Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 31st, 2016

The newspaper is a greater treasure to the people than uncounted millions of gold.

Henry Ward Beecher

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


In this deal from a daily bulletin a decade ago the comment about the play was that at one table “Four hearts was the normal contract and declarer brought home an easy overtrick.”

It seemed to me that the defenders should have managed their three top tricks, even if finding a way to the setting trick was beyond them. Of course, at the featured table a trump was led and it was indeed easy to make 11 tricks.

However, suppose West leads an unspectacular spade five, and wins the next spade to switch to a trump. Declarer will win, unblock the club ace, draw a second trump, cross to dummy with a trump and cash his top clubs.

Suppose declarer now ruffs his last club high, reducing everyone to four cards. To keep his three diamonds and his trump, the best West can do is discard his spade. Declarer now has a complete count of the hand, knowing West has a 3-4-3-3 shape, and must decide who holds the diamond jack.

If it is East, finessing for that card is straightforward. But there is a way to succeed if West holds that card: declarer draws the last trump and leads the diamond king from hand. West must win and play another diamond, which declarer can run around to his 10. Contract made!

In order to defeat four hearts legitimately, East must arrange to be on lead after the second spade (either by winning the queen at trick one then cashing the ace, or playing the ace then queen). He can then switch to a diamond.

As a passed hand, if you decide you want to come into the auction, a decision I would agree with, the safest way is with a double. This suggests something close to a maximum pass and the unbid suits, plus tolerance for partner. You have nothing to spare for this call, but it will surely be your only chance to get into the auction, so you should take it.


♠ 9 6
 Q 10 9 7
 Q 7 6
♣ K Q 6 3
South West North East
Pass 1 1 ♠ 2

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 WarheitApril 14th, 2016 at 9:48 am

At “one table”, after E dealt and passed, NS easily reached 4H & W led the CJ. S won, crossed to the H9, cashed the CKQ, discarding S, and thereafter only lost 2 D tricks.

At “another table”, E wound up playing 4SX. S led the HA, somehow NS never got around to leading D, and E made 4S!

bobbywolffApril 14th, 2016 at 11:02 am

Hi David,

No doubt it could and would happen in many so-called bridge tables in America and throughout the world, but then when North becomes privy to East having 5 clubs after the opening lead of a heart being trumped and then trumps drawn and partner South showing out on the second club, the dye will have been cast (East having exactly 2 diamonds 6+5+0=11).

It will then be a simple matter for North to switch to a diamond, after winning the second club, since if East has the diamond king it is “all she wrote”! Easy? “Yes” even trivial, but would it be done? Not unless North counts regularly, since he might fear leading into that imposing AJ9 and prefer the declarer East to lead diamonds first.

Therefore your challenge has enabled the “art” of counting every hand, both the declarer and the defense in order to play our wonderful game better than many others who just bide their time accepting mediocrity.

By doing so you will win the Ponce de Leon (PDL) award of the year for pointing out just how necesssary “counting” becomes to maintain a “youthful” approach to playing our game the best it can be played.

And as a sidelight, I feel in my bones you are suggesting that EW take a vulnerable sacrifice over a NS attempt to make 4 hearts by competing to 4 Spades and either making without proper defense, but, even with, down only one with an earlier and necessary diamond switch.

Perhaps, but to make 4 hearts, declarer must not only guess the diamond suit exceptionally well. but also time the hand to perfection.

So, we are left with only one hand of the billion and perhaps trillion hands already played on this planet since Contract Bridge was invented in 1927 by Harold Vanderbilt (while on a cruise ship) and we then gradually became privy to just how great this game really is.

Playing it then, will again make one feel like our above want to be discoverer PDL, keeping our minds forever young, at least in thought.

Thanks for taking all of us on a trip through memory lane.

Iain ClimieApril 14th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Hi Bobby,

Terry Pratchett came up with a lovely spoof on Ponce de Leon. One of his characters spends his whole like looking for the fountain of youth, finds it when old but doesn’t read the instructions (presumably in hieroglyphics or other incomprehensible language) which warn that the water has to be boiled first. He drinks deeply from the fountain, but dies from the diseases in it – a reminder to read the instructions, or at least get them translated. I’m afraid I’m rather good at ignoring instructions then cursing the results.



bobbywolffApril 14th, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Hi Iain,

Your story mirrors life.

When one is very young, his (or her) mother takes over, then as he ages, his father is heard, next his religious leader pipes up, followed by his school teachers and then inevitably the police, if for no other reason than a reminder. Finally and too soon, his spouse, next his boss, then friends, particularly former ones and relatives, all his doctors, lawyers and even Indian Chiefs to Native Americans.

Finally, at some point he rebels, refuses to understand written incomprehensible language, and, no wonder and in effect, commits suicide.

Terry Pratchett is a prophet.

And the above is only covering a normal happy person’s life. What about us bridge players?

Iain ClimieApril 14th, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Hi again Bobby,

Was Jean Paul Sartre a bridge player? After all, he said “Hell is other people” although without at least 3 more (or possibly computer replacements for them) we’d each be stuck for even a game of rubber bridge.


bobbywolffApril 14th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hi still Iain,

Speaking of other people, especially three bridge players to round out a firm “table up” beckon for rubber bridge (aka “money bridge”), you’ve certainly heard of the oft told caveat, “if you look around to see who the palooka to be fleeced is, and you don’t recognize him, you’re it”.

Although I cannot answer your question about JPS being a bridge player, while I have too often said “To hell with other people” I never would insult one who played our game.

Peter PengApril 14th, 2016 at 10:49 pm

hi Mr. Wolff:

I often have a stronger hand than a partner who opens 1NT, say 14-17.

In that case, Stayman and transfers are designed for 1NT opener to be the declarer, supposedly thus having the stronger hand closed.

But if the responder has a stronger hand than the opener, how can his or her hand be protected and be closed as declarer?

I am not sure I explained well.

thanks for your attention

best always

bobbywolffApril 14th, 2016 at 11:13 pm

Hi Peter,

Even if the responding hand is stronger than the opener it will likely be close to a toss-up as to which hand would best serve as declarer (having the opening lead coming up to).

Since the above is relatively an unimportant fact (although on any one hand it could be crucial, but that appears to be random) don’t fret nor worry just use good judgment.

All factors regarding details are not nearly important enough to try and outguess lady luck.

I, however, do recommend 2 way Stayman instead of transfers and that fact alone is, at least to me, worthy of consideration rather than the popular choice of simple Stayman and Transfers.

Good luck and try and not sweat the small stuff. Normally the 1NT opener will have at least as good a hand (complete with tenaces, AQ, KJ, or a solitary K for example) as his partner.

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Hi Part Time 2559,

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Thanks again!