Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 9th, 2012

We spend our midday sweat, our midnight oil;
We tire the night in thought, the day in toil.

Francis Quarles


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

♠K

Against four hearts, West leads the spade king. Good deceptive declarer play is to drop the spade eight on this trick, trying to persuade West that East's spade five is high, not low. But West was not born yesterday. He refuses to take the bait, instead switching to the diamond queen. Plan the play from here on.

The first key point to bear in mind is that since West passed as dealer and has already shown up with 10 points, East must have the club king. If you take an early club finesse, East will win his king and shift back to spades, setting up four winners for the defenders. How can you avoid the need for taking the club finesse?

The answer is rather subtle: duck the diamond queen, win the diamond continuation, and play the heart king and a heart to the jack. Cash the diamond ace (discarding a club) and club ace, and take the ruffing club finesse.

It would not have done West any good to cash the spade ace at trick three, since you would have the rest of the tricks without needing to work hard. But note that West might have worked out to shift to the diamond jack so as not to give the show away. It would not matter if East was confused about the location of the diamond honors since he does not need to know what is going on.


With a maximum in the 12-14 range and a heart stop, a contract rates to play just as well with you as declarer, I would bid one no-trump now. Conceivably three no-trump might be better from your partner's hand, but you cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to bid no-trump at your first turn, or you may not get another chance.

BID WITH THE ACES

♠ 7 4 3
 Q J 8
 A 9 4
♣ A Q J 6
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 1
?      

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact theLoneWolff@bridgeblogging.com. If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact reprints@unitedmedia.com.


9 Comments

Howard Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 1:50 pm

HBJ : What a lovely instructive hand. Transposing losers ( club for diamond) in order to keep East off play and set up the ruffing finesse is obvious to some, but magic to others.
This can and mouse battle between declarer and defence is what makes these bridge hands so fascinating to read.

Alex AlonFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 3:03 pm

It seems that reading this wonderful blog, (Thanks again Mr. Wolf for spending time on us) expands my bridge thinking. I saw the problem and also decided to play for ruffing finesse in clubs but a little different way. Take the K diamond, Ace trump, then diamond to the Ace, and 9 diamond pitching the club. later win any return and play for ruffing finesse while the trumps in dummy provide transport.

Alex Alon
Israel

p.s.
now i need about 10 deals like this to throw away at the table in order to master it properly :)

bobby wolffFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Hi HBJ,

Many of us, certainly including I, love both most all forms of athletics and, of course the competitive smoothness of bridge. I liken it to poetry in motion, most common in ice skating, but also ever present in bridge hands like today.

Your comments merely reinforce that comparison since you always seem to focus on the logic and melodic thinking, oft times needed to pull it off.

Your positive reinforcement is always music to my ears and keeps my enthusiasm greased.

bobby wolffFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Hi HBJ,

Many of us, certainly including I, love both most all forms of athletics and, of course the competitive smoothness of bridge. I liken it to poetry in motion, most common in ice skating, but also ever present in bridge hands like today.

Your comments merely reinforce that comparison since you always seem to focus on the melodic thinking, oft times needed to pull it off.

Your positive reinforcement is always music to my ears and keeps my enthusiasm greased.

bobby wolffFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Hi Alex,

Yes, your honest explanation will also get the job done, but what if East, not West, held the 10 of diamonds. Curses, foiled by the fickle finger of fate, but not without help from the declarer.

Better to duck while the ducking is profitable, by keeping the right opponent on lead. Trading losers is not always profitable, but in this case the avoidance issue of insuring West stay on lead while the trade is being executed is a very small price to pay to guarantee success.

Your very kind words make all my replies very enjoyable and furthermore, since perhaps the most important reason for the WBF (World Bridge Federation) to exist is to use our game as a “Bridge for Peace”, I heartily wish for all countries around the world to use their energy combatting each other at the worthy bridge table instead of everywhere else.

As a reminder to everyone who is interested, the excellent representation of top level bridge players from so many of the middle Eastern countries, get along so well, both socially and at the bridge table, because of the respect generated by them to each other which symbolizes to me both its possibility to carry over to real life and once a common denominator is found, the ceiling is very high as to what that respect can eventually generate.

It is always nice to hear from you.

David WarheitFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Two minor points: 1) you talk about west “giving the show away”. It simply doesn’t matter which diamond honor he leads, south ducks and everything else follows in exactly the way you suggest. 2) if west shifts to a club at trick 2, south should rise with the ace, draw only one round of trump and then play king, ace and then 9 of diamonds, hoping for a miracle in diamonds (i.e., west having QJ10) or him having the club king. In short, if west has the club king, you cannot fail whether you take the finesse or not, but if he doesn’t, you still can prevail if he has the 3 diamond honors.

Jeff HFebruary 23rd, 2012 at 8:52 pm

David,

I suspect what what Bobby meant about “giving th show away” is that leading the diamond Q promises the Jack, and West is already known to have the AK of spades. That is 10 HCP he is known to have, and with the club K he would not have passed originally.

If instead he leads the J (denying the Q), he has shown only 8 HCP and he might very well still have the club K. Declarer can no longer be certain of the location of the club K. Ruffing finesse, or standard finesse are now equally likely to work (or fail). Imagine the disappointment of the declarer who ducks this trick to take the ruffing finesse and finds himelf losing to West’s King, sho now cashes the spade Ace for the setting trick.

David WarheitFebruary 24th, 2012 at 1:23 am

Jeff:

Yep, you are right. Apparently I can’t count to 4. What I should have said is that you simply have to make a choice at trick 2 as to who has the club king. If west, take the club finesse. If east, take the ruffing finesse, if you can duck the first diamond lead. Therefore, if west leads a club at trick 2, you should take the finesse, which, of course is almost 50%, since playing for the ruffing finesse requires west to have QJ10 of diamonds, which is only about 10%.

bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Hi David et al,

What opponents, sometimes reliable ones, since from their point of view, who, like you, the declarer, cannot see other people’s hands, do need to, like more tangible evidence of the actual cards played, in this case, the opening lead, figure into the percentage, so instead of the mathematical odds of 10% being one hand (West) having all three diamond honors (QJ10) the real odds are zero% since no doubt holding those three (or even probably only the QJ), he would have switched to diamonds at trick 2 instead of a club regardless of whether he had the king of clubs or not. One (in this case the declarer) must ask himself, “Would I dare switch to a club without the king, when I cannot be sure partner does not have the king of diamonds”.

Any world class player or even a potential one is always putting himself in one or the other opponent’s mind and asking the same type of question.

The above is totally necessary for bridge success and is never learned overnight, but only after many hands are declared and/or defended against top opposition.

What sets bridge apart from other more pure mathematical probabilities is that what the opponents do, in addition to what technically is already known (in this case the spade King lead), MUST be considered before decisions are made, since it is all part of the evidence.

In order to add to ones arithmetical talent the experience gleaned from playing against worthy opponents is very much evident in the growth of a would be bridge expert, but can only be improved by exposing oneself to it and learning from there.

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