Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Suffering isn’t ennobling, recovery is.

Christiaan Barnard

E North
N-S ♠ 5
 A K 7
 A Q 8 6 5 4
♣ Q 7 2
West East
♠ J 6
 Q 8 4 3
 J 3
♣ K 10 8 6 4
♠ K Q 10 9 7 3
 J 2
 7 2
♣ J 9 3
♠ A 8 4 2
 10 9 6 5
 K 10 9
♣ A 5
South West North East
      2 ♠
Pass 3 ♠ Dbl. Pass
4 All pass    


Today’s deal comes from last year’s spring nationals, as do all the hands this week.

It came up in the Vanderbilt knock-out teams, and saw declarer presented with a ticklish declarer-play problem. Yes, in retrospect it might have been more lucrative and less stressful to defend to three spades doubled and collect an easy 500.

However you have put yourself in four hearts, and you receive the lead of the spade jack from Giorgio Duboin. Zia Mahmood overtakes the lead with the spade queen. How would you play from there?

At the table, declarer won the spade lead and went after clubs but eventually lost control, the 4-2 trump break proving to be too much for him when the defenders continued the attack on spades. Declarer found himself locked in dummy and forced to play on diamonds, thus conceding a trick to the small trump and eventually to East’s spade winner.

The best line seems to me to be to duck the spade lead in an attempt to retain control. If East plays a second spade as he rates to do, ruff, then cash dummy’s top hearts, return to hand with the diamond king and play a third trump. Whatever the defenders do, you have the communications in place to return to hand and draw the last trump, then run diamonds.

If East shifts to a club at trick two, go up with the ace and play three rounds of trump. So long as trumps break or East has honordoubleton, you are home.

You could make a case for just bidding two diamonds, because your hand has got worse from your partner’s response in your singleton. I think you are just worth a call of three diamonds (this would be a far easier call if your diamond eight were the 10). Not all 15-counts have to jump at their second turn.


♠ 5
 A K 7
 A Q 8 6 5 4
♣ Q 7 2
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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMarch 30th, 2016 at 10:04 am

How about: S wins the opening lead with the SA, ruffs a S, cashes HAK, crosses to hand with DK, and leads H10. W wins as S throws a C from dummy. W can now return anything, S wins, draws trump and claims, making 6! In fact 6H is cold against any lead except the CK, which would probably be W’s 13th choice for opening lead.

Shantanu RastogiMarch 30th, 2016 at 11:04 am

Hi David

Your line is perfect on the lie of cards and should be taken if playing 6 hearts. But if you look at just north & south cards and try to imagine east west distribution then IMHO the line given in the column is better as for example spades can be 5-3 instead of 6–2.

Best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

David WarheitMarch 30th, 2016 at 11:48 am

Shantanu: I don’t think so. A weak-2 opener promises 6 cards, although a few people will do so occasionally on 5. But the opening lead was SJ, meaning either doubleton or J10x. If the latter, then E opened a weak-2 on KQxxx. Yuck.

jim2March 30th, 2016 at 12:21 pm

David Warheit –

North has three hearts.

Iain ClimieMarch 30th, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Hi Bobby,

If I’d ducked the spade lead against Zia, and Aced the club switch, He’d have started with KQ109xx Jx xx K10x. After 3 rounds of hearts, west would have played another club and I lose control. Not that I’m succumbing to TOCM or anything….



Shantanu RastogiMarch 30th, 2016 at 2:06 pm


Isnt this deal beautiful ? While some would like to be in 6 hearts the declarer in the column went down in 4 hearts. And this is the only complicated contract. 3 NT & 5 D make with ease and as mentioned in column 3 Spades doubled fetches a decent score.

Best regards


jim2March 30th, 2016 at 2:24 pm

David –

I got my contracts mixed up — I was trying to make 6D.

bobbywolffMarch 30th, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Hi David, Shantanu, Jim2, & Iain,

All above make worthwhile comments, and most only concern themselves with the actual hand, with some different views about the likely defensive holdings. By the numbers, let me digress into what I deem worthy to take away from this experience.

1. No doubt EW bidding up quickly through 3 spades establishes the largest challenge to even top players reaching either 3NT, a sure trick contract to which 10 are assured.

2. 5 diamonds is also almost a slam dunk, making the double of 3 spades (at the mentioned vulnerability or 4 hearts much more speculative, thus inferior).

3. From a defensive standpoint, while many, especially at this vulnerability would open 2 spades and choose a TO double with the North hand after a troublesome raise to 3 with West, goading South to choose 4 hearts rather than a pass or 3NT. Again, my guess is that NS would bid exactly as shown at any reasonably high level of our game.

4. Do my opinions represent what would happen, or can anyone suggest different choices, and if so, would they stand the test of time and result?

5. Perhaps North would simply offer 4 diamonds as an overcall leaving South to ponder whether to merely raise to 5 diamonds or perhaps, more likely, cue bid 4 spades and possibly point to a futile diamond slam.

6. Going forward, I think it totally necessary for both East to open 2 spades, West to raise to 3 immediately and then using good enough judgment NS to linger in one of the making games (red suits or 3NT) and eschew the poisoned flowers of slam.

7. Sometimes easier said than done, but without EW doing their preemptive magic, our game takes on too easy of a hue, lessening the challenge due.

8. Finally there is more than just a few players who would open the East hand with 2 spades, while holding only 5 (instead of 6) which, of course, would be raised to 3 with then 3 trumps instead of 2, making the penalty double of 3 more attractive and thus more likely to be right.

No guarantees of anything, but only the realization after a long career, it is precisely these types of hands which the really great partnerships of yesterday and today, tend to get right, based only on superior judgment of knowing what to do against specific opponents and their collective tendencies, but not with any black magic involved, only the psychology necessary to do what is more likely right in any particular case.

And to the above is the most important reason to discuss what to do, not necessarily the technical reason of the choices of play and defense, although I am not trying to discount that important challenge either, in any strong way.

However, please do not ever forget before becoming defensive fiends, trying to give their aggressive opponents the worst possible result, defense, starting with a blind opening lead, is often much more difficult than is declarer’s play which has too many advantages to not take seriously.

David WarheitMarch 30th, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Sorry, misspoke. 6H is cold. If W does lead CK, S doesn’t even have to ruff a S.

jim2March 30th, 2016 at 8:36 pm

6H needs 3-3 hearts of honor doubleton, and also no club lead when the KC is behind the QC.

Peter PengMarch 30th, 2016 at 10:17 pm

hi Bobby

I sent a problem, and could not find it, although when I resubmitted, saw a message saying it had already been submitted.

Is it possible that the message went into some black hole?

Best always


bobbywolffMarch 31st, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Hi Peter,

Upon consulting the present archives the last post I have from you concerned itself with the “old chestnut” of leading the jack from the queen jack doubleton trump.

Other than that I do not view any other posts in the last few days. It may be that some mysterious force, unknown to either of us, might rise up in cyberspace and attack, but in the absence of that I do not have an answer.

If you remember what you wrote please write it again, and for my benefit please choose writing it on a later day, so that I will easily be able to see it and respond. It doesn’t have to match the particular day’s theme.

Good luck and please accept my apologies for whatever might have happened.