Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 25th, 2016

I don’t mind being a symbol but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I’ve seen what the pigeons do to them.

Tommy Douglas

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


Today’s deal comes from the 2009 bridge match between the Lords and The Commons. It features a play that might be easy to miss at the table in the heat of the battle.

West leads the diamond king and ace against four spades before switching to the club 10. The normal’ if unthinking line of play is simply to draw trump and take the heart finesse. Can you do better?

Declarer should realize that with at least one sure heart loser, there is no reason to make the standard play in hearts. Try this approach instead: win the club switch, draw trump, then cash your club winners, ending in the dummy. Now play a heart, planning to duck the two, going up with the ace in any other case, then crossing to dummy in trump to lead a heart to the queen if East plays low. That way, if East has the heart king, you will make the same 10 tricks as you would have done had you finessed.

However, where you gain is when West has king-doubleton, as here. West will win his heart king, but will now be endplayed into giving you a ruff and discard. When he plays a minor suit, you will ruff in dummy, discarding your remaining heart loser from your hand.

One other wrinkle; if East follows with the jack on the second round, you do have the option of ducking, playing him to have mistakenly failed to unblock this card from jack-doubleton, when it is East, not West, who will be endplayed.

My instinct would be to lead diamonds, trying to set up winners for our side in that suit before declarer started building either hearts or clubs for discards. Your cards seem to lie well enough for declarer that an active defense is appropriate. The decision is close: with J102 of clubs I would have led that suit instead.


♠ Q 5
 Q 7 4 3
 K 9 6 3
♣ J 3 2
South West North East
  1 Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 ♠ All 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 WarheitMay 9th, 2016 at 9:29 am

I notice that EW have a good save in 5D (down 3; -500 instead of -620). Plus it doesn’t take too much rearranging of the NS hands for them to make 6S. I don’t see how EW could manage to get to 5D, or even that just looking at the EW hands that that would be advisable, but I would appreciate your insights.

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 11:28 am

Hi David,

Since I was born in San Antonio, Texas a long time ago, I am always very happy to discuss those early nostalgic moments.

There was a famous street in the downtown district named South Presa, a fine Spanish name which was very appropriate for that quiet and beautiful city.

On that very street was located the local Insane Asylum where, no doubt, at this very moment they are gathered, discussing how to conveniently arrive at that outstanding contract.

As soon as I hear of their consensus choice, you will be the first to know. The wonderful kicker to this story is that I have mentioned your name to be forever connected to that institution which might immortalize you forever in that lovely Texas town.

jim2May 9th, 2016 at 11:48 am

Let us consider this line from the column text:

“… if East follows with the jack on the second round, you do have the option of ducking, playing him to have mistakenly failed to unblock this card from jack-doubleton …”

I would note that East is known — by this time in the play — to have been dealt two black doubletons. Adding a doubleton heart would necessitate East being exactly 2-2-7-2. Not only would East have remained silent at favorable vulnerability, but West would have failed to to lead the AKD in the opposite sequence to show it to be a doubleton. (in case East has an entry for a diamond return and ruff)

Hence, while it is absolutely correct that declarer has the “option of ducking,” it would seem otherwise contra-indicated.

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Hi Jim2,

But this EW conventionally lead the Ace from AK, therefore when the king is first led and then the ace, presto, magico, West is indeed 2-4-2-5, leaving East to mourn not playing the jack, from his doubleton heart, earlier.

And just between you and me, are you hustling, with your keen bridge analysis, to get a wing of that famous building in San Antonio, named after

OK, I’ll admit that you are, as usual, correct since in reality, EW were playing standard king leads from AK.

However, I was hoping you would suggest to East that if he indeed held the KJx of hearts to temporarily show out in hearts when a second heart is led from the dummy, and then before declarer has played, scream out, “Excuse me I have a heart, but now do not want to renege and then play the jack”.

If so, you may win the day at bridge but there are other, shall we say, detention buildings in San Antonio, that may insist for you, a stay ordered by the local bridge police.

jim2May 9th, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Ah, Dear Host, the E – W convention card would disclose which is the “conventionally” “normal” lead from AK. Failing that, I believe declarer has the right to ask East which is the “normal” sequence and retains that right all during play. If I am correct, then that question could even be asked late in the play of the hand when East follows with the JH.

Thus, declarer will know what the E-W lead “conventionally” from AK, even if it is not revealed to us mere column readers.

jim2May 9th, 2016 at 12:28 pm

For the moment, perhaps it is better that I remain beyond the borders of Texas …. 🙂

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

Let that teach me not to argue with a “bridge law maven”. Yes, while at the table, at least against a few, the game of asking the opponents what they conventionally play sometimes reminds me of that famous show “Can You Top This”!

Please do not refuse to visit my former home. No doubt, they would be “crazy” to see you, or on the other hand, to not see you.

T GatesMay 9th, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Don’t want to get caught in this crossfire and yes, I am from San Antonio as well. But this question from a learner: after clearing trumps and clubs, could South not have led a low heart based on the thought that East’s holdings suggest West held a doubleton in that suit? Whether West ducked or not, South could snare the king on regaining the lead. And was West playing possum by not overcalling South’s spade bid?

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Hi “T”,

By leading a low heart from hand West will naturally play the nine, nothing more necessary, and when East then overtakes and leads one back, declarer will be faced with the same guess.

In other words, the same old soup, only just warmed over. Also West was not just playing possum by passing since his longest suit was only a 5 carder and headed by the ten and with only a ten count in high cards, it looks kind of normal to not bid. Do You agree? A takeout double is not recommended with only a doubleton in the other major.

It is good hearing from another San Antonian. Great city and since leaving, I have missed it since I learned to play bridge there and will always be glad that I did.

slarMay 9th, 2016 at 5:11 pm

@DW The only reason 5D is a good save is because of the N/S mirror distribution and the onside KH. E/W have lousy shape and the odds are strongly against that save being successful. It is more likely to be -800 than -500 and more likely to be -1100 than -300.

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Hi Slar,

You’ve just taken a giant step forward in understanding and therefore, at least to some extent, removing a ceiling to which so many bright and often aspiring players fall victim.

My secret desire would have been to be the dean of a high level bridge school, or at least curriculum involving the logic necessary to advance upward.

In order to, in a sense, resort to a different, more realistic approach and break out from the herd which needs to be accented with learning more about what takes tricks and, of course the sometimes huge advantage of playing 2nd and 4th rather than 1st and 3rd to each trick.

The playing of the game has to accept the above and learn to take both positive and negative situations decided only by Dame Fortune, but in doing so and succeeding it will represent the keys to becoming as good as one can get, always a worthwhile goal.

Learn to rejoice when as declarer, tricks come from ruffing in the short hand or establishing long card tricks, all revolving around the number 13 (cards in one suit) and then the other side of the coin that dastardly mirror distribution you describe where few, if any, tricks are available to be promoted.

And to finally conclude this discussion it usually MUST be