Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

In the perfect chess combination, as in a first-rate short story, the whole plot and counter-plot should lead up to a striking finale, the interest not being allayed until the very last moment.— Frederic Yates and William

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

*Stronger than passing


At teams, South’s decision to bid game was influenced by his partner’s voluntary raise to three hearts, plus the expectation that relevant missing high cards were more likely than not to be onside, as East had opened the bidding. Still, it was an overbid, and it led to a fairly poor contract, but one that was not without play, given the favorable lie of the opponents’ cards. Against four hearts, West led the diamond 10. When East won with the ace, he had a choice of defenses, but only one winning move.

If East had unthinkingly returned a diamond, declarer might have found his way home. When South wins the diamond king, he next leads a spade. West must rise with the ace, and he can do no better than exit with a diamond. South ruffs, then leads a low heart to dummy’s eight or 10. East wins, but will be endplayed. Either a club or heart lets South reach dummy, allowing both finesses to be taken in one order or the other.

So, with that said, can you see the defense? Sitting East was my former partner Bob Hamman, who found the ingenious return of a spade, preserving diamonds as the suit in which the defense could exit at a later stage. West won with the ace and exited with a diamond to South’s bare king. Now, when declarer led a heart to the 10, Hamman won his queen and still had a safe diamond exit. South could ruff, but was stuck in hand and had no way to avoid losing at least one more trick.

This hand is on the cusp of passing, trying to settle for a plus score, or bidding three clubs to show your 5-5 pattern and non-forcing extras. I’d take the latter route — if for no other reason than that three clubs may be easier to make than two hearts if your partner has two hearts and three clubs.


♠ 2
 A J 9 7 5
 K 7
♣ A Q J 5 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 ♣ Pass 2 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


Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2018 at 11:21 am

Hi Bobby,

Very neat indeed but I suspect if I found that defence partner would assume I’d opened an off shape 1D with (say) x Axx AQJx Qxxxx and, although knowing the diamond position, would try to give me a spade ruff; he’d be taking South’s 3C as some sort of trial bid. Worse, if I thought for a while before playing the spade back, he’d insist that he couldn’t use UI from the time I’d taken and what else could the switch be but a singleton. How should the post-mortem then go (apart from noisily of course)?

Interesting that East didn’t start with 1NT, though.



bobbywolffOctober 24th, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Hi Iain,

As Fibber McGee’s friend used to tell Fibber on his long ago popular every week-day radio show, “Fibber McGee and Molly”, almost every episode and at least once a show, “You’re a tough man, McGee”.

You are a tough and thorough analyst, Iain!

However Bob, being one of the best ever bridge analysts and even more impressive, extraordinarily ethical, would not take long and thus break tempo, when he won the first diamond and almost immediately shot back the three of spades.

Obviously from Bob’s point of view, declarer could possibly have the singleton ace of spades instead of a small one, but from Bob’s perspective, with the specific bidding a huge guide, the one card partner might have, since it is doubtful if partner had the king of diamonds that he would lead the 10 from K109 after this bidding which suggested to all at the table that declarer had 10+ cards in the rounded suits.

If that was true, Bob by looking at his hand (so much in declarer’s suits and, of course, coordinating that with the bidding) realized that “out cards remaining are a crucial condition in today’s defense”.

Therefore, and your ethical probe, proves the point, it was necessary, as it often is, to first, always, from the get-go, be concentrating on the defense, and if so, and with inner confidence in your own analysis fire back the three of spades. And then, from West’s perch, could indeed declarer have 3 small spades and the Kx in diamonds and still have a good enough hand to bid a voluntary game. Finally if declarer instead held: s. 10xx, h. AKQxx, d. Kx, c. AQx or even Axx, the spade ruff would not defeat the game, although, yes it would prevent an overtrick, not to mention South doubling first instead of arranging to bid both his long suits, like he did.

Finally, from West’s perspective, if East had the hand you suggested wouldn’t his proper play be a club back at trick two since he could wait with his potential spade ruff, since he possessed the controlling ace of trumps and be in better position after his club return at trick two in order to decide the declarer’s weakness (assuming he had one).

At least to me, and from my experience, the greatest thrill in first learning and then attempting to play high-level bridge, is the teamwork necessary between two defenders while both, especially after the bidding is over and the “fun” begins, the joining of coordinated defensive thinking between two learned players with occasionally, but very rarely, producing a “gem”.

