Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 8th, 2011

Vulnerable: East-West

Dealer: East


J 8 2

Q J 10 5 2

8 6

K 9 2


9 7

9 7

Q J 10 9 3

8 7 4 3


A Q 6 5 4 3

K 8 4


Q 6 5


K 10

A 6 3

A K 7 5 2

A J 10


South West North East
3 NT All pass

Opening Lead: Spade nine

“His biting is immortal; those that do die of it do seldom or never recover.”

— William Shakespeare

Today’s deal is a declarer-play problem in three no-trump, although four hearts by North would be far easier. Let’s see how to get to the right spot after East opens one spade. South is too heavy for a one-no-trump overcall, so he doubles. North bids two hearts, planning to compete to three hearts if necessary. Now East should not bid two spades — he has nothing extra but a sixth spade. But whether East joins in with two spades or not, South should bid two no-trump, and North should explore delicately with three spades — pick a game, partner. When South sensibly opts for four hearts, 11 tricks should be the result.

However, what is the best play in three no-trump by South, after the less sophisticated auction shown here? West leads the spade nine, and East must duck the trick, even if declarer carefully puts up dummy’s jack. After all, if declarer has K-10-7 of spades, nothing will stop him from taking three tricks; and by ducking the first spade, East may preserve communication in the spade suit.

Let’s say declarer misses the point and plays low from dummy, winning the first spade in hand with the 10. He must now go to dummy with the club king and run first the heart queen, then the heart jack. East sensibly ducks twice to block the suit, so now declarer abandons hearts and simply takes the club finesse. When it succeeds, declarer has three hearts, three clubs, two diamonds and one spade.


South holds:

J 9 7 4
A 9 5 3
7 2
K 7 2


South West North East
1 Pass 1
Pass 1 Pass 2 NT
All pass
ANSWER: When the opponents’ strength is limited, as here, your choice of leads should be, in order of preference, your long suit, a passive lead, or declarer’s shortage. Only then should you fall back on a broken suit of your own. You have no long suit or an obviously passive lead, so I’d guess to lead a diamond, without any conviction.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


MikeAugust 22nd, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Re: Declaring 3N. The 2S opener should not have AQ in S, K of H, and also the Q C. Since declarer needs the K of H onside to make, he places that card with E, so shouldn’t he finesse W for Q C? After winning the S, he should play the J of C hoping W will cover and make life easy. If W does not, what S should do will depend on what kind of player W is. Mr. Wolff, would a player of your caliber cover the J as W if you have it?

jim2August 22nd, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I’ve noticed that some partnerships let the point count drift up in first position vulnerable, sometimes up to 12 HCP.

As for the line of play, South would presume East not to have four or five hearts, but certainly could have K or Kx. If so, then the QC position would not matter. Thus, South could decide that playing for a somewhat less likely QC location would be worth it, because that risk could be postponed until after the heart plays.

MikeAugust 22nd, 2011 at 8:40 pm

To have any chance of making, E must have the K H. If E has either K or Kxx, assuming S is going to play Q off dummy and E defends right, S needs 3 C tricks. Why bank on exactly Kx? The finesse against W of the Q C should be right given the 2S opening. The only issue is when W does not cover the J of C, does that mean she does not have it? In which case, of course you would play the K C and then play H.

Opening 2S first seat with such a bad suit and side cards in two other suits is not my style. I may be wrong, but I think most people would open this 1S if anything. BTW, if the C finesse against W is on, then one would have two entries to the board and make 4, which may be relevant in MP.

MikeAugust 22nd, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Sorry, I meant make 5 in the last message.

Bobby WolffAugust 22nd, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Hi Mike,

Your analysis is correct and I, like probably you and Jim2, with both the king of hearts (necessary for us to have a chance) as well as the guess of the location of the queen of clubs with the strong inference of AQxxxx in spades would immediately finesse West for the queen of clubs since I would figure that with the hand as such, East would have opted for a 1 spade opening rather than a weak 2 bid.

No Mike, I would never cover dummy’s jack of clubs with the queen for the simple reason that declarer’s play of the jack of clubs from dummy makes no sense at all without the king in his paw.

If our friend and favorite detective would be called into this case to investigate he might say, “Watson, surely the author was trying to emphasize East ducking the first spade, allowing defensive transportation to be placed well to defeat the hand, in case of declarer making even a tiny slip, but rather didn’t get into lesser important difficult caveats of exactly where should this or that card be located”.

