Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 24th, 2014

Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

Sun Tzu

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


As South, one of my correspondents received the lead of the spade queen against three no-trump in a multiple team event. Do you win or duck? Decide before reading further.

Our first declarer thought for a moment before playing low from the board. East overtook with the king and returned a spade. Declarer won in dummy, perforce, and crossed to hand to take the club finesse, but when it lost, East played a heart through, sending the contract down two.

At the next table, declarer thought for a long time before winning the spade ace at the first trick in an attempt to block the suit. East decided to play low, playing for the layout in spades to look approximately like it did. Declarer came to hand and tried the club finesse, but when it lost, East unblocked his spade king. The heart switch led to two down again.

At table three, my correspondent also won the opening lead, and East correctly refrained from unblocking. Here declarer made the correct move at trick two when he led a heart to his king and West’s ace. West won and reverted to spades, but there was no entry to the long suit, so declarer came home with his game.

But note that if West had ducked his heart ace, declarer would have gone down, whether he played on hearts or clubs. After a second heart, West would set up the suit for his partner, while East still had the club king for an entry.

There are hands with this pattern where you might offer a choice of contracts with a call of two hearts now. If, for example, you had a chunky five-card heart suit headed by the Q-J-10, your hand might play much better in hearts than in spades. The reverse holds true here; your values look just fine for play in spades, so give preference to two spades.


♠ K 3
 10 7 5 4 2
 4 2
♣ K 9 7 5
South West North East
Pass 1♠ Pass
1 NT Pass 2 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


David WarheitNovember 7th, 2014 at 11:22 am

Moving right along with Mr. Sun Tzu, there are just 2, not 3, things the defense needs to do: 1) E must play a small S at trick 1, assuming S wins the A, and 2) W must duck the first H. Note that if both those things are done, W must win the second H, but he need not clear hearts. He can lead a S and then E can clear H and wait to get in with the CK to cash his hearts. In fact, W should so defend; after all, E is allowed to have more than 2 spades and, say, CQJ instead of CK.

bobby wolffNovember 7th, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Hi David,

Aye, there’s the rub.

And what about if declarer has the spade king and very little, even perhaps no honors in clubs.

After all, all East could offer was the lowest spade, so if withholding his king, all he had to offer was the lowest spade out, usually a declination of strength.

What does it all mean? Simply, that our game sometimes has as many turns and choices as no doubt Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and his pal Injun Joe, getting lost in the cave. And to this dilemma add that information between the defense cannot be given by tempo or body action, only by the card played by using regular tempo not magnified by any emphasis.

Often detective work, certainly not only allowed but rather encouraged, is the determining factor enabling astute thinking defenders to succeed, without which often despair is the result.

Dame Fortune should deal that type of hand often, if for no other reason than to make all of us use our heaven sent minds to go to work for us and produce the satisfying results sometimes only bridge, as a game, can offer.

At least to me, there is no thrill greater than either accomplishing that in my partnership or 2nd place be victimized by the opponents who also do it to me, but are also very ethical while succeeding.

Iain ClimieNovember 7th, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Hi Bobby

A slight concern on BWTA. How do you distinguish between a hand like today’s, perhaps with slightly stronger hearts e.g. QJ9xx, which could play OK in hearts or spades and one like x QJ10xxx xx Axxx where the 2H bid has to be a command to stop unless partner has 6 good spades asnd 4 diamonds, although even then 2H mightt be the right spot? If there is ambiguity, there seems to be an increased risk of a bad decision; is it better to accept the risk of missing the odd 5-3 heart fit if you have 2 spades as responder?



bobby wolffNovember 7th, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Hi Iain,

Again you jump to the cusp of the decision.

I do agree with the column’s opinion. With only 5 poor hearts and the robust K as part of the doubleton spade, I do not think it close in returning to 2 spades.

Does the above mean that hearts could never be the superior strain to spades? Of course not, and fairly often (I would guess 20% of the time it would be), but after all, bridge is still a numeric percentage game, rather than one which is always finite and definite.

For wannabe good players, accurate percentage guesses can only come with experience (not necessarily innate intelligence). so do not be impatient in expecting to be right.

Being right will become slowly developing and perhaps unnoticeable, except by the improvement of your overall results and indeed your winning more often than before.

Neither Rome being built in a day nor becoming a world beater in bridge is a fast process, and 100% of all players will learn that fact, even if it takes more time than first thought, to grasp it.

SlarNovember 7th, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I predict I would have outfoxed myself as East and incorrectly unblocked the King. What bridge logic could lead me to the proper conclusion?

As a more general comment, I have a tendency to see these whiz-bang plays in newspaper articles and so forth and be too eager to apply them at the table. What I am trying to do is work out situations where the whiz-bang play can’t hurt and might help. I’m not there yet.

bobby wolffNovember 8th, 2014 at 4:47 am

Hi Slar,

Without question and in my opinion I, as East would have, along with you, unblocked the king of spades at trick one.

As several top world players have said, playing good bridge can be very humbling at times. In our efforts to do the right thing too often, to do so is beyond where our minds can take us.

Yes, newspaper column hands tend to focus on brilliance rather than just playing without error, but, for my money, just play consistently well and the wins will take care of themselves.

And another mindset to avoid is that of someone who finds a way to discuss other people’s errors rather than his own. We all make them and often so tis better to be quiet and thought a fool, rather than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

Gordon MaroneyNovember 25th, 2014 at 8:54 pm

At table three & I’m not saying he should, if declarer leads his second heart and West wins he can set up the heart suit but declarer can then play 2 rounds of diamonds and then endplay East with a spade. If he plays three rounds of diamonds East can discard the spade K and the West wins a spade and plays a club. Yes it is a bit ‘double-dummy’ !