Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 10th, 2012

If there were dreams to sell,
What would you buy?
Some cost a passing bell;
Some a light sigh….

Thomas Beddoes

South North
Neither ♠ Q
 J 6 4 3 2
 A Q 4
♣ A 10 7 2
West East
♠ J 7 2
 K 10 7
 K 9 5
♣ J 8 5 4
♠ A 8 6 5 4 3
 Q 9 8 5
♣ Q 9
♠ K 10 9
 J 10 7 6 3 2
♣ K 6 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 1♠
2 2♠ 5 All pass


In today's deal North-South were playing that if South doubled at his second turn, it would show any hand with three-card heart support. So South's two-diamond rebid denied three-card heart support, and North decided to bid game in diamonds without further ado. A reasonable alternative would have been to bid three spades at his second turn. South would then have bid three no-trump, which would come home today easily enough.

How would you play the diamond game when West leads the spade two to the ace and East returns a low spade? Were you tempted to make the “cost-nothing” play of inserting the 10? Do that, and, as the cards lie, you would go down! The problem is that you would use up an entry to dummy prematurely.

To make the contract, you must rise with the spade king. You then cash the heart ace and finesse the trump queen successfully. Your aim now is to set up a long heart.

You ruff a heart and play a trump to the ace, East showing out. A second heart ruff is followed by a spade ruff with dummy’s last trump. You then ruff a fourth round of hearts.

It makes no difference whether West overruffs with his master trump or discards on the trick. Either way, you will be able to cross to dummy with the club ace and discard your club loser on the heart that you have established.

You do not have enough to drive to game, but it would be cowardly not to suggest your invitational values. The easiest way to do this is to jump to two no-trump at once. Since a call of one no-trump could show an 11- or 12-count, your call suggests the values you have and will let partner decide where to go from here.


♠ Q
 J 6 4 3 2
 A Q 4
♣ A 10 7 2
South West North East
1♣ 1♠ 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Is the key to the hand the lead of the S2? After all, if east had the SJ and the DK, or even if the hearts were 5-2, the winning play would involve throwing 2 clubs on the S10 and SK, ruffing a club on table with the DQ and playing DA and another trump.

All perhaps depends here on whether the card led by West would allow east holding SAJxxx(x) to place south with both the SK and S10 when he would know not lead another spade – or are we into double-bluff and playing one anyway? Any thoughts here?


Iain Climie.

jim2August 24th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Theory of Card Migration.

(Or, as our Host wrote, “as the cards lie”.)

Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

Possibly true but, on the subject of “what if?”, imagine East has SAJxxxx HQx DKx CJxx and places South with e.g. SK109 HAx DJ10xxxx CKx what can he lead? The S9 could even be a false card from SK9x (I must try this) possibly talking East out of a safe spade return. West presumably leads the Lowest from S10xx although his raise is quite light. Still DKx could be with West when a trump back at T2 would not appeal.

My compliments to Mr. Wolff for not conceding a huge number on the minor suit monster the other day. He smelt a rat where I didn’t! I loved the day job jest though – me too.

jim2August 24th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Couldn’t East lead the QH in your construct?

On that other hand, I knew it could be a “Kobayashi Maru,” because your posting it made it a conditional probability situation. I simply ignored that aspect and gave you the answer I would have done at the table.

Must keep day job.

jim2August 24th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I meant that __I__ must keep day job.

Iain ClimieAugust 24th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Actually yes if he has the DK but not in the case where West has DKx(x). I’ll have a think about the cases where the contract still makes after a diamond to the Q loses. Heart honours falling or a H-C squeeze possibility. Brain may now hurt worse than in day job.

bobby wolffAugust 24th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Hi Iain,

As usual, your keen mind immediately jumps to the heart of this hand and thus wanting to, of course, discuss the key play.

I would be reluctant to trust all my opponents, but seemingly, at least to me, once after supporting partner voluntarily, it would be normal for the opening leader, whether holding three or four, but not containing a card higher than the nine to lead the highest one so that partner would know what to do, if say Kxx came down in dummy and he did not possess the AQ, but rather the AJ.

It would (should) be thought by experienced players that leading the highest card, especially after supporting partner, is of more value to partner in this type of situation than would be a count signal. I’ll even go so far as to say when bridge learning and style was in its infancy (ala 1930) Ely Culbertson suggested that once partner overcalled, the opening leader should lead the highest card in his suit. This was later amended when declarer had, at one time, bid NT, almost always showing at least one major honor and since that long ago era, the compromise seems to have settled on whether or not the opening leader has supported partner or not. If he has not supported, a count signal might be best, instead of the highest from three or four little.

BTW, the same thinking also applies in the middle of the defense when, after overcalling and then choosing a different lead, the original third seat defender would probably follow a similar pattern on deciding which card in partner’s suit to switch. As usual there might be exceptions, but the idea is to inform partner, depending on the particular situation, what partner is more likely to need to know (whether number or quality).

As an epilogue to this hand, if everything else is equal, it is usually a percentage play to believe that opponents (particularly known good ones) are usually doing the right thing for themselves, rather than presenting you with another trick as would East, on this hand leading back a spade, while holding the jack. Remember he cannot see your hand and if not holding the king of trumps, would normally assume that you held it.

Thanks for getting this somewhat important subject on the table.

bobby wolffAugust 24th, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Working backwards sometimes helps eliminate the need for a book which defines fairly common foreign language significant caveats, but nevertheless not known by the reader.

“Kobayashi Maru” must refer to what authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Hitchcock used to extreme, when some kind of logic situation is presented, it only could be a problem, if the answer is against the odds, suggesting strongly that the opposite of what normally be thought is the bulls-eye.

Yes, bridge (particularly the highest-level kind), often involves itself with that when one side or the other creates a smoke screen playing with their opponents minds. A great allure and one special advantage which bridge presents as opposed to chess which is always totally transparent and thus above board (so to speak) for both opponents to clearly see.

And to both you and Iain, do not ever think that head hurting is strictly applied to you, but when mine does, I do not show the determination which you show, I simply withdraw my thinking process which results in me making more errors than I should at the table, but does allow me to find out what I should have done faster than most.

jim2August 24th, 2012 at 4:41 pm

“Kobayashi Maru” is a Star Trek reference.

It refers to a situation where all actions lead to failure/disaster.

(Unless you are James Tiberius Kirk who sneakily reprograms the computer to enable him to cheat.)

bobby wolffAugust 24th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Hi Jim2,

Playing sophisticated games with you is obviously a challenge I am not winning.

Perhaps I will buy a book (if there is one) which defines oft used, but often misunderstood foreign phrases (at least they sound like) rather than open my mouth (or engage in writing) which removes all doubt to my ignorance.

Your description has enabled me to re-evaluate and thence better understand your example hand a number of comments above. Learning is an underestimated pleasure.

Also, is it your guess that James Tiberius Kirk played bridge or was space travel so fast that there was no time for it? If it was, sorry for him since he, with his reprograms, might have always known what hands to expect.

jim2August 24th, 2012 at 8:23 pm

On the Enterprise holodeck, he could have set up and played rounds with avatars that looked like, sounded like, and played like Culbertson, Jacoby, Crane, Markus, Sheinwold, Belladonna ….