Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 9th, 2018

To try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God.

Vincent van Gogh

N North
None ♠ 10 4
 A 10 3
 A K 9 3
♣ J 5 4 2
West East
♠ 7 6
 Q 8 7 4
 J 8 6 4
♣ A 8 7
♠ K Q 9 8 3
 J 6 5
♣ K 9 6 3
♠ A J 5 2
 K 9 2
 Q 7 5 2
♣ Q 10
South West North East
    1 1 ♠
2 NT * Pass 3 NT All pass

*Forcing for this pair


Helen Sobel was one of the world’s best players of her generation. When she declared three no-trump here, West led the spade seven, his partner’s suit. Sobel made two winning plays at the first trick: She called for dummy’s 10, and then she ducked East’s queen.

After taking the spade king continuation with the ace, she played the club queen (hoping the club honors were split). East took this with the king and played the spade nine, taken by Sobel’s jack, while discarding a heart from dummy. Then came the club 10. West won and could do no better than exit with a club, taken by the jack. The diamond ace came next, then a diamond to the queen, and the hand was over. Sobel had two tricks in each major, plus a club and four diamonds.

Note the significance of the play to the first trick. If declarer does not put up the spade 10, East covers the seven with the eight. South must duck, or the spades will eventually be set up, as the defenders still have communications in place in spades. After declarer ducks trick one, if the defenders are careful not to open up hearts, declarer can take no more than eight tricks.

But once declarer puts up the 10, it forces East to cover; otherwise, declarer has a cheap trick while retaining two spade stoppers. Now, by ducking, declarer has effectively severed the defenders’ communications in the spade suit.

Bid two no-trump here. I believe this to be a forcing auction, though not forcing to game. With one heart stopper and no reason to assume either opponent has five hearts, you should bid what is in front of you. While you might just about have a 4-4 spade fit, your partner can explore (with a cue-bid of three hearts) if his hand is unsuitable to play no-trump, but he wants to drive to game.


♠ A J 5 2
 K 9 2
 Q 7 5 2
♣ Q 10
South West North East
1 Dbl. Rdbl. 1
Pass 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 ClimieNovember 23rd, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

A useful reminder that although bidding may have changed dramatically over the years, players from times past can still teach us plenty about card play.

Hope Hawaii is good; it is drizzling and below 40 deg F in one of the warmer bits of Britain.



Ken MooreNovember 23rd, 2018 at 2:41 pm


It is humbling to consider that the best bridge player of all times may have been a woman. But Helen Sobel just might be it.

I hope that you are not having such a good time that you forget to answer our questions. I have one on bidding from yesterday that I think would be helpful.

And Iain, I have a brother who has lived near London for 40 years who always complains about gloomy skies. Albuquerque is going to be 50 with sunny skies.

We love it here.

Iain ClimieNovember 23rd, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Hi Ken,

To be fair, I genuunely don’t like hot weather unless I’m on holiday or not having to battle a large garxen at the weekends. Grey and damp isn’t too much fun either, especially for months. Only the English could invent cricket, a game where rain stops play, in a country like this. Still, it doez encourage indoor games.


jim2November 24th, 2018 at 2:47 am

IIRC, she was once asked how it felt to be partnered with an expert.

She pointed across the table to Goren, and said, “Ask him”

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2018 at 7:17 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your philosophy about the late, but totally great bridge playing of Helen Sobel.

I did have the pleasure (simply overwhelming at that young time in my life) of playing with her (but sadly only once, but against her at least 10 meaningful times.

She was not only a great player but a charming partner and to only me, a precocious youth.

There are so few still alive who really got to know her. Whether she was the best player of all time is hard to say, especially by me, who was not nearly qualified to judge, especially at that time long ago when bridge bidding was in its infancy of being developed.

All I can tell you is that Howard Schenken, thought at least at one time, to be the best American player ever, while I having the good fortune (at least for my experience) of playing against Helen and Howard (as partners) in some meaningful competition, finals of the 1960 Spingold and while at the table, Howard was constantly asking Helen if she thought he had made the right bid, is enough to convince me how well thought she had become in what was in those days a man oriented type circle.

No doubt she was there somewhere in the consideration of the best player, at least from those offered from the USA.

BTW it was drizzling in Hawaii at least 2 of the few days I spent there. However the setting and the water are truly beautiful to just gaze.

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2018 at 7:19 pm

Hi Ken,

I’m back and ready to take on anything concerning the game I love.

And yes, please read my comments to Iain for further reflection on Helen.

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Hi again Iain,

Just read your 2nd comment and feel it wouldn’t be cricket to answer your concern since I’ve never been to bat.

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2018 at 7:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt what you said is 100% valid and in no way apocryphal. And if truer statements have been made, I do not know what they could be.

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