Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 5th, 2019

If a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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


On this deal from an English pairs tournament, North-South reached the top spot of six spades. North jumped to four spades over fourth-suit forcing, to show something like 3=5=4=1 shape with extras. He then disclosed his club void and one keycard in response to Blackwood.

Leading a club through the void worked surprisingly well for West here. Declarer could see he probably had three discards for his losing clubs, but he had to lose the likely trump trick at a time when the defense could not cash the club ace.

So, after ruffing the club, South called for the spade queen. When East covered, South let it hold, while dummy still had a trump to take care of a club continuation. East returned a trump, but with the diamonds coming in, declarer was home.

Had the spade queen held, declarer would have reason to fear repeating the finesse, lest West turn up with the king. One option would have been to ruff another club in dummy and play on diamonds, hoping the hand with three trumps also had three diamonds. Of course, declarer would also pick up a doubleton spade king along his way. That would fail today: East would ruff the third diamond and cash the club ace.

If the spade queen holds, it is better to ruff out the hearts. Cash the heart ace-king and ruff a heart, then ruff a club to dummy and ruff another heart with the spade jack. Next cash the spade ace, cross to the diamond king and throw the last club on the long heart.

To bid two no-trump, showing the red suits, would lose a possible spade fit. It is best to start with one heart, intending to bid diamonds later on. If partner volunteers a spade bid, you will be delighted to support him. In some auctions, you may be able to double for takeout at your second or third turn.


♠ Q 9 6
 A K 9 5 3
 K 10 8 3 2
South West North East

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


Iain ClimieDecember 19th, 2019 at 11:00 am

Hi Bobby,

You describe 6S as the top spot here, and clearly it is if it makes. It doesn’t seem a great contract, though – Spades have to be 3-2, diamonds have to behave fairly well and there is still a bit of extra work if declarer sets up the hearts which have to be 4-3. Should South be so optimistic? North has to be 3-5-4-1 or 3-5-5-0 on the bidding when South’s club holding is exactly what isn’t required – CAxxx would be far better despite 2 fewer points, or CJxxx and SAKJxx would be far more suited to the slam although I realise South’s D holding looks good (the H less so – stiff Q would be quite different). I think South got very fortunate here, or am I being overly Scrooge-like? E/W could be forgiven for muttering Bah Humbug if this happened to them at this time of year.



Bobby WolffDecember 19th, 2019 at 11:57 am

Hi Iain,

As and little doubt. my country’s original inhabitants (American Indians), might have responded “You do not speak with forked tongue”.

However, what your comment emphasizes, player luck (both good and not so), seems to be ever present on many, if not most, bridge hands, whether tournament or not, and like it or not, adds an ample supply of zest and excitement to our favorite game.

No doubt South, likely immediately after North’s club void showing (6C) with only 3 card spade support, looked with disdain at his 542 of the suit which has just become trump.

And although likely thoughts of then hoping that ace of clubs is with West, he then had to wait and see what was then presented to him in the red suits in order to assess his chances for success.

Sadly though (at least at that moment), once partner responded to BW, it was too late to bid backward, especially so since partner likely felt optimistic about being void, rather than owning the suspected singleton.

In any event, your reasoning involving specific cards does in fact, go to the essence of the game, one in which is unfortunately more random than certain, but until and unless, we can either find a totally artificial way to show more key information (IMO very unlikely), we need to go home with who brought us to the bridge table (or for romance sake, should I say “dance”).

But, because in all happy ever after fairy tales, the deed was done and the English declarer saw it through. No Bah Humbugs for NS, only, as you suggested, for EW.

Bob LiptonDecember 19th, 2019 at 12:50 pm

It’s the old debate about what constitutes a beautifully played hand. Is it the obscure and low-probably line that actually works on the hand, the swashbuckling swindle, or the one that combines multiple lines to bring the combined probability up to 98.75%, while the duffers are taking the simple finesse that works for the same result?

There’s little disputing that declarer played the hand beautifully, but as East I would start gnashing my teeth the moment the club void was revealed. South’s slam-try is questionable. North’s hand is 3=5=4=1 or 3=5=5=0 when he jumps to 4 Spades, South should be aware the moment that happens that his club honors are likely wastepaper.

Yet this is the sort of hand that wins tournaments: the questionably bid hand that wins the tournament. We’ve all been there, on both sides of the standing. It’s what makes the game so fascinating.

