Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Mao Zedong

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


The modern defender has to have a number of weapons in his armory. These include a method of leading (top of honor sequences, fourth-highest from length, occasionally second-highest from four or five small against no-trump). Then he needs a system of signaling — high cards for an even number or encouragement — plus the judicious use of suit-preference signals. When attitude and count are irrelevant or already known, high cards suggest the higher suit, low cards the lower.

A hot potato when it comes to signaling at no trump is the Smith Echo. After the opening lead, each defensive hand can use this tool to reinforce whether they like that suit as soon as possible. Following to declarer’s first lead, when not giving count, a defender’s high spot card encourages the suit of the opening lead, while a low spot card denies extras in that suit. This signal can produce tempo problems – and sometimes the message can be conveyed in other ways, as in today’s deal.

Against three no-trump, West’s heart four went to the 10 and king. South played on clubs, West winning the second round as East echoed, to say he liked hearts. West now decided that South might be left with the bare heart queen, so he cashed the ace, which was fatal since it blocked the suit.

Note: If East had broken the bridge rules by playing the heart jack to trick one, then West knows that a low heart at his next turn is right, whether East has the queen or not, since South surely has the 10! West can subsequently overtake the queen to run the suit and defeat the game.

Whether playing inverted raises or not (where a simple raise promises a limit raise or better), this hand is on the cusp between a diamond raise and a one-no-trump response. In a strong no-trump base, I lean slightly toward bidding one no-trump, since it isn’t entirely clear I will be wrong-siding no-trump. As a passed hand, I might raise diamonds, since partner is slightly more likely to have real diamonds.


♠ K 10 6
 8 6 3
 K 10 6 3
♣ K J 6
South West North East
    1 Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Ken MooreJanuary 29th, 2019 at 4:16 pm


Probably the number 1 reason for losing a hand is the play on the first trick – yesterday. But close behind is the “automatic” play – yesterday and today.

Thinking is so hard and exhausting.

Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Hi Bobby,

Are there any simple guidelines for when to depart from normal play as here? With KQ or QJ alone, for example, when would you play the higher card instead of the lower? I suppose one case would be with KQx or KQ in spades (say) defending 3N after 1N 3N when you know partner has a couple of Jacks at most and you think partner has 5 Spades. In the first case it might be worth playing K then Q hoping declarer assumes the suit is 5-2, in the latter case, Q followed by King may make declarer duck twice. Declarer, of course, will be aware of what you might be up to and the mental tussles get interesting especially at pairs.



Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2019 at 5:36 pm

Hi Ken,

Yes, and no doubt, your overall summation of the equivalence of bridge and its thinking, though sometimes difficult and exasperating, keeps our minds sharper, not to mention, younger.

Victor Mollo’s menagerie then has called attention to us of animals turned into bridge players which in turn, in a weird sort of way, may remind us of the most important difference humans enjoy, the ability to reason.

Without which, our intelligence and good sense evaporate, hopefully then goading us to use our noggin as best we can.

Hard work? sometimes, fun?, mostly, challenging? you betcha!

Good luck and keep chuggin…!

Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2019 at 5:57 pm

Hi Iain,

You present an interesting philosophical approach to playing deception (mostly defending but certainly not always) in order to mislead declarer (or the defense), but at the same time and while defending, keeping partner clear from error.

Worldwide bridge then comes galloping into my mind, where this subject may meet an impasse, always to be continually argued but never actually solved, especially to eveyone’s satisfaction.

IOW, different worldwide bridge venues lead differently, think differently, and therefore in order to be successful in the above goal, must tailor the play to whomever one is playing against.

I’ll leave it to agree with you, but any examples given should then specify that venues traditional handling of playing specific card combinations.

Yes, winning bridge is nothing short of demanding the attempt to fool even (at least occasionally) very competent bridge competitors, but what exactly to do, will always remain, IMO, up for grabs as to whom, one is competing against.

Mircea1January 29th, 2019 at 8:57 pm

I’m trying to understand West reasoning for cashing the ace of hearts when he got in with the AC. If declarer started with KQ bare in hearts, partner started with J 10 7. Will partner play the 10 from this and then encourage (through Smith Echo) with such a holding?

Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2019 at 11:18 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I give ypu a dilemma from tonight, please? You hold 10xxx Qx xx 108xxx (typical) at adverse. 1D on your right, P, 4H on your left and partner doubles. Help! Pass or run? You haven’t discussed this sequence, strangely enough.



Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2019 at 1:30 am

Hi Iain,

Even if discussed, usually by that partnership to only do the right thing, but if going further they probably would agree that if faced with the dilemma you are experiencing, a hand good for neither, to merely pass and hope for a miracle down one while your side is down a couple at your then best contract available.