I have no answer why Bob didn’t open 1NT, except perhaps, at that time (26 years to choose) either our NT range was slightly different, or more likely he held only AQxx in diamonds with perhaps declarer holding KJ doubleton.

Yes and thanks to you and your meticulous probes, all vital avenues of our off-the-charts game, at least for some, and certainly including active ethics, tend to, IMO, make bridge a school worthy subject to which so much of the world has responded, except, of course, my home country, to which I can become, and am, deeply depressed.

BTW, methinks North’s 3 heart bid, instead of passing is nothing short of ridiculous, but without it, we were unlikely to be enabled, again thanks to you, to discuss it, unless South would have seen fit to bid 4 hearts, a reasonable possibility, anyway.

Iain ClimieOctober 24th, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the illuminating and thorough reply, which also highlights your own Bols Bridge tip from way back about “Your tempo is showing”. Having played chess as well, I liked the quote and one of its (few IMO) advantages over bridge is that you can always play around with playing moves quickly or slowly for legitimate psychological impact, although too much dithering can lead to time trouble and even losing on the clock. At club level, though, an evening’s duplicate in friendly company, even when playing as hard as possible, still beats the grimmer struggle of a long chess game. As somebody said of competitive chess, it is too much of a game to be taken that seriously and too damned serious to be treated as a game.



bobbywolffOctober 24th, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Hi Iain,

While I might say, chess just doesn’t have nor seem to need the variety of excitement as bridge, but others may correct that to counter with, “only proving how novice I am in not understanding all the complexities in chess”.

To which I must grudgingly agree, but both of us are only speaking about that game, to get it off our chess (t).

And to reply to that somebody who spoke of chess, perhaps high-level bridge is just too serious to not to be treated as a game, but one whose players need both heart and fortitude as well as talent to successfully compete.

Ken MooreOctober 24th, 2018 at 3:56 pm


The above discussion is deeper than some of us can go. Still, as East, I would have led a Spade. Anytime dummy has has a long suit and no clear side entries, I would attack that suit and try to lock him out of dummy. Esp. in this case, East has the 3 other suits totally blocked.


bobbywolffOctober 24th, 2018 at 10:56 pm

Hi Ken,

Would you have not led a spade when holding a singleton also. Then, and, of course, you would want your partner to win it (assuming he had the ace) and give you a ruff, therefore scoring a trick with your lowly 4 of hearts, then added to the further trick you will score with your KQ, Bingo, Set Them!

However, as you can see on this hand (and also read the text to confirm), how is partner to know that you wanted a ruff or just want to, as you said not return a spade but play you for making a brilliant defensive play.

And, without even mention that elephant roaming around our room, the tempo of the spade return by East cannot legally be used to improve West’s judgment.

“Lead your singletons fast” has long been a battle cry from those who either have larceny in their hearts or, instead, are trying to poke fun at dishonest players who do whatever they can to win, ethical or not.

However, on this hand and no doubt, East needs to 1. be thoroughly concentrated, 2. have the entire bidding sequence totally in mind. 3. lead that non-singleton spade back in tempo (not like lightening but certainly not very slowly either). Partner then, and ONLY then will be allowed to also remember the bidding, which should lead him to the correct answer, win it and go back to diamonds.

Sure, doing just that is very high-level bridge only showing off one’s numeracy, smarts and love of the game(ethics). Are those qualities any less prevalent than athletic prowess, “run like a deer and strong as an ox” or great hand and eye coordination capable of hitting a 100 MPH fastball out of any ball park?

I don’t think so, but instead, we’ll see in the next centuries to come a marked improvement in our brain functions as seemingly, at least to me, I truly believe that mankind (and even womankind) have not yet, even closely explored improvements related to clearer thinking and the ability to digest much more overall knowledge.

Please excuse the above joke about the female of the species and NO!! I do not think that their intelligence is any different than the other sex.

Ken MooreOctober 25th, 2018 at 12:07 am

In today’s environment, of course, you meant to say “any of the other sexes.”


bobbywolffOctober 25th, 2018 at 1:26 am

Hi Ken,

Yes, words and titles can get confusing. If some bridge players strive to be Life Masters, what about achieving Life Mistress?

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