Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

When I consider life, ‘tis all a cheat;
Yet fooled with hope, men favor the deceit.

John Dryden

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


In Larry Cohen’s “Tricks of the Trade,” he bravely ventures into tough ethical territory, namely that while few players seek to draw inferences from a partner’s pauses, sometimes you can be unconsciously swayed into doing what is best for your side.

Take the East hand in today’s deal, where partner leads the heart two, your style being to lead low from three small (unless you have raised the suit). Declarer drops the jack under your king. If this a true card and declarer has, for example, a singleton heart and jack-third of clubs, you can still beat the hand by exiting passively in trumps. If partner has a singleton heart, you may not even need to give him the ruff, since you now have three heart winners.

You appear to have a real problem, but what if partner’s second pass (after South’s two spades), took a full minute? He must not have three hearts and scattered minor-suit values; if he did, he would have acted on his first turn or passed easily on his second. Maybe has both minors with a singleton heart and was thinking of coming in.

The East at the table, who could not have been unaware of his partner’s deliberation, was not fooled by South’s ingenious falsecard. He gave his partner a ruff at trick two, necessary to set the game.

East may not have realized that his decision was influenced by West’s hesitation. Players can be improperly influenced subconsciously, but they should try to ignore all such unauthorized information.

Your hand is clearly worth a drive to game, but a jump to game should be at least partly about shape, not just high cards — say the same hand, but with the heart king instead of the club ace. The actual hand offers prospects of slam because of the controls, so I would start with a game-forcing bid in the fourth suit of two clubs, then raise spades. That would show a game force with four spades.


♠ A K 6 3
 Q 9 6 5
 6 3
♣ A 7 4
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 Pass 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


Iain ClimieMay 22nd, 2019 at 10:23 am

HI Bobby,

I recall one of your BOLS bridge tips was “Your tempo is showing” and which argued for the need to keep a steady tempo. Two points spring to mind.

Firstly, a rapid pass (and not just after a skip / jump bid) can accidentally convey information; it may be worth spending (say) 4-5 seconds on each bid to avoid this. Secondly, if I caught myself having a think on the West hand today, I’d bid 3C rather than passing, although I think I would have passed in rythmn at the table. Better to take the odd large penalty than to have people think your partnership is guilty (even accidentally) of taking advantage of hesitations.



bobbywolffMay 22nd, 2019 at 11:57 am

Hi Iain,

If only your comment could be widely spread and, of course, your solution, in context, always be considered.

My guess is that in most appeals committees, TDs and/or experienced player committees, the result would allow the result to stand, (making the spade game) since, at the time West by his study and then pass could not have foreseen what his study and then pass might then result except basically barring his partner from competing if it would then have gone pass by North after South had shown a minimum.

However, to explore further, while the above is true, nevertheless West’s 2nd round study should bar partner from taking advantage of what the column suggested of unauthorized information for the defense, although I certainly agree that when West studied before passing, he was not, in any way, trying to advantage partner since he should have known by doing so, partner,, if North had indeed passed 2 spades, East would then have been barred from bidding (assuming he had more or less. the approximate hand he held.).

Yes, our game has important ethical rules and they must be followed meaning a long and studied pass may very well come back to haunt the slower thinker, with this being an excellent, but, no doubt, controversial example.

Also, yes, bridge is a thinking man’s game, but without our ethical strictures, BTW, not nearly as heinous as even being in the same discussion as collusive cheating, but nevertheless important to the game’s structure and Iain’s marvelous comment could be the poster child for future rulings.

Finally this hand could have awakened all wannabe bridge lawyers, regardless of which side one takes. That, in itself, is indigenous to our great game, which needs the cooperation of actively ethical players (like Iain), who regard that necessary caveat properly, in high esteem.

An argument may follow and I, for one, can understand the opposing view, causing the scribe in this committee to thoroughly discuss the prose, cons and reasoning behind the result. In turn, will allow this decision to likely then be discussed should a similar situation occur in the future, allowing a precedent to be recorded for future committees to have available.

David WarheitMay 23rd, 2019 at 7:10 am

The ruff at trick 2 does not “set the game”. S can now slough his third H on the CA, draw trump, lose a D and ruff his remaining 2 D. E must cash the HA and then give his partner a ruff in order to set the game.

bobbywolffMay 23rd, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Hi David,

Yes indeed, your eagle eye has uncovered an untruth in our description which in reality demands East to go all in with cashing the heart ace at trick two before giving partner his ruff.

Furthermore, a slightly different South (and conceivably East) hand could require East to merely lead a low heart back (keeping his heart A10 over dummy, once declarer has false carded his jack) in order to defeat the contract.

Your continued superior analytical talent will always tempt me to merely claim, “Don’t blame me, I only work here” but unfortunately for me, there are also ethics against lying, as well as for our sensational game.

Instead, just a sheepish, “Thank you”!