Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Against the disease of writing, one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.

Peter Abelard

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


Today’s deal might appear straightforward at teams, but at matchpoints you can imagine there would be a temptation to put your contract at risk. Let’s look at teams play. You declare four hearts on the defense of repeated club leads. You ruff the second, and I assume you cash the heart ace, with both opponents following. What would you do now? No peeking at the opponents’ cards!

If trumps are 3-2, almost any approach will lead to 10 tricks. But today, if you cross to a top diamond and take the trump finesse, West will win his doubleton queen and lead a second diamond to give his partner a ruff.

So is the solution simply to cash both top trumps? Not at all, since your secondary concern should be managing a 4-1 trump break. If you take the two top trumps and find an opponent showing out, you cannot prevent the other opponent from scoring both his small trumps, and eventually a spade as well.

So after both opponents follow to the first trump, the best line is to play a low trump from hand at trick four!

The point is that when West wins, then even if trumps are 4-1, the best he can do is play a third round of clubs. But you can simply discard a spade from hand. You can then ruff a fourth round of clubs in dummy and cross to hand with a spade to draw the remaining trumps.

While the chance of each unfriendly lie of the cards is small, why not protect against both?

Although you are at the lower end of the range for this call, this hand is clearly worth a raise to three clubs, a bid that is somewhere between a courtesy raise and a genuine invitation. The raise covers both hand types, but you can easily see that a hand 5-5 in the minors should offer decent play for 11 tricks.


♠ Q J 6 2
 6 4 3
♣ A J 7 6 2
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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1February 6th, 2018 at 10:21 am

Hi Bobby,

So, how would you play this hand at matchpoints? I guess the strength of the field would be the determining factor?

jim2February 6th, 2018 at 2:08 pm

At last year’s Slush Cup, I watched the winning declarer at the helm in six diamonds!

After ruffing the second club, declarer played two rounds of trump ending on the Board (frowning when they split 4-1). I fully expected declarer to lose a heart finesse, but the play took a strange twist. Declarer called for the 7S and covertly eyed the defenders as East played low. After winning the AS and cashing one high heart, declarer went back to the board with the closed hand’s last trump, drew trump, and called for the 10H (again, covertly eyeing the defenders).

I don’t know what declarer saw, but out came the KH! For some, I guess, bridge is an easy game.

bobbywolffFebruary 6th, 2018 at 2:39 pm

Hi Mircea1,

I will confess that I would play this hand aggressively at matchpoints and no doubt go set.

The simple rule exemplifies (this time instead in spades, rather in 4 hearts) the huge difference between the two games of matchpooints and the real game of bridge either IMPs or rubber.

Since matchpoints is simply defined by its “frequency of gain” rather than “amount of gain” principle, it is fairly obvious that:

1. scoring +450 in heart is likely to be at least 1/3 more matchpoints than +420 (with fairly normal breaks)

2. It will take a combination of Qx offside in trump and a diamond ruff available and obtained for bad luck to reign.

3. While other different heart breaks could occur, they more or less balance out with good or poor matchpoint results.

4. Finally 4 hearts IMO in a slightly above average worldwide duplicate game figures to be the contract of choice at perhaps 90% of the tables (25 combined hcps plus an 8 card major suit fit and sufficient high trumps not to mention, a looming likely key singleton (clubs).

Those facts add up to what I will brutally and perhaps not politically wise, attempt to explain. Matchpoints itself, while exciting and well worth playing cannot measure up to the better and certainly purer games of IMPs and rubber simply because playing hands safe for contract should be a prominent feature of what our challenging great overall game represents.

However, others may say, yes there is a very distinguishable difference, but that only adds to the lure of matchpoints, to which I simply strongly disagree, simply because “real bridge” as I will continue to refer to it, has always been about playing hands to make contracts, with overtricks (since only luck often determines them) are just a lackluster side issue and IMO down the list in required skill, therefore a negative in aspiring prospects to rise toward the top echelon of players.

Finally, Mircea1, I guess the strength of the field does play a minor part in making this decision, but as I said up above, since playing to win is always the major consideration in all competitive sports (even personal matchmaking) thus must be respected while competing in any competition, so down I go on this hand, but not without giving a case against so having to choose.

bobbywolffFebruary 6th, 2018 at 3:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

At least to me, your slush cup kibitzing merely involved itself with what the declarer thought was a combination of the Rabbi’s rule (RR) and the Law of Restricted choice (LORC).

The RR merely suggests that when a key card is singleton (usually a king, but this time, a queen), play the ace and the LORC where restricted only applies to the 4th seat player who will always have that key card.

In your case, TOCM might suggest to you that the queen is always going to be offside, but perhaps the card gods forgot to give that player another low card.

However, since you didn’t pre-alert your disease your opponents might take you to a committee. Just another way for your horrible affliction to safety play your demise.