Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Maybe if you didn’t try to be so clever, you wouldn’t end up looking so stupid.

Victor Mollo

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

*Zero out of three key-cards


In the 1998 Cap Gemini World Pairs Invitational, today’s slam hand struck a chord with me. In Victor Mollo’s Bridge Menagerie, Themistocles Papadopoulos was reputed to be the only man capable of false-carding with a singleton. This deal’s declarers had to decide if their defenders were capable of precisely such a feat!

Of the eight tables playing in this event, seven declarers managed to reach six hearts. Slam is excellent — it can basically be claimed if trumps split. However, when declarer laid down a top heart from the North hand, the nine appeared from West. Now the question was whether this was a singleton or the “standard” expert false-card from an original holding of jack-nine-fourth, to persuade declarer that this was a singleton.

The problem here is that if you make the wrong guess and play the defender to have a singleton when he has four, that player will be able to gloat over you for the rest of his life. This was a good deal for the Berkowitz family, since David Berkowitz’s partner, Larry Cohen (playing against one of the very strongest pairs in the event), and Lisa Berkowitz (competing against the other female pair in the room) were the only declarers to succeed. They were prepared to pay off to this apparent “brilliancy,” by continuing with a second top trump from dummy and so made their slam.

The rest of the field played for their opponents to be superstars by leading a small heart to the queen, and all went down.

A case could be made for responding one spade, just as you would if your right-hand opponent had passed. But here, after the double, I’m reluctant to bid a weak four-card suit when I’m close to subminimum for the action. It seems wiser to pass, planning to double my left-hand opponent’s likely oneheart response, and otherwise to stay silent.


♠ 8 7 6 2
 9 7 4
♣ A J 8 7 3
South West North East
    1 Dbl.

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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 ClimieNovember 8th, 2018 at 10:17 am

Hi Bobby,

Well read by Larry and Lisa but J9xx with West will actually occur 4 times as often as singleton none. On a purely odds basis, doesn’t this mean that the successful declarer’s assumed their LHOs were at most 25% likely to find the right expert play from J9xx?

Against good standards of opposition, not playing for the false card seems to be anti-percentage. There again maybe even good players accidentally give off vibes when making this false card.



jim2November 8th, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Two psych elements interested me about this hand.

The first is that any West holding 9x or 9xx of hearts could play the 9 and get some insight on declarer’s imagination and maybe opinion of West.

Second, as declarer, playing the AH from the board at Trick 3 may be inferior to coming to hand with a spade and leading the 6H in that it might better disguise declarer’s intentions (and reduce the chance of such a falsecard). Also, if West did not have the AC, that defender would have to consider that South may well have gone to slam with four small hearts because South held the AC instead of the QH. In that case, declarer might be about to finesse the 10H. That may not be the best line, but it is a possible one and playing the 9H in that layout would be a disaster.

JeffSNovember 8th, 2018 at 3:09 pm

Can someone explain the 5D bid meaning “zero out of three key-cards”? That’s a new one on me. Thanks!

jim2November 8th, 2018 at 3:55 pm

JeffS –

I am not Our Host, but I concluded it was a simple typo for “zero or three key-cards.”

Iain ClimieNovember 8th, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Also, maybe West should lead the CJ at T2 trying to look as if he’s short in the suit and possibly long in hearts. Shouldn’t work, but any little nudge might help here.

Also note that thinking of that 6 hours after the column popped up is a reminder of Mollo’s own comment :A Theoretician is someone who knows the exactly correct bid or play some time after he’s made the wrong one.”

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Hi JeffS & Jim2,

Breaking an established tradition (at least on this site) of answering all the compelling questions asked in the order of presentation, JeffS has a right to be confused and thank you Jim2 for explaining our gaffe in exchanging the wrong “out” into the right “or”.

I’ll try and weasel out of our mistake by admitting it to be a horrible 2nd worst mistake a bridge columnist can make, with only an error in bridge analysis being worse.

Sorry and will strongly attempt to be better next time. Promises, Promises, Promises!

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2, and JeffS,

Most everything has been said that needs to be said, including Iain’s very imaginative continuation of the club jack at trick two, trying to deceive declarer as to potential length in trumps.

