Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Most kids don’t believe in fairy tales very long. Once they hit six or seven they put away Cinderella and her shoe fetish, The Three Little Pigs with their violation of building codes, Miss Muffet and her well-shaped tuffet.

Rob Thurman

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


After the Forest Duplicate finished, the Three Bears met up with Goldilocks in the local tavern. As they sat outside (Baby Bear nursing his lemonade) Papa Bear showed Goldilocks the North and South cards on today’s deal.

“I must be the most unlucky player in the world” he said. “I won the opening spade lead in hand and took a diamond finesse. East won and shifted to a low club. When I finessed West won and reverted to spades. Down two!”

“You think that’s unlucky?” said Mama Bear heatedly. “I covered the spade 10 at trick one to block the suit. East won and played a club. I finessed and West won and reverted to spades, and I went the same two down.”

Baby Bear recounted his tale of woe next. “I covered the first spade and finessed in clubs at trick two. My West shifted to hearts at trick three! I finessed of course, and now the defenders cleared hearts. When the diamond finesse lost I was down THREE!”

Goldilocks sympathized with all three of them. “You were all terribly unlucky – up to a point.” When asked what she meant, Goldilocks told them how she had played the hand. “I covered the first spade, then went up with the club ace at trick two and played on diamonds. When East won and played a club, I lost just a spade, diamond and club trick. There was nothing the defenders could do to defeat the game.”

It may sound obvious, but if partner makes a forcing no-trump response, and the next hand doubles, pass with a minimum balanced hand. A bid in a minor guarantees a four-card or longer suit. The fact that your clubs are so bad means you were not exactly looking forward to bidding the suit anyway. If the no-trump was not forcing, your call becomes even easier, of course. Pass, without a care in the world.


♠ A J 8 7 5
 K J 6
 K 6
♣ 8 5 2
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 1 NT Dbl.

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 ClimieDecember 1st, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Hi Bobby,

A couple of minor gremlins and a stray thought. North opened 1H (not 1D) according to the bidding shown and can the defence actually clear hearts (vs Baby Bear) unless the H9 and H10 are switched? Also, should we really have Goldilocks under-age drinking outside a tavern, or are kids today all too prone to do this at least when nobody is looking?

Facetious interludes aside, it is a really good and instructive hand though, illustrating (in clubs) that if the finesse is right you may still not need to take it. Such paradoxes are part of the pleasure in the game.

Zia came up yesterday and I remember playing against him in one round of a Brighton Swiss Teams in the early 1980s. He was impeccable in terms of charm, manners and ethics, but played at incredible speed while intimidating confidence poured off him like Niagara falls. We came second (surprise) although weren’t trounced but can you give any advice at all on how to deal with such players? Is there a case for slowing the pace down regardless, or is that being unsporting?

jim2December 1st, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I missed the 9/10 hearts thing! Read right past it. To use one of Our Host’s phrases, “Well spotted!”

The only advice I have come across on facing fast players is to adopt a personal tempo and use it regardless of other’s pace. (One author even suggested that refusal to match/mimic their pace actually aggravated some faster players, so it was all good. 🙂 )

Bobby WolffDecember 1st, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Hi Iain,

Your term “minor” in reference to gremlins is a severe underbid. AFAIK 1 diamond, not 1 heart was obviously opened with the North hand and yes, the hearts were such that they could have been unblocked. What actually happened in the process may never be known, but it is my responsibility to not let it and for that, I sincerely apologize.

The underage drinking episode issue could be argued that since bridge is such a sophisticated adult subject and so few minors then influenced by the humor attached, that censorship is not necessary, but again, maybe I am being conveniently laissez-faire.

As to the defense to being Zia’s opponent, with his intimidating confidence, my suggestion is just to “belly up” to the table and first give him back the same, challenging him, with the idea to make him the loser of the joust.

And finally while acknowledging the aforementioned “gremlins” at work, there was supposedly a true story about an EW player during a tournament who was adept at looking at opponent’s private scorecards and on a certain hand #22, noticed EW +620 in 4 hearts.
When his partnership then arrived at the table where the two boards to be played were 21 & 22 then opened 1 heart with a mediocre 4 card suit when holding 5 of the other major. Partner then, in a competitive auction raised to the heart game, but the declarer went soundly down 2, minus 200.

Later, and with dismay, our cheating hero then sought out the pair he had copped the board from and asked how they had let 4 hearts make at their table. The North player then, after being told the hand exclaimed, “Oh, it wasn’t 4 hearts it was 4 spades, but what difference does it make”?

Moral: It is better to laugh then cry when misfortune rules.

Bobby WolffDecember 1st, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Obviously my post to Iain crossed with yours to Iain.

Your more competitive approach to opposing tempo is probably a more pleasing remedy to most than my suggestion of “bellying up”. At least yours would appear to be easier to access for most.

From my experience, when “ultra fast” meets “ultra slow” at the bridge table, patience often becomes tested resulting in flared tempers.

jim2December 1st, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Most normal bridge players cannot play up to their ability at Zia or near-Zia pace. They, really we, have the right to play at a more “normal” tempo. I would play at that tempo no matter who sat at the table. To do otherwise would be to cede an additional advantage to the Zia’s, and they hardly need it.

Iain ClimieDecember 1st, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Hi Bobby, Jim2,

Thanks for the advice and, if I start playing more seriously again, it’ll definitely help. For the moment, though, it is club stuff only. Don’t worry overly about the gremlins, though, as that was an excellent hand today and a warning to keep the brain in gear at all times.


Bobby WolffDecember 1st, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt every player is entitled to play at his own speed. The only thing illegal is to intentionally play at an unusual tempo with the idea of either upsetting the opponents (fast or slow) or, on defense, giving unauthorized information to partner.

Zia merely plays at a speed which appeals to him and, at the same time, sometimes makes the opponents uncomfortable. However, after playing against him, most would never think that he tries to take undue advantage.

Bobby WolffDecember 1st, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for the positive advice. The players who respond on our site all can see through the unintended gaffes and therefore in most cases, overcome.

It is the marginal players, trying hard to learn the game, who will be disadvantaged by having their eyes gazing at these distortions.

Obviously why they happen is a combination of ridiculous circumstances, all of which can be remedied but if not, it is all my responsibility.

Jane ADecember 1st, 2015 at 10:13 pm

North could open one NT to begin with and south can raise to three NT. If east leads a spade, then north has to figure out which finesse to take first, probably the diamond and hope the cards are right. This would never work for Jim2 however. We know what would happen to him!

Maybe the north/south pair were playing weak NT?

David WarheitDecember 2nd, 2015 at 9:37 am

Jane: Actually, N SHOULD open 1NT which S would of course raise to 3NT. Then, after winning the opening S lead, he would lead his D5. E, suspecting nothing would play the 6. The 9 wins, so next is a D to the A, dropping the K. Then the C finesse. Making 5! Note that if the DK doesn’t appear after 2 rounds of D, N should take the C finesse, making if it wins or if it doesn’t and W returns a S or if W returns a H and either W has the HK or H block (as they do here).

Bobby WolffDecember 2nd, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Hi Jane & David,

Together you present a good case for opening 1NT with North, although sometimes that choice turns out poor for declarer since, on any specific hand, 3NT might be better off played from the other side. However, percentage should indicate that the better hand usually becomes best to be declarer simply because then the defensive opening lead is coming up to the stronger hand who then can exercise his advantage of playing last to the trick.

However, sometimes lady luck will play strange tricks on everyone, confusing what exactly is the right thing to do.

David’s card for card play could well happen, involving many smiles from that declarerr.