Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 13th, 2014

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

William Blake

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

*Game forcing, with spades


Last month we looked at some deals that had cropped up in the early stages of the world championships in Bali in September 2013. This week's deals all occurred toward the end of the championships.

The first deal exemplifies the concept that defensive signaling cannot be reduced to a simple question of attitude — whether you like or do not like partner’s lead. A thoughtful defender will signal by reference to the whole hand and what partner is likely to switch to if given the chance.

Today’s deal comes from the last qualifying match of the Senior round-robin with Netherlands needing a big win to qualify, which they duly managed to do. This board helped their cause.

In one room, where Bep Vriend was declarer, West led a top diamond against four hearts, and East contributed the jack, suggesting a sequence but denying the queen. West naturally switched to a heart, and now the contract came home. Vriend won the queen, cashed the ace and queen of trumps and pitched a diamond from dummy on the third heart. West’s defense was unsuccessful but well-reasoned, since if East had the heart king rather than the jack, this is exactly how he would have defended, and the heart shift would have been mandatory.

In the other room, Chris Niemeijer led a high diamond as well, and when Louk Verhees Senior signaled encouragement, West continued diamonds. Now four hearts had to go one down, losing one further trick in each black suit.

This hand is more about tactics than it is about anything else. While your side could have two tricks to take against a slam, the odds favor the opponents being able to make 12 tricks in hearts. You should try to prevent them from bidding slam, and while caution may be appropriate if vulnerable, I would simply raise to three spades if nonvulnerable. Maybe LHO will now bid four hearts to end the auction?


♠ 8 4 3
 J 2
 10 9 7 2
♣ 9 8 5 4
South West North East
2♠ Dbl.

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


slarOctober 27th, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I can do this. The opponents are in game and aren’t clowns. I (East) have 8 points. My partner shows AK. He can’t possibly have another control. He needs to cash his other winner now or he will lose it on a heart pitch. Now to convince myself I can do this at the table.
Now West. If East has the SK he will always get it. If he has the HA he may lose it on a club pitch. (I’d surely look to set up the clubs for pitches if I were declarer.)
I can do this. Now to convince myself I can do this at the table.
I admit I am fuzzy as to why a heart lead is helpful if East has the HK and not HJ. Doesn’t it get finessed away?

Bobby WolffOctober 27th, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Hi Slar,

The column explanation should have said the king of hearts in addition to the jack. That holding with a heart shift from partner will produce an extra trick as long as the opening leader doesn’t establish declarer’s diamond queen before the heart trick is available.

The important bridge lesson involved is that, hardly ever would a club shift by West be in the cards, so therefore the defense can focus entirely on the red suits for establishing tricks. In this case the rub is that the defense sometimes needs to lead hearts before cashing both diamonds and other times, such as this one, both diamonds need to be cashed before the mice get one of them.

Sometimes, these relatively simple holdings are difficult to get right, since the combined defensive 26 cards need to be intelligently communicated ASAP and unlike being declarer, the defense is not privileged to be able to see all 26 assets.

All East can do is signal partner what he thinks will be most helpful to now do, and since hearts is really the only suit for both of them to worry about, it sometimes becomes critical for East to send partner as much legal information (not body language) as he can.

If East had the king of hearts he should signal low in diamonds (the three) but if he held the queen of diamonds along with the king of hearts he should signal high (the eight or nine) but then when partner cashed his ace of diamonds he should play a higher diamond (than the eight or nine) to get partner to then switch to hearts.

To all of this, the specific card combination in the other suit (clubs) becomes important, and with the strong club holding looming in dummy it may become necessary to switch to hearts before the clubs are established allowing declarer to throw away his heart loser(s). It may be important to note, that on this hand West has both the J and 10 of hearts, allowing a heart trick to be set up if East holds only the isolated king, but it has to be set up before the second diamond is cashed, otherwise the potential heart trick goes bye bye on the queen of diamonds: declarer holding s. KQxxx, h. Axx, d. Qxx, c. xx. (yes, many would open the bidding with this hand).

At a high level and when the opening leader has held the first trick, often, after seeing the dummy and having studied the spot cards played at trick one, the opening leader will then attempt to determine what hands partner (East) and declarer (South) are most likely to have had originally in order to defend to the utmost advantage.

Then, not unlike a very top quarterback in the NFL, he will fire a perfect pass, in his play at trick two, which, in turn will then (in both games) lead to the defeat of the hated opponents.

Bobby WolffOctober 27th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hi again Slar,

If you and others would not open that hand, change it to s. KQxxxx, h. Ax, d. Qxx, c. xx.

MirceaOctober 27th, 2014 at 7:59 pm

So just to clarify, East’s thinking at trick one should be:
– assuming that the lead is from AK, on this auction and with this dummy, partner can have at most two more jacks or one queen
– unless declarer has a singleton club (highly unlikely on this auction) I am guaranteed a trick in clubs
– since partner cannot have HK, we have no tricks there
– the trump suit is the only suit the setting trick can come from ; for that to happen, partner must have the queen guarded or J 10 x, both plausible

Base on all of the above, I must tell partner that he must cash the other diamond trick next. Therefore I will encourage a continuation in the suit.

If the above is correct, does it matter which card East uses to send the message across?