Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 5th, 2018

As man under pressure tends to give in to physical and intellectual weakness, only great strength of will can lead to the objective.

Carl von Clausewitz

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


In today’s deal, you reach a delicate four-heart game after West has suggested a three-suiter and a maximum for his original pass. You duck the lead of the club king, and West accurately shifts to a trump.

It may be hard to see how to avoid the loss of three diamond tricks, since the top honors appear to be split, but you can exert a fair amount of pressure if you run five rounds of hearts. You keep all four spades and your top clubs in hand, coming down to the bare diamond queen. But what does West keep?

If he pitches a spade, you ruff out that suit while you still have a club re-entry to hand; while if he comes down to one club, your clubs will be good. So West also must come down to one diamond. That has to be the king (or ace), or you can establish a diamond trick.

Now you cash the sixth trump and pitch your last diamond, and West must again keep all his spades and clubs to keep you from establishing either suit. So he, too, discards his last diamond, and that lets you lead the king and another spade, aiming to cover East’s card to keep him off lead.

West wins cheaply and must play back a low spade, but you win that, then endplay him in spades to lead clubs into your tenace. Your initial goal on the deal was to avoid losing three diamond winners; in fact, you ended up losing no diamond tricks at all!

Are you a man or a mouse? Most experts would re-open with a double with barely a second thought. If West has been lurking with a powerhouse, you might regret it. But say your partner has five spades to the king and three little hearts. Then no matter what the rest of his hand is, either four spades should come close or the opponents can make game — and sometimes both games will make.


♠ Q 9 7 4
 A 9 7 3
♣ K J 6 3
South West North East
Pass 4 Pass 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


David WarheitMay 19th, 2018 at 9:30 am

Shouldn’t South bid 3NT instead of 4H? He knows partner has King sixth of hearts and one other top card, so it looks close to being cold, barring only West being void in hearts.

A V Ramana RaoMay 19th, 2018 at 9:50 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Very interesting hand with play looking straight out of Ottlik book. It is enough if west holds four spades along with his known Q of clubs( If west holds five spades , all can be low cards and east can even have doubleton K Q ) for the squeeze to operate.
A nuance: If west shifts to a low spade at second trick, south should hop up with dummy’s K else he will not make the contract as west discarding after south will have easy time.
And David preempted me on my question. With the NS holding- There should be some way to reach 3 NT which is much more comfortable. You may please reflect

bobbywolffMay 19th, 2018 at 1:43 pm

Hi David,

Yes, there is definitely merit in South taking a stab at 3NT instead of merely accepting game with carrying on to 4 hearts.

However, (although discounting the result) while placing my shoes on the feet of South, while making this decision, one needs to be both thoughtful and indeed careful.

I could start with replacing North’s jack of diamonds with the club ten and of course, giving West a 4-1-5-3 holding. True, that combination is contrived, but in reality the holding of Qxx is not nearly what QJx could produce as far as safety against immediately losing the race at the starting gate.

IOWs, if needing a top at duplicate (or at least thinking you do) or while thought behind at IMPs, yes a 3NT bid is a reasonable risk to take (in order to be in a different contract than NS at the other table), but I do not really think in normal cases it is a worthwhile risk. (You mentioned 4-0 hearts, while barely possible, that would not enter my thought process, although possible when West enters the auction in a dangerous spot (before the opponent’s hand is limited).

However, I do think that your bringing up these thoughts are extremely educational, if only to get different views how bridge lovers use their judgment.

Finally and no doubt, South has a maximum in almost every way, high cards, good support for trumps and possibly an important extra. (10 of spades). My view is then, in normal play, to do what appears the percentage action, and let the other guy (or gal) risk sleeping in the streets.

bobbywolffMay 19th, 2018 at 2:08 pm


My above response to David is all I can muster.

For column purposes, the bidding was probably thought to be routine, however David and now you, are taking a forward step by wondering how to get to the superior contract (however somewhat lucky to have a manufactured diamond stop by possessing both the queen and jack.

One of the unquestioned supreme beauties of our glorious game is merely using code language (bidding to substitute for playing with transparent cards) seldom allowing any meticulous description of hands, only snippets of value and/or balanced or not, along with mature judgment which can only come with much experience against good opposition.

Similar to life’s other experiences which often follow routine progression until somebody or something unusual or unpredictable occurs
throwing chaos into the equation. Bridge bidding, at best, is somewhat random, only to be less so as players with at least some talent clash against each other relishing normalcy, but trying to be prepared to deviate off course, if though necessary.

Writers like Geza Ottlick and others sought out at least potential for handling the chaotic
events, allowing us mere mortals to at least get a taste of just how challenging our wondrous game can be. Let us just talk about it, basically accept what we need to, and thoroughly enjoy what we are undoubtedly blessed with.

BobliptonMay 19th, 2018 at 3:21 pm

It’s a nice discussion. Allow me as an old and mediocre rubber bridge player to add my thoughts.

This hand is a prime exhibit for proponents of scientific bidding, to wit, some strong club or even strong pass system followed by an extensive relay system that will allow the partnership to finding game in NT, rather than game in hearts, which makes thanks to a trump squeeze (beyond the ken of all but a tiny proportion of players), who could turn the same skills to account by ducking a black trick.

In sum, bear in mind that declarer gains as much by the early confusion of the defenders in the play as he gains by the the certainty of a rigorously when he and partner can both remember it.


BobliptonMay 19th, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Oh dear. I edit carefully on my tablet and then it still drops lines. That last sentence should read

In sum, bear in mind that declarer gains as much from the confusion of the defenders in the early player as he does from the details of a rigorously defined bidding system, when he and partner both remember it.

Let’s see if that goes in correctly.


bobbywolffMay 19th, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Hi Bob,

And do not feel badly about later clarity since I omitted a “t” to the word thought, in my discussion.

As to your comment, no doubt, at least according to my thoughts, you are indelibly correct in the confusion caused when strength meets “not” at the bridge table, but, of course that can be expected in most all competitions, professional or less.

My general purpose, at least my intention, is to describe what I am supposed to know about the high level competitions between “top” bridge players and their often brilliance, keeping in mind how to get there from here, assuming one is born with that unusual ability, in a word, numeracy.

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