Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

If your opponent imagines that because you are a woman you’re easy to bluff, that you’d never bluff yourself and that you can be pushed around, you can exploit those assumptions.

Victoria Coren

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


John Armstrong, who was one of Britain’s top players, died 10 years ago after a highly successful 30-year international career. He was a keen orienteer and a fine pianist, and as a defender he was very good at putting himself into declarer’s mind and giving him a losing option.

The board comes from when Great Britain won the European Championships in Killarney in 1991, and shows both tables contributing to the team’s success.

Both Souths reached six diamonds on the lead of the heart jack. Each won with the ace, drew trumps (East pitching two spades) and took the three top spades. Then they both played a heart to the king and advanced dummy’s last heart.

The Czech East ducked, not wanting to be left on lead, and now when Andrew Robson ruffed, he decided that East’s play indicated that he had the club king.

It would have been a lot simpler to play for the club king onside, but Robson trusted his judgment and played a club to the nine. (Yes, West could have inserted the 10 to give declarer a nasty guess.) East was now end-played to give declarer a ruff-and-discard or play a club for him.

Where John Armstrong was East, when the third heart was led, he rose with the queen (pretending to be a man who did want to be left on lead). Declarer duly ruffed, but was convinced by this play that East did not have the club king. So, he laid down the club ace, then led up to the queen and duly went one down.

In auctions of this sort after the redouble, jumps should be played as pre-emptive or shapely, not real invitations. There aren’t enough points in the deck for your partner to have a high-card invitation. (With that hand, he might pass and jump at his next turn.) So while I can see the case for re-raising obstructively, I would pass now and let the opponents decide where they want to play the hand.


♠ K Q 6
 K 7 2
 K 9 7 4
♣ Q 9 4
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♣
Dbl. Rdbl. 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 ClimieNovember 17th, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Hi Bobby,

Interested to see the quote from Victoria Coren (now Coren-Mitchell); look up her poker skills on Wikipedia. I wonder how many blokes have got fleeced by a pleasant and normal-looking blonde lady.

I remember John Armstrong too; he had an amazingly raucous laugh when young and was a sad loss at only 58. I suppose the hand today has poker analogies: bluff vs double bluff vs triple bluff vs…..



Bobby WolffNovember 17th, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Hi Iain,

All those things you mention.

Yes john Armstrong was simply a very bright, down the middle, painfully ethical, truly excellent, in all phases of our game, player. Unobtrusive, but lethal (to his opponents) in result.

He never (to my knowledge) received, nor came even remotely close, to the plaudits that did Terence Reese, but also, even if he would have either lived several lives, or instead, lived and thrived many more years than
he actually did, but in either event would never have come close to living down to Reese’s flaws and scandals.

Of course, writing about our game, in addition to being a top player, was Terence’s long suit and to that, very few, if any, could ever match.

Finally, although I, of course, do not participate
in the poker world, wonder if innocent looking attractive blonde ladies still have psychological advantages in that very competitive and cutthroat world. My guess is not, since much coin of the realm is certainly involved and in those types of worldwide competitions, misconceptions are soon corrected, but perhaps not without an occasional, to be expected, slip.

Bobby WolffNovember 17th, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Hi again everyone,

After a perfunctory analysis a player may question the rising of the queen of hearts, especially when partner was known to still have the 10, just in case declarer was dealt three hearts to the king, but than only Ax in clubs, wrongly allowing himself to become end played with nothing to gain by so doing.

Yes, while on the surface true, in actuality not since surely the declarer would first play A and a small club, hoping West, not East would have the king, allowing the contract making trick to be scored.

Again counting the various suits should then prove that East’s playing the queen of hearts was indeed a powerful ruse, just in case declarer was either not totally wide awake, or just not equipped (as of yet, in his bridge life) of the parry and thrust of high-level competition.

Is bridge a spectacular game, or what? Of course, if available to Victor Mollo, he would have made great sport, among his specialized characters, to the above potential mind puzzle.

AviNovember 18th, 2018 at 7:01 am

Hi Bobby

I have an unrelated question.
Our partnership plays weak opening bids with losing trick count at 2/3/4 according to the vulnerability.
Playing IMP, at unfavorable vulnerability, partner opened in first seat with 3 spade, i.e. promising a hand that has 6 losers.
My RHO bid 4H.
Holding AQJx, Q, A7xxx, T8x, I figured I have 4 cover cards, and bid 4S.
LHO then bid 5H, passed around to me.
Since i was convinced I have the required cover cards to make 5S, I now bid it, and LHO bids 6H again.

1. As a layman, I believe the 4S bid was completely justified. Is the expert opinion different?
2. And what about the 5S bid?
3. With the given bidding, having forced the opponents to the 6 level, should I know double the final contract, or simply pass? The deck is almost certainly split 20-20, but I fear the spade ace will meet a void…


Bobby WolffNovember 18th, 2018 at 8:14 am

Hi Avi,

Your question is indeed a good one. By that I mean, while what one does, should be governed by bridge discipline based on the logic which competing at the table produces, but whatever becomes the result is not in any way guaranteed, nor will it be ever.

Your 4 spade bid is as obvious as expecting the sun to come up in the East tomorrow so let’s move on. Furthermore your 5 spade choice seems almost equally clear cut since they may well make 5 hearts and sometimes my partner will have 7-3-2-1 distribution and be dealt the king of diamonds or various other holdings, although making 5 spades will be rare it, still being possible, particularly since the opponents could well score up 5 hearts seems like a clear bid to me. Only a combination of experience and judgment tells me to do it, with not much doubt.

However when your LHO now continues to 6 hearts, competitive discipline should now not only enter the door but in actuality take over your thinking. Obviously we all hear about and sometimes experience the opponents now being pushed into a slam they hadn’t wanted to bid, but now that they are in it, it happens to be cold (usually with a spade void but even on a very bad day for us the 4 heart bidder having a surprise diamond void.

A long ago American poet type named Damon Runyon, who was also known as a sportsman once said something like, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”.

I believe he knew what he was talking about and when your worthy (or not) opponents now bid a slam (they obviously didn’t choose to bid on their own volition) trust their original judgment that they cannot make it. Whether you should double or pass is up to you (depending on your table judgment) but to now take a sacrifice again at the six level is just NOT winning bridge, although undoubtedly if they do make it, you will get the entire blame from most partners, save only the wise ones who understand what we are now talking about.

However, please just use the above as something to think about and come to your own conclusion. Hopefully, and only if you agree, (for this example you need not discuss this with your partner at that time) but eventually it may just come up during the course of some later conversation and then would be the moment to go over it.

Your situation is more common than you might imagine and often it takes an experience like yours to move forward with our incredible game, with new caveats, this one of trusting your opponents bidding. Since if the partner of the 4 heart bidder would have jumped to 6 hearts, it wouldn’t be automatic to now, when it came around to you, to bid 6 spades, but it might be the right bid to make, if you believe that LHO was actually bidding to make, not bidding to entice you into then taking the 6 spade save.

Hoping the above becomes of value to you!

AviNovember 18th, 2018 at 6:23 pm

Hi Bobby

Thanks for the detailed answer