Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

Measuring Safety Performance by the number of injuries you have is like measuring parenting by the number of smacks you give.

Dr. Robert Long

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




The first round of the 2016 Vanderbilt Knockout Teams produced an intriguing example of the unsafety play.

You declare four spades on a low diamond lead, after an artificial auction has made South declarer. You might reject the finesse at trick one, I suppose. But you don’t. The diamond goes to the 10 and your queen. With overtricks on the horizon it would be easy to relax – but don’t!

At the table, declarer carefully cashed the spade ace to guard against a 4-0 trump break, Success! West had all four missing spades. A spade to the 10 and queen was followed by a club to the ace and another club to the queen.

East won the club king and got out with a heart to South’s ace. A heart ruff was followed by a club ruff by South. Disaster! West overruffed and exited in hearts.

Now, even if the diamond finesse was working, declarer couldn’t take it. But imagine the diamond finesse is wrong, the spades are 4-0, the clubs 5-2 offside. You are still cold!

Win the diamond queen, cash the spade king to find the bad news (the “safety” unsafety play). Then play the club ace and another club to the queen and king. Win the heart return, cross to the diamond ace and ruff a club with the spade nine.

West overruffs and the defense have a diamond to cash, but they can’t stop you ruffing a club with the spade ace, then finessing in trumps for 10 tricks.

When the opponents preempt after an opening and response, opener can be put under great pressure, since he won’t have room to show all possible hands. His double here is typically extra values, unable to raise partner, bid no-trump, bid a new suit or rebid one’s own suit. You too have a good hand. I’d guess it was right to bid four spades now, implicitly agreeing clubs and promising a spade control.


♠ —
 K J 9 6 5
 K 10 4
♣ K 10 9 6 5
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 3 ♠ Dbl. 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


Patrick CheuSeptember 3rd, 2016 at 11:38 pm

Hi Bobby,What an interesting hand,would have been interesting to know why declarer chose to play trumps that way..there were no bidding clues.. question is would you have played it that way..regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffSeptember 4th, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Hi Patrick,

First, I would like to think that I would have adopted the winning line, if, in fact, I would have been declarer.

Flexibility is an important key, especially among elite declarers. While normally the key to playing this particular trump suit is to first play the honor from the short hand (South) before getting the news about all four trumps in one hand, but, at least theoretically in the right hand in order to draw them without loss.

However, as we have seen with the result, we could have afforded a lost trump trick if we had been enabled to ruff clubs peaceably in the closed hand. Therefore if East, not West, had been the one with all four trumps we could have managed to declare our spade game successfully, instead of disastrously.

BTW, it is normal for East to insert the diamond ten (while also holding the king) at trick one, just in case of partner, not declarer, holding the queen. Thus, not too much inference should then be drawn, as to who had the king, if indeed, it became a factor.

Obviously all readers should be able to see what happened here. The declarer made the right so-called safety play (which turned out to be a non-safety one) only because of lack of overall planning by the declarer.

Even gifted players sometimes fall victim to lack of versatility with our great game. In turn it does not speak favorably in terms of less than circumspect play, but does, in fact, tend to speak well of our underestimated and always challenging, great game.