Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.

Oscar Wilde

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


The French were one of the teams who were invited at very short notice to fill the gaps in the Bermuda Bowl in Chennai last October, after the cheating scandals broke. They not only played well to reach the knockout phase, they very nearly defeated the eventual winners in the quarter-finals.

On this deal from the round robin Godefroy de Tessieres as South had made 11 tricks in three no-trump on the lead of the diamond 10. Declarer had plenty of time to set up hearts for three tricks, and when he cashed out the clubs from the top he could drop the club queen, and lose just the two hearts.

The fireworks went off in the other room though. Here West, Thomas Bessis obediently led his partner’s suit, which went to Frederick Volcker’s 10, as declarer played low. Declarer won the next spade with his queen, crossed to dummy with the diamond jack and played a low heart to his queen. When Bessis followed low without a quiver, declarer ducked a heart to East, who now cleared the spades.

At this point can you blame declarer — who was convinced that East still had the heart ace as an entry for his spades, for falling back on Plan B? When he finessed the club jack, looking for his ninth trick from that suit, this proved to be the entry to East for the spades. Three no-trump was two down, and Bessis’s brilliant maneuver was good for a huge pick-up for France.

In the context of what you have shown already, it looks right to me to double two diamonds, very much suggesting this pattern. You might ask where the spades have gone, and what you plan to do if the opponents run to two spades. I say sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


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

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 ClimieOctober 25th, 2016 at 9:50 am

Hi Bobby,

I recall defending a 3NT some months ago and dummy had a similar heart holding (K98xx) playing a heart to the queen. I ducked smoothly, placing declarer with Q10 or QJ on the bidding But declarer who had HQx promptly played a heart to the K and a third heart. I complimented him on not being fooled while partner helpfully pointed out that we’d have got another trick if I’d taken the queen. So.e fell on stony ground as the parable says; you need to pick your potential victim.

As someone said about poker – there are limits to bluffing, if one of those guys in button down shirts has got a good hand he’ll just be too curious. Even at lower levels, psychology matters.



David WarheitOctober 25th, 2016 at 10:04 am

On BWA, the opponents obviously have a 9-card spade fit, but they don’t know it yet. So, if S doubles 2D, that’s as good as telling them about their great fit. So, as S, I bid 3C. Partner obviously has 3S & no more than 2H, so the chances he doesn’t have at least 4C are very very small, and now for the opponents to find their spade fit, the chances have fallen close to zero.

Iain ClimieOctober 25th, 2016 at 11:28 am

Hi Bobby, David,

I like David’s idea but what exactly is going on here with spades? Has partner suppressed SJ9xx or SA432 on the basis that we are playing Flannery or that South would reverse with a good 4-5? East has bid 2D but not doubled, so is presumably not 4S & 5D but might be 3S and 5D or 4S and 6D, although didn’t bid over 1N – but then West didn’t find a WJO or overcall of 1S over 1H. Partner presumably has a moderate hand at very best – say an 8 count – and hasn’t given false preference so has at least 4C if he has 2H. Could this be the sort of hand where the oppo have walked into big trouble even if they run to spades, at least on a trump lead? Where are they going to get any tricks from?

Any thoughts on typical hands round the table, and whether taking the axe to 2S (at pairs) would be sensible?



jim2October 25th, 2016 at 1:24 pm

In BWTA, sure it’s a made-up hand, but at the table I would suspect Flannery and that North is 4-2-3-4 with 7 HCPs and was prepared to correct to 2H over 2D.

That would leave E-W to split 18 HCPs, possibly with West 5-3-2-3 and 8 HCPs and East 3-3-5-2 and 10 HCPs.

I think I would either pass or bid 3C. If we were not playing Flannery, I might be more inclined to pass. Certainly in that situation I would not double, as the opponents would also know North did not have four spades and could equally well do the math should I double to show this distribution. Our World Champion Host is far bolder than timid I in this case.

slarOctober 25th, 2016 at 2:26 pm

I need to share BWTA with my partners. Clearly you think that double is penalty-oriented but I think my partners would take it as takeout-oriented, maybe showing 4=5=0=4 distribution.

