Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 28th, 2018

I hit a grand slam off Ron Herbel, and when his manager, Herman Franks, came out to get him, he was bringing Herbel’s suitcase.

Bob Uecker

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


After North’s Jacoby two-no-trump call, promising four-card spade support, South started cue-bidding, asked for key-cards, then confirmed that the partnership had them all by bidding five no-trump. When North showed the club king, South bid what he thought he could make.

West led the heart 10, and declarer counted 12 winners (five spades, four hearts, and three minor-suit tricks). If spades were no worse than 3-1, he could draw trumps and discard a diamond from dummy on the fourth round of hearts; then dummy would be able to take a diamond ruff.

Declarer played low from dummy at trick one, winning his jack in hand. Next, he carefully played a high trump from hand. When West discarded a diamond, declarer could see that trying to ruff a diamond was too dangerous a policy to pursue. Instead, he decided to ruff two clubs in hand without using the heart ace as an entry. He cashed the club ace and king, then ruffed a club low when East followed suit. Next, he led the trump queen to dummy’s ace and ruffed dummy’s last club with the jack. His remaining trump, the five, went to dummy’s nine. After drawing East’s last trump with the 10, declarer claimed thirteen tricks: four trumps, four hearts, a diamond, two clubs and two club ruffs.

Note that the bad heart break means that if declarer had been prodigal with his trump entries (by playing a low trump toward dummy at trick two), he would have gone down.

I haven’t incorporated many modern treatments into my armory, but one I do like is to play three clubs as the second negative over opener’s rebid of two of a major. This ensures that three no-trump, if we reach it, will be played the right way up. Had partner responded two spades, I think I would jump to four spades rather than splinter to four hearts. (I’d need a king or two queens for that.)


♠ 9 7 6 4
 J 10 8 5
♣ 10 9 6 2
South West North East
    2 ♣ 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


jim2January 11th, 2019 at 1:10 pm

It is purely a style point, but I would have led the small spade to the 9S for the second round of trump and kept the QS to AS until later. I see no reason to prolong the presence in hand of a trump lower than those held by an opponent unless I need it for an entry, finesse, or endplay.

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Hi Jim2,

A living, breathing suggestion of individual
discipline, not particularly related to any specific hand nor situation, but instead a positive bridge habit which, over the course of a long competitive career, will keep the bogey man distanced and unable to damage rare oversights.

And, think of the enormity of his admission, attention to detail in the face of suffering from TOCM TM, a normally lethal bridge disease, which to most if not all, makes kibitzers out of even world class players, no doubt with him being the poster boy, for that title.

A V Ramana RaoJanuary 11th, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
An elegant dummy reversal but had west been dealt with ten and nine of clubs alongwith Q, squeezing him in minors would be more fun

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2019 at 6:16 pm


Yes, but results, and however best to achieve them, have a longer lasting life
than personal joys.

The problem arises, IMO much more often than thought possible, when some players value looking good to others rather than team (or partnership) success.

Methinks an important phrase was left out when some great writer once wrote something like, When the great scorer marks beside your name, it is not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game, he forgot to follow that with, “assuming that you won”, although I think, whether he added that or not, it belonged there, not phonetically, but actually. “Grantland Wolff”.

Ken MooreJanuary 11th, 2019 at 6:56 pm


I see stretching the bidding from game to a small slam because of the win/loss points. But stretching a small slam to a grand slam is far more risky. But that seems to be the case here and in previous columns.

Is that typical at your level of play?

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2019 at 7:47 pm

Hi Ken,

Basically your relatively short description is correct.

It is about percentages which in turn need to be factored into the type of bridge event (rubber, IMPs, and/or matchpoints) is being played, plus the caliber of the players involved, the vulnerability and if a tournament, the state of the match or game.

With small slams it is looser since when figuring percentages and one trick can still be lost, a partnership can have normal luck (rarely is everything known in advance) wherein what works here doesn’t work there so luck will determine that one trick is lost. However with grand slams the partnership should be at least 99% certain that there will be no immediate trick lost (all the 1st round controls) a source of tricks and about 65%+ chance of success for all the tricks.

Yes, the above is generally true, but, of course, the level of play (with the bidding accented) must be high enough so that nothing, if possible, is up in the air, and bridge science tells the partnership that it is odds on the grand slam will be made (unless very unlucky).

The above is a very general discussion and not nearly lengthy enough to be of much use, but my guess is that you didn’t expect me to go much further with my advice.

Good luck!

Mircea1January 11th, 2019 at 9:52 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think (your former partner?) Eddie Kantar (also an Ace) offered a rather inferior solution to his first problem in this month’s Test Your Play column (ACBL Bulletin, page 59). This is the hand:

A 8 7 4 3
6 2
K J 2
A J 5

6 2
A K Q 5
A 5 4
K Q 8 3

Contract is 6C on SJ lead (promising 0 or 2 higher). The queen drops from East under the ace. Opps silent during the auction. His solution essentially relies on the diamond finesse, which works, but I’m wondering whether in light of what happened at trick 1, pitching a diamond from dummy on hearts and ruffing two red card losers from hand is not superior. I did some hands-on analysis and it appears that the only question is whether or not East started with 5 clubs to the T9. In all other cases when clubs are not worse than 5-1 (with East having the length) this line makes.

I totally understand it if you choose not to respond to this.

Bobby WolffJanuary 13th, 2019 at 5:34 am


While I do not choose to not respond, I certainly hesitate to do the necessary math to compare lines.

However I will volunteer that the play of the spade queen at trick one by East only restricts East to at one time having the spade queen in his hand. Since all combinations of spade holdings from West having the other four to him having started with only a singleton.

The fact that good players play conventional leads (they no doubt do) but especially when defending vs. a slam, all combinations are not only possible, but trying to guess which overall holding exists hasn’t changed by whatever East has played (assuming he has followed with a spade).

Someone capable somewhere will probably be able to figure out which line is best, but, at least for me, it would take more time than I can (or wish) to donate
to that cause.

Good luck!

A V Ramana RaoJanuary 13th, 2019 at 1:53 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
I think the above response is to the post from Mircea1 & coming to my post, Definitely I feel that team is more important than an individual . What I meant is : In case west is dealt with 10 & 9 clubs apart from the Q / east being dealt with any doubleton club, the squeeze on west in minors is inevitable. And if east is dealt with a singleton club, the dummy reversal would fail.( quite possible) And perhaps this is where the luck element plays a vital role. Sometimes players with superior judgment and experience fail as Dame fortune is unkind to them. ( perhaps unlucky expert from late Simon’s book is an example)
Best Regards

Bobby WolffJanuary 13th, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Hi AVRR & Mircea1,

Please accept my apology since I am 100% at fault.

It is indeed Mircea1, not AVRR, who wrote about Eddie Kantar’s ACBL play problem, so naturally I should have meant it directly to him.

Since both of you are significant assets to our bridge team I need to, at the very least, make fewer mistakes, to which I hope to give a determined effort.

And to AVRR, yes, I agree with your analysis, keeping in mind that while luck in bridge, especially for any one hand, is ever present and always prepared to upset apple carts, but, speaking generally, more often than not, on that one hand, at least a tiny bit of evidence appears, sometimes during the bidding phase (a barking dog or a quiet one), or with either varied tempos or slow opening leads which some declarers, almost always very high level ones, are able to discern and therefore capitalize on taking the winning line, strongly suggesting their talent to be thought of as special, instead of the opposite to what Skippy Simon labeled as “unlucky”.