Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.

Beyonce Knowles

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

*Forcing spade raise


Today’s deal was recently voted the best played hand of 2011. Geir Helgemo was at the helm, a man who would be pretty close to the top of most people’s list of world’s best declarers.

After the two-suited overcall South heard his partner show short clubs. He asked for keycards, and North treated his fifth spade as the queen, making it easy for Geir to bid the grand slam.

When West led the club king, East followed with the jack. With the sight of all four hands can you see how Helgemo made his contract?

Helgemo reasoned that West rated to be 5-6, and that he also rated to have two diamonds – since East might have bid an eight-card diamond suit. So he won the club ace, cashed the heart ace, then the diamond king and ace, and the heart king. He next played the spade nine from dummy and ran it!

You might wonder how all this maneuvering was going to benefit him, but watch the magician at work. After a spade to the jack, he now played the spade king, and by virtue of the earlier trump finesse he was now in position to duck or overtake in dummy depending on West’s play. This spectacular maneuver is called an Entry-Shifting Squeeze.

If West had discarded a club, Helgemo would have ducked in dummy, after which he could ruff two clubs, setting up the fifth club in hand. If West had thrown a heart, declarer would have overtaken with the ace and been able to set up the long heart.

A once promising hand has suddenly turned to dust and ashes. The huge misfit suggests that a call of two no-trump is enough. If you do not have a fit, there is no reason to assume your side can make game, unless partner produces extra values. Some people play three hearts here as invitational with both majors; even if you do, I’d prefer better spots in my long suits.


♠ A 9 7 4 3
 K 8 7 6 3
 A 6
♣ 7
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣ 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


Jeff SSeptember 17th, 2016 at 2:33 pm

“Spectacular” was exactly the right word for that maneuver.

Not that I see any reason for E to consider it, but could he have broken it up by covering the 9S? W would still have to work out what to keep depending on the 3rd spade lead, but it looks like S would have to commit himself to one hand or the other before W discards.

Then maybe you’d be writing about the spectacular defense! Or would S have still been able to get home?

Bobby WolffSeptember 17th, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Anyway, but at first glance, it appears you are correct as to the winning defense. And although covering the nine of spades by East, certainly appears counter intuitive, but if Geir Helgemo can play that magnificent way, East certainly has the right to thwart him.

No doubt, while not attesting to its authenticity, but only by its apparently deserved award winning achievement represents the very best in both technical bridge knowledge and simply card reading, based on the bidding.

In addition to the bridge knowledge necessary, a declarer must also have the fortitude to rely on his convictions of what this vulnerable overcall by West needs to have and then to rely on his judgment to produce.

However one thinks about its possibilities, we all must stand in awe of this hand being scored up.

Thanks for taking your time to offer this keen analysis.

David WarheitSeptember 17th, 2016 at 5:23 pm

If E covers the S9 with the Q, S wins the SK, cashes the SJ, and then leads the S10 and waits to se what W discards to decide whether to overtake with the SA or not. It is exactly the same ending as was reached by Mr. Helgemo.

Iain ClimieSeptember 17th, 2016 at 7:45 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many years ago I remember playing against Zia Mahmood who is incredibly quick as a declarer – a seemingly natural talent but doubtless honed by years of study and concentration. Other players are often far more studied and deliberatley analytical, although some can take it to extremes. What would your recommended approach be for an aspiring player – or should he / she just stick with what works best for them, perhaps even varying it against the opposition? Against the Zias of this world (charming though he was), trying to keep up seems a recipe for blunders but slow down and he’ll realise why.

Out of interest, which category does Mr. Helgemo fall into?



Iain ClimieSeptember 17th, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Also, readers may like page 4 of this bulletin from Poland and the world championships:

I suspect you’ve already seen it, Bobby!

Lee McGovernSeptember 18th, 2016 at 6:48 am

Interesting quote source today

Bobby WolffSeptember 18th, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Hi David, Iain, and Lee,

Yes David, the endings are nearly identical and thanks fpr your analysis.

Iain, yes, Zia has been described as mercurial, and, at least to me that seems to fit. A very tough competitor who thrives on style, talent, and showmanship.

Geir Helgemo is less apparent, but when it comes to bridge, just as deadly to the opponents, and does so with a special casual
manner which belies his genius. In any way described, both the above are huge assets to bridge and deserved to always be featured which can only add to the luster of our game.

Also thanks for directing me to page 4 of the Bulletin (which I had not seen). No doubt, much of Europe (and now China) have gone far ahead of the rest of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, in furthering the glow and practical usefulness of our special game by awarding the teaching of it, in so many of their schools.

From it comes a very serious side of education for youngsters with an added dimension of constructive competition which when added to the specifics of logic, problem solving and legal partnership code language should be, and is, the spoonful of sugar which makes the medicine of teaching go down both happily and easy enough.

Reminds me of finally finding out, “Where have all the flowers gone”? That article left no doubt with me that those kids were loving the effort to be community involved and interested in other pursuits which do not require violence, unless of course, with an exception of when a partner makes a costly mistake (only kidding).

Finally Lee, yes the quote should directly apply to perfection and the playing of bridge. There is simply NO SUCH THING!

Arun G BahulkarSeptember 19th, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I thought such plays only occurred in iconic books like “Adventures in Card Play” – Geza Ottlik and Kelsey

Bobby WolffSeptember 19th, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Hi Arun,

It certainly seems so. However since, no doubt, Geir Helgemo, originally from Norway, is one of the most intuitive and thus natural declarer’s in the world so, if anyone could have played this hand, it would figure for him to be one of the few who could.

Since he won an award for doing so, everything suggests authenticity, allowing everyone else to at least aspire, to similar, or almost, feats.

What we all can do is make sure our outstanding game is perpetuated forever world wide, so that the few really gifted players can show everyone else, just how good one can become.

Thanks for writing.