Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Clever men will recognize and tolerate nothing but cleverness; every authority rouses their ridicule, every superstition amuses them, every convention moves them to contradiction.

Henri-Frederic Amiel

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


Australia’s most consistent pair in the early part of this last decade was Sartaj Hans and Tony Nunn. On this deal, from a recent World Championship match between Australia and the U.S., Hans played skillfully to land a contract that failed at many tables.

Against three no-trump, Marty Fleisher for the U.S. led the spade four, taken by his partner Mike Kamil with the king. On the spade return, Fleisher ducked declarer’s jack. Hans now played a diamond to dummy’s ace, cashed the diamond king and ran the club 10 to West’s jack. A low spade cleared the suit and put the lead in dummy.

At this point, most of the unsuccessful declarers took a second club finesse and lost two clubs and three spades. Hans instead saw that he needed only two club tricks, but that he surely needed to keep West off lead. So he played a club to his ace, then cashed his two diamond winners, pitching a heart from dummy on the first.

Fleisher could spare a heart on the third round of diamonds, but he had to let go of a spade on declarer’s final diamond — pitching a heart honor would have let dummy throw a club. Declarer would then have been able to lead out the heart queen to establish a second heart trick.

Once West discarded a spade, Hans pitched a second heart from dummy and set up the clubs, leaving Fleisher on lead. The defense could cash a spade, but then had to concede the last two tricks to dummy.

This auction is maybe more about partnership agreement than it is about judgment. I play that when the opponents respond in a new suit after my partner has doubled, a double by me is penalty, not responsive, and a call of two spades says “That is what I would have bid without intervention.” Either of those actions is possible, but the simple two-spade call has a lot to recommend it.


♠ Q 8 7 4 3
 K J 8
 10 8
♣ K J 7
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1 ♠

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 ClimieMay 22nd, 2018 at 10:40 am

Hi Bobby,

Nicely played but I wonder how South should play if West had H Kxx / Jxx or xxx and shed two hearts on the diamonds. Also, did East give the game way in clubs by echoing? If so, declarer’s life is easier, at least if East is to be believed.

On BWTA, I think I prefer double as East may be larking about, psyching or semi-psyching, when he will bail out if West passes but could also have SAJ10x(x) or similar in which case we could be about to regret playing a spade contract. Having said that, East seems very likely to have some diamonds unless partner has doubled with length there. How often is the old trick of East bidding 1S here on Sxx(x) seen nowadays? I suspect it has fallen completely out of fashion as being too easy to read, while it can raise ethical issues if done more than very occasionally.



jim2May 22nd, 2018 at 11:49 am

I confess that I would have played the hand differently.

Once in with the JS at Trick 2, I would have led a heart. This yields a 9th trick immediately if the finessed honor is onside. Should East win and clear spades, then I would unblock diamonds, come to the AC, cash out Ds, and be prepared to advance a second heart.

As long as West has the remaining heart, this wins. Even if East has the JD, it still wins unless diamonds were 2-5 or the KC is offside. Additionally, there were some squeeze chances on the run of the diamonds.

The lines are not that dissimilar. Both take one early finesse in a round suit, then play off diamonds, hoping for squeeze chances to add to finesse ones. Both lose to certain similar holdings but in opposite round suits. Mine gains if diamonds are not 2-5. The text may have better squeeze chances if diamonds are 2-5. There are probably other nuances, but my head began to hurt again.

At the table, my line would have produced 10 or 11 tricks. Well, that’s before the cards migrated, of course.

bobbywolffMay 22nd, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Hi Iain,

Methinks I will give you a series of ayes on your whole analysis on both the declarer’s play with this hand and your learned discussion about the questionable validity concerning East’s likely odious one spade response.

Moving on with the reasoning involved (to which you would be saying something very similar, only in your own inimical style), no doubt West, Fleisher while holding the king of hearts and whatever distribution should first (and very likely would) realize that this defense has now become a cat and mouse adventure, with advantage, the cat (declarer). IOW, it is up to him, the defender, to entice declarer to miss guess the heart holding, probably best done to singleton the king ASAP in the discarding, in order to get a worthy declarer to go wrong in the end game. Of course, against an often played against foe, tactics, like war, and in order to have better chances to succeed, usually do better to vary critical discarding in what the defender deems simply the best chance to succeed (basically determined by previous experiences and how one thinks that specific declarer will respond).

Much is usually involved, including from West’s viewpoint it is not always clear that declarer has a key card (this time the queen of hearts), but from the bidding and up to now play, it is more than almost, a moral certainty, that he does.

Finally, as I have recently as well as previously, stated that IMO, it is these situations, from both declarer and defender positions, which determine the best of the best, who outshine their usual very worthy adversary in winning the mind battle.

