Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

My mind was always very cluttered, so I took great pains to simplify my environment, because if my environment were half as cluttered as my mind, I wouldn’t be able to make it from room to room.

Leonard Cohen

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



Today’s deal is from the Bridge with Larry Cohen Newsletter, which Cohen mails out free, three times a month. It contains articles, lessons and quizzes.

Today’s deal was played at a high-level IMP game in Boca Raton, Florida. North opened with an off-shape no-trump, but recovered by cue-bidding in support of diamonds to steer South to the diamond slam.

West led a club, and declarer rose with dummy’s ace, then led a low diamond and captured East’s jack with the ace. South knew that East had started either with the jack alone, or king-jack bare. So, with a sure trump loser, he set about disposing of his club loser by playing three rounds of spades. West ruffed and had the diamond king for down one.

Cohen advocates playing on hearts rather than spades, which should succeed as long as hearts aren’t 5-1 or 6-0. West seems to have begun with either 7-2 or K-7-2 of diamonds. When a heart to the queen and another one back to the ace both pass off peacefully, you can safely play the heart king. If West follows, dummy’s club loser departs — and even if East trumps, it will be with the king. But if East is out of trumps, what can West do? He can trump with the king, when you pitch dummy’s club loser, or if West ruffs low, dummy will over-ruff. Then declarer plays on spades to throw his club loser from hand. The diamond king will be the only trick for the defense.

You can find details at

You may think you know what contract you wish to end up in, but blasting three no-trump achieves nothing except making sure you are declarer (possibly in the wrong contract). You can always get to three no-trump later, and it is much better to explore with a call of two diamonds, the fourth suit, setting up a game force. Why tell partner what he has when you can ask him?


♠ K 2
 A K 7 6 4
 A 10 8 3
♣ 6 3
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ Pass
1 Pass 1 ♠ 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


Iain ClimieFebruary 14th, 2018 at 9:25 am

Hi Bobby,

TOCM would give East xxx 10x KJx Kxxx when you’ve been “Grosvenored” (if East had played small you’d have played the DA even though the D10 works with the sight of all 4 hands) but it is somehow difficult to see that playing off the longer suit for a discard is safer than cashing the shorter one – 5-2 missing 7 is far more likely than 5-1 missing 6. I suppose the bid difference (as here) is the ability to cope with West having the heart doubleton.

The hand is a quiet triumph for clear thinking.



Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Hi Iain,

Well analyzed, especially with your inimical style, featuring the human condition.

At some point, sooner rather than later, an aspiring declarer will rightly assume that with holding KJx of trumps over the queen, that when, as on this hand declarer leads a small one from the queen holding, the winning play is almost always his small one, especially so when declarer is well marked with a combined nine trick holding in that suit.

Already, then armed with that “key” knowledge, it becomes a “slam dunk” (literal, not inferential) to play the jack player for either a singleton or the KJ doubleton, not three, (with the only valid exception being defenders not holding their cards up (and out of illegal view), to which there is no known cure for losing.

Therefore Iain’s description is again directly on point, although, as he correctly states, it is definitely counter intuitive to normal percentage play.

A side truism, as one ascends up the bridge ladder, is not to overrate the ability of even the world’s best players to immediately envision (often the conditions in early defense) the exact entire hand at such an early stage of any bridge hand therein giving an advantage to a reasonably quick declarer, who does not give very worthy opponents too long to think along with him before he “forces’ them to follow suit ethically (likely, and on the surface) not allowing the KJ doubleton to think long and hard before following with the jack, although East might have that inclination to falsecard the king, holding only the KJ, likely inducing declarer to finesse for the jack coming back. However, a slow king will not get the job done, since a marked hesitation with a singleton is simply not on the up and up.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”, but in bridge, with its ethical responsibility, we need to think at computer speed, otherwise there may be unseen obstacles to over come.

jim2February 14th, 2018 at 1:01 pm

TOCM ™ 🙂

I see today’s hand as the beginning of a novel, perhaps entitled:

“A Tale of Two Discards”!

It would begin:

“It was the best of discards. It was the worst …”

I confess I am a bit puzzled over the North’s 3C call. Did bypassing 3S guarantee BOTH aces?

jim2February 14th, 2018 at 4:34 pm

“North’s 4C call” — oops

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 14th, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,
Just wondering. If East nonchalantly plays K from K J when dummy leads diamond at second trick. Win next trick with J and cash club winner. But it happens only im Mollo’s tales
( sorry for a belated post)

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 14th, 2018 at 5:01 pm

In Mollo’s tales more by accident than design
When rueful rabbit holds the cards

Mircea1February 14th, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Hi Bobby,

so what should declarer do when East plays the king from KJ slowly? just get everyone to agree that there was a hesitation and then when he turns up with the Jack as well, call the director? how will the director rule in this case?

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2018 at 5:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, it appears that North should have cue bid, his first available ace (spades) instead of skipping, however bridge bidding sometimes, in the interest of making an irrefutable interpretation (cue bid) of what someone wants it to mean rather than a different inference, (need a club stop for 3NT eg. s. AQJx
h. QJ, d. KQx, c. xxxx (although an aspiring partnership needs to clarify in advance).

However and IMO, no doubt, since “the play on this hand was the thing” Larry did not give as much consistency (as he would like in the bidding as he does in the play (consistent with almost all bridge writers, who want to emphasize play, this time, rather than bidding), which, in turn, and in reality, may interfere with the overall effectiveness of bridge students who prefer perfection rather than makeshift. (I am probably often guilty of the same crime).

However, as long as every bridge discussion has some eagle-eye like you involved, keeps bidding or, in other emphasis, playing errors to a minimum.

Finally, no, cue bidding 4 clubs should, in fact, deny the ace of spades, at least to an aficionado and the Dickens you say!

At least 4 clubs eliminates 3NT and shows a diamond fit, by partner not jumping in hearts the first time, bringing into focus what high-level bidding should always consistently emphasize, All of the previous bidding on that hand, needs to be considered, not just the last bid or two. No room for even attempting to make up for an earlier indiscreet tweet.

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2018 at 6:08 pm


Yes, both Victor Mollo and SJ (Skippy) Simon spent a lifetime with their characters resembling flawed players at either a cut around rubber bridge club or a snooty country club, who consistently committed bridge crimes of their own making. They were real, the writing was both consistent and represented what so many of us experience every time we sit down to play bridge at home and/or at the local duplicate.

It is sad to not have anyone, at least recently and worldwide, continue their work and duplicate their sensational efforts.

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2018 at 6:24 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No, if one hesitates with KJ doubleton and then plays the king, all is well and good and whatever happens then, is all ethical. It is only wrong that when holding the singleton King (or any singleton), taking a significant pause, before playing it.

Finally, and to the point, a fast play of the king while holding the KJ is also 100% legal since no rule, substantive or ethics, have been violated, but only to be admired for his or her, quick thinking.

BTW, TD’s and committees to follow do not rule on good bridge or bad, only in subterfuge such as hesitating with a singleton or taking a purposeful long time with absolutely no reason in order to mislead his opponents.

While never obligated to play with lightening speed, it is unethical to try and mislead an opponent by intentionally playing very slowly with the intention (sometimes subjectively determined by the authority) of unethical deception. Yes, the experience of the subject player himself could be even a prime factor in that subjective reasoning.