Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 11th, 2016

There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

John von Neumann

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

*A raise to four spades with a side shortage


All this week’s deals come from last year’s European Open event in Tromso, Norway. Today’s deal may have the appearance of a routine four spades, but the defense led a diamond to the ace for a club shift to the king, followed by a second club. Now everything depends on the way declarer tackles the hearts after drawing trump and eliminating the minors.

There are two sensible lines: both leading the heart ace followed by a small heart, or running dummy’s heart jack initially would work here, so you might wonder why bringing home the game was worth as much as two thirds of the matchpoints. The answer is that declarer has a perfectly decent alternative line of playing for the heart king-queen to be together by tackling hearts by leading low from hand toward the 10, hoping to endplay one opponent or the other.

How to decide? If your opponents lead the diamond six to the first trick, playing 3rd/5th leads, you can build up a clear picture at the critical moment of West as 1-4-4-4 pattern. His play in clubs, diamonds and spades will strongly suggest his actual pattern. That being so, playing for a doubleton honor must be right, since West might well have led from heart king-queen at trick one.

In turn, that might encourage you as West the next time round to return the club nine at trick three. If partner isn’t ruffing the second club, your spots are irrelevant for trick-taking, but not for misleading declarer about the count on the hand.

You have four unattractive options to lead from. But East has suggested he needed help in clubs and West could not deliver the goods. My best guess would be that partner is heavy favorite to have something in this suit, so with nothing else to go on, I’ll settle for leading a club.


♠ J 7 3
 J 4
 J 8 6 3
♣ Q 9 7 2
South West North East
    Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 3 ♣
Pass 3 All 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


Lee McGovernJuly 25th, 2016 at 12:36 pm

What is your view on the Fantoni/Nunes decision:

It seems quite a lenient punishment especially when you take into account the prize money accrued and the sponsorship.

Perhaps this will not deter others from taking similar liberties in future?

bryanJuly 25th, 2016 at 2:16 pm

How do you get 1-4-4-4 pattern at critical moment? The 4 of diamonds becomes critical to the count. If instead of the 4 diamonds, had the 5 hearts. All plays by both west and east the same. (If east had led the 8 clubs as a false card, then getting count is harder as west could have a 3 card suit….)

bobbywolffJuly 25th, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Hi Lee,

Yes, from a reasonable position of what has and will do to the game which all honest players love and respect (and in many cases spend their lives doing) cheating at high-level bridge deserves nothing less, with no ifs, ands, or buts, the so-called death penalty, life with no chance of pardon and furthermore total scorn and immediately thrown out for even showing one’s face at an organized bridge tournament.

However, there is much more to be known in order to understand the complications of the issue you present. At the highest level and for the past 60+ years (since the mid 1950’s) there has been perhaps 5 to 10 times (amount guessed but basically openly confessed) bridge cheating, and even 20 years before that, money bridge players (very well known) who blatantly cheated while playing money bridge in the “coffee houses” throughout central Europe and in America in the mountains and hills of Arkansas as well as countless other venues, which, no doubt, will forever remain virtually unknown.

Add that to nefarious episodes in most every continent in the world and only then will an interested observer begin to understand the enormity of the overall problem in an attempt to first fathom and then to police and hopefully eventually, rectify the problem.

From the above information to the current perplexing WBF and EBL problem of dealing with the cheaters. There are accompanying issues concerning personal agendas (remember the leading administrators are rarely top bridge players and get their satisfaction out of making their organizations the best they can be, giving mostly fatherly love to it and treating some of their colleagues like best friends). Also, never forget the Nationalism which exists in no trump among almost all nationalities throughout the civilized world, adding to the emotion which sometimes exists in world organizations, especially when a competitive theme like what country plays better bridge, runs through the relationship.

All of the above carries with it the danger of personal bias, which provokes untold inaccuracies and therefore sadly, inequities in its execution.

The above is only explained by me as my take on why the punishments do not. such as Gilbert & Sullivan would have musically demanded, “Let the punishment fit the crime”.

Finally Lee, whether it is now realized or only will be with the passage of time, the punishment that has been given, will, indeed, make it very unpleasant for any of those miscreant cheaters to have the respect (or for that matter anything but disdain) regardless of when and if, they ever attempt to continue their bridge careers in the future.

Like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, the adulteress in “The Scarlet Letter” written around the middle 1800’s, their evil deeds will not be forgotten, however, instead of a scarlet “A” they will forever wear an ominously black “C”.

bobbywolffJuly 25th, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Hi Bryan,

All you say is true, and you are perhaps understating the opportunity for the defense to convince the declarer to go wrong.

However, since this was a “real” hand not a manufactured one, all a declarer can do, either experienced or not so, judge what to do at the death, make his decision on what he chooses to believe, considering he is aware that the worthy opponents are not his friends.

And to simply repeat what I have always maintained that when good to great players tee off against one another the great ones guess these endings to a substantially better percentage than do the wannabes, probably because of their perception of the depth of their opponents.

To quote The Raven, “Nevermore”.

Lee McGovernJuly 26th, 2016 at 6:57 am

Hi Bobby, I appreciate that very insightful feedback and it fits nicely with the historical perspective you presented in the Lone Wollf

slarJuly 26th, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Note that the ACBL took a stronger stance.

bobbywolffJuly 27th, 2016 at 7:17 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes they did, and I was particularly pleased that the Ethical Oversight Committee (EOC) was the one who did it. History will show that the original EOC was originally appointed in the middle 1980’s and was pointedly not connected to the ACBL BOD’s clearing their political bonds which could become important if an ACBL politician became the subject of an investigation and convictioon. Any resignations or deaths from that EOC would be followed by the EOC appointing their successors.

Magically in late 1996 the then President Elect for 1997 was judged unanimously guilty of a significant bridge crime by that august EOC with that BOD’s then to decide the punishment.

The Recorder who notified the BOD’s of the EOC decision was then summarily fired for whatever reason and, of course that EOC was totally disbanded. Presto, this EOC was then politically appointed, but now after some 20 years they, at least to me, proved their mettle by their firm stance.

However, I was never really worried that the USA would stand together, firmly against everything to do with cheating and cheaters and would never expect any of those who have been found guilty or will be, to likely show their face on this side of the Atlantic, at least to attend a bridge tournament.

However, since I have been wrong before, I was very happy to read their verdicts.