Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 11th, 2018

Does the end justify the means? That is possible. But what will justify the end? To that question, which historical thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means.

Albert Camus

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


When I saw this deal reported from Honors Bridge Club in New York, it was written up with the heading of “The Curse of Scotland?” It came up in December 2017, and it was a hand where East-West were robbed of a chance for brilliancy — all because of the diamond nine.

Judy Weisman sat West, and she started the defense on the right lines when she led the club king, an inspired shot against the slam, because it forced declarer to take his discards at once. (If declarer had had a singleton spade, he would have been forced to cut his own communications.)

Declarer won the club ace and played two top spades, pitching a club on the first. Put yourself in East’s shoes and plan the defense. Lipkin found the defense that would set the hand no matter which three diamonds his partner had. He ruffed with the ace (an unnatural play in my opinion) to return a diamond; that killed declarer’s chances since, whatever he did, he was left with a heart loser.

As the cards lay, Lipkin could have ruffed with the diamond 10 — but only because his partner had the diamond nine (the Curse of Scotland). For example, switch the nine and eight of trumps, and declarer would over-ruff the diamond 10 with the jack, then play the heart ace and ruff a heart. He could now lead a spade and maneuver to draw trumps without West being able to promote a trump.

While your hand might not be worth a call of two hearts, you expect the opponents to bounce to at least the three-level in spades, and you therefore need to get your hand off your chest at your first turn. Bid hearts, then raise clubs, which will at least get the basic nature of your hand across to your partner at the cost of a mild overbid.


♠ 6
 Q J 9 7 6
 A 10
♣ Q 8 7 6 3
South West North East
    1 ♣ 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 25th, 2018 at 10:28 am

Hi Bobby,

Should declared play HA and ruff a heart before cashing spades anyway? If spades are a little less extreme, then it may help matters while there is a small extra chance of an opponent having HQJx if East has only 2 spades.



Michael BeyroutiMay 25th, 2018 at 10:55 am

Hi Mr Woff.
I must be missing something. The text says that East could ruff the second top spade with the 10 and that would promote West’s 9. That’s the part I’m having difficulty understanding. Declarer can overruff, ruff a heart in dummy and advance the third top spade. It doesn’t pay for East to ruff with Ace. Declarer’s second heart loser goes away whether East ruffs or not. At this point, Declarer can guess that the trump ace is now bare. One low trump to the ace first then draw the remaining trump with K-Q. That’s why I couldn’t see the trump promotion of the nine. Am I missing something?
Iain: If Declarer ruffs a heart first then attempts to discard on the second top spade, East can ruff with the 10 and Declarer will be left with a heart loser. So, imo, Declarer gave himself the best chance to make and East ruined his plan by ruffing with the Ace and returning a trump.

Michael BeyroutiMay 25th, 2018 at 11:12 am

I agree that if Declarer exits with the trump king to knock out the ace then the nine is promoted. But an alert Declarer would notice that his opponent ruffed with the 10 the first time and refused to ruff the second time. That means that the opponent either has no trumps left or now has the bare ace left in his hand.

Iain ClimieMay 25th, 2018 at 11:17 am

Hi Michael,

True given the bad spade break but I was looking at a more single dummy line here. After that lead, though, declarer is alwas in trouble unless spades are 3-3 or possibly East has 2 but with singleton DA. The real credit is West’s though although I wonder if a trump lead and club switch will also sink it. Not nearly as interesting, though.



jim2May 25th, 2018 at 11:32 am

Michael Beyrouti –

Because declarer has expended a diamond honor over-ruffing the 10D, East trumping in with the AD leaves declarer with only two high trump, but West has 9xx.

Michael BeyroutiMay 25th, 2018 at 12:11 pm

@Jim2: I’m still missing it!
If East ruffs with the 10 and declarer overruffs, then play continues as I described. The trump ace is knocked out by playing a small trump from hand. No trump promotion.
If East ruffs with the ace, declarer discards and is still left with K-Q-J of trumps. (But will still have a heart loser if East returns a trump.) We have to choose one or the other (of two defenses).

So, yes, trumping with the ace is an unnatural move but East did it to be able to return a trump to prevent a heart ruff in dummy. It paid off. But this has nothing to do with the Curse of Scotland since the 9 never got promoted in all this. That’s the part I’m missing.

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Hi Michael,

Jim2 is right, since when (and if) East ruffs with the 10 and is overruffed by declarer with the jack, he still needs to ruff one of his losing hearts in dummy. After winning that trick in dummy he then leads another high spade to throw his other losing heart to which East ruffs with his ace. Therein West’s “Curse” is promoted to winning status.

And speaking of “curses”, length
of column restrictions prevented us from making clearer that ending, no doubt, causing many to be justifiably confused.

However, our judgment, realizing that this is a “real hand” with card symbolism, (Curse of Scotland), hoping to make it worth while, in spite of likely to short shrift our description.

And finally, East’s original defensive gaffe (not ruffing the second high spade with the ace) is pardoned.

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Hi Iain,

For the record, it seems that all of your suppositions about the defense on this hand are correct, but as Lebron James (a basketball superstar over here) was told by a diffident after he rendered a controversial, but practical, political comment concerning government policy, “Just shut up and dribble”.

Michael BeyroutiMay 25th, 2018 at 2:33 pm

OK, Now I see it.
Thank you Mr Wolff!

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