Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true. When will you realize Vienna waits for you?

Billy Joel

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


One of the more basic elements of technique required in squeeze play is called a Vienna Coup. The idea is that, occasionally, communication problems between your hand and the dummy require you to cash a high honor from one hand or the other to allow you to exercise a squeeze.

Mons Iver Hestnas of Norway was playing in Tenerife (in the somewhat surprisingly named Norwegian January Bridge Festival) when he had the opportunity to make such a play. Note South’s restraint in the auction: His sequence was invitational to game facing a minimum overcall, and clearly North had nothing to spare.

South combined his discretion in the bidding with a nice play. West led a low club to East’s ace, and the run of the clubs meant that declarer and dummy each had to discard a heart and a spade.

Declarer needed to bring in the rest of the tricks, and when West exited passively in diamonds, South won in hand. He knew the spade finesse would fail in view of West’s opening bid; but similarly, West was marked with the heart king.

Had declarer run five diamond tricks immediately, he would have cut communications between his hand and dummy, and West would simply have kept the same length as South in the majors. Instead, declarer unblocked the heart ace before running the diamonds, pitching hearts from hand. When the heart king did not appear, Hestnas led a spade to his ace and dropped West’s king, scoring his queen at trick 13.

You seem to have just enough to balance with two diamonds. Since you did not act directly at your first turn, there has to be a limit to your suit and high cards. You could also make a case for a call of two spades, but I’d prefer a slightly better doubleton. Also, the suggested sequence might help partner judge what to lead and whether to compete further.


♠ 10 2
 Q 10 9
 A Q 10 8 4
♣ 9 7 5
South West North East
  1 ♣ 1 ♠ Dbl.
Pass 2 ♣ 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


GinnyOctober 17th, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

A couple of questions for you regarding the play hand today.
1. How often in squeezes is the outcome known? Today, we can infer that the spade finesse will not work (~95%). With squeezes do we get often get percentages of the time that the squeeze works above 50%.
2. West can see a lot of what is going to happen. Does it ever help to NOT run the full club suit which rectifies the count for declarer? Perhaps just run 4 clubs – to pull clubs so declarer cannot hand the lead back – and exit with a diamond. I could not make it work here (late heart throw in after West must sluff the 5th club – or bare the spade K), but it was interesting to review and thought it might work in other hands.

bobbywolffOctober 17th, 2018 at 6:01 pm

HI Ginny,

First, your questions were nothing less than superior, allowing me to answer them the best I can.

1. From the declarer’s perspective, when high cards are known to be held by one specific opponent (in this case West) when East wins the ace of clubs, all but a random jack should be almost guaranteed (assuming not very unlikely and wild distribution) and then, of course when the club jack shows, East will likely be restricted to only, if either, no more than one major suit knave.

Therefore, the squeeze possibility becomes certain, if and when declarer, later in the hand, at the crucial trick, reviews in his mind West’s most likely initial distribution.

IOW, since declarer knows that West has both major suit kings (jacks now becoming irrelevant), declarer now proceeds to the discovery process (that apt name originating with Terence Reese). After finding out LHO has 5 clubs and 1 diamond, he now knows that his major suit holdings are either 4-3 or 3-4 since with a 5 card major he likely would have already found a way to bid them.

2. Now is a time to execute a Vienna Coup by cashing the ace of hearts, a simple unblocking play (with a glorified background of being named after the city in which it was first christened). That unblock is said to be first establishing for the enemy a trick for them and in time, then squeezing them out of it.

3. Finally, on some demonstrating hands (but not this one) after running the good diamond tricks in dummy, throwing the declarer’s two low hearts he is ready to either throw West in with his king of hearts, in order to end play him into having to lead away from his formerly protected king of spades into declaer’s AQ of instead, if declarer has discarded down to the singleton king of spades and the king jack of hearts then to lead a spade to hand, but disdain the finesse and make his eighth trick that way. However, to repeat, the above only applies to different timing necessary on some hands but not this one which is far simpler.

4. On the hypothetheical hand discussed above, since any and every high-level West will know exactly what is happening he will choose his discards in such an order to try and camouflage his original holding, so it then will resemble a classic cat and mouse battle, with psychology determining the outcome.

FWIW most adept declarer’s will normally try and keep his original distribution a secret, but here, it should be an open book since, when the king of hearts does not appear, it then will be obvious (since West is already marked with it, that his now king of spades is all by itself), ready to be plucked.

IOW, a no-brainer! Please excuse me for at least attempting to go further than just this relatively simple example by trying to replicate the same type of logic which would occur, only with a more difficult final ending to be sometimes just guessed (or not) correctly.

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