Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 24th, 2014

There is endless merit in a man's knowing when to have done.

Thomas Carlyle

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

*Game forcing, with heart support


At the Gold Coast tournament, held in Brisbane, Australia, last February, there were not only Open and Senior events, but also Novice and Intermediate events, with everyone playing the same deals at the same time. Altogether, about 500 teams were competing simultaneously in a single room at the Gold Coast conference center.

The winners of the intermediate teams were confronted in the finals with this problem both in the bidding and the play. Each table got the auction right, playing the small slam from the South seat after learning that the trump king was missing. At one table the opening lead was a club, solving that suit for declarer. The trump finesse was offside, but the result was a straightforward plus 980 for the losing finalists.

Against Alan Currie, the declarer for the winning team, the opening lead was the spade queen. Currie won the spade ace, then played the heart jack from dummy, going up with his ace. He next played the diamond ace and a diamond to the king, followed by the spade king and a spade ruff. He now exited with a heart and claimed the rest of the tricks, not caring which opponent won the trick.

No matter whether it was East or West, that person would have to play a club, solving South’s problem in that suit, or play another suit, allowing him to ruff in hand and discard a club from dummy. Either way, he had 12 tricks in a well-played contract.

Declarer has followed an auction that implies he is not interested in playing no-trump. The most likely explanation is that he has nothing in spades. Lead the spade ace and decide (assuming you are still on lead at the end of trick one) which major to play next.


♠ A Q 3
 Q J 10 8 5
 5 2
♣ Q 7 3
South West North East
1 Pass 2
Pass 2 NT Pass 3♣
Pass 3 Pass 5
All 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 10th, 2014 at 9:46 am

Hi Bobby,

Nice play, succeeding in all 2-1 trump breaks with the club guess as a last resort. Spare a thought for this blog’s favourite pessimist though. He’s be playing the hand at teams and trumps would be 3-0 onside allowing the weak declarer in the other rooom to make 6H with a finesse, then guess the CQ for an overtrick. Our hero would have to guess the CQ despite having taken the best percentage line. To worsen matters, partner won’t sympathise but will helpfully point out that the trump finesse would have worked!



jim2March 10th, 2014 at 12:03 pm


jim2 glares suspiciously at Iain and brings cards closer to chest.

jim2March 10th, 2014 at 12:07 pm

On BWTA, the opening lead choice might be affected by what East’s three club bid meant.

Natural? Some artificial form of support inquiry? ??

Iain ClimieMarch 10th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Hi Jim2,

Proof that bridge is a game of skill only when we’re getting good results. At other times, bridge is a lottery or game of chance, just like life. Cynical? Try calculating the odds against someone meeting the perfect (life) partner and them thinking the same in return!


Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Hi Iain,Perhaps all is not lost,if East has Kxx in trumps,West shows out,the latter has more vacant spaces in his hand for the other three suits,may have longer clubs than East,declarer holding cAJ9xx and K10x may try 10 from dummy and then play Ace and try JC from hand,works here,my glass is always half-full!regards~Patrick.:)

Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Hi Jim2 and Bobby,BWTA,neither West or East bids 3S,in the auction,unless they were looking for a slam in diamonds,a spade lead feels right as East may be ready to pitch losing spades on the heart suit..if he has short spades…?Three clubs seem a genuine club suit,unless 6D3C?Is 3D forc in their system?regards~Patrick.

Iain ClimieMarch 10th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Hi Patrick,

I’m impressed by anyone who can be optimistic on a Monday although I recall the cheery soul who said “if we clutch at enough straws, we can build a raft”. So we did, and it sank!


Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Hi Iain,if you had played the hand,and lost to QC on your right ,East holding QX or Qxx,I promise to be speechless,not quite,just two words-Good try!:)

jim2March 10th, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Iain (1:07) –

I used up all my good luck finding her. That’s why TOCM ™ affects me so strongly.

Bobby WolffMarch 10th, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2, & Patrick,

By the time it is early morning here in the far West, column bridge questions have all been discussed and well answered.

No doubt, especially at IMPs (or rubber bridge), this hand has been played well and according to best percentage so that with any 2-1 break in hearts the hand will then be a laydown without having to guess which defender holds the queen of clubs. Simply put, a 2-1 break, while holding 10 is more likely than guessing which defender holds a specific card, even though as Patrick points out that there would be more room in West’s hand because he would be void in hearts.

Yes Iain, everything you say is true, about what a partner may say if East wound up holding Kxx in hearts and the queen of clubs was not guessed correctly. Remind him “that one should stay quiet and thought a fool, then open his mouth and remove all doubt”.

Also I, too, have noticed many times that the playing of bridge does mirror life when the many decisions in both, insist on all of us (who are blessed by living longer than average) occasionally making wrong ones, but having to exhibit determination in trying to overcome them.

Also your strange but true life analogy, about both marriage partners deciding early and staying true, through thick and thin, to believing that each has found his “perfect” mate, are only adjusting to the inevitable by adjusting to life’s vicissitudes by accepting the human condition.

Regarding the LWTA, most opponents almost always prefer 3NT to 5 of a minor (9 trick goal instead of 11) so that when they do bypass 3NT, the reason is that they do not have that suit stopped, so likely from this opening leader’s standpoint, partner, not their opponents, will possess the king of spades.

And finally when East rebids 3 clubs (LWTA) and after West prefers diamonds, his 5 diamond choice will usually authenticate his “real clubs”, as Patrick suggests, rather then a “mark time or waiting bid”.

