Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Look in the almanac; find out moonshine, find out moonshine.

William Shakespeare

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


This deal from a team match, offers a mixture of discovery and technique. West led a low spade against three no-trump, ensuring a trick there for declarer. How should South play? First, he should count the opponents’ high-card points: they have only 14, and West must hold most of them. East can hold a queen, but not much more. By playing the spade jack at trick one, declarer learns whether East holds the spade queen or not.

If East covers with the queen, declarer can safely finesse West for the ace-queen of diamonds, making one spade, three hearts, two diamonds, and three clubs. Declarer need not rely on hearts coming in for four tricks.

If the spade jack holds, declarer should cash three high hearts. Now, should the jack come down, declarer uses the club king as an entry to lead a diamond to the king. If West has J-x-x-x of hearts, declarer cashes three clubs ending in his hand, and leads a diamond to the king, then plays another diamond. If West has the ace-queen of diamonds, he will be endplayed into giving declarer another spade or diamond trick (declarer may appear to be squeezed on the fourth heart, but he will survive by focusing on West’s discards on the clubs). This play picks up the singleton diamond queen with East.

The danger with playing low from dummy at trick one is that if East produces the 10, declarer will not know which line to pursue, and he cannot safely test hearts before deciding how to play diamonds.

If the two no-trump call was natural, we’d simply raise to three no-trump. If two no-trump in the modern-style is a relay to three clubs facing normal values, the Lebensohl convention, usually based on a weak one-suiter, we must cue bid three spades now to show our extras. We hope to reach three no-trump facing a spade stopper. If partner doesn’t have one, we’ll have to play his suit at the four level.


♠ J 9 2
 A K Q 10
 K J 8
♣ A Q 3
South West North East
      2 ♠
Dbl. Pass 2 NT 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


Iain ClimieMarch 1st, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

Interesting hand today, and it represents the opposite of modern life. The latter is all about choices, whereas they are often losing options at the bridge table. I perhaps take things a step further with one specific card combination i.e. AJ10xx opposite 98xx. In the absence of extra information, or a flicker when you lead towards the AJ10, the %age line is to take 2 finesses relying on the rule of restricted choice. I tend to bash down the ace on the basis that I don’t have a potential losing option after the first finesse loses and the remaining x appears on the 2nd round. It may be anti-percentage, but it avoids any agonised huddles and mental self-flagellation if you get it wrong – a price worth paying, even though my statistics background tells me I’m playing it incorrectly.



Judy Kay-WolffMarch 1st, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Hi Iain,

This has absolutely nothing to do with the above, but since you are fascinated by so many facets of the game, I cannot resist an observation by Bobby — playing in a Sectional with me yesterday.

Dummy laid down thirteen cards .. and within seconds .. Bobby’s incredible aptitude for ‘numbers’ observed a quite unique aspect of what he immediately saw: It contained ONE of every card from the Ace down to the lowly deuce. He added the occurrence was astronomical. What fascinated me, however, was not the actual happening .. but his immediate grasp of the unique mathematical probability.

Sometimes I have trouble counting trump — and look what he came up with! God surely blessed him in the numeracy department!! I suppose that explains his track record over the years.

bobbywolffMarch 1st, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Hi Iain,

Judy, as usual, like a bird getting the early worm, beat me to you, although only reporting an early phenomena, not anything with worthwhile practical application, but only just to admire the almost once in a lifetime it will be noticed, not just occur.

Cutting to your chase, a psychologist may explain your case, as one who cannot abide personal flagellation, which you falsely or not label, not necessarily your choice, but the way you will always play that card combination (comes up fairly often), so that you will not, in short, ever second guess yourself.

Yes, it may help you overcome the times you lose, but no it is still a choice you make, only very slightly against the odds, but in trying to avoid your own hurt feelings you instead only wrap your decision in a more palatable package. Nonetheless unbecoming to your own self-confidence of apparently ready to take on the world.

All of my glorious above words, signifying very little, are merely a substitute for not knowing what I am talking about, but still willing to not just shut up.

However to compensate for my ego trip with you I may add that if faced with J108xx in hand opposite A9xx in dummy or some such, be certain that you lead the jack from hand (as a temptation to LHO to cover with KQx) and only then test your premise, I will always be in your camp as to now overcoming that slight anti-percentage view.

In bridge (and at every level) there is usually some substitute available in which to increase one’s winning percentage even if by doing so one feels at least slightly sleazy.

Perhaps now non (at least up to now) bridge lovers may begin to understand other people getting a huge high from just attempting to play this absolutely great game.

Iain ClimieMarch 1st, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Hi Judy, Bobby,

Thanks for the feedback, and I suspect I too had the wrong sort of misspent youth. Start with a pack of 52 cards and deal one, which obviously will be the only card and can’t duplicate the rank of any other card,. There are now 51 cards left in the pack of which 48 won’t match the rank of the first card, so deal another. Now there are 50 cards left of which 44 match (in rank) neither card dealt so far, then 40 out of 49, 36 out of 48 etc. Eventually, after dealing 12 different ranked cards, there are 40 left in the pack, 4 of which don’t match the rank of any cards dealt to date. So, the probability is (I think) 52/52 * 48/51 * 44/50 * 40 / 49 * … * 4/40 to get 13 differently ranked cards in a bridge hand. Having said that, my maths is rusty and nCr methods should be easier!



Yasser HaiderMarch 1st, 2016 at 6:02 pm

Hi Judy
Thanks for your lovely insight. As someone who takes quite some time to merely count dummy’s points and grasp the shape, let alone form a plan, I am 100% sure I would not have noticed that quirk. But then it is a world champion we are talking about! Wow.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 1st, 2016 at 10:08 pm

Yes, Yasser:

Bobby never ceases to amaze me. He has an uncanny bent for remembering hands (including spot cards, events, partners and opponents, the country where it all happened — and even the direction he was sitting). That is unbelievable .. and embarrassingly includes all the boo-boos I made since we first started playing together over twelve years ago.

Speaking of memories .. I will always remember how nervous I was when at the last minute my late husband’s partner, Edgar Kaplan, filled in opposite me for a mixed pair at an NABC in Montreal in the late sixties. I was literally a novice. His words were an effort to relax me. I remember them vividly: “If you can only count one suit .. COUNT TRUMP.” It worked! We ended up winning the event by half a point!!

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