Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte, as every child can tell,
The House of Peers, throughout the war, did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.

W. S. Gilbert

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


The Lords and Commons meet one another in an inter-parliamentary struggle in England every year. The House of Lords won this year’s match, and lead the series 22-19.

Some of the deals they play are set up with a subtle point in the play. Today’s deal first appeared in a large pairs competition and featured a challenge for declarer.

At many tables South opened one club in third seat and West overcalled one spade, a bid which should have influenced declarer’s line of play. As South, how do you play three no-trump after a low spade lead, the six, to East’s jack?

Many declarers quickly took the king, unblocked the heart king and tried to force an entry to table with a diamond. This line failed when East took the king and fired back a spade to leave declarer with five losers. After a one spade overcall it is clear that spades are going to break 5-2 (or even 6-1) and it cannot cost to let the spade jack hold the first trick. If declarer does that, then the game can no longer be defeated. A spade return is won by West’s 10, but that player has nothing he can do. If he abandons spades declarer can always make five hearts, two diamonds and two clubs for his contract. If he cashes the spade ace, declarer again comes to nine tricks by unblocking hearts then leading up to the diamond queen.

The hold-up is clear-cut if West has overcalled one spade; it is less clearly correct if there has been no opposition bidding.

Rather than bidding two diamonds, double for takeout. This allows your partner a wider choice of actions than insisting on one of your two suits. In general double tends to be the most flexible action in competitive auctions. Whenever you have decent high cards for the action you should consider doubling for take-out, assuming your hand has no clear cut direction.


♠ 5 2
 A Q J 8 5
 Q J 7 4
♣ 6 2
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass
1 1 ♠ Pass 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 23rd, 2016 at 9:36 am

Hi Bobby,

AS the cards lie, South can succeed by grabbing T!, overtaking the heart K to cash the QJ then leading the DQ making 1S, 3H, 3D and 2C although this is obviously long odds against.

Back in the sane world, suppose South ducks T1, East plays another spade and West clears the suit. Now South clearly cashes the HK but should play DA next – West could have AQ10xx 10xx K Jxxx and this is a small but handy extra chance. On a different layout, Taking T1 and then letting West cash his spades might work; not today, though.



bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2016 at 10:51 am

Hi Iain,

Yes, well said, and if we would have had more space allotted to our daily bridge puzzle, we would have been proud to include your entire word for word add on description, as ours.

The one seemingly constant in forwarding different forms of bridge knowledge to our beloved readers, are the varied choices, often winning verses losing which are usually ever present, and although the columnist is always blessed with self-indulged double dummy knowledge, everyone should be more interested in why, rather than just because.

Here, and while declaring 3NT, it is simply losing only 3 spade tricks rather than 4, which added to the “getting in” trick is one too many.

No doubt these hands come in many shapes and sizes with our job to help inform, never forgetting that basically we are more into the entertainment business rather than the rare opportunity to mold a future champion.

Unfortunately, if the latter instead, by the time he or she reaches fame and/or glory, we are long forgotten, but what else in life is more common, since its virtue becomes its own reward.

Since you are constantly adding to and thus improving the process, much thanks for your vital contributions.

A.V.Ramana RaoMarch 23rd, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
As the cards lay, Perhaps this line too will work to bring home the contract. Win the Spade K at the first trick and return a spade. West can cash his spades and only safe return is a club. In the seven card position ( after five spades and a club) North will keep Four hearts and three diamonds . South can win the club lead and overtake Hearts K and lead Q of diamonds and when the ten falls from west, it is all over . South gets One spade, Three hearts, Three diamonds and two clubs. This line fails only when spades are Six one . And will work as long as diamond finesse is right and Singleton ten falling or diamonds doubleton ten with west with spades five two. And if west does not cash his spades, south is left with a tempo.

And- Strange it may appear- Four Hearts too makes even with the five one fit- Sure someone from Mars would bid it


bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2016 at 4:53 pm


You are right as you can be, with the key holding
the singleton 10 of diamonds with West.