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Hi Iain, David & Jim2,

Everyone is right, no one is wrong, so oh what a Merry Christmas we will have. However, in truth, the American Halloween is about to occur where the scary Goblins and the Wicked Witches rule supreme and danger is in the air.

Yes, it does look like partner has chosen not to respond one spade with only four, a practice which has over a one heart opening bid by partner, and even at my local bridge club, has become quite commonplace.

However, and revisiting South’s 3rd round bidding decision, when RHO has entered with 2 diamonds, perhaps to keep LHO from sliding with his potential unbid (likely weak), five or six card spade suit, I prefer, in deference to the valid inferences by all of you, to rebid 3 clubs in order not to give West a more or less free 2 spade correction.

However, there might be one exception to that thought, when East is thought to be the dogmatic decision maker in the opposing partnership, then the double makes more sense, since West will then allow West to take his medicine rather than overrule.

However thanks to all three of you for applying very high-level reasoning to specific bidding problems, taking into consideration the whole bidding sequence, not just the last bid made.

After all, what you three espouse, is the very essence of what our cerebral game is supposed to be about and almost never, do any of you disappoint.

And finally to Iain on his intended deception (ducking the ace when declarer led to his queen). More years ago than I can count that ploy would never have worked against one of my partners in that forever ago.

Why, you might ask? Simply because partner was a believer in playing all of her high cards as early in the hand as possible, no doubt reasoning that the queen has more of a chance to win the trick than does the ten (or, of course even more so the nine, because there are just fewer cards, at large, which are higher).

In those times many would say, “Right with Eversharp” to coin an “of the day” advertising slogan.

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Oops, in the middle the second West should be East.

Iain will agree that where is Judy when we need her!

Jeff SOctober 25th, 2016 at 2:59 pm

I think I’d be in the same boat as slar’s partners on this one – I’m pretty sure that without advance discussion, I would read the double as short diamonds, say diamonds and spades reversed in the hand given, asking me to bid something. So, a hand that is instructive on a second level as well.

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Hi Slar,

Your partnerships seem to offer more takeouts than a “fast food restaurant”.

It has just become too far for doubles to always be an invitation for partner to make the next decision, rather than to let the real meaning of what double sounds like. “Opponent, you have just made a mistake”!

However, far be it for me to stand in the way of what partners have agreed on as to the meanings of bids. Though, methinks much thought needs to be given to, at the very least, calibrating the exact meanings of doubles to fit the frequency of most occurring situations and, at least to me, there is a time to bid on, but also a time, obviously more than your group think, to make those aggressive opponents pay for exercising their sometimes callous bridge freedom to speak.

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Your corroboration with Slar is beginning to convince me that my thoughts have already or perhaps just becoming, an endangered species.

Thanks for your truths, but my salvation may now only lie in your and Slar’s current opinions a trendy one which will eventually go out with the morning milkman. However, there is perhaps a real chance that I, instead, am the dinosaur, and if so, I prefer not to be a carnivirorus one

However I have been wrong before and might be again, but if so, power to bridge and its flexible thinking. Gin Rummy someone, anyone?

A V Ramana RaoOctober 25th, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff
While the defense needs to be appreciated, but the after the Queen of hearts held, perhaps South should play club A And K and lead a diamond to hand to know East’s hand. If east follows to both minors, twelve of his cards are accounted. South can prevail by leading a club towards J. If east fails to follow second round of clubs, then too leading a club towards J ensures ninth trick . declarer goes down in the unlikely event of east having Four clubs to Queen and ten and void in diamonds and also doubleton A of hearts . However, in this hand, the Queen of clubs appears on second round making life easy fo declarer

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2016 at 4:23 pm


Thanks for an original line of play. However after East has shown such long spades, the club finesse appears a very real possibility to score up nine tricks in case of sour distribution of the other suits. Therefore, to merely cash the AK of clubs seems with other layouts, not the best play to make here.

