Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Samuel Smiles

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

*Sound four heart opener


It is odd how even experienced players get a fixed idea about a hand and, in pursuing their plan relentlessly, miss something obvious that has turned up.

South opened four clubs – known as Namyats (Stayman backwards!) or South African Texas, the call showing a strong opening bid of four hearts, but without the all-round strength to open with a two-bid. By arrangement it showed either a solid suit, or a one-loser suit with an outside ace.

This made it easy for the partners to exchange cue-bids on the way to six hearts, against which West led the diamond king. At first glance it seemed the slam would depend on the spade finesse but, with three entries to dummy, declarer soon saw the extra chance of the club king coming down in three rounds.

South played off the club ace, crossed to the heart seven, and ruffed a club. The fall of West’s jack looked promising and, after crossing to the trump king declarer ruffed another club. There was no joy there, and, when the spade finesse failed, so did the slam.

What was it South missed? On the first two rounds of clubs West had played the 10 and jack. This left dummy’s queen and nine as equals. Therefore, instead of ruffing the third club, declarer should simply discard his losing diamond on the club queen. If West has the club king he is welcome to it, for now South’s losing spade goes away on the established club.

Had partner raised directly to two spades, you would either have made a game-try of three clubs or even driven directly to game. But this is a very different auction: if partner has three trump he has less than a two-spade raise. If he has only two trump he has less than invitational values. Either way, it feels right to pass now.


♠ A Q 6 5 3
 K 7
 A 4
♣ Q 9 5 2
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
2 ♣ Pass 2 ♠ 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 WarheitJanuary 12th, 2016 at 1:18 pm

If the opening lead had been a H, I would have won, cashed the CA, and then finessed the SQ, making if a) the S finesse wins, b) S are 3-3, or c) someone has the CKx. In short, on the printed hand I would have gone down. Do you agree with my line of play?

Also, note that playing duplicate EW have a good save at 7D, assuming that S would make 6H. I don’t think this would be the right thing to do, but what do you think and if you think it would, how should EW get there?

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Hi David,

I am happy to agree with your line of play in 6 hearts, should the opening lead be a heart.

However, the percentage of making the heart slam in the method you suggest would top out at about 70%, straight finesse (50%) plus about half of 36% added for the 3-3 break, 36%, thus 50 +18 + about 2% extra for the club king doubleton=70 (on winning the opening lead you. of course realize that you must cash the ace of clubs before taking the spade finesse).

More often than one may think, the exact figuring for different lines of play become somewhat surreal e.g. figuring in the possibility of the king of clubs dropping, therefore and in the long run, rather than preparing for a seance (time consuming) it sometimes becomes more practical in the interest of enjoyment of the game for all four players present to cut immediately to the chase and only include approximate odds, though less than perfect declaring.

With your natural superior numeracy (very evident and, no doubt, known by all who have followed your posts) there is little chance that any stone would be left not turned by you in not overlooking anything statistical in your final decision of how to declare.

All good as long as the play at your table wouldn’t take 15 or 20 minutes compared to what I think is enough, perhaps 3 or 4. In no way am I talking against what I admire greatly in your approach. It is only the practicality of not interfering with the other players, at that table, in their enjoyment of the game, and furthermore my only reason for even mentioning this, is that there are a few (great players all) I have encountered through my many years of competition who couldn’t care less about making everyone wait interminably while they fiddle.

At least (so the story goes) when Nero did it, there was something important going on around him, even if it was, his beloved city going up in flames.

With the good save you mention with EW bidding 7 diamonds and going down 1400 (5 tricks doubled and vulnerable) against the heart slam (if made 1430) no, I really do not see how EW can logically get in the bidding, much less, take that sacrifice later, should we really discuss how they should get there or should we merely say Nero which in the future may serve as a code word for that sort of discussion?

All the above is mentioned with a feeling of love and, of course, admiration. in my heart (if, in fact, that I had one) think Tin Woodsman should I need to add Baum.

slarJanuary 12th, 2016 at 6:12 pm

If the EW hands were reversed, a lead directing double of 4D could work. Other than that I see no way for the opponents to get into that auction. But seriously, do you really want to be -1400 when there is no guarantee the contract will even make?

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Hi Slar,

Of course, all your fears and thoughts are very true. But the subject discussed is more of a spoof than anything serious.

David, as much or more so than anyone, knows how ridiculous (silly) it is to talk about taking a vulnerable 7 diamond save as against a very iffy vulnerable 6 hearts, but to give him credit, he makes one think about some of the complications of our wonderful game.

Whether that motive is worthwhile is in the judgment of the person who considers it. Clever, yes, serious, no, but real, yes, as much as Frank Buck, the noted hunter, always brought them back alive, except when he didn’t (I’m dating myself as very old!).

Iain ClimieJanuary 12th, 2016 at 11:20 pm

Hi Folks,

On a trump lead, should South take it on table and lead a small spade or even possibly spade A, or cash spade Ace, club to ace, spade towards the queen and duck. Such options fail in some cases against defenders with nerves of steel but I wonder if David was on the right path at the table. Could east really duck here with Kx, Kxx or Kxxx? Except at top level, his failure to do so surely means the finesse is working unless east has SKJ or KJx. I think, as Bobby notes, that David was onto something here.

As for the saves, pairs only and we all know our host’s view on that!



Bobby WolffJanuary 13th, 2016 at 2:08 am

Hi Iain,

The subject of cold blooded ducks (either Arctic quackers, or blood thirsty bridge sharks) surrounds itself with needs to do so in order to give the defensive side a better chance at setting a contract.

To me, just another advantage of IMPs or rubber bridge over matchpoints when only overtricks are at stake.

While a pressurized duck is never very easy, it becomes fairly common when the contract trick is at stake. Therefore when a declarer leads low away from the AQ toward his hand, more often than is thought does the player behind dummy duck (while holding the king without the jack), just to cater to better defense against games and slams, since if only a finesse for the contract is needed, the declarer will take it the normal way.

Obviously there are exceptions, but when not enough information is known, play low with the king and hope to laugh later.

And sacrificing at 6 diamonds for only -1400 is usually accompanied by the savers saying, “do you know how well my partner played it to only go down 1100”, while their teammates were announcing “-100 but I think I could have made it”.