Such is sometimes the way it goes wherein when a particular concept, not a real tournament hand is used, the side issues are often given short shrift.

Bobby WolffAugust 22nd, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes I agree with you that, while the queen of clubs figures to lie with West, it is by no means certain to be so, only the Kx in hearts, not the singleton king would make it so we didn’t require the correct guess of the elusive club lady, therefore I would unfortunately miss guess the club dame, therefore failing my mission, but gratefully not having to listen to East crying out that he had those outside values on purpose to not be stereotyped into opponents guessing well against him.

All the above sums up our game as we know it, leaving a wise man to only say, “When it comes to explaining, let the winner have the say”.

jim2August 22nd, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I hate the math because it hurts and I often get it wrong! But, here goes.

With 5 hearts out, there would normally appear to be 32 possible distributions. However, on the play need and the bidding, we assume that East has the KH, and also does not have 4 or 5 hearts. Hence, we are in conditional probability land.

To simplify my head pain, I will assume also that East does not have precisely the singleton king (it both increases East’s club length and makes the KH look less valuable, hence increasing by some not-quantifiable-by-me probability that East would open 2S, say, with AJxxxxx K x Qxxxx – South might always cash the two top diamonds first to check count and see East’s singleton diamond).

This leaves:

xx – Kxx —— 6 cases

xxx – Kx —— 4 cases

So, there is a 40% chance that the location of the QC will not matter if South puts it off until after the heart finesse (which is assumed to win).

How confident must we be that West holds the QC for break-even point?

The club finesse first line loses if the QC is in the West hand, or X — simple.

The Heart finesse first line fails only if East holds Kxx (60%) AND East holds the QC (X%), for a probability of 1.0 – (0.6)(X). (I neglect the QC singleton in East also to reduce pain, though it boosts the heart fineese first line some teeensy amount.)

The break-even point would be when the two probabilities are equal, that is, X = 1.0 – 0.6X, or 1.6X = 1.0, for X = 62.5%.

So, do we believe West has the QC as > 62.5%?

jim2August 22nd, 2011 at 10:45 pm


Two many spade x’s in that first parethetical case.

I meant, AJxxxx K x Qxxxx, or 6-1-1-5

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2011 at 12:13 am

Hi Jim2,

To emphasize the other evidence (choice of opening a 2 spade bid rather than a slightly shaded bid of 1), I do think that this possibility becomes a probability and would be willing to rate it at about an 80% (4 to 1) chance and so would finesse the club through West, before I had a chance to find out about the Kx of hearts in East’s hand rendering the club finesse, either way, unnecessary.

This type of evaluation is subject to the cast of characters present and I do agree with you about vulnerable would be cowards, (no offense to anyone, only a figure of speech in bridge) feeling more secure about having an extra queen before choosing a preemptive tactic rather than either a pass or a somewhat shaded opening 1 bid.

Another way of describing this informal poll is that I, for one, value experience of determining personalities, over technical mathematics, usually in the form of percentage holdings, making the poker element in bridge more important than some think that it is.

jim2August 23rd, 2011 at 12:21 am

Fair enough.

Anyway, my head still hurts too much to debate it further.

I also suspect that you offered the bidding more as a way to play 3N than otherwise.

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2011 at 11:52 am

Hi Jim2,

Yes, both of our heads hurt (and who knows who else) from all of this theoretical reasoning and you are right on with your suspicions of why this theoretical contract of 3NT appeared.

However, before we make this hand history, one more caveat probably needs to be mentioned. In determining the evidence, before deciding who, and by what percentage margin, either East or West is more likely to have been dealt the queen of clubs, the unseen diamond honors (queen and the jack) need to be theoretically factored in, since if either one of those picture cards was also in the weak two bidders hand, with the known AQ of spades (6 long), the required king of hearts needed for the overall success of the mission, and the queen of clubs, it would raise the opening bidders HCP’s to at least 12, thereby satisfying even the most conservative bidders thoughts (except perhaps an old Roth-Stone advocate) for opening a 1 spade bid instead of a weak 2.

E’nuff said, except to feel some extra guilt for continuing to hurt heads.

jim2August 23rd, 2011 at 1:21 pm


Would not declarer as a matter of technique always cash the two top diamond honors before deciding between crossing to KC or running the JC?

