Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, February 5th, 2016

We are not sure of sorrow, And joy was never sure.

Algernon Swinburne

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


This pairs deal feels like one where the field should reach four hearts by South after a strong notrump opening bid by that player, whether North uses Stayman or a Jacoby transfer.

West has a normal enough lead of the club king, and a thoughtful East should overtake with the ace to return the suit. West ought to work out to win the second club and play a third round of the suit, and now the spotlight shifts to South.

East’s unusual play at the first trick makes it highly likely that he has only two clubs, and that he hopes to overruff the dummy on a third round of clubs. South cannot prevent the loss of the third club, but he can avoid the futile play of contributing a trump from dummy. Instead, he should discard a potentially losing spade from the North hand. Later on, after trump have been drawn, South can discard the remaining spade loser from dummy on the third round of diamonds.

This play of loser-on-loser eliminates the losing spades from the dummy, and South thus has a comfortable route to 10 tricks. But if declarer ruffs trick three in dummy, he will be overruffed. There will be no sensible alternative to the spade finesse after drawing trump, and today South’s luck will be out.

You could argue that going down in four hearts is unlucky. I prefer to think of South’s fate as deserved. It is somehow appropriate that when you follow an inaccurate line of play, the cards do not forgive.

Not all five-card suits are created equal; as George Orwell might say, some are more – or less — equal than others. I will make an executive decision that I don’t want to look for a fivethree heart fit (for example by a Smolen call of three spades to show this major-suit pattern) but will simply bid three no-trump directly, and forget about the hearts.


♠ A J 7 5
 9 8 6 5 2
 A Q
♣ 7 5
South West North East
  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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bob BordenFebruary 19th, 2016 at 6:24 pm

Bobby, it’s much more dramatic to throw the ace of diamonds than a small spade!

Iain ClimieFebruary 19th, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

An interesting point at T1 if East holding A8 or A8x decides not to take the Ace – West may well assume declarer is playing a Bath coup with CAJx and switch, when a club loser will rapidly vanish. On the other handm how is West supposed to know in such a case whether East has 2 or 3 clubs, assuming declarer would be capable of concealing a small club and following with his middle then highest club from hand?

On BWTA, I wholeheartedly agree. There are hands where 4H is better than 3NT but how often do the 2 hands have points to sparfe but a trump suit of Q10x opposite 98xxx and the HJ is offside (or the suit is 4-1) aand there is an outside Ace to lose as well. Pairs may be different, but even then there may be the same number of tricks while the old comment about 3N being the contract most often mis-defended still applies.

I like Bob’s sense of style, though!



TedFebruary 19th, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

A hand like this is one of the reasons I prefer pairs defense (and IMPs offense).

Picture East instead with something like

10 9 6 4
4 3
10 8 7 3
A 8 3

You could defend as in the column knowing that any pointed suit finesses are working. You can’t beat the contract, but you may hold making 5 to making 4.

bobby wolffFebruary 19th, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, It is discards like you suggest (AD) which make bridge the great and unusual game it is. Whether a spade or the diamond ace, both will get the same result. Only a slight variation in the play will occur, but no harm, no foul.

In my long ago days of attempting to teach the game I would often digress into discussions of why that is so and how to get used to thinking outside the box. It worked on some, didn’t on others leaving a few which just stayed blank.

My conclusion then (and still is) that those thoughts, whether accepted, challenged or glossed over, had nothing whatever to do with intelligence, but instead only the willingness to accept its especially to some, strangeness.

Perhaps that same willingness to adjust or not to the difference, plays a huge part in whether all minds can appreciate what to me, are the magnetic draws to the magnificent game some of us love to play.

bobby wolffFebruary 19th, 2016 at 7:51 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, if East does not overtake or even if he does and returns it, declarer cannot be sure (but only just fear) that East started life with but a doubleton club. However the discard of a spade instead of ruffing may only (odds on) just cause the lack of an overtrick where only at matchpoints will it make a big difference.

Of course, that fact strongly makes my preference for IMPs or rubber bridge where safeguarding games and slams to make far over rides attempts at overtricks which are so very important in scoring up more matchpoints, but in reality take away from some of the great beauty of our original game. However, to each his own!

We certainly agree on the BWTA choice of games and of course, Bob’s grandiose style.

bobby wolffFebruary 19th, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Hi Ted,

Yes, no doubt, it is fun and often productive to give declarer (or at least attempt) a phony view of what might be a distributional danger. Of course when it loses a sure defensive trick by instead only fooling partner when he leads a 3rd club and gives declarer a key sluff and ruff instead of giving you a possible overruff.

However one of the not talked about advantages of our multi-faceted game is that we can then annotate that story for all to hear and no one will be the wiser for it.

Yes, harm and foul, but no one will ever know, at least we hope, unless our former beloved partner is spilling the beans while undercover.

bobby wolffFebruary 19th, 2016 at 8:15 pm

Hi Ted (again),

Declarer’s hand was: s. xx, h. AKQJx, d. KJxx, c. Jx.

I had to dig deep for this one and so I am offering an apology to all concerned, especially since I would be inclined to make the same play (with your defensive hand) of overtaking the club and back.

As Steve McQueen bellowed to his sidekick in the “Cincinnati Kid” many more years ago than I can count, “You ain’t ready for me yet, kid”.

slarFebruary 19th, 2016 at 9:09 pm

I wish there were more hands like this out there. I’d like to think I could beat the field more often than not. Last night our opponents must have been on crystal meth or something because they were bidding and bidding and bidding like crazy. In 24 hands, we defended 4 doubled contracts (+500, +1100, +800, -550) and only declared six times. It was exhausting playing all of this defense and frustrating knowing that we were going to get fixed on some of these hands. It will be nice to finish a session in the 60%s when playing defense almost the whole time.

TedFebruary 20th, 2016 at 1:40 am

Hi Bobby,

Yes, my play would likely lose whenever declarer has a doubleton club, but it still feels right with my proposed hand and bidding. If declarer actually opened 1NT on that hand you’ve shown above, West would have 6 clubs to the KQ10 and the KQ of spades and might have overcalled even at this vulnerability.

bobby wolffFebruary 20th, 2016 at 5:47 am

Hi Slar,

No doubt, defense is much more difficult than declarer play when the player in the spotlight is looking at all 26 of his assets, while his opponents get only a look at half from the dummy and half from his own.

Therefore to have a 60%+ game while constantly defending all night should mean your partnership either played very well, or the other partnerships your way just gave out from having to defend so much.

From your report you seemed to be playing against very aggressive opponents, but nevertheless winning the battles.

At any rate, congratulations for your session.

bobby wolffFebruary 20th, 2016 at 5:56 am

Hi Ted,

Even with the clubs being 2-2 with the declarer, you only figure to possibly lose an overtrick, only important at matchpoints, since as you pointed out my example hand is much too far fetched to be taken seriously.

Also unless the opponents were vulnerable as you suggested the opening bidder’s 1NT might very well have been overcalled with 3 clubs.

One of the better old time books was called “Sure Tricks” an excellent declarer play specialty which was written so that the declarer had to play card combinations (not necessarily 13 tricks, but usually less) for no losers. As a novice I learned greatly from it as to novel ways to attack suits and such. I doubt there are many of that book still available, but if so, it would be fun to remember how tantalizing bridge became way back when.

Never stop reading about bridge, having a go at difficult hands and then discussing what made you do it. Best way to learn!

AviFebruary 21st, 2016 at 10:15 am

Bobby hi

BWTA – not all five card suits are indeed equal, but partner opened strong NT, and we have all those points outside our 5 carder.
doesn’t this increase the chances of partner holding points in H?