Good luck to whatever you did, and hopefully your future decisions will be more cut and dried.

My grudging answer is to pass, and take my chances that way, but any real conviction held by any bridge player would become a fantasy at best.

Iain ClimieJanuary 30th, 2019 at 9:36 am

Hi Bobby,

My partner actually held this and, after wriggling unhappily, decided to take his chances in 4S. Unfortunately I held AK9 AJx KJ109 Jxx and felt I simply couldn’t pass 4H; my RHO had taken a flyer with H109xxxxx and not much else so 4HX is actually a couple off whereas 4S doubled had a horrific time, especially as it started DA cashed, heart through the AJx, understandably ducked, CAK dropping CQx club ruff, heart ruff, Ouch!

Pass works, though.



Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2019 at 4:15 pm

Hi Iain,

Sometimes huge swings result from basically what most good players might think is close to a 50-50 decision.

Your example in bridge is, at least to me, one of those.

In life as well as playing our beloved game it is also true, and one long ago movie, “The Sliding Door” is exemplified in spades when a young lady is depicted as both getting into a subway train at the last split second when the door barely allows it, as against also, the 2nd acted out story, when she misses.

Her life is so radically changed because of it with one or the other making the gigantic difference, directly affecting almost 100% of her happiness for the entire time of her last 50+ years on earth.

Of course, no one, while playing bridge, can imagine those same stakes, but a number of bridge world championships have been decided by something which appeared that close.

Learn and live, live and learn, is good advice and at least one should, if given a chance, attempt to take the current when it serves or risk losing his or her fortune. No one ever knows when, if ever, he might get another chance.

And while your stakes appeared somewhat a trifle less, still the principle involved would apply, but sadly the winning choice did not come recognized as a gift,

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2019 at 4:39 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Sorry for first overlooking your new post which, at least to me, is a very important one and needs to be discussed and concerning two critical issues.

Directly, while holding J107 instead of QJ10, but not holding, anything of preference (this hand as an example), I would still give a positive Smith Echo for hearts, since compared to another choice, the holding of the Jack is reason enough. Also I think when and if partner continues with the ace, and I think he should, it becomes clear cut, at least to me, to jettison the jack in order to effect the unblock.

Also, and extremely important to me is that Smith Echo, very much like odd and even discards (odd being positive and even being negative) the tempo of the defender with the problem MUST not change his tempo, from slow to fast, or even worse from fast to slow, otherwise partner will be advantaged to know that partner either had a clear cut reason for playing fast or, of course, the same for playing slowly.

Unfortunately our game, being what it is, demands such sometimes difficult active ethics in order to keep the playing field level for all defenders, and NEVER give a fast or slow tempo significant edge especially to a wary partner, who in many cases, I think most, will be able to calibrate what his problem likely involves.

Others do not like my position on the above, possibly for altruistic reasons, but also possible since they do not mind getting a chance to often be right because of the, what is to me, a gigantic advantage to be enabled by how long it takes.

Should we continue to allow such goings on at the table or, if so, what strictures should we employ to deflect that enormous gain?

Mircea1January 30th, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your reply.

I read somewhere that one of the biggest weakness of our beloved game (compared with the other great mind games, like chess and go) is the innate ability to cheat. The simple thing that the game is played in pairs (hence the name), makes cheating always possible, no matter what is done to prevent it. This is the same as anything else in life where humans are required to work together.

What strikes me even more about bridge is how much it resembles real life. There are so many parallels that one can draw from bridge and real life that you may think that after all, our own life is nothing but a big game.

On a practical side, I think preventative measures and strict enforcement, same like in real life, are the only measures that can be effective in curbing cheating.

Bobby WolffJanuary 31st, 2019 at 1:24 am

Hi Mircea1,

Bingo! I think you have said it all, but accomplishing such is much tougher than it appears.

Yes there are many who have either transgressed to cheating or if not, will soon be threats to do so. Add that to all the social and I suppose legal rules against accusations, even though the person doing so is no less than 100% sure, been right there when it happened and even heard total confessions by the suspects.

It is indeed an ugly game, where cheaters have many ways to save themselves from both disgrace and more important to some, just the lost reputation of having done it.

Alternatives such as every player in a different room or other electronic communication still may not keep some from finding confederates who will help them. IOW it will be no easy task to keep bridge both challenging and also fun to play.

There seems to be many wannabes who are quite satisfied to not be one of the so-called stars, but enjoy making it as tough as they can for others to both have pleasant surroundings while playing and to allow reputable people to both police the game and cooperate with them with harsh long lasting penalties, which to my way of thinking is just the start of what it will take to adequately both police and honor the game itself.

Good luck to us!!

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