Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 19th, 2014

Everything is funny as long as it happens to someone else.

Will Rogers

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


While it is true that you will only make one trick with the trump ace, precisely when you take it makes all the difference. The timing was certainly critical on this deal.

South was hardly full value for his opening bid of one spade and he was unable to curb North’s enthusiasm until a small slam was reached. An opening heart lead would have defeated the spade slam, but West chose the diamond queen. Declarer won and started on trumps. West held off the first round but won the second on which East signaled heavily with the heart jack.

The heart switch was too late – declarer won on the table and played off his remaining trumps and his other top diamond. East, unable to withstand the pressure, had to concede the twelfth trick.

Can you see a successful defense for West even after his diamond lead? He must save his trump ace until the third round, when dummy’s last spade is played, and then return, not a heart, but a second diamond. The effect of this is that declarer cannot conveniently come back to hand after cashing the heart ace. This maneuver is known as the Vienna Coup. With the heart ace still in place on the table, dummy has no convenient discard on declarer’s last trump and thus East, discarding after dummy, is in no trouble with his discards.

The choice here is to rebid two no-trump to show the nature of your hand, ignoring your small doubleton in a side-suit, or to reverse into two hearts, later pretending that you have a 3-4-1-5 pattern. Of the two, I believe that the first route will work better if your side belongs in game or higher, as you will get to show your majors along the way so long as partner has enough to act over your rebid.


♠ K Q 5
 A 7 6 3
 8 6
♣ A K Q 7
South West North East
1♣ Pass 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Shantanu RastogiJanuary 2nd, 2015 at 9:26 am

Hello Mr Wolff

Very nice and instructive deal. Heart King is not going anywhere. And if South has Club jack then on Diamond Q lead contract is cold. So there is no harm in returning Diamond J.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Hi Shantanu,

My, YES, except in this case the opening leader had the opportunity to dash the declarer’s plan by the counter intuitive play of holding off the second spade and then after declarer was forced to lead a 3rd spade (required to effect the eventual coup) continuing diamonds instead of switching to hearts.

However, perhaps a more complete description of the actual defense might be that West, by switching to a heart, rather than a diamond continuation, was doing declarer’s work for him and executing the lethal effective club heart squeeze against his partner by forcing declarer to make use of the “Vienna Coup”, a basic unblocking play for declarer, so that a trick can be gained for him, rather than for the defense.

This fairly rare coup, but likely available more often than suspected, first recognized in the coffee houses in Vienna, Austria (where bridge thrived), probably back in the early 1930’s (early days of Contract Bridge, although applicable also in Auction Bridge, Contract’s father), is sometimes explained simply as, “setting up a trick for the enemy (king of hearts) and then squeezing him out of his being able to hold it”.

A defender able to counter such a trick producing coup by taking out the crucial entry (in this case a diamond continuation of the opening lead, but only after ducking the first two spade leads) would automatically be lauded and perhaps given credit for “the defensive play of the year” award if he did it for the right reason (understanding what will happen if the cards are located in the way that they are and then proceeding to rain on declarer’s parade). Victor Mollo would undoubtedly have his Rabbit character, sitting West, meaning to win the second spade, but having a small spade fall out of his hand.

Great game, this bridge, the ability for some (very few), with the aptitude to reason in a very sophisticated bridge manner and then executing effectively.

leonJanuary 2nd, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Hi Bobby, Shantanu,

Very nice deal indeed. As rightly remarked by Shantanu it can be logically deduced that holding up the spade ace and returning a diamond can never cost. But how many would find this at the table….

This situation is quite rare I think. Especially while playing trumps (i.e. if North would have had one more diamond transportation back to South would be very easy). This make the situation very difficult to recognise (although Bobby made it more easy now by publishing this deal !)

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Hi Leon,

Of course, there is one unalterable fact: A bridge column hand will either be a teaching hand, or a unique situation worth discussing.

Just like all teaching books in school, identifying the question, the right answer and always the most important, why?

Yes, of course today’s hand is unique and very rare. However, I have had the experience of playing with and against the world’s best and some number of them have the capacity to defend this hand correctly.

However, another aspect of a bridge column, is that if someone does the right thing he will be rewarded. That is not always the case in real life, when by ducking two rounds of spades (necessary), and then continuing diamonds, will defeat this hand.

Normally it will not make a difference since the distribution or high card content (South figured to have another high card for his opening bid) will merely provide Ho! Hum! to the result. However, to play at the table with a player capable of such a great play(s), whether the result was spectacular or not, doesn’t really make a difference. My estimate is that a real world class player (not one who is called one) will make 5 or 6 great plays for every one which hits the target and pays off with results.

It is that appreciation which makes bridge THE GAME OF A LIFETIME and separates it from all others (although in at least poker and chess) the same unique aspect may be present, but in the case of poker, the extreme talent is usually psychological not technical.

Chess, no, but the sameness of every game, at least to my old eyes, takes away some of the necessary excitement, which always pleasantly rattles my cage.