diamond king.

Did you pass, assuming partner wanted to defend? If so, write out 100 times “I will not pass my partner’s take-out double”. Once a player doubles for take-out, he can’t convert the meaning of a second low-level double to penalties. The second double is take-out again, showing extras. Repeat your hearts as your weakest option (unless you play the cheapest call to be a second negative here).


♠ Q 5
 10 9 4 3 2
 7 3 2
♣ 9 8 3
South West North East
  1 ♣ Dbl. Pass
1 2 ♣ Dbl. 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 WarheitOctober 7th, 2015 at 9:42 am

Would I have played as Meckstroth did? No, because I would have been W playing and making 3S! I would only have bid 1S over 1C, then 2S over 2D and then partner would have bid 3S assuming S bid 3D. Do you agree with this EW bidding?

bryanOctober 7th, 2015 at 1:25 pm

3S by west making? If get a diamond lead, depends on leads agreement but South should know to rise with ace. Leads another D for a ruff. Declarer can not lead S without possibly giving up extra trick. So heart to dummy and lead S. South rises with Ace and leads diamond again, 2nd ruff. Force out spades with K then x. (if instead keep K and lead low, N wins and leads a Heart for S to ruff) South leads D again for final ruff. Still has A club to get in and set with more D.

A forcing defense in Diamond seems to have some leg, but better declarer play may bring it home. What does West do to make 3S?

slarOctober 7th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

RE: BWTA, Colchamiro teaches the Rule of 9 with regards to these takeout double situations. Basically you can’t pass the takeout double unless your suit length + suit honors + contract level is 9. If you swap the rounded suits, you still can’t pass 2CX. I guess you would have to bid 2NT. Give yourself QTxxx in clubs and then you can start thinking about playing defense when 2C is doubled.

While I don’t have decades of experience to draw from, this seems like a good guideline.

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Hi David,

Yes I do, but then the above is a real life hand, and often when attempting to take bidding space
away from the opponents West was too good for his 2 spade bid, which probably kept East from supporting him later.

Also holdings like the queen of hearts singleton become worthless on defense, allowing their opponents to score an important extra trick.

This unpredictable valuation is forever present
wreaking havoc on those wishing bridge to not be devilish. Good luck, keeping Dame Fortune to be who she is, instead of changing from being wildly random.

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Hi Bryan,

West will have just enough trumps to counter that forcing defense. Of course, East need not give up the extra trump, but after leading a heart to dummy, luckily dropping the queen and then leads a spade. If South ducks, East wins the king and continues a spade thus apparently having enough trumps then to knock out the ace of clubs and weather the forcing storm to make nine tricks.

A word to the wise. Do not argue much with David, since he almost always has planned it out and almost always deadly accurate.

Iain ClimieOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

Should east muddy the waters atcT1 by taking the HA? From his viewpoint west might just have a singleton heart, so the H8 back at T2 covers this and makes it look as though West has HKJ7x, although it would be a slightly odd lead round to a strong club opening. I hope neither west ordered a Coke during the play (or is that now a double bluff?), but would Meckstroth still have prevailed do you think?



Patrick CheuOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Hi Bryan,Perhaps West can play the ten of spades from hand on trick 3,and if North wins and plays a third d,ruff,heart to ace,then a second spade,if South wins the 10s with the jack and plays a third d,ruff, and heart to ace and a second spade(South ducks),West must play the King..I stand to be corrected by our host if this line seems a bit…regards~Patrick.

Patrick CheuOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Hi Bobby,Sorry,input almost same time..

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes Mel is a good bridge teacher who tries to categorize bridge rules into defined specific objectives.

Not a bad idea, causing some necessary semblance of order in the learning of our great game.

Usually a very good start, but if way above average expertise is the goal, the high-level language of the game will require a certain talent, I like to call it numeracy, (the application of simple numbers) which enters the room for some, but not for all, making the then immediate task to add enough playing experience to then rise from the ashes to fulfill high expectations.

My long time experience will tell me that at least some natural (born with) talent is necessary, but if so privileged, it may, if coddled and promoted, result in a remaining lifetime of challenge and sheer enjoyment rarely equaled for satisfaction, lies directly in the path for that fortunate individual.

