Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 27th, 2016

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

George Orwell

S North
None ♠ A J 8 2
 Q 4 3
 K 7 4
♣ A K J
West East
♠ 9 4
 9 8 6 5
 Q 10 5 3 2
♣ 9 8
♠ 7 3
 K 10 7
 J 9 8
♣ Q 10 7 6 4
♠ K Q 10 6 5
 A J 2
 A 6
♣ 5 3 2
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 2 NT* Pass
3 NT Pass 6 ♠ All pass

*Game-forcing with spades


Today’s deal proved to be the critical difference in a close loss I suffered in a national knock-out match. My first reaction was that my teammate had been unlucky, in that his counterpart had been given a nudge in the right direction. But I realized later that luck had very little to do with it.

What happened was that both tables reached slam, but against my teammate a low diamond was led. Declarer won and drew trumps, ending in hand. Then he took a club finesse and when it lost he was doomed to defeat.

In the other room West led the heart nine against the slam. It was now easy for declarer to win the heart jack, draw trump and cash the diamond ace and king. Then he ruffed a diamond to hand and played ace and another heart. East could win the trick, but then had to lead a club into the tenace, and that was the 12th trick.

The hand is something of an optical illusion, though. It might look as if the contract hinged on one of the club or heart finesses working, but the heart finesse on its own is not enough to make the slam. The club finesse IS enough to make the slam though. So just focus on making the slam when the club finesse loses. You can never do so if the heart finesse also fails, but if you take the heart finesse and it succeeds, the endplay on East means you do not need the club finesse to work.

You are far too good to pass, of course. You have two sensible options: these are to overcall one no-trump, which shows a balanced 18-19, or you can double for take-out. I’m torn here; the no-trump call is more descriptive given your honor structure, but slightly more dangerous. Since I have lived (and occasionally died) by the motto “Too dangerous is no excuse” I’ll bid one no-trump.


♠ A J 8 2
 Q 4 3
 K 7 4
♣ A K J
South West North East
1 ♣ Dbl. Pass 1

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 ClimieJune 10th, 2016 at 11:26 am

Hi Bobby,
A very good hand today in terms of calm and clear thinking – I must try it some time. The club finesse first is terrifyingly committal, though, although there is another successful option as the cards lie. Draw trumps, eliminate diamonds and play AKJ of clubs. I'm not suggesting it is sensible unless (say) West had led the C9 at trick 1 when the location of a different key card is then exposed and you have to bank on the heart finesse after the endplay.
On the famous quote, though, I came up with a variant after a bad day in the office – all companies are equal but some are less equal than others. To be fair, I've done contract work for many different companies over the last 18 years and have realised that all companies are less equal than others at least in some respect. Even the better ones will have some maddening aspect which feels like a stone in a shoe.

bobby wolffJune 10th, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Hi Iain,

Likely you have hit why certain “famous quotes” are equal, but some are “more equal” than others.

The application to life in general takes over and “mimics” the views and feelings of others and this one by the famous author. George Orwell, has won a place in our hearts, if only for it being slightly absurd.

Especially in the playing of bridge, when one blithely states, unless he has “walked the walk”, certainly not just “talked the talk”, the implication that two different lines of play such as the one you mentioned is not equal, unless, as you correctly mention, the nine of clubs instead of the nine of hearts was led.

Then add the pertinence of which nine was actually led, making the correct play very obvious by the overwhelming accrued evidence.

The above is also applicable in many thought to be problems and solutions in bridge, until all the evidence gathered, before the defining moment is discovered. Only then does the great player apply his detective work to determine what needs to be done to be successful.

Maybe George Orwell was a bridge player?

Jeff SJune 10th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Came across an interesting hand today in another column:

North (Dealer) AQ964 KJ 85 QT53

East KJT73 Q64 J732 2

South 8 AT97532 A4 876

West 52 8 KQT96 AKJ94

Bidding: 1S-P-2H-2NT-P-3D-3H-P-4H-DBL-All pass

with 2NT showing at least 5-5 in the minors

West led the AC, then switched to the KD, taken by South. With a pretty good blueprint at this point, S led a heart to the K, finessed the J, cashed the AS, trumped a spade, drew the last trump and led a club towards the Q to bring home the contract.

The writer now stated that the only winning defense was to shift to a low club at trick 2 trumped by East who leads a diamond back and ultimately the defense takes four tricks.

My question is about the writer’s statement that leading three clubs off the top would not have defeated the contract as the QC would still be the 10th trick. I just can’t see it so I am hoping someone here can help me out. It seems to me that after East trumps the third club and returns a diamond to the A, south can again cross the KH, finesse the JH, lead AS and another spade to draw the last trump, but then does not have a way back to the dummy to cash the QC. And leading the QC while still in dummy (either before or after the AS is played) seems to fail because East ruffs in and is over-ruffed, but now South never has a chance to discard his diamond loser.

Am I missing something?

Thanks for the help!

TedJune 10th, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Hi Jeff S

In case you didn’t see it since your post, once East ruffs, he has only two trump left, so the trump finesse is unnecessary.

jim2June 10th, 2016 at 8:48 pm

Jeff S –

If East ruffs, declarer no longer needs the trump finesse and can go AH, KH and is on the board for the QC.

jim2June 10th, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Oops, did not see Ted had beat me to it. 🙁

bobby wolffJune 11th, 2016 at 7:05 am

Hi Jeff S,

Just got home from a bridge session and am reading about your hand.

Of course Ted & Jim2 spotted what you did miss, which is nothing for you to worry about, only to learn from.

With bridge and the path to both remember hands and keep up with the ever changing notion of counting all the suits, without a constant practice of doing it, there will always be a ceiling to which you will not be able to rise above.

However, with experience and with at least a modicum of numeracy talent (the ability to keep up with all four hands, while at the table) it will become necessary for you to ultimately arrive at that station.

A short cut description is the ability to count to thirteen in all four suits, so that, believe it or not, with the concentration expended you and your partner should be able to go over most of the hands played that session and remember most of the distributions until it becomes second nature.

Sure it will take time and there will be setbacks, but without training your concentration you will not have a ghost of a chance to rise to the bridge player you could become.

Hopefully you will take the above words to heart, and just, instead of learning conventions and reading about interesting hands, rather do very hard work such as devoting your mind to what you (and so many others) fail to do, work very hard trying to remember the hand you have just played, and even without ever just later looking at your partner’s hand you will be able to call off his distribution plus his significant high cards.

Not tomorrow but in a few months it will happen, only if your goal is to accomplish it.

Jeff SJune 12th, 2016 at 5:40 am

That’s why I love this column – so many helpful people with, of course, our gracious host setting the tone. Thanks, everyone!

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