Capping off, I again agree that concerning the BWTA, a simple penalty double (and the new trend of at least attempting to pawn everything off on ubiquitous doubles, often only allowing partner to make the next mistake, since I prefer my judgment to win that honor, I like to play penalty doubles and then bid spades myself later to ASAP inform partner to what I, at least think, is going on.

The theory should be, “the more kindly one is to his OX (intended to be an affectionate name for partner) the better he will perform”.

Finally, as you know in the old days, that one spade bid was often psyched often, but Iain, I am so much older than you, when those days were in existence, you may not have even been born.

jim2May 22nd, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Typo in my post. “Even if East has the JD: should have been “Even if East has the missing heart honor”

bobbywolffMay 22nd, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

It is difficult to add to anything you have already explained, and even though my head has not begun to hurt, no doubt, it soon would, if I delved right in.

Both lines begin with 75% chances, yours in hearts, Sartaj in clubs. Both lines have extra chances if the guessing is good so added to that with diamonds and also the smaller value of overtricks with your line tend to convince me that you have determined the better line.

However, as to your ordained result with you as declarer, I might change my opinion. Just business, nothing personal!

Above all, thanks for grading our papers.

Iain ClimieMay 22nd, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Hi Bobby, Jiim2,

If the heart honours lay rather differently (e.g. West has Hxxx), perhaps West should cover the SJ to take away declarer’s option of following Jim2’s line.


BobliptonMay 22nd, 2018 at 1:50 pm

What I don’t understand is the initial double hook in clubs. Yes, yes, it opens up the line for split honors, but what does south do if west wins the first club with the King?


bobbywolffMay 22nd, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Hi Bob,

First of all, if West aka Humpy since he has been a hunchback all of his life, wins the first club with the king, while also possessing the jack, he would immediately cure his back problem, which is about the same chance of him making such a play. And in any event declarer will have plenty of time to lay down a then high club from hand before then finessing again for where he thinks the jack happens to be.

And, of course, declarer has already secured his nine tricks for contract.

bobbywolffMay 22nd, 2018 at 2:30 pm

Hi Iain,

Just another psychological toy during tough cat and mouse games contested between the declarer and the defense. Yes, of course the defense should do everything they can to lead declarer astray, but when declarer, at least seems to have, plenty of back and forth entries, then, of course to read motive by the defense for making what could be thought of a relatively innocent choice of a no, nevermind such as covering or not the second trick returned spade it would be a mistake to take any valuable reason for a clever declarer to choose.

And perhaps a bridge book dedicated only to such ploys could be possibly filled with examples, but finding out later that it did not
produce enough interest to sell many copies.

A V Ramana RaoMay 22nd, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
South can reason that if east has club K, the contract is certain. So after winning second spade, he can cash dummy’s diamonds and come to hand with club A. This elegant line wins whenever east has club K and also if K/J of clubs happens to be singleton in either hand . Now south can cash diamonds discading a club and a heart from dummy and see west squirm.. West can pitch a spade on Q of diamond but his next discard gives the game away

jim2May 22nd, 2018 at 5:52 pm

A V Ramana Rao –

There are some possible problems with certain holdings where West has the KC. Keep in mind that the KC would now be an entry to the 5th diamond. In some cases, West may even squeeze N-S with it.

The above is part of what I alluded to in my first post.

A.V.Ramana RaoMay 23rd, 2018 at 6:00 am

Hi Jim 2
If west has five diamonds, south will know when he plays third diamond. So he knows eleven of west’s cards( Five spades, five diamonds and a club). Now he can leave cashing fourth diamond and lead a heart and easily can get nine tricks , for eg., if west plays either K/J of heart, there is nothing to play . South gets three heart tricks and if west plays small, dummy plays A and returns a heart. If east puts up K, south has nine tricks else south plays Q and if this loses to K in west hand, all of west cards are accounted. South wins the return of spade and leads ten of clubs for nine tricks.
And if east comes with five diamonds as in column line, the play goes as described earlier
South need not allow defense to squeeze him by cashing fifth diamond

jim2May 23rd, 2018 at 11:45 am

I mis-typed West for East and did not realize it until I read your reply. I of course meant East with the missing club honor and 5 diamonds.

The problems I saw were when East had the HC and five diamonds and, when declarer used the AC as an entry, it set up East’s HC as an entry for the 5th diamond once declarer cashed the fourth to squeeze West. West no longer needed to provide all the setting tricks, and need not keep all the spades.

For example, if West retained a heart entry, then a small club would allow him to put in East to cash 5th diamond.

Thus, once declarer plays the fourth diamond, West would not be squeezed because, in doing so, declarer created a new setting trick in the xD.

It was about there that my head began to hurt. Sorry for the E-W mixup.