Thus, all I can add to this potential subtle but sometimes dynamite discussion is that if that elusive ten happens to reside in the closed hand (away from the prying eyes of that astute defense) the declarer, if possible, (and it usually is) lead from the closed hand toward the dummy first, (assuming the dummy has the double high honor) in order to make LHO (left of the closed hand) somewhat reluctant to part with the nine (as a falsecard from J9xx) for the justified fear of partner having the singleton 10.

IOW the making of applesauce out of apples is being made slightly more complicated for those superior defenders to, (if you will forgive), deal with the possible ruse.

Chess like strategy is ever present in bridge, and even more complicated since both chess players always are able to peruse the entire board before playing and therefore only the very high-level other player’s mind, is not visible

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Hi Everyone,

Yes, I was hoping someone might say that even with declarer holding AK72 in dummy and Q843 in hand, theoretically likely destined to have a loser opposite any 4-1 defensive distribution, still if declarer would arrange to lead that suit from hand, perhaps LHO might, from J9xx, attempt to falsecard the nine, only to have partner show up with the aforementioned singleton 10, that is, unless declarer has some bidding G2, which has warned him about that possible distribution (or worse).

“Aren’t we devils?”, wouldn’t Ralph Edwards then say (on the popular “Truth or Consequences radio show, perhaps 75+ years ago).

Magic is what magic does. At least when playing our great off-the-charts mind game.

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2018 at 6:39 pm

Hi again everyone,

I realize that West, when immediately playing the nine, turns out to be a bridge idiot, but what has a declarer got to lose by tempting him by having him just supposing that South may have Q10xx, a not that unlikely division.

“Yes, we are!” would be the answer to a defender who struck gold.

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Hi again, again everyone,

From the “sublime to the ridiculous”! NO DOUBT!

Bob LiptonNovember 8th, 2018 at 11:57 pm

Iain, the issue with worrying about the false card is that declarer has to consider not only the possibility of a false card from J9xx, but also that the 9 is a true card: not only the stiff 9, as is actually the case, but J9 doubleton. Doing a rough calculation, the stiff 9 with West is about 5.6%, and the J9 tight… well, I’m uncertain of whether the calculation should be made a priori or post priori. However it is significant. As has been noted above, add in the possibility that West doesn’t know who has the Ten, and it is a potentially foolish falsecard.

Jim2 has indicated a good line: at trick 3, go to declarer’s hand and play towards the dummy. If west produces the 9, go back to your hand in a plain suit, and lead a second trump. If west fails, or plays the Jack, you’re home free. It’s when he plays a low trump that you’re subject to a two-way Grosvenor Coup.


Bobby WolffNovember 9th, 2018 at 2:13 am

Hi Bob,

The prevailing view and certainly the one favored by all mathematicians is that probabilities never rely on human intervention.

Thus 3-2 breaks with 5 cards outstanding occur approximately 67% of the time, regardless what the first round shows (as long as both partners follow). Obviously if a card like the jack appeared it would be assumed that it is a singleton since it well may be the only important card to be found, and if so it would not be played the first round unless it was lonesome.

Therefore when the nine shows, the odds still remain at 3-2 but the opportunity to adjust those immutable percentages numbers still remain at 67% (particularly when the person playing it may have intent to deceive as his design, eg. also J9x or even J9xx, is entirely possible.

My bridge experience is certainly centered around estimating the caliber of that specific
opponent and if, and only if, he is capable of knowing that much about our beloved game, then we discount his specific play and merely accept whatever the percentage tables suggested (assuming the bidding and play up to then didn’t indicate anything special).

IOW, generally play the percentages, unless your perception convinces you that the opponent or opponents are good enough to get you to alter your course.

Iain ClimieNovember 9th, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Hi Bob,

Fair point although HJ9 alone will get exposed regardless on the next round so shouldn’t be a worry as you’re home regardless of which honour you pay next. I also quite agree about how sensible it would be to lead up to (say) AKxx or similar thus minimising the scope for defensive shenanigans.

In terms of the latter (this is a late post) just have a look at Friday 9th November’s effort though!