Bob Lipton

Iain ClimieDecember 19th, 2019 at 1:53 pm

HI Bob,

That’s why we all dine out and gnash our teeth on hard luck stories; all bridge players have a slight “Karapet-esque” streak I suspect, based on Mollo’s character. Are you familiar with the Lee Hazen coca-cola coup, for example? A friend of mine (who was good enough to win England’s National Pairs some years ago) found himself many years before with a KJx(x) opposite xx guess. He led small and LHO played small unflinchingly. After much agonizing, he just couldn’t see any pointers so apologized to his opponents, took out a coin and tossed it – it was his day for the 50-50 chance to come off. What they made of this coup I shudder to think! Still at least “fixed” at the bridge table doesn’t mean the same as what vets mean when they perform a certain operation on male cats, dogs and horses, so it could be worse.



Bobby WolffDecember 19th, 2019 at 4:06 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, no doubt as pointed out, when South, the declarer to be, first learned of what was almost certain to occur, a very close, questionable slam was in the process of being bid, is when his partner, in response to his Blackwood inquiry jumped to 6 clubs (to show one ace and a club void) that the eventual slam in spades will be questionable at best (his three low spade spots instead of 10s and 9s likely guaranteed that).

However, even before the dummy went down, declarer should imagine that if West had he club ace (he, of course, did not) the slam might be a solid favorite.

Of course, “alls well which ends well” is what we all work hard to obtain and South managed that in spite of the club ace being offside. Why West found a club lead, I do not know since with dummy void it could have been disasterous , but his other choices didn’t appeal either, ostensibly and in reality, making a club lead the most damaging.

Your post was on point.

Bobby WolffDecember 19th, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Hi Iain,

Your last post reminded me of another time, 1972, during the World Bridge Olympiad in Bal Harbour Florida when the 4 semifinalists team were determined to play two more matches to annoint the winner. Italy, by finishing first in the round robin, had its choice between choosing either the 3rd or 4th finishing team for its semi-final opponent and although (without mentioning the two teams who finished third or fourth did have a marked preference, but did not want to embarrass them by officially choosing them, took a more gracious approach by apparently flipping a coin as to whom they would choose.

The coin came down heads which matched them up with the team they wanted to play without any hint of a preference, until someone later looked at the coin flipped.

Yes, both sides of the coin they used were heads, and AFAIK, no others ever knew about their certain way to avoid any embarrassment as to their so-called gamble.

In those days it was extremely difficult to impossible for any other bridge team to get an edge on those guys from Italy who, in turn found ways to give all (even worthy opponents) the “BOOT”.

Iain ClimieDecember 19th, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that but I don’t know whether to be amused or concerned that this was the thing end of a very dubious wedge. All may be fair in love and war but less so at the bridge table apparently.


Jeff SDecember 19th, 2019 at 8:09 pm

I am just impressed they had a two-headed coin at hand – talk about being ready for all contingencies! 🙂

Bobby WolffDecember 19th, 2019 at 8:27 pm

Hi Iain,

“Less so” is the biggest underbid in the history of bridge or any other game (if there is one) which demands it. Simply as horrible as any non-physical immorality can stoop.

Shall we say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, but blatant cheating for double digit years in an intellectual competition is far worse.

Bobby WolffDecember 19th, 2019 at 9:00 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Simple reason—-that specific advantage for the 1st place finisher had been in place for many years before, which coincided with the seem less application to which you were impressed.

GinnyDecember 20th, 2019 at 12:58 am

Doesn’t the column line lose to the same King of spades in West’s hand that we were trying to avoid by not taking the second spade finesse? Here are dummy’s cards, Trick 1 – ruff spade, Trick 2 Q Spade, Tricks 3, 4, 5 hearts, Trick 6 ruff club (no more trumps in dummy), Trick 7 – heart from dummy, East plays a heart, marking the end of hearts in Opps hands.

Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2019 at 1:24 am

Hi Ginny,

Assuming the queen of spades holds in dummy, then we will, in the fullness of time ruff another club with the last trump in dummy, return to hand, play the ace of spades then go to dummy, discard a third club on the king of hearts (could have been done earlier) and then, with West holding 3 diamonds, wind in dummy and throw the last losing club in hand on the 4th diamond while West is ruffing in with his spade king.

No doubt both the play and its description will get confusing and thanks for asking.

No doubt a necessary guess as to which defender is more likely to hold either the 4th heart or the 3rd diamond and, of course, which defender has the king of spades (although when the 10 of spades drops from East, it is probably more likely (but certainly not clear cut), that it is West who originally had the king of spades