For others, bridge can still be very enjoyable, especially if the student also enjoys watching real and potential world class players exhibiting magic like results with their card reading, creative bidding, and high-level competitive instincts.

Our game stands alone, right at the top, if problem solving, code language (bidding), high-level people psychology and numeric logic rings important.

Good luck and remember, unlike music and art, there has NEVER been a child protege in bridge and likely never will. Experience is what counts, not just the ability to sculpt, paint or write beautiful music and no one is born with the diversity to master what it takes to succeed mightily in bridge.

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Hi Iain,

Your well thought query might promote an interesting discussion.

At trick one East must “think fast” and win the ace, not the standard king which with one “little step” tends to deceive declarer, but also partner. How could this be possible? While difficult it may instantly appear to East that “fooling” partner may not be nearly as destructive as might “tricking” declarer have a pronounced upside. And so it might come to pass, although, of course, we will never know.

To make plays like that (and, of course, not be wrong on too many of them) requires intense concentration, starting with the entire bidding and continuing through the opening lead and the arrival of the dummy. Very few world players could pull off such a ruse (yet the key element should be, not seriously causing partner to go off the rails on defense). And I would be guessing, if I even began to suppose that this fact is easily recognizable, which it is definitely not.

Of course the bridge rule book allows time to be taken at trick one by both declarer and the third seat player, but what about the “tell” occurring when a normal fast 3rd seat player pauses before winning the trick with his ace (was he seriously thinking of not winning the trick?) “Hardly” would think declarer, thereby lessening the deception.

Since Meckstroth is a highly intuitive player he would be wary, but I could only guess as to whether it would make a difference in his play.

Thanks for your supposition.

bobby wolffOctober 7th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Hi Patrick,

It seems that the world has developed a new reason for apology replacing “so sorry” or “pardon” or “excuse me”. “Crossed in the mail” need not be as humble or better said, not as blameworthy.

However, I didn’t consider leading trumps from hand since the bidding has strongly suggested that the ace of spades is with South, making it appear wise to go to dummy first to lead a spade.

BTW, thanks for your “put” in rather than out.

slarOctober 8th, 2015 at 3:08 am

Bobby I understand the sentiment, for sure. I see things in myself that suggest I’m nowhere near my peak at this game. Things that took thought before are becoming automatic and things that were beyond me before are coming into focus now. My consistency isn’t what it could be but that is improving as well. You’re only as good as the focus and effort you put into the next game, and even the next hand.

Anyway, my question to you (which I should have posed directly instead of beating around the bush) is what is the minimum you would give yourself to entertain converting the takeout double to penalty? I threw QTxxx out there (which happens to be consistent with the Rule of 9). Or is it too subjective / psychological to give a definitive answer? There are certainly players (B-flight, not A-flight) who have a propensity for sticking their necks out. But let’s say I’m playing against a Ken Davis (a regular 10Ker around here) since Steve Robinson spends most of his time North of the Potomac River.

bobby wolffOctober 8th, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Hi Slar,

While I already wrote to you concerning tomorrow’s hand which was directly related to your superior attitude and above all, promise.

Concerning your specific questions about converting a TO double to penalities, I am unfamiliar with Mel’s Rule of 9, but I would suggest that when deciding whether or not to leave a TO double in, I would be reluctant to do so for the following reasons:

1. Defending is more difficult than declaring.

2. By bidding something rather than converting you will keep the “ball in the air” and who knows, the opponents often bid one more giving the defense more leeway to defeat them (and doubled)

3. When the opponents make a doubled contract against your partnership, it hurts more than just that one hand, since confidence (very important for that partnership) tends to wane and negative thoughts too often creep in.

4. Playing close contracts doubled subjects the defense to much pressure, sometimes being able to overcome, but often not. Do not be too dependent on Dame Fortune, since that
fickle female can be mean, and often is, by the location of cards and/or allowing a declarer to play the hand well against you.

5. The strength of the opponents do enter into the calibration in the bidding. Also the game (whether IMPs or matchpoints) and of course, the vulnerability plays its own part.

All of the above will improve one’s judgment as time goes by. But while going through this tedious period be sure both you and your regular partner have enough patience to see it through.

Good luck!