Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 20th, 2016

A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is – full of surprises.

Isaac Bashevis Singer

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


Today’s deal features a maneuver that would not occur to many people. East had decided to remain silent during the auction because of the vulnerability, on a deal where his side might have taken 10 tricks in diamonds. Still, in a sense he had done well by not directing his partner to lead spades. While a diamond lead would have defeated the opponents’ slam out of hand, West led the heart queen, leaving the contract’s fate in the balance.

When East showed out, declarer set to work to find a way to dispose of his losing diamonds. He cashed a second high trump, then played on spades, hoping for one diamond discard from that suit and one on the clubs. However, West ruffed the second spade and lost no time in switching to diamonds.

Down one was arguably an unlucky result for declarer. Still, he could and maybe should have done better. It may not be so easy to see, but South should have played on clubs before spades. For declarer to have a chance to succeed, West needed to hold at least two clubs. When West turned up with four clubs, South could have ruffed the fourth round of clubs, crossed to the spade ace, and taken a second discard on the fifth round of clubs before West could ruff in.

Of course, had both East and West followed to two rounds of clubs, it would have been normal to play on spades next and go down; but testing two rounds of clubs before spades could never cost.

Had the opponents bid and raised your singleton you could double to get both red suits into play; but not here. Equally, you could double with 4-6 in hearts and clubs; but not here. Simplest is sometimes best – repeat your clubs, expecting partner to have at least club tolerance, since he is relatively short in spades.


♠ A Q 10
 K 5 2
♣ A K 6 5 4 3
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♠
2 ♣ 2 ♠ Pass 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


David WarheitMarch 5th, 2016 at 9:14 am

Minor point, but when E shows out on the opening lead, S wins the A and should immediately play on clubs, leaving the HK in dummy. Then, after setting up clubs, he can cross to the HK and cash a club, dumping his last diamond. The actual line of play loses if W is void in spades–very unlikely, but possible.

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 11:19 am

Hi David,

Except for going down an extra trick when spades break normally but clubs are 4-1 (with, of course West having the singleton). Only 3 IMPs at IMPs while gaining perhaps 17 when West is void in spades.

However, who can calibrate what is percentage best since usually not bidding 8 card suits (East having them) plus the known inferential diamond ace (East surely would have led his ace, on this bidding which would deny a void) will at the very least get a mention.

And on this hand, my guess, even in the keener bridge playing world, down two instead of down one would lose 2 IMPs or in matchpoints receive a zero instead of reasonably close to average, simply because of the field likely being in 6 hearts (perhaps 90% of a matchpoint field) and very few, if any, getting it right (sorrowfully and painfully, including me).

All the above is not meant to deny or even discount your clever suggestion. It is merely mentioned to introduce what our great game often represents, a real thinking man’s (or woman’s) supreme challenge, while, believe it or not, much of the time, while solving problems, simply having fun.

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 11:34 am

Hi David,

And to prove just how challenging it is, in my first paragraph I got the vulnerabilities wrong and should be gaining 14 IMPs (when West is void in spades but losing about 40% of the board at matchpoints when he has a singleton club, but at least a singleton spade).

For me “Intellectual disgrace stares from every human face.” W.H. Auden

jeanpaul schemeilMarch 5th, 2016 at 12:31 pm

My dear Bobby, thank you for the kinds words in favour of my father, Pierre, this shall be for all the life. He has dead on December 2006, very poor, without anything to leave behind. A italian lady, responsible of tournament of Caracalla on saturday, in Rome, has propoused me a remboursement for all damage. I am still waiting ! I am sure that you will push my file, in order to follow also the avice of Madame Roudinesco, thank you. Jean paul Schemeil

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Hi Jean Paul,

Yes, your father, Pierre, was as fierce a competitor as I (and speaking for my teammates) were always very impressed with his Captaining of excellent French bridge teams in various World Championships.

We, as Americans, did not have good records against the teams he captained. No doubt, he had great skills in getting his players to play their best at the most important times.

I will always remember him and although he defeated us more than we defeated him I shall always regard him, as a Captain, to be as clever as I’ve ever experienced.

Good luck in whatever legal matters you seem to have undergoing.

Peter PengMarch 5th, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Dear Bobby:

I was so happy to have connected with you along the Gertrude Stein phrase last week!

Let me offer another analogy besides the one you gave.

As curator, you have been helping us find the beauty in hands, bidding and play, declaring and defense. The art in our game.

For that we are thankful.

Best always,


Mircea1March 5th, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, would you bid 3C even unfavourable?

David WarheitMarch 5th, 2016 at 4:55 pm

You meant to say that W, not E, would surely have led the DA at trick 1, holding a sure trump trick (use it or lose it). My line of play is also the only one that works if W has all 5 clubs and a singleton spade. Of course that would mean E had remained silent holding 7 spades and 6 diamonds to the A, but considering what he did (or rather, didn’t) with almost that, he just might have.

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Hi Peter,

Much thanks for the very kind words, artfully contributed and much appreciated.

Now to contradictions in everyday conversation, Gertrude Stein made very good use of her knowlege, while using the mostly good for nothing bird, named a pigeon, who coos like a bird but walks like, well, a duck.

When one is invited to play cut around rubber bridge for money and after arriving, look around to who everyone will recognize as the pigeon, and you cannot spot who it might be, you’re it.

Not such an artful proposition, but our beautiful game makes up for any lost time.

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 9:08 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Most assuredly I would, since my suit is good enough (on balance it would be about an average one to rebid), but I love what might be coming a spade lead allowing me, in the absence of a big surprise, to almost guarantee making at least my 9 trick contract. Also being 6-3-3-1 instead of 6-3-2-2 is worth what Donald Duck may say, especially if he was a bridge playing duck, worth more than it is quacked up to be.

While trying to not use superlatives, bidding again is close to a slam dunk (almost said slam duck), even if our side is double vulnerable.

bobbywolffMarch 5th, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Hi David,

While I didn’t mean to say anything about the opening lead, it is taken for granted that any side ace, especially on that bidding, would likely be led if a sure trump trick is held.

There, of course, are exceptions, but you could list them at least as accurately as I could.