Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

When success is essential to keeping a family together, there is nothing a man won’t do. Nothing.

Jason Street, “Friday Night Lights”

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

*Showing three spades


Bridge skill often runs in families; where one or both parents play the game well, they often produce talented offspring. Paul Hackett of the UK and his two sons (plus Justin’s wife, Barbara) would make a fearsome foursome, and the Groenkvist and Rimstedts of Sweden are each able to put forward at least four top players. But the world’s strongest family team may be the Bessis family of France. Here are the Bessis brothers on defense, from a recent Junior European Championships.

Olivier Bessis led the diamond queen against five clubs; the Greek declarer won in hand and drew trumps in two rounds. Thomas Bessis, East, could now infer that declarer’s shape was 3-4-2-4.

After “stripping off” the diamonds, declarer advanced dummy’s heart jack. Thomas ducked in tempo, and declarer, naturally enough, ran the heart to Olivier’s queen. What was he to do now?

A spade return would let declarer pick up that suit for only one loser, while a diamond would allow him to ruff in dummy and pitch a spade from hand, then ruff out spades. So Olivier carefully returned the heart nine. Declarer discarded a spade from dummy; if Thomas had risen with the ace, there would have been two more discards from dummy on the heart king and 10. But Thomas ducked again, letting declarer win the trick.

Declarer now had no choice but to try to play spades for one loser, which was not possible on accurate defense. This deal won the brothers the junior award for best play of the year.

You may have a minimum hand, but I think it is just worth a try for game. Your best bet is to bid three clubs, suggesting this general shape. Your partner is almost guaranteed to have four-card trump support. What you need from him is aces or trump honors — and he will know those are good cards.


♠ A 5 4 3
 K 10
♣ K Q 9 8 5 4
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 Pass
1 ♠ 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


DEBKANTI PAULJanuary 9th, 2019 at 1:45 pm

I am a great fan of yours and try to learn from your site. On this deal I am wondering whether east made a judgement error by not playing east for the heart ace on account of the bidding.

DEBKANTI PAULJanuary 9th, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Sorry that should read south made an error in judgement.

Mircea1January 9th, 2019 at 2:47 pm

Isn’t 3NT easier here? The only question (to me at least) is how to bid it. \

On the actual play, except for the obvious cash-out situations, is there a guideline on when to play the ace when a singleton in the suit is led from dummy?

jim2January 9th, 2019 at 2:55 pm

I wonder if 3H by North after South’s support double would have meant to bid 3N with a heart stopper.

Bill CubleyJanuary 9th, 2019 at 3:53 pm


I humbly and most respectfully disagree in BWTA that South “may” hold a minimum hand. It looks good enough for this wild and crazy slam bidder. The 3 Clubs bid shows a non-minimum 6-4 in Clubs and Spades.

Feel free to humbly correct me. Again.

A V Ramana RaoJanuary 9th, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Had 3 NT been bid, ( and of course had south played heart K ) this brilliancy would not have come to light . After south erred by passing heart J to west, it needed perspicacity to return nine of heart , the only card to set the contract . Very well defended indeed

Ken MooreJanuary 9th, 2019 at 4:27 pm


Wow! lots of discussion on this one. I’d like to add to the confusion by asking about modern-day tendency to over bid in 3rd or 4th hand, like today. West has 8 points that probably translate into 6 real points with no Aces or Kings. Would you have bid then?

DEBKANTI PAULJanuary 9th, 2019 at 4:55 pm

I was going to ask whether East’s bid could serve any purpose except help opponents..Perhaps three diamond would be a better choice?

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Hi either Paul or Debkanti, (please excuse, since listing name protocol is often different, depending on the culture. Here, at least in the USA, usually first name first (to which I intended), but possibly reverse where you live. In any event, thanks for posting and please let me know what you prefer.

Next, no need to apologize since your question is clear and I will answer it, Yes, since East first bid hearts he probably is slightly more likely to hold the ace, but when a singleton is led from dummy and 2nd seat doesn’t play the ace (especially in a suit contract, that itself is a fair indication he doesn’t have it, making it a guess to which East should be proud to have cleverly ducked the jack from dummy. Just a guess with the answer lying somewhere between frequency of defenders normal play as against high-level good and thoughtful defense.

Finally, nothing teaches like being at the table and seeing two partnerships in bridge going after each other, this being an excellent example.