Thus, as I alluded to in an earlier headache post, South would always have seen that East had a small singleton diamond (thus no diamod honors).

I need ibu.

MikeAugust 23rd, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Sorry for one more comment on this. I realized last night and this is reinforced by what both Jim and Mr. Wolff wrote above, that the proper play is for S to cash the AK of D first before playing C. This is for two purposes. First, if E drops a D honor, then the C finesse against W can be taken with impunity. Second, to get a better read of the distribution, as seen in the probability analysis below. Briefly, after finding out E has singleton D, it is still favorable to finesse C Q given the 2S bid, but much less so than without cashing the AK D first.

Without first cashing the D AK, the % of W having the C Q is, with the help of Richard Pavlicek’s online suit break calculator, 60%. This is based on E having 6 S and the H K, while W has 2 S and at least 2 H. Meanwhile, the % of Kx with E is 51.4%, K is 34.3%, and Kxx 14.3%. So if you finesse W for C Q, your success rate is 60% (always assuming E has the K H) while playing a C to the K, you win if E has Kx and you can finesse E for Q C otherwise, it is (51.4 + 34.3 * 0.46 + 14.3 * 0.31)% = 72%. So if the 2S bid says nothing about Q C, you are only 7:6 better off to play to the K of C than finessing (~54% vs. 46%). After factoring in the 2S bid, it is clearly better to finesse W.

This changes if one cashes the AK D first, finding E with singleton. Now E has 8 known cards (6 S, K H, x D) and W has 9 (xx S, xx H, 5 D), so the C finesse against W is only 44%. The % of K vs. Kx vs. Kxx with E are 17%, 55%, 28%. Further, if E has singleton H K, you don’t need to finesse W for C, because you can always drop it if you think he has it. Playing a C to the K, the success rate is then (55 + 17*0.9 + 28*0.43), where the 0.9 is an estimate of how well declarer can guess to finesse E or drop doubleton Q with W. This gives something like 82% now, almost twice as good as finessing W. So even though after factoring in what the 2S bid says about E having the C Q, the finesse is still better, it is much less so than without playing the AK D first.

Sorry, now the head really explodes.

jim2August 23rd, 2011 at 1:59 pm

More ibu. More!

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Hi Mike and Jim2,

AU CONTRAIRE, By cashing the AK of diamonds first we set ourselves up for a big disaster. If we, instead take a losing club finesse through West we will lose 5 spade tricks and the queen of clubs, leaving us with 1 spade trick, 2 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks and at least 1 heart trick, totalling 6 tricks with either a heart finesse or a heart diamond squeeze as an option for the 7th trick. If the club finesse wins (as I expect it to) we then may lose the heart king (and I am not optimistic here after many years of finding key cards in the hand of the partner of the preemptor rather than the preemptor), but it would be nothing short of ridiculous not to try and make the hand legitimately. Then, as before we will lose 5 spades and their get in trick, again down 2.

Now to the key answer. Once we decide that West is substantially more likely to have the queen of clubs than East, that fact tends to confirm to me that, rather than just playing for West to have specifically the Kx in hearts I will back my judgment in clubs while still giving myself, (what I consider) the best chance to make the hand, and if not, to go down a number which just might be duplicated at the other table. Remember the playing of the Ace King of diamonds only tends to confirm the location of the queen of clubs rather than the speculation of where it is. In either event the club finesse, at least according to me, is the right play so why increase the down number when there is really no upside to learning it before the key club finesse.

All of the above paragraph is a necessary learning experience before the cap is taken off of ascendancy in status. Either or both of you can disagree with my conclusion (and be right as rain) but leading the Ace, King of diamonds really shouldn’t and doesn’t help in one’s decision (at least mine).

It is only a bridge hand, not solving a heinous murder, so the implications do not involve humanitarian values. Another way of thinking is that decisions at the bridge table should be made on the preponderance of the evidence not beyond a reasonable or worse, a shadow of a doubt.

Time to start healing the reeling heads.

jim2August 24th, 2011 at 12:09 am

Not sure about the 5 spade losers, since East would still be required to play a card on the second round of diamonds.

Bobby WolffAugust 24th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Hi Jim2,

Good point, but I think that East could throw a club from his original Qxx, which would not effect his being able to score his queen on a miss guess by declarer or if his partner had been dealt the jack. Also by discarding a club, it could mislead an inexperienced, possibly naive declarer into misreading the club holdings.