Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 26th, 2017

None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowledge himself in an error.

Benjamin Franklin

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


Reading through the columns of the late Omar Sharif I spotted this confession from the Macallan Invitation Pairs tournament. Omar played this board against Nicola Smith and Pat Davies, who eventually finished second – probably the best performance by a Ladies Pair in any invitation pairs event.

Against three no-trump Smith led the spade jack, ducked to Omar’s king. Sharif led a club to the ace, and a second club. Smith ducked this trick, and took the next club as Davies pitched two spades. At this point it was obvious to West to switch to a heart, and that defeated the hand.

It was only later that declarer realized what he could have done. If he crosses to dummy with a diamond at trick two, to play a club to the jack, it would have been nearly impossible to duck this trick. Now the shift to a heart would have been that much more difficult, since West would not have seen a discard from her partner.

By contrast, when I declared three no-trump against Sabine Auken and Daniela von Arnim, I received the same spade lead, but Auken astutely won her ace and shifted to hearts.

I won the third round of hearts, and decided that East appeared to have nine cards in the majors, which made her partner more likely to have club length. So I crossed to hand with a spade, to run the club jack. I repeated the finesse in that suit, and now could pick up the clubs for five tricks, to make my contract.

This is tricky, since many play two-level responses in a new suit here as non-forcing. But if you redouble you can next bid spades, no matter how many hearts the opponents bid. Equally, a jump to two no-trump shows a limit raise or better. Even though that normally shows four trump, your unbalanced hand makes that action sensible. A splinter jump to four hearts would guarantee four trump.


♠ K Q 3
 K 7 5 3
♣ K J 10 8 6
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♠ Dbl.

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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


TedFebruary 9th, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

Did East duck and encourage spades at trick 1? The spade suit would block even if West held J10x. If she didn’t encourage, then crossing to the DA to lead a club would seem to make the heart shift very reasonable whether partner had signaled or not.

On BWTA if the auction had begun

P 1H Dbl

and South’s major holdings are reversed, how would you bid this hand when the opponents have the spade suit?

bobby wolffFebruary 9th, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Hi Ted,

Yes, all indications suggest to the defense, that either hand should switch to hearts as long as East doesn’t signal a spade continuation. The above caveat only proves the flexibility of what it takes to do well in bridge. At first and before the opening lead East should be at least satisfied with a spade lead from partner. However, after seeing the dummy, realizing the final contract, understanding the timing involved (suit establishment on offense, and taking tricks on defense) both defenders should look toward hearts for potential weakness, and only a high spade by East should sabotage that effort (since while holding AQxxx by East, surely declarer would then duck the first spade.

Playing top bridge is a continual battle of practical application of logic (declarer seeking the best way to make his contract), together with the defense carefully examining the physical evidence (cards played) and the inferential tells of who bid what or if.

In answer to your BWTA question, I would bid the same way, probably hoping to buy the hand at 4 hearts, but if the opponent’s bid to 4 spades, merely double them and hope they did the wrong thing (either down too many tricks, or finding out that 4 hearts, magically for your side, will not make).

It is important to learn that while competing, particularly against solid opponents, all one could and should do, is not worry about what choices the defense are going to make, but rather insure bidding one’s hand the most descriptive way so that the evil word, unilateral, is not exercised by either partner on your side.

The above is time honored and, at least up to now, though many “busy” very good players indulge in all kinds of tricky ways to attempt to fool their opponents, it is rare when the best players are competing , that “down the middle” is not the best strategy.

Patrick CheuFebruary 9th, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Hi Bobby,It is still possible for East to have QC single or Qx and four hearts,it just goes to show, a fine line between success and failing,you make 3N+1 as you duck two hearts..but your thought process was the key..regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffFebruary 9th, 2017 at 10:32 pm

Hi Patrick,

No doubt, right on all counts. When play is complete, all one involved has left is its memory.

And when the singleton or doubleton queen of clubs is still possible in the East hand, the declarer then loses to her, mixed emotion is always the result. Operation successful, but the patient died.

Easier to talk about, then to experience. Obviously both have happened to me and others in bridge many times. The key and thus salve for the sad times is nothing more than the living of a long life, “treat those two imposters, success and failure, just the same.”

With apologies to Mr. Rudyard Kipling for recounting my favorite all time quote from “If”. (with a few extra words).

Mircea1February 10th, 2017 at 5:50 pm

Hi Bobby,

So what you’re saying is that because with these cards in the club suit you cannot afford to play the king first, if East turns up with Q(x) in that suit you just shrug it off and move on? In trying to find the bad guys’ distribution, how much value do you put on their count signals?

bobby wolffFebruary 12th, 2017 at 12:40 am

Hi Mircea1,

Yes, since being able to pick up Qxxx in the West hand requires a first round finesse, thus no safety play of the king first from his hand is given.

All any player, at every level of play, can do is at least attempt to make the play which has the greatest chance of success. Since East, the opening bidder had shown length in spades and likely at least 3 hearts it certainly appeared that West had the club length, therefore the first round finesse only loses to the singleton Q but not to any other of the four clubs out.

No doubt, going set on a game or slam hand which could be made is never a good feeling, but it is very much a part of the game. To be a winning player one must learn to (as you say) just shrug it off and go on to the next hand, otherwise no player, regardless of his latent talent, will succeed, since competitive bridge is very much an up and down game and needs every aspiring player to give his all, regardless of past results which will never change.

Sizing up the opponents and when the ones you are now playing need to give signals to partner is the difference of when to believe them or not. In the ordinary course of declaring, all very good opponents will not make it easy for the declarer to guess cards well.

Knowing that from the beginning allows a really good declarer to one up some less experienced defenders, who are only trying to be a good partner to their side, but in reality help the opponents more than they help themselves.

No iron clad rules, only common sense, which is so very important when two very good partnerships engage in a bridge battle.