Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 31st, 2016

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

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



Today’s deal saw a top class pair miss a spectacularly challenging defense; can you do better?

Against four hearts West began with a top diamond, planning a heart shift if diamonds appeared unpromising. When East echoed in diamonds, West led out two more top diamonds, assuming that East might not encourage diamonds if he did not want his partner to lead a third round of the suit.

If dummy had ruffed low, East would have overruffed and returned a trump, taking out dummy’s sole entry before the hearts could be unblocked. Discarding from dummy would be no better, for East could then pitch a club, and ruff the third round of clubs, leaving South a trick short.

Accordingly, South ruffed in with dummy’s spade king and East discarded. Now declarer drew two rounds of trump with the ace and queen, cashed the club ace and exited with the spade two to endplay East for either a club discard or a lead away from the heart king.

Could, or should, East have done better? South is surely marked with his actual spade holding and the missing aces. The only way the contract can be in jeopardy is if the clubs are blocked, in which case East can see the looming endplay.

East must not only underruff with the jack when the spade king is played, he must follow up by playing the spade 10 on the first round of trump. Now declarer will finish a trick short. If you found this defense, congratulations – this might be the hardest problem of the year!

While double would be take-out here, and your hand is not the classical shape for this action, the best way to set up a game force and show spades is to double then rebid your suit. Since you would bid a direct two or three spades with a limited hand, this is how to force to game.


♠ A Q 8 7 6 2
 A 5 3
 6 5 2
♣ A
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 ♠ Dbl. 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


A.V.Ramana RaoJanuary 14th, 2017 at 11:23 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
And if any east who found the brilliant defense should thank his partner for possessing that crucial nine of heart.. If that card happens to be in any otherhand with west having a low
Heart, declarer can still prevail

bobby wolffJanuary 14th, 2017 at 5:57 pm


Furthermore and to your testimonial, both the brilliance of declarer to inspect his realistic chances and find the likely winning line and, of course, the even more difficult task, IMO of East thwarting that effort, is precisely why our game should be called (and remembered) as the best ever mentally challenging competition in existence.

Other very intelligent individuals are constantly advocating to change this bridge rule or that (usually in favor of adding various destructive bidding, but meaningless in itself), and again IMO resulting in mostly direct harm to the game, by forcing all who play it, to totally revise their up to now thinking as to specifically the best way to fight that foe.

Our game itself has enough problems in playing it well, and in a much more traditional manner, to even begin to consider, much less put into effect, additional roadblocks in the name of finding different alien winners than ones who are now on top.

BTW, you meant spades not hearts, but in no way did that detract from your heartfelt opinion.

Much thanks for writing.

jim2January 15th, 2017 at 1:38 am

In BWTA, what would 3H by South mean?

David WarheitJanuary 15th, 2017 at 4:09 am

Your comment to AVRR is not correct. East’s dumping of the trump J10 would fail if W had specifically the S32, otherwise W need not possess the 9. If, however, S had HA9x, he could, but not necessarily would, endplay E after ruffing the 3d D, drawing trump, cashing the CA, and then leading the H9, ducking in dummy, and endplaying E.

bobby wolffJanuary 15th, 2017 at 5:57 am

Hi Jim2,

What it would mean is a game force and asking partner for more description (3 spades or doubleton honor even perhaps Jx, especially if no better choice was thought to be available.
Perhaps s. Jx, h. xx, d. AQJxx, c. KJxx.

I do not cotton to the total TO nature of double, but those modernists who do, like to live on the edge and likely prefer partner to make the last mistake, not themselves.

Obviously double will sometimes result in defending and if so this time, my defense is more than ample, especially if partner has a singleton spade, making me somewhat skeptical about criticizing those who use that tool often.

bobby wolffJanuary 15th, 2017 at 6:11 am

Hi David,

This hand apparently was real, but East neglected to defend in a winning way.

It would indeed be sad if partner was dealt the 32 of spades, since the exact ending suggested, caught my eye as representing bridge at its hoped for best, and I believe one which could very well occur, but only by an East who was quite good and, of course, wide awake.

jim2January 15th, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Thank you — I would have bid 3H, that’s why I asked. One bid I would NOT have made was double.

bobby wolffJanuary 15th, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

While the world's major very popular competitions, mostly physical, but sometimes mental such as chess, poker and bridge, the strategies remain mostly the same, except to cater to what I consider, slight rule changes such as the three point shot in basketball, penalties in American football (pass interference in college, 2 point option for extra points and increased distances in the pros when kicking them, various reductions in major penalties from 15 yards to 10, balk rule and, of course, the designated hitter in baseball).

While bridge and chess have traditionally stayed the same (bridge for 90 years, chess for longer), except for hoped for positive changes in more accurate bridge systems in bidding reaching the right contracts and legal signals on defense (also keeping firmly in mind the table ethics required, especially in watching over consistent tempo when making them). Poker has added new variations of competitions starting from just "draw" but then expanding to many variations, all with static basic rules on what hands outrank others, but different rules on presentation which offer change based on individual preference, but still keeping alive what made all games, physical or mental, mentioned above, very popular with a small amount of discord, but nothing, at least in my eyes, much too radical to accept and therefore condone.

Therefore, the current high-level bidding mechanism, the use of double in competitive auctions, is thought of by some high-level players (probably most) as better off to remain flexible instead of the original, many years back) always penalty, through the change to take-out but only in specific situations to now being used, primarily for take-out, but leaving it up to each partnership to specify exactly, or close, when to differentiate.

Since the original use of either penalty or take-out involved mostly completely opposite type hands (defense oriented, often trump stacks, as against offense, a known trump fit) that distinction needed to be clear, but again at the highest level those players feel that frequency of occurrence (opponents finding a trump fit or not) is enough evidence to allow experienced and talented partnerships to determine when double can be used successfully either way.

Very tenuous and thus dangerous for players in their first few years of learning the game, but still well worth thinking about what other roosters in the bridge barnyard are thinking about and, even more importantly, what they are trying to accomplish, simply a better way to convey constructive bidding, by having another weapon at their disposal.

Since I have not had enough current experience in that barnyard I am reluctant to either condemn nor approve this above disclosure for others who, for one reason or another, share my concerns and likely positive experiences of dealing with its demons.

Until then, I agree with you that neither would I, have made that double.

Judy WolffJanuary 16th, 2017 at 10:31 pm

Hi to all of Bobby’s loyal readers: We are both in a quandary as to what has caused the absence of the Monday column. We were told it was a minor glitch and I will be back in touch when we learn more!