Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

There is no great genius without some touch of madness.


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


At the top level of bridge, there is no substitute for inspiration. On the deal that follows, from the quarterfinals of the 1995 Marlboro Bermuda Bowl, Joey Silver of Canada combined technique with gut reactions to produce a game swing.

Like everyone else, he reached four spades after East had preempted in hearts. When East overtook the lead of the heart jack with the queen, the natural thing for declarer to do seemed to be to win, lay down the spade king and play another spade, hoping to guess well! In the context of the auction, the odds are very close between playing for the drop or the finesse in spades, but nearly everyone played for the drop and went one down.

Silver found a significant psychological improvement on this line when he ducked the first trick, leaving East on play. He was hoping that East would reveal a little more about his sidesuit shape. For example, if East had shifted to a club, it would have been a fair bet that he had a singleton there, and thus not a singleton trump. Similarly, it might have been tempting for East to shift to a doubleton diamond, which also would have given Silver valuable information.

When East actually continued with a second heart, Silver inferred that he had at least three diamonds and at least two clubs. Thus, the spade finesse became the indicated play. He won the heart ace, cashed the spade king, and finessed the spade 10 to make his contract.

Although you have only an 8-count, you should bid two hearts now. The reason is that you will never get your hand off your chest if you start with a negative double. The opponents will raise spades (often to an uncomfortable level), and you will wish you had made the slight overbid of getting your suit in at a more hospitable time.


♠ 2
 K Q 10 8 5 2
 K 10 4 2
♣ 6 3
South West North East
    1 ♣ 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


A V Ramana RaoDecember 7th, 2019 at 12:20 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
But is there any possibility (considering the vulnerability )of East bidding Two hearts with a flimsy seven carded suit and with six to ten points . Normally, it should not happen but one never knows . In which case, South could have gone down.

Iain ClimieDecember 7th, 2019 at 1:13 pm


I think the modern tendency is to bid to the limit so this is pretty unlikely.

Hi Bobby,

I like the comment about the top level of bridge and inspiration; can I share with you a couple of cases of frustration and perspiration from last night. The first was where the oppo staggered into 5D having been in 3N at one stage after (1H) on my left weak 2S from partner 3D on my right 3S from me 3N on my left 4C on my right, preference to 4D on my left and 5D on my right. With Qxxx AK9xx J9 xx I started with a top heart and dummy had Axxx QJ10xx Kx Ax with partner playing the 8, declarer following. Cashing the other top heart (or trying to) could rebound as declarer will have 3H discards if partner has 2 but the SA will park declarer’s second heart so \I played a small heart and patted myself quietly on the back when partner ruffed. Does this seem OK?

The second was where I opened 1C, buid 2N (18-19) over partner’s 1H, he bid 3D and I went back to 3N with AJ9 Ax Axx KQ98x finding xx KJ109x KQJ9x x opposite. LHO led SK which I ducked and exited with a diamond taken on table. A club may be tempting now but RHO might hop up with the Ace and stick a spade through, while if LHO had (say) KQ10xx and the CA I’d have expected an overcall. I’ve got 10 easy tricks at pairs but running the HJ seemed an OK way forward now, especially as I felt (rightly as it turned out) that RHO was long in H and I can then play a C to the King when the HJ wins.

I’ll give you the denouement later but you can probably have a fair guess.



Bobby WolffDecember 7th, 2019 at 1:34 pm


First, apologies for East, in the hand diagram, not to have the lowly deuce of hearts to complete his 13 cards. (no excuse). Especially with your question (and, of course, the theme) of counting likely distribution to be encountered by declarer, not to be concerned with an opponent only holding 12 cards.

No doubt East, for his vulnerable preempt, might have had a 7th heart, declarer then committing bridge suicide on this relatively simple hand. No doubt Joey would have been relieved when his RHO considered his play before returning a heart at trick two.

However, your comment leads to what I think could be a valuable educational tool to what it takes to develop superior judgment, a quality which often separates the very good from the only just good, world class players.

