Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 16th, 2018

An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less.


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


This deal comes from a pairs event at a national tournament, and it features two experts in a high-level game of chicken. It was Roger Bates and Chris Willenken who crossed swords here — and Bates prevailed in the end.

After a simple auction to three no-trump, Bates received the heart jack lead and immediately passed the diamond eight. Willenken ducked it, thereby doing his best to get his name in the papers. Now if declarer repeats the diamond finesse, he will go down.

But Bates knew his defenders were capable of the ducking play from any holding that included the jack. The opening lead made it relatively unlikely that West had four diamonds to the jack, and who would want to fall victim to such a play? You’d never hear the end of it!

So he rejected the second finesse, playing diamonds from the top and emerging with 10 tricks. Nicely defended, but it was Bates whose name was recorded in the “highly commended” column.

For the record, if East wins the diamond jack at his first turn, it makes it easy for declarer to establish the suit. The defenders can subsequently duck the diamond ace for as long as they like, but dummy still has an entry in the form of the heart ace, which will grant access to the rest of the diamonds. Ducking in a suit where the defenders have two stops (normally the ace-king or ace-queen) is often effective when dummy has just one entry to a long suit.

Had East not bid, you might have produced a constructive heart raise if playing forcing no-trump (where weak raises go through one no-trump). That doesn’t apply in competition; the real choice now is whether to bid two hearts and compete again, or bid two diamonds first, then raise hearts to suggest invitational values. I prefer the latter approach, but if you took away the diamond 10, I’d go the other way.


♠ J 5 4
 A 6 2
 K Q 10 9 5
♣ 10 6
South West North East
    1 1 ♠

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieAugust 30th, 2018 at 9:17 am

Hi Bobby,

I wonder if East gave a tiny flicker or his body language gave something away. After all if West holds HJ109x(x) and DJxxx the second finesse is essential although the H7 at T1 does suggest that West has long hearts so East probably doesn’t have short diamonds. Even so, H4-2 is plausible and hardly a massive pointer (via counting empty spaces) that West doesn’t have the Jack. Well played declarer but, on a boring day, West would have had DJxx and the brilliancy would have been for nothing.



Iain ClimieAugust 30th, 2018 at 11:20 am

Also, my preferred expert quote was “An ex is a has been and a spurt is a drip under pressure”. Thanks to my old boss Brian Davis, a great guy albeit an incredibly random bridge player but who laughed off nearly being killed in a light aircraft crash.

bobbywolffAugust 30th, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt the game between these two totally legitimate high level players (known and competed against both of them for years) was a battle royal (similar in scope to gladiators, both battling for their lives). Yes, please accept that could be thought to be a horrid exaggeration, but somehow, while playing competitive bridge, might feel like it.

And yes the diamonds could be Jxxx with West, but the seven of hearts by East should usually be a singleton since it is extreemly doubtful he would play it from 7x and, even if so, West from J10xx would almost never lead the J without the 9.

However, in this game within a game, it is probably best (especially while not being around for the table action), to later interview only Roger, asking why? Knowing him fairly well, he would likely call himself, “just lucky”, a testimonial to whom I consider, along with Chris, both top experts, willing to take the “heat” in case of a mistaken evaluation.

Also, your referral to Mr. Brian Davis’ light aircraft accident was in my mind with the gladiator reference. Laughing it off is probably the better remembrance of it happening since otherwise viewing it, might be worse emotionally when considering the future of him continuing to fly in light planes.

Finally, and back to bridge, the BWTA catered to the high level preference today of relegating a jump to 3 in the same major as preemptive. That sounds good to many and, of course, has its admirers as being effective, but, at least to me, while playing 5 card majors (deep down not my first choice, preferring an old fashioned relatively rare 4 card major system together with a forcing club (originally based on the Italian Neopolitan Club) but acquiescing based on sheer numbers to what is popular today, do still think that the South hand in today’s BWTA should simply make a limit raise to 3 hearts with only three of them, rather than a marked underbid of only two or the distortion of going through 1NT forcing, both of which I consider to be the wrong way (both value and tactical wise).

However, To Each His Own, an underrated axiom, as long as everyone involved, instead of just blurting, “No that is not the way we play it”, should, I prefer, to have thought it out in an unbiased way before making any comment, particularly a personal evaluation.

Finally, thanks for your very welcome comment
almost always accompanied, as here, with both a witty definition together with a poignant event.

Ken MooreAugust 31st, 2018 at 1:52 am


My favorite expert quoted is “An expert is someone who has made every possible mistake in a very limited domaine.”

Now, back to bridge and the comment that maybe East hesitated;. As soon as dummy comes down, I decide exactly when I am going to duck – unless something dramatic changes my mind. So when the play is made, there is no delay to betray me.

Patrick CheuAugust 31st, 2018 at 6:35 am

Hi Bobby,Could you please advise on what this might be..LHO 1N(12-14),pard 2S(S+minor),RHO 3H,DBL(me)?Pard thought my DBL was for T/out..I intended it to be penalties,my hand 64 QJ963 AJ7 874.Pard KQJ82 T 42 KQT95.He said I should pass and he would re-open with a DBL..I do not agree. He bids 4c and 4S-2.Your thoughts would be much appreciated~Patrick.

bobbywolffAugust 31st, 2018 at 11:22 am

Hi Ken,

First your definition of an expert, particularly applied to ones of the playing bridge genre.

At least to me, very descriptive, but instead of accenting the weakness, instead allow that experience, less embarrassing when young, to glean, what the next large number of times, including the next time, to do.

It is often noted in bridge that until one is subjected to the cauldron of playing against peers or better, he will never achieve his goals in bridge to which I unabashedly agree.

And how you describe your strategic tempo, especially on this hand, no doubt you will duck the diamond queen, if, in fact that card is first played (my guess and in most cases, the one usually chosen). However, it could (would) catch most defenders by at least a small surprise when the nine is first finessed.

And when and if it is, would you also be ready for that to still duck (in tempo). IF you can say definitely yes, “yours is the world and all that’s in it, and what is more, you are a bridge player, my son”. (Rudyard Wolff)

The rest is up to you, but first you must not delude yourself that you would and, most importantly, for the right reason. And to further wet your appetite, how about only ducking with Jxx, allowing for declarer to have only two small, since 3 small is disastrous for the defense (especially at pairs).

Finally, yes it can be a tangled web we are weaving.

bobbywolffAugust 31st, 2018 at 11:41 am

Hi Patrick,

Happy to declare that you are exactly 100% right in both the meaning of double and very likely to use it on this hand. RHO quite often is loathe to pass (with a fairly weak hand) rather than let his RHO (you) steal the hand for 2 spades.

Therefore, whenever an opponent bids a suit partner is known not to have (certainly hearts in this example) then doubles are ALWAYS for penalty.

Furthermore when not often held bidding sequences occur, especially when competitive, it is suicidal not to be firmly in sync with pard, obviously for the reason that the difference between penalty and takeout have opposite meanings and MUST be firmly understood, otherwise disaster lies in front of their noses.

Strong admonition to follow and better luck next time, (assuming there will be).

bobbywolffAugust 31st, 2018 at 11:45 am

Hi again Patrick,

Please excuse the gaffe since it wasn’t you who overcalled, but rather the one who doubled 3 hearts.

Ken MooreAugust 31st, 2018 at 4:24 pm


Yes. When I say “duck” I refer mainly to Kings and Queens. It gets much harder below that.

Patrick CheuAugust 31st, 2018 at 4:47 pm

Hi Bobby,We can only be better players cos you are there for us~Best Regards~Patrick.