Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 21st, 2019

The bell never rings of itself; unless someone handles or moves it, it is dumb.


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


When this deal originally appeared at the U.S. National tournament held in Philadelphia last year, it was called “Campanologist’s Delight.”

The author indicated that readers of bridge columns are always either advantaged or handicapped — depending on how you look at it — by the bell going off. When faced with a problem, the reader is always led to the critical decision and thus imperceptibly biased in his thought process. He is unable to play as he would have played if he had not been warned he was at the crossroads.

With that in mind, let us look at this deal from the second final session of the Rockwell Mixed Pairs. You sit East, and against three no-trump your partner leads a fourth-highest club five. You are allowed to win the queen and can see nothing better than to return the suit. Your partner wins the ace and returns the seven to clear the suit. Declarer wins the club jack and advances the diamond queen. Do you win or duck — and if you win, what do you return?

Answer: It doesn’t matter, because you can no longer beat three no-trump! If you failed to play the club 10 at trick one, you won’t beat the game. Your partner either has jack-sixth of clubs, in which case your play doesn’t matter at all, or his actual holding. If the latter, you want to persuade declarer to take his jack at the first trick, after which clubs will be ready to run.

Declarer can survive by not winning the club jack, but will he? I think not!

Don’t get carried away yet. Your partner could still have three small spades and a Yarborough! You have already shown a good hand, and the question is whether to show a strong balanced hand with a call of one (or two) no-trump or to raise spades to the two- or three-level. I’m not convinced that anything more than a cue-bid raise to two diamonds is called for.


♠ A K Q J 5
 K 5 2
 A 9 6
♣ K 9
South West North East
  1 Pass 1
Dbl. Pass 1 ♠ 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bob LiptonApril 4th, 2019 at 10:18 am

On the actual layout, declarer can always make 3NT by rising with the club King at trick 1. So: duck entirely or go for broke.


A.V.Ramana RaoApril 4th, 2019 at 10:57 am

Hi Bob
What if east held two small clubs initially ? Or even for that matter Q 10 x . South is bound to go down as long as diamond finesse fails. The clubs get blocked when you play K on the lead if the cards lay specifically in column line but that perhaps – is too much to ask for
And Dear Mr. Wolff
If east plays club ten on lead , I perceive that south can definitely prevail if he plays small. Clubs get blocked and south has tempo to develop diamond tricks for the game- or am I missing something?

jim2April 4th, 2019 at 1:10 pm

A.V.Ramana Rao –

On declarer ducking the 10C, note Our Host’s last line in the text.

A.V.Ramana RaoApril 4th, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Yes, My post was in response to that as our host mentions ” I think not ”

jim2April 4th, 2019 at 3:27 pm

A.V.Ramana Rao –

Ah, I think I see the dis-connect.

Our Host’s last remark is not if declarer will prevail if the 10C is ducked.

Rather, it was if any declarer could make THAT play.

A.V.Ramana RaoApril 4th, 2019 at 4:20 pm

Oh – I too see it now

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Hi Bob, AVRR, & Jim2,

Thanks to all three of you for merely getting involved. Bob for his correct statement, AVRR for his right-on analysis, and, of course Jim2, for his very often, and consistent, insightful interpretation.

Whether hands like the above are helpful in causing interest in and enticing some into our sometimes overwhelming mental exercise, can be debated, and or counter intuitive plays (rise with the king of clubs at trick one) or if not, ducking the club both in dummy and when East plays the 10 (instead of the queen) at trick one is also almost supernatural.

However to some cerebral players by visualizing what happens (with unusual combinations of cards) it becomes a vital learning experience to the mystery and thus lure of our often very difficult game.

Of course, to then not allow these aberrations to throw any of us off course in just following our normal instincts in playing our dealt ducats in what is usually a 99+% use of our bridge brain.

No doubt it takes a well balanced mindset to endure a hand like today, but to not know such puzzles sometimes exist will not, IMO, help some very interested bridge mind on his way to becoming a very good player.

Thanks to all of the readers who at least somewhat agree to what is being written, but to all who don’t, I still respect your ability to have much enjoyment and exercizing competitive spirit while playing it.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2019 at 4:41 pm

To everyone,

And what if clubs started out being distributed 4-4 EW with the diamond finesse onside (no doubt much more likely than today’s layout), anyone taking today’s card combination seriously would not likely get congratulations from partner for winding up with no club tricks, therefore an unsuccessful 3NT contract.

jim2April 4th, 2019 at 7:06 pm

Heh-eh, if I ducked the 10C, East would have started with a club holding of 107 doubleton.

Bob LiptonApril 4th, 2019 at 7:23 pm

If I ducked it, Jim2, he would have started with ATx.


jim2April 4th, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Bob Lipton –

Even crueler than mine! But one trick fewer down, however.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Hi Jim2 & Bob,

Details, except in the Guinness book of world records for most tricks lost as declarer with one single play.

However by saying that, I’ll be contradicted by someone who possibly lost 13 tricks more than necessary when they took a losing finesse at trick one and then got shut out, when able to take all 13 by instead, winning.

Even then that specific hand may be out done by someone who was allowed to bid 8 of some suit, then lost the first trick to an opponent who had revoked and then after declarer took the rest a TD claimed the contract was made, by his arbitrary right, written in the rule book, in the event of a revoke, to be enabled to restore equity.

“Yes, Virginia there are idiots around, who concentrate on bridge laws”.

Bill CubleyApril 4th, 2019 at 9:24 pm

The record for most tricks lost on opening lead is 26. You can get 13 tricks on defense or 13 tricks on offense. Fantunes lead wrong against Larry Cohen and David Berkowitz.

The auctions was 3D X P 3NT, P 6NT all pass. Larry was declarer. You can enail Larry Cohen or ask on his website.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2019 at 9:36 pm

Hi Bill (also answers to Gullible),

I believe the act mentioned occurred, but not the cast of characters. Fantunes rarely if ever, got off to the wrong lead, unless they were hired as actors to play that part.

Even then they probably forgot and responded correctly to what their partner wanted or, of course, they were void in that suit, but, if so, the opening leader’s partner already knew that and retracted his choice.