However, since the only real source of success is making a hand which could be made, your line would work. However, to theoretically call it the best line or only very close to being, would not fit that designation, at least IMO.

Thanks for writing.

jim2October 25th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Now that our serious discussions are done, I encountered this exact deal during last year’s Mud Cup, as the final hand of the event. I sat South and North “corrected” my 3N to 4S.

The opening lead was the JS. I put down my hand, partner fainted, and the director directed me to declare as the EMTs wheeled him away. I picked up partner’s hand and looked after the stretcher, wondering if I could catch them before they reached the ambulance and finish him off myself!

The problem was that this was Board-a-Match and the enemy partnership in the other room would obviously play this in 3N. They weren’t that good, but they’d make at least four. That meant I needed 11 tricks.

I could see two chances. East would need to have either J10 doubleton of hearts or Q10 doubleton of clubs. Both were so unlikely that I looked for some other chance. Then I saw that if the spade finesse won, I needed only to find the QC, so I played the QS and heaved a sigh of relief when it held.

I led a heart toward the KH and it held, but the appearance of the 8H from East meant no J10 doubleton. So I led another heart, covered the JH with the queen, losing to the AH. To my surprise, West returned the 10D instead of a spade. I won and cleared trump, West returning another diamond. I won and played off winners, ending in the South hand.

In the 3-card ending, North had the last trump and the KJ of clubs. The South hand was on lead with a small spade and two small clubs.

East was known to have two spades and a club, and West was known to have a diamond and two clubs. So, the finesse seemed slightly better. However, the E-W weak two-bids were 6-10 HCPs and I had seen only 5, but maybe the seventh spade had sufficed.

More telling was that the West’s spade singleton meant that the other declarer in 3N would probably still have his spade stopper at the same point, and so would finesse.

I played the king, won the board, but still nearly strangled that guy at the hospital.

jim2October 25th, 2016 at 10:54 pm

I meant “corrected to 4H.”

bobby wolffOctober 26th, 2016 at 4:18 am

Hi Jim2,

It is usually considered poor taste to strangle someone, especially a fellow bridge player, but choosing a hospital to do it, seems to be somewhat considerate, especially if good bridge players were on the grand jury, certain to declare your actions, justifiable homicide, for removing 3NT to 4 hearts.

A bridge kibitzer can only take so much, and his choice of contract was bad enough, but what about the turn of events which caused you to have to declare for him.

BTW, you do not know what you missed when you hurried to the hospital to confront your friend. Following that tournament session, your hosts had served delicious mudburgers, to which you never got a bite. PS, the really bad news is that, after that feast, almost no one showed up the next day for the scheduled event.

Oh well, Dame Fortune (DF) must have picked up the byplay since the queen of clubs was originally in the West hand, but by the time you guessed it, it had segued to East.

However, there is an unhappy part of the ending since DF lost her union card of belonging to the TOCM TM chapter when she allowed the charter member of TOCM to correctly guess where any crucial card is ever lurking.

Win some, lose some, but that itself is several steps up, from your usual fate.

jim2October 26th, 2016 at 11:57 am

Ah, Dear Host! Kind of you to take notice of another of my poor plights.

There was, of course, no guess for the QC. If Her Majesty were in the West hand, we would always lose the board even if I guessed to finesse and made 11 tricks thereby because the other declarer in 3N would have the same 11 tricks and scoring 10 points more for it.

bobby wolffOctober 26th, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Hi Jim2,

It is always poor policy to follow correct bridge strategy when one’s line can be considered inferior, but still emerging victorious.

The mere fact that you won the hand, or worse, won the tournament because of it, will, no doubt, leave you on a mountain, all alone, to merely ponder what you did wrong.

The correct protocol, especially while contesting high-level bridge, is to lose, but always doing so with honor, and intellectually being able to truthfully say, “I took the right percentage line and damn the result, but just knowing I played it correctly, is more than enough to satisfy my goal”.

I always try and threaten my worthy opponents with the above speech, but it is like talking to the trees. They don’t listen to me!

It is now time to “Paint Your Wagon”.