Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 10th, 2016

We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail.

Abraham Lincoln

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

*Short diamonds


At The Venice Cup in Chennai last October the pulsating final of the women’s match between France and USA was decided on the very final deal, with USA needing a big swing to win the match.

Against the contract of four spades both Easts led the club queen, and Benedicte Cronier of France took this with the ace to lead a spade to the jack. Disaster! The defense won and led the club jack, and dummy’s king was ruffed away. Now a heart came through, placing declarer on the horns of a dilemma. A heart finesse would restrict her heart losers to one but allow West to cash a club winner for down one. If declarer rose with the heart ace she could avoid immediate defeat but would eventually be left with two hearts to lose. Either way, the contract had to fail.

That left the USA in with a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but a few moments later Tobi Sokolow followed the same line of play and France held on to win.

In retrospect one might argue that declarer should either have played trumps from the top to avoid the ruff. Or she could have taken two diamond winners at once in order to dispose of her slow club loser. Either line would have avoided the disaster that took place at the table – but there again, it was only the six-one club break that proved fatal to the line chosen. Had clubs broken in more friendly fashion, declarer’s play would have been the best one.

When dummy rates to be going down with short clubs and a three-suiter there is a lot to be said for leading trump. The philosophy of always leading trump against a three-suiter is a good one. With this trump holding you are unlikely to be doing something for declarer he cannot do for himself.


♠ J 10 9 2
 Q 7
 8 7 5 4
♣ K Q 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 NT
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2
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


David WarheitOctober 24th, 2016 at 10:25 am

The alternate line of play of playing SAJ at tricks 2 & 3 a) always works when S are 2-2, b) almost always works when an opponent has a singleton SQ or K, failing only when the given line of play also fails, and c) always works when an opponent has S singleton small, unless W has HKQ, but the given line also fails unless it is W who has the singleton S. So I disagree with your conclusion that the given line of play is better than my alternate.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I definitely agree to your analysis and thus your admonition.

In some ways and while at the table, the slightly superior line in spades of two finesses (usually wins when KQx or KQxx are onside as against specifically KQ doubleton offside) plus the sometimes complications of having enough entries to take two heart finesses (obviously necessary as a much better play than any alternative, taking care to lead a small heart from dummy first, catering to a singleton honor with East)

However David, you might sometimes forget or disregard the bridge humanics involved. Here was the final of the Venice Cup World Championships (womens, held last year in India) and two of the best women declarers in the world were on display, with this result directly determining the victor. Both took the same line, agreed inferior to the winning line, but by a paper thin margin.

No doubt, the American declarer still feels the pain of that result, so surely you understand some compassion being offered with my explanation. No doubt, even the French declarer (BTW, both ladies are superb human beings) will have more than some misgivings for not taking the better, and winning, line.

Again, yes, AOB is a bridge column, featuring reporting the results of our premier tournaments and, no doubt, credibility demands truth, but, in this case, perhaps slanted to the special circumstances.

However, thanks much for your eagle eye and your desire for accurate reporting.

Jeff SOctober 24th, 2016 at 2:56 pm

I have to admit, my eye was drawn to leading the AD/QD at tricks 2-3 to dispose of the club loser as I couldn’t see a downside where it was going to cost an otherwise makeable contract. Is playing the spades from the top a better choice?

As this was the final hand, maybe more than anything it demonstrates the toll taken in the course of a tough match. The American declarer can perhaps take some consolation that in an earlier round, she may have found the better line – but the same is true for her worthy opponent.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Hi Jeff S,

The immediate club discard before the attempt to draw trump may adversely effect the ability to take two heart finesses, playing for both an even split in hearts and for the honors to be in different hands. No doubt, neither declarer expected the cruel club break, which essentially sank the ship.

Yes, David’s line appears to be slightly better, giving up the theoretical advantage of taking two spade finesses instead of playing for spades either 2-2 or a singleton honor falling.

However, in events of that magnitude it is doubtful that either declarer was too worn out to take one line or the other, but rather directed to putting too much emphasis on the advantage of taking two spade finesses rather than just banging them down.

Also both declarers were very experienced and use to the pressure, so it is also doubtful, IMO that entered their choices.

BobliptonOctober 24th, 2016 at 9:18 pm

Given that the odds of a 6/1 split in clubs is less than 10% a priori, while the odds of both honors being banked 3/1 or 4/0 in righty’s hand are considerably higher, would have played the hands as both ladies did — which is no recommendation, since I believe they are better players than I. Also, playing the last hand of a long session, in which estimates of the position might well cause a player to swing by choosing the slightly anti-percentage play…. not to mention that players do sometimes get tired.


bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2016 at 11:24 pm

Hi Bob.

No doubt you speak the truth, or at least close to it. However there are sometimes confusing variables which, in order to be consistently accurate, would need to be directly programmed in.

It is a close proposition, likely closer than you allude, how to play nine combined trumps missing the K & Q. When you say the four outstanding trumps may be bunched 3/1 or 4/0, when they are in lefty’s hand (in the above example), you will benefit only if you consider that fact by itself.

Figuring bridge odds, while using correct percentage tables, requires fitting the solution to that specific hand, making it a very tricky business.

Add that to extraneous psychological factors, e.g how long it took the opening leader to choose his or her opening lead, and even how experienced he really is and/or did anyone hesitate during the bidding, believe it or not, enters the room, sometimes as big as an elephant!

Without explaining all the procedures, even assuming I was capable of doing so, might in itself bring on a variety of opinions among the world’s best.

Finally and of course, the state of the match in its late stages may play a part, but in truth that fact is perhaps overrated, particularly in today’s hand, since it was so close and likely all the players sitting at those tables knew it at the time.

The old saying (at least to me) is to let the “Winner Explain” which seemingly and for many years, has much logic behind it.

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