Welcome to our site, don’t be a stranger and much thanks for your kind words.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Yes 3NT is not only a better contract, it is a laydown, but holding North’s hand and hearing partner open the bidding in one’s 6 card suit (even if only a minor) , sometimes sways one away from the lesser trick requirement for game. Also from North’s viewpoint it wouldn’t take much to have a club slam, until South announced holding 3 spades which no doubt threw cold water on North’s slam plans unless, of course he got lucky with what those three spades happened to be.

BTW, look what West’s very light overcall did to his opponents. Dangerous, yes, but effective, you betcha (at least on this hand).

Finally, there is no highlighted specific guideline in when to duck an ace (against a suit contract, wherein against NT it would normally be standard practice), but when a scare dummy comes down (and North seemed to have a great dummy with clubs as trump), strong and sometimes unusual defense is sometimes called for which means taking some chances rather than only playing (if you’ll excuse the expression) aces and cinches (a poker term tuned to bridge, at least on this hand).

DEBKANTI PAULJanuary 9th, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for your gracious comments. Please feel free to call me either Deb or Paul. . I have no words to describe how privileged I feel to have access to your bridge thinking..

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Hi Jim2,

Even though some cue bids, at the lower levels, just ask partner to do something intelligent, in this case that would certainly get the job done when partner (as you say, after the support double) would certainly comply and bid 3NT. However North was probably hoping for a club slam which, when partner then responded 3NT would not cause North to still be without enough evidence that he had not yet done enough to show his club oriented strength once partner opened the bidding with that suit. No doubt he would be virtually certain that 3NT would be an easy make, but he (and I could not blame him) for still not giving up on greater things to which it is possible his 5 club bid could elicit a raise to 6, depending on his hand (however, not on this one).

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 6:07 pm

Hi Humble Bill,

For a minute, no only for a few seconds, did I not realize that it was only you expressing your admiration for the 4-6 in the blacks that prompted you to fall in love with the hand presented. Remember that the 6-4 hand in the BWTA had altogether different bidding (than did the main column hand). wherein partner may have a singleton club plus modest values to only raise 1 spade to 2 (perhaps 8-10 balanced points with no matching honor in clubs) IOW, over partner’s possible return to 3 spades over my 3 club game try would not only get me to pass, but also to be sorry I didn’t think of doing so one round earlier.

However, yes certain hands partner may hold (good interior spades would be a good beginning) and a few clubs also might help, allowing a decent play for 4 spades, the only possible game worth striving for.

And thanks for reminding me of how meek you consider yourself. When next we meet, whenever and where ever it may be, from the halls of Montezuma to heaven’s gate, I will always consider it an honor to just be in your presence, particularly so if it is at a bar, where neither one of us will ever wrestle for the bar bill, not because neither of us want to pay, but only because both of us are so meek, to which we both expect to not only inherit the earth, but to be exempt from having to deal with the dark places.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 6:19 pm


Yes there is love all around, particularly so with the bridge writer in control, who has the simple power to make any play he chooses allow the actor to go from a KING to unfortunately letting the jack ride. And thus in order to give credit to East, West will be duty bound to both possess the nine of hearts and then, of course to triumphantly lead it.

Yes, those are the great times which make up for the normal times of trial and error. Thanks for your appreciation of thoughtful defense.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 6:28 pm

Hi Ken,

Glad you noticed. No, I wouldn’t have bid with that terrible collection to which you have properly evaluated.

However, the longer I play, the more I see “big” bidders, for whatever different reasons, get good results from their exaggerated efforts. However the proof only allows the ones who get their porridge just the right temperature and show strict consistency so that partner will have a much better chance to also shine. Bridge is definitely the poster child for teamwork, with neither partner trying to outshine or outdo the other.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Hi Paul,

Although 2 (or even 3) diamonds instead of 2 hearts may have been a likely choice, I see more possible gain from bidding 2 hearts since opposite a normal overcall (especially if also finding a heart fit) our side may even have a game. Yes, rose colored glassed are being worn, but someone has to first bid the suit, before we can get lucky. And also I, sitting East would normally prefer a heart lead, not a diamond, with that statement showing how little I know about getting good results.

Thanks for your considered opinion.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Hi again Paul,

And thanks again for your very kind words, but, after all, that is what this site is all about, to discuss different subjects about bridge which, if done till Gabriel blows his horn, would still be a very long wait, but to bridge lovers, time would pass like we were all standing still.

Ken MooreJanuary 9th, 2019 at 11:58 pm

The harder you work and the more you prepare, the more luck you encounter.

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2019 at 4:39 am

Hi Ken,

Just like almost every endeavor we seek.