Finally most all recognized bidding systems, except perhaps Acol and probably that system also, would play the 3 diamond preference by the opening bidder as forcing for at least one more round.

Thanks to all for their contributions to this column hand and LWTA.

Iain ClimieMarch 10th, 2014 at 3:33 pm

A final thought for Jim2 – ensure your other half finds out about that last post of yours, but don’t show her it yourself. Just for the record, my wife has a level of tolerance which I rarely deserve and should appreciate more.

David WarheitMarch 10th, 2014 at 6:53 pm

I asked myself the question: which line should S take were he playing duplicate? Out of 100 possibilities, 25 are irrelevant (E has stiff K or is void). Looking then only at the remaining 75, if he takes the finesse, he will make 7 about 22 times, 6 about 37 times and 5 about 16 times. If he takes the suggested line, he will make 7 about 6 times, 6 about 63 times & 5 about 6 times. In short, playing the finesse rather than playing for the endplay will give him a much better chance of making 7, but a much better chance of going down, although more chances of 7 than of 5 by a small but not insignificant margin. Now I know that you are a big nonfan of duplicate, but just for a moment imagine that you have been trapped into playing in a duplicate tournament, which line would you choose?

Bobby WolffMarch 10th, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Hi David,

1. You have flattered me, by understanding my likes and dislikes.

2. Your question is direct and on target and because of that I will even be mildly happy to answer it.

3. However, by answering it and with the consideration necessary to satisfy my responsibility in so doing, I absolutely hate to admit that I will sell my soul by taking the percentage line, but since in reality I do not have to do this in real time, I do not want to even contemplate that I will take the trump finesse to appease the phony match point god.

Furthermore I will decline to figure out what that will be, although it certainly will be close. I would also have to factor in the relative strength of the duplicate (section(s) in which I am compared) plus the likelihood of which contract that various percentages of the field will play this board in order to answer your question. Sadly this answer would, no doubt be 6 hearts, at least to the tune of 90+%.

Please understand, just in case you have doubts. If disdaining the finesse is anywhere close to the right percentage 50%, then with 45% or above, I will not finesse and therefore refuse to rationalize away my dis-allegiance to the real game of bridge in favor of remaining chaste and not being hypocritical. Yes, bridge to me is that important.

“Sue me, sue me, shoot arrows through me”.

jim2March 10th, 2014 at 11:10 pm

I would add that some of those not in 6H will be shooting for a top in 6N (after all, all suits are double stopped and no suit needs to be set up via ruffing). Those declarers obviously will not have the heart endplay available and will probably take the finesse. Duplicating their line will always lose to them unless the KH is offside and both declarers then misguess clubs (because the 6N declarer will go down more than one).

Thus the declarer in 6H does best to take advantage of the endplay that 6N declarers will not have.

Similarly, a few may stop below slam and a few might even end up in 6C. In both those cases, the 6H declarer again does best to make the best play for 12 tricks.

David WarheitMarch 11th, 2014 at 7:53 am

Jim2: Everything you say is technically possible, but practically impossible. Every S will open the bidding 1H, meaning NS will never play 6C. Since NS have only 29 HCP and N has 5 hearts, it is almost inconceivable that they will reach 6NT (sounds like shooting for a bottom, not a top. Even if the thought should pass through either N’s or S’s head, the thought that while making 6NT is better than making 6H, the chance of making an overtrick is surely much greater in H rather than NT). And Bobby Wolff tells us that over 90% of pairs will be in 6H (not game, not some other slam). Yes, you reach the same result as Mr. Wolff, but I like his reasoning (although I am a fan of duplicate).

Alex AlonMarch 11th, 2014 at 10:55 am

To David,
We all heard players saying after going down ” i needed 1 of 2 finesses to be right, it is 75% line” and many of us myself including said the exact same sentence … so while playing MP at slam i am personally will not danger an 100% average + for about 35% absolute Top, while risking absolute bottom. During a duplicate there is many chances for an overtrick that will bring top in a lesser contracts and what is most important imho during defense. Playing a solid game with boards being average and few being top from opponents mistakes, our good defense and occasional overtrick will always result in a very high score
just my 2 cents

jim2March 11th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

David –

I think you mistake my point. Our Host estimated 90+ % would be in 6H. What I was showing was that the likely results at those alternate contracts also supported making the best play for the contract at 6H.

For example, suppose an alternate contract (even low probability) was 6S that would always make but offered no chance for an OT. In such a case, playing for the OT at 6H would have the additional (albeit small) advantage of beating those declarers. In this hand, there is no such hypothetical advantage to be accrued by playing for an OT at 6H because the alternate contracts of game, 6C, and 6N offer no such deltas.

Does that help?

Bobby WolffMarch 11th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hi David, Alex & Jim2,

All three of you basically and accurately sum up the factors involved, leaving little else to be discussed, much less argued.

I did enjoy Alex’s specific comment on what it takes to have good matchpoint scores by not going out of one’s way to risk a top or bottom and wait for opportunities to score up extra overtricks on offense and possible extra tricks on defense by playing and defending well, but not playing for tops and bottoms by opting for undue risk.

Playing consistently well is, at least to me, the road to take and, in the long run, much more important than the system or conventions chosen to be played.

However, it takes time to develop a winning partnership with poisoned flowers and wicked witches to overcome so concentrate on that and on game day, do not, if possible, let one’s mind drift off during the game or the task taken will be much slower to achieve.