Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Who shoots at the mid-day sun, though he be sure he shall never hit the mark; yet as sure he is he shall shoot higher than who aims but at a bush.

Sir Philip Sidney

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


**Short spades


In the quarterfinals of the 2018 McConnell Cup, this board was critical to the win for Nicola Smith’s team over a Polish squad.

In one room facing a strong no-trump, the Polish North had stopped in three clubs. But Smith drove her partner Yvonne Wiseman to five clubs, by showing clubs and short spades.

After a spade lead and top heart shift, there is a winning line that does not require you to guess clubs, as we shall see. However, Wiseman won the heart king and played the top clubs, then exited in clubs, letting West win and play back a top spade. Wiseman now ran all but one of the trumps, then played the king, ace and a third diamond, ruffing in dummy.

East’s last three cards included the diamond queen and either two hearts or the spade jack and one heart. West mistakenly pitched her heart, and declarer scored her last two tricks with the heart ace and 10.

West should have expected East to have encouraged hearts at trick two with the 10. Furthermore, declarer would surely have ruffed out spades for her 11th trick if she had begun with five.

In the open event, Jacek Kalita received the same lead and continuation, but won the heart ace. Then came a spade ruff, the club king, club ace and a second spade ruff. Now declarer cashed the diamond ace, took a third spade ruff, and followed with the diamond king and a diamond ruff. The trump exit endplayed West to lead a heart, and South had a brilliancy prize candidate.

I would double. A call of no-trump gets the value of the hand across, but may land us in the wrong part-score far too often, while also potentially wrongsiding the contract. By doubling and raising partner’s majorsuit response to the two-level, we can describe our strength while maximizing our chances of reaching the best strain.


♠ 5 4 3 2
 A 10 6 2
 A K 5
♣ A 6
South West North East
      1 ♣

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


jim2October 10th, 2019 at 12:19 pm

This hand was first played at the Lower Slobbovia 2017 Mud Cup.

Almost everyone ended up in 3N, and the defense cashed four spades before East exited with the QD. (with declarer preserving Board’s Kx H for a late entry)

All the declarers then cashed the AC and led the 6. They either made it or went down one depending on what card they played next from dummy.

Oddly enough, most made it as East’s QD lead at Trick 5 convinced them that East held diamond length.

Iain ClimieOctober 10th, 2019 at 1:21 pm

Hi Jim2,

Silly East – why not lead the D10 or 8?

Less flippantly someone (according to Gerald Abrahams in Brains in Bridge) found themselves many years ago in 6S at rubber bridge after an uninterrupted rustic auction which started something like 1D 2S and soon bashed into 6S. Declarer looked pretty safe except the C9 was lead and dummy held AJx opposite declarer’s Q10x. taking no chances, declarer played the CA and found West had started with CK98xxxx so RHO ruffed and a club was lost later! RHO would actually have given the game away with a Lightner double.



bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Experience with cards, with our game of bridge likely the best example, seems to specialize with declarer hands needing to make a similar decision to today’s example.

And as soon as the dummy is laid, all four players (likely even the dummy), assuming they are 6 years old or older (of course, with some bridge experience, even perhaps only a few hours, but already with some numeracy and cunning), know what that problem will be, assuming Steven Potter hasn’t recently written a best seller, no doubt, calling it Bridgemanship.

Therefore, immediately the declarer pauses while looking for “tells” but not finding them, while the two defenders search for ways to legally throw declarer off. Of course East if holding only a low singleton club, (and, of course on lead after winning the 4th spade trick), will try to look short in as many other suits as he can in order to at least attempt to foil declarer’s guess.

However, there are professional ways for the defense to increase their chances for success. West can keep his two little clubs on the end of his hand with the queen carefully hidden underneath the rest of his cards and sort of flash his hand in a no doubt deft maneuver which could on most days influence declarer into a losing move. And then of course East can put two cards on the end of his hand (one not being a club) and then play one of those two (the only club) in plain sight of the poor declarer.

Going further, if holding Qx instead, East could show out of the first club play, but then excuse himself and retract his red card and exclaim, “sorry I have a club”.

If done, that defender, or likely both may have some explaining to do, but, (take it from someone who was duped in his much younger days) he will likely not say a word about it, but instead be on the alert to move a closer step to have those tactics help him make these “tough” decisions by only understanding that those types of opposing partnerships are more prevalent than first thought and consider yourself going through a “learning experience’ instead of just a very angry time.

bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Hi Iain,

If someone on lead against a suit slam and while holding K9xxxxx of a side suit leads the suit at all, assuming the opponent’s bidding didn’t almost demand that suit to be led (not usually the case) and without a Lightner double by his partner, often showing a void, then a light should immediately start blinking, or like on a rifle range the flag will start waving which, in turn at the bridge table, will definitely mean that there is something “rotten in the state of Denmark” (sorry to the Danes and/or the Bard) as far as the possibility of serious hanky-panky going on.

Not that any adjustment will be automatic, but it certainly needs to be reported to the bridge police ASAP.

Two truths should immediately emerge:

1. Cheating at bridge is impossible to overcome and thus, as a penalty when it occurs, a lifetime ban MUST be given, if for no other reason than it not only will enable a very average player (usually a partnership) to win almost all the time, but that our game stops being a game worthy of even being played.

2. Just using the above hand, when and if a Lightner double is used, then the opponents may have the “wiggle” room available to counteract the opponent’s legal way to get that spade lead (by sometimes running to 6NT instead or whatever). IOW, cheating at bridge has even more advantage that ever can be imagined, far worse than even Lance Armstrong gained with his bike racing, since then, when those rules were not followed he still had to win the race, but bridge cheaters only gain and have to be very unlucky not to greatly benefit with no downside to slow them down.

Our authorities have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to understand the above and act accordingly, otherwise, especially with money now very much in the mix (sponsorship), the stakes going up for those bridge leeches to continue their oh so evil art.

Iain ClimieOctober 10th, 2019 at 5:04 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think the situation described was much more innocent – rubber bridge in a London club and the player on lead felt that the C9 (I didn’t have access to the auction) might create some level of havoc. He wasn’t wrong! Also, it may have been in the days before the Lightner slam double was widespread. In today’s day and age, the aroma of rat would apply.

Having said that, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on cheating. There was a minor scandal in the Hubert Phillips about 35 years ago. This was a mixed Teams of 4 with aggregate scoring so a couple of slam swings would not be readily recoverable. The boards were all hand dealt and the weaker team pre-fixed the board so that (say) an absurdly overbid slam came home or a very good one failed; appropriate acting was doubtless pulled when dummy hit the deck about ridiculous overbidding / underbidding. They were on known board numbers (to the home team anyway) and those in on the scam claimed to have dealt them. This was spotted eventually (I think two players from strong teams who’d been “unluckily” beaten must have talked to each other), the penny dropped and bans were handed out.


bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Hi Iain,

At least, back then, logic prevailed and, no doubt to me, a verdict of guilty (not necessarily on just the information you provided, but, upon no reasonable doubt of the overt behavior was presumed), allowing guilty, as charged, to be

Today in bridge, possibly in other political courts
as well, terms like beyond the shadow of a doubt, are no longer required making a former sounding truism rule, “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, by Donald, it is a duck”.

Today, with corporations in fear of huge money verdicts, law suits involving criminal guilt or innocence seldom occur, allowing out of court settlements which are OK when money is involved, but horrible for other closely related
byproducts, like other significant negative fallout such as the evil to when inanimate objects fail. (this time the continuation of the game of bridge).

David WarheitOctober 11th, 2019 at 4:54 am

Kalita won the brilliancy prize, but both Wests should be awarded the Brillo prize for leading the HQ at trick 2. West should lead another S, although since E has DQJ10, a D lead would be just as good.

A.V.Ramana RaoOctober 11th, 2019 at 10:34 am

Hi David
On a spade continuation, life is easy for declarer. He ruffs in dummy, comes to hand with a diamond, ruffs another spade , comes to hand with another diamond, ruffs diamond, comes to hand with heart, ruffs last spade and leads heart K and another heart. West has to win and in the three card position, it is immaterial whichever card West returns as South wins last three tricks. ( West cannot unblock on hearts due to the presence of ten with south
Indeed the West players should be awarded for shifting to Q of heart at T2

David WarheitOctober 11th, 2019 at 10:59 am

AVRR: Now you win the brilliancy prize! Since when is that easy? I was assuming S would have banged down CAK along the way, as did both actual declarers.

A.V.Ramana RaoOctober 11th, 2019 at 11:19 am

Hi David
In fact , I wanted to mention this line yesterday and extend compliments to both West players for not continuing spades but I somehow refrained from posting

bobbywolffOctober 11th, 2019 at 7:34 pm

Hi David & AVRR,

A little late to the party, but I’ll only offer this:
Switching to the queen of hearts is best but on this hand, and at trick two may be done for the wrong reason. Since West could not know declarer’s distribution, except for having two or three clubs (either of which may create a guess for declarer, one to take the club finesse, the other to start a low club from the right hand) it is difficult for West to know enough about the hand to do anything else but think in terms of his going wrong in clubs.

However Jacek Kalita’s end play, after not guessing the clubs correctly becomes sensational. IMHO he is already among the best players in the world, and being that and thank heaven honest as well, we have a true leader for our game, blooming fast.

While I do not plan on partnering him in the next 30 years or so, I am only predicting what to expect, and Poland’s gain will, if fickle fate doesn’t adversely intervene, for our beloved game to be in good hands, at least if his very presence inspires others to follow in his IMO giant footsteps.

Time alone will tell, but if someone interested finds my guess correct, I’d appreciate him or her forwarding that result to me.