Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

Valor consists in the power of self-recovery, so that a man cannot have his flank turned, cannot be out-generaled, but put him where you will, he stands.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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



On today’s deal, North-South reached the wrong contract without doing anything unreasonable in the auction. South had soft values in his doubletons and an awkward rebid after opening one club, so he got his values off his chest at his first turn to speak with a strong no-trump opening bid. Most experts would follow this approach — the only issue being whether they felt guilty or happy about it!

Now North transferred to spades and offered a choice of games with three no-trump, where they played. After a low heart lead, South’s first task was to divine the heart layout. The percentage move in this scenario might be to play small, the logic being that it is a blind guess which play to make if West has led from five, but West is less likely to have underled ace-fourth than queen-fourth. Still, our hero guessed right by calling for the king, but he was not yet home.

Declarer could have played for both diamond honors onside, but that line seemed unattractive to him. An alternative was to play a club to the king and advance the spade three; however, West would be unlikely to duck after his partner’s encouraging signal at trick one.

So declarer ran his clubs, hoping to bring about some pressure, and West was inexorably squeezed without the count. Having to keep all his hearts, lest declarer simply knock out the spade ace, West pitched a spade, then two diamonds, hoping East had the guarded jack. Declarer then ran the diamonds and emerged with an overtrick.

This hand meets my criteria for a light third-hand one-heart opening. We have a fair primary suit and have no objection to competing in partscore. Partner should be aware that we may shade our values in this position: If he does double the final contract, our two aces represent a respectable amount of defense.


♠ A 2
 A 8 5 4 2
 Q 8 6 3
♣ 6 3
South West North East
    Pass 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


A V Ramana RaoDecember 18th, 2019 at 11:56 am

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
But do you approve South’s bidding? First bidding NT with two cards in each major and second rashly bidding 3 NT while he would have been much more comfortable playing Four Spades perhaps even 5 clubs which has a chance of making. South’s stars were so good , he could have purchased a lottery ticket on that day.

David WarheitDecember 18th, 2019 at 12:53 pm

I think E should pitch D7 on the 4th C. He can’t afford to pitch a S, since he knows S has a doubleton S & it might be Ax. A H would be safe, but the D has the possibility of sending some important information to partner, which of course it does. W can no longer hope for his partner to hold guarded J of D.

A V Ramana RaoDecember 18th, 2019 at 1:06 pm

Hi David
If at all, East should throw D J asking partner to guard the suit. But unfortunately , there is no redemption for EW on this hand as our host points out, West is painfully squeezed in three suits allowing South to make the contract. If only had E held that all important spade A or it would suffice to hold guarded diamond J when West could have pitched all diamonds as dummy will not have entry , South would have gone down

Bill CubleyDecember 18th, 2019 at 2:11 pm

Fast Eddy [Paul Newman] said, Money won is twice as good as money earned.” Our technical skills very often help us make contracts. But tricks stolen are always twice as good as technical merit tricks. Besides you put thoughts in that opponent that you can work miracles against him.

Bobby WolffDecember 18th, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Hi AVRR & David,

With the discussion between the two of you, the defensive mission of this hand’s presentation is accomplished, at least to the extent of a combination of what each defender needs to discard for helping partner and, if necessary and together, go all out to defeat the hand, rather than worry about saving overtricks, just another commercial by me for preferring IMPs (or rubber bridge) to matchpoints.

Assuming East played the seven of hearts at trick one (perhaps the nine is the better play, but that is debatable). However then when South follows with the 10 (or jack) East can be sure that declarer’s holding is a doubleton, perhaps still holding the ace or only the jack.

Therefore East should definitely discard his seven of diamonds on the fourth club by declarer, but then a spade on the fifth, with West, after discarding a higher heart than his deuce on the fourth club, then throwing a diamond (but keeping his queen still guarded).

That defense alone might cause declarer to now play on diamonds, wrongly playing East to have the five hearts and for diamonds to originally have been 3-3.

Yes, a great defense, playing South for a doubleton heart (the 10, or jack by him is telltale, especially to East who still holds the nine, unless he played it at trick one). Perhaps the hesitant play at trick one by declarer is another indication of the exact overall distribution (and heart holding, although declarer could hold the queen instead of what he played) at trick one (at least to West).

Perhaps all of the above, now three way discussion, at least so far, could be an inducement to some deep bridge thinkers of the definite challenge our great game offers, to ones with both the ability to comprehend the thinking necessary (both actual and inferential) possible which occurs from time to time, which at least to me, is a great thrill ranking considerably above the mere society of exchanging small talk with social channels on the internet.

However, to each his own and we should always be thankful for that and, in no way, am I suggesting that randomly, one is better than the other, and/or the choice is telltale of anything other.

Bobby WolffDecember 18th, 2019 at 3:49 pm

Hi Bill,

Methinks that like Fast Eddy, signature writing about any subject by someone who knows precious little about the subject might be similar to how you describe his pleasure.

If so, filthy cheating in bridge, leading to winning significant rewards (ego, fame and money) plus that pleasure you mention, is even worse than first imagined, no doubt, easily justifying lifetime bans for those who are caught.

And add to that, what you mention, the mental dominance of such a thing, can only add fuel to the fire. However, while playing bridge, clever, but not illegal deception (we have enforceable ethical laws against that), are clearly distinguished, making that talent a significant positive event, one which justifiably makes butterflies out of caterpillars.

“Aren’t we devils!”, Ralph Edwards, the host of Truth or Consequences (a long ago radio show) used to say, but, in reality, stealing a contract in bridge, (both making or defeating one) should instill a “high” with that hero and nothing ever to even bring to your mind an apology.

Some may suggest that the courting period in a “budding” romance” has more than a bit of the above. What say you?

Bill CubleyDecember 19th, 2019 at 2:12 pm


Guys lie to women? What we men do to pursue romance. I was told of a very successful declarer that an opponent on lead with 2 aces said after the hand that if he doubled declarer he was so afraid declarer would make it! That is a trick stealing reputation of the first order.

As to the quote. Most of us Civil War buffs immediately think of Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack on Howard’s X! Corps at Chancellorsville.. They were routed and the battle is considered Lee’s masterpiece.

Iain ClimieDecember 19th, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Hi Bill, Bobby,

Remember the line form Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? The beast asks how to go about charming and/or wooing a young woman and Lumiere (who has been turned into a the candlestick) says something like “Oh the usual – dinners, chocolates, flowers and promises you don’t intend to keep…”n Present company excepted I’m sure.