By declarer’s somewhat dangerous duck, and then the hesitation which likely followed, allowed our hero to make an against the percentage trump play, which led to his great result. IOW, sometimes one has to give to sometimes get crucial psychological information, even from a relatively very good opponent as his RHO.

Perhaps, if that opponent had two or even three insignificant spades he might (probably would), have switched to a diamond for fear of declarer being granted the tempo to establish a diamond discard on an eventual good fourth club in the dummy.

While attempting to play world class bridge, any ethical advantage a player can gain from either the card played or not played, plus the advantage of tempo in doing it, is all above board and very much a continuing factor in big-time bridge.

No doubt you are totally familiar with my theme, but other, less experienced players (usually with talent, but not great experience) may benefit from thinking about the above.

However, and with gusto, Joey should be given credit for an outstanding play to which, if he had been wrong, would have suffered and no doubt, feel very bad for himself, partner and, of course, his teammates.

FWIIW, even if the spades were a prosaic 3-2, perhaps dame fortune would have been kind enough to deal that spade jack to West, so that his view could still bring a laugh, instead of a most sorrowful, cry.

Bobby WolffDecember 7th, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Hi Iain,

You’ve described two classic cases of excellent play, based on numeracy in action, and in both cases choosing far and away the better choice of logically first case, defending and the second case, declaring.

Partner’s 5 card preempt was extremely helpful in deciding that declarer was not 2-1-5-5 instead of 0-2-6-5 (or 5-6 but unlikely).

Many players pride themselves on instead being sound bidders (which, of course, sometimes prevails) but bidding something often gains by:

1. Sometimes gaining by pushing the opponents one higher than they would like.

2. Directing the lead.

3. Taking more tricks then expected when a great fit is found.

4. General wreaking havoc while being forced guests at their party.

Your declarer play needed to be well timed and positioned and it certainly was. Sometimes a closed mind (or one not bolstered by thinking numbers rather than majoring in letters instead) doesn’t foresee the grace of dancing the heart jack through RHO while still protected and at the same time, choosing the finesse through the hand which was more likely to hold that lady).

Two poster children for good defense and play to which it really helps to have a born flair for our great game and, if taught in schools around the world (especially the USA) would result in likely the most pleasant and winning way to allow kids to fall in love (or at least, tolerate) numbers, assuming they were born with a basic talent for doing so.

Even if not, teaching bridge in schools is no worse than chicken soup for ailments and might allow kids to find out what pleases them most in directing their aptitudes in the right direction. However certainly I, and maybe even you, will likely not be around to see the fruits of school training with bridge.

Thanks much for taking the time to show me those two very bridge educational, hands.

Iain ClimieDecember 7th, 2019 at 5:52 pm

HI Bobby,

Thanks for the kind comments but now my come-uppance. In the first hand against 5D, partner has DQxx so I’ve just scuppered our sides natural trump trick instead of cashing out for 1-off! Declarer’s clubs were sufficiently solid that things didn’t matter.

On the 2nd hand, hearts were 5-1, and I ran the HJ right round to the singleton Q after LHO, unlike everyone else, had found a high spade lead from KQxx so I could have safely taken T1 after all, bashed down the HA then run off 11 easy tricks. TOCM got me too

Bobby WolffDecember 7th, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Hi Iain,

Since unbeknownst to you I was playing in the same game, sitting the same direction as you, but didn’t make those two awful decisions as declarer or defender.

However, I must confess that I gained just a trifle of help when my eyes peeked into both the opponents hands, which possibly had a tiny bit to do with my different defense and declarer play.

When asked why I didn’t play as you did, I felt compelled to tell them why, “I did nothing wrong, since all I was trying to do is win”.

Although others may disagree, but methinks that my method is slightly better than most, since
I was never fond of numbers, nor even remembering anything valuable about the percentage tables.

Condolences for your losing plays and since I have long legs you were accomplishing a difficult pull. The devil you say!