Often, but probably not on this hand, the best play by declarer is to challenge the defense to take their tricks early (usually for them because of lack of entries to their best suit) and thus squeeze his partner between two suits.

Just another way for declarer to seem to create magic in landing a difficult contract.

It has been said before that long ago, before bidding had vastly improved, all the top players
had improved their declarer play immensely to compensate for the mediocre bidding.

Having lived in that era, there is more truth than poetry in that assumption, leaving only bidding through the many years since then, to match the excellent play and, for that matter, defense, which often applies now.

In those same old days, one didn’t have to arrive from Mars to sometimes reach 4 hearts on this hand, when some responder greatly valued his king of hearts. However if West was on lead he likely would not have led a spade, and by not I will leave it up to you to decide whether the hand could or would not be made. Likewise, with the jack of spades lead, just in case that contract was played right side up.

Mircea1March 23rd, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

What happens if East plays a high club at trick 2 (provided he is allowed to win the first trick)?

bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Declarer wins the ace and, after cashing the king of hearts knocks out the diamond, losing at most three spades and a diamond, taking 5 hearts, 2 diamonds and 2 clubs for his contract.

The illusion created, which seems to happen often in bridge and in various ways, is that the defense becomes deprived of eventually cashing 4 spade tricks (instead of 3) with declarer’s contract saving duck at trick 1, the catalyst.

Ducking the king of spades seems counter intuitive, since in many cases that one trick may never be recovered, but in this case, declarer gives up one in order, in the fullness of time, to gain the contract trick. Also, since West has overcalled one spade, he is thought to have five of them, since if he had only four declarer would then become the brunt of criticism for his failed attempt at brilliance.

However, the columnist, in order to present the challenges and beauty of bridge, can arrange the hands, (king of diamonds with East), to make the reader think, rather than just grab the offered trick.

Yes Mircea1, bridge is a remarkable game. You and I are lucky we know how to play it. Table Up!

AlanMarch 23rd, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff:

Out of curiosity, what are the chances of a specific singleton (in this case, the ten) being in the West hand?

SamMarch 23rd, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Great hand, but my guess is few would see it through your eyes.

bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2016 at 9:23 pm

Hi Alan,

If my percentage table antics are correct, I will suggest that when 6 are held by the opponents, and those are then distributed 5-1 (18.75%) for the holding to be a specific card of those 6 are about 1.55% to be held by one of those two players (in this case West), about 3.1% to be held by either.

Of course, if other factors are then known before application (one spade overcall) those percentages change (in this case to slightly more likely) since there is not as much room in that hand for the 5.

bobbywolffMarch 23rd, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Hi Sam,

First, I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician, but at least, what I have been led to believe, quite numerate, which allows numbers to have an increased presence in one’s life.

Not especially talented but a subject which often permeates one’s thinking, and of significantly helping to solve one’s pertaining problems.

Whether that results in looking at things my way or not, requires an answer to which I simply do not know.

jim2March 24th, 2016 at 1:59 am

Sam, I must confess that I saw it the same way Our Host did.

I came at it slightly differently, maybe. I saw that I needed to use the Board’s diamonds for an entry to the hearts. This would give me 5 hearts, 2 diamonds, and 2 clubs for 9 tricks even if I never won a spade.

To use the diamonds as a board entry meant I had to lose a trick to the KD. Thus, the only way to make the hand was if East had the KD and West could not cash 4 spades. That, in turn, meant I had to hold up the KS so that when East won the KD he could not lead a spade to West.

The key to understanding the play of this hand (and many others) is to work backwards, much like a mystery novelist does. The author knows whodunit from the start, but writes backwards.

bobbywolffMarch 24th, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Hi Jim2,

And just to corroborate your comment about working backwards.

In today’s environment (at least currently in the USA) TV is saturated with crime dramas NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, et al. and they, as a group, continue to practice what you have preached.

Eventual guilt never seems to follow the first few prompts. So it often is in bridge, only accenting what a marvelous game we all love and thus play and discuss.