Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

I use the rules to frustrate the law. But I didn’t set up the ground rules.

F. Lee Bailey

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


It is painful enough when your own bad play earns you a poor result, but it can be especially galling when your opponents appear to have done the wrong thing and then score well, as in today’s deal. It seemed that North-South had misjudged the auction to reach a failing contract. But it did not work out that way.

At his third turn, North believed he was facing extra shape and values, so he eschewed playing three no-trump, instead heading for the club game. The no-trump game might have failed, but five clubs was hardly a comfortable spot either.

West led the spade king and continued with the ace and a third spade when he found his partner with a doubleton. Declarer ruffed with dummy’s club jack, and East was unable to over-ruff. In order to keep four cards in each of dummy’s and declarer’s side-suits, he decided to under-ruff.

South now drew the right conclusion from East’s play. He played three rounds of hearts before leading trumps, ruffing the third heart in dummy. The ace and king of clubs brought down West’s queen. Now South could lead out his remaining trumps to squeeze East in the red suits and bring home the game.

Had West shifted to a diamond after cashing the top spades, South would probably have worked out why the defenders had failed to try for a possible trump trick. But perhaps East could have given false count in spades; then declarer might not have realized what was going on, and would have taken the trump finesse.

Your partner’s call could be based on a long suit (clubs?) plus a heart stopper, or else a balanced 20-plus in high cards; you really do not know which. Fortunately, you do not have to commit yourself. Instead, simply raise to four no-trump to try to get partner to let you know what he has. This is quantitative, not Blackwood, thus non-forcing.


♠ 6 4
 K 7
 A K 9 5 2
♣ J 10 9 7
South West North East
  2 3 NT 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


David WarheitMay 29th, 2019 at 12:24 pm

How about W shifting from S to anything at all at trick 2? Note that this defense works either at 3N or 5C. Double dummy? I don’t think so. W knows that his partner must have just enough to stop S from running either D or H and he can be almost certain S doesn’t have 5C, so there you are.

Bill CubleyMay 29th, 2019 at 1:49 pm


At my lower level most players believe firmly that 4NT requires answering aces. Even when Gerber is on the card and partner did not ask for aces. I have vainly asked directors to explain to the opponents that answering aces when not asked creates a real UI problem as partner is not allowed to understand that the number of aces was bid when that question was never asked,

A.V.Ramana RaoMay 29th, 2019 at 4:11 pm

Hi David
The crux of the hand is club suit handling. If declarer takes finesse , he goes down and if he plays for fall of Q he will always make it. Shifting to another suit by West is not going to help defense for e.g.., if West shifts to a heart , dummy wins and a spade played. West can win and try another heart but South wins and rufffs spade high squeezing East. Same happens if West shifts to a diamond

Iain ClimieMay 29th, 2019 at 4:39 pm


There is scope for the infamous Grosvenor coup here, where declarer is likely to mess up the next few hands as well (so ideal for teams). Imagine West has Cxx and doesn’t give East the spade overruff but plays a red card instead. South is naturally relieved, “knows” where the CQ is (as West didn’t try for an overruff) and plays for the drop on a hand which was 1) Cold off then 2) Cold. Similarly if South held Q10xxxx opposite A9xxx as a trump suit, led the Q for effect and the next hand (with KJ) played the J and declarer plays the Ace. All but the strongest minded will be talking to themselves inwardly for the next few hands.

Happened to my partner last week – declarer led the J form KJx towards A9x and a bemused partner was so stunned he didn’t cover with Qxx.



bobbywolffMay 29th, 2019 at 4:52 pm

Hi David & AVRR,

I agree with this hand being dependent on declarer guessing the club position, with the G2 for that being East’s initial spade signal at trick one. Whatever his partnership signals mean, he, East, needs to give the opposite signal to what they are.

Simple as that and by doing so EW, with East, the weak hand becoming the star of the show by allowing South to go set, because of the clever East ruse.

No, East needs not to be able to figure out the squeeze which will enable declarer to succeed, once he knows about East not signalling for an over ruff, and yes it is conceivable for declarer to lead spades himself after the false signal at trick one by East.

But in truth that probably will not occur and thus the simple (and logical) play by East of camouflaging the overruff denial figures to bring home the bacon.

Yes, and no doubt a diamond switch at trick two will be best by West, and unless declarer himself boldly later leads his 3rd spade and ruffs it high in dummy he will probably go set.

Would we call East’s ruse, technical ability or just plain common sense? Whatever we choose, means that he has been around a few bridge tables in his life and has a good “feel” for what to do.

bobbywolffMay 29th, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Hi Bill,

While I understand your likely experiences with opposing partnerships having one opponent bid what he means as a quantitative 4NT only for his partner to instead answer with the number of aces held,

Actually some middle of the road bridge partnerships play that even if 4NT is not asking, when his partner answers in a suit that does accept moving forward, but also shows the number of aces (or KC) held, while others play that bid as showing a possible alternate slam trump suit.

In any event, by so doing my guess is that UI doesn’t really enter, or even if it does, there is enough confusion so that the bidders are more subject to not understanding than would be the opponents being disadvantaged by possible UI.

bobbywolffMay 29th, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Hi Iain,

While your sense of humor continues with thoughts of Grosvenor tactics in order to drive your specific opponents daffy,let me remind you of Damon Runyon’s (he being a sports writer with a keen wit) famous quote. “The battle doesn’t always go to the strongest, nor the race to the swift, but that’s the way to bet”.

Leaving no doubt as to what the winning bridge player would and should do, fall victim to your tactics, but when so doing join in the humor your plays create, even when the laughs on them.

A.V.Ramana RaoMay 29th, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Hi lain
But if West held only x x in clubs and partner echoed on spade A and K , any West would logically lead a spade killing south’s presumed Q. Perhaps it would be poor defense if West shifts to a red suit instead of continuing spades

Iain ClimieMay 29th, 2019 at 5:21 pm


You’re dead right of course but that’s the point with the dreaded coup – the perpetrator gives the other side a chance they should never have had, they fail to take it out of total disbelief that anyone could do that and spend 30 mins or more kicking themselves. That is why it is best reserved for IMPs when only (say) an overtrick or two is at stake; do it at pairs and they’ll give the next two pairs sitting your way gifts.

Basically the victim is steaming inside, thinking how could I get conned by that blithering idiot, front-row lemming or whatever, and totally loses focus. An IMP or two well spent if you have that twisted a sense of humour and a tolerant partner.


A.V.Ramana RaoMay 29th, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Hi lain
Now I know the concept and true meaning of Sadism

David WarheitMay 29th, 2019 at 10:20 pm

AVRR: OK, I’m only half right. My defense still beats 3N, unless W allows himself to be endplayed by hanging on to the HQ, but the question still remains: which game is better, 3N or 5C? The correct answer, of course, is neither.

a.V.Ramana RaoMay 30th, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Hi David
Five clubs may or may not be right but Three NT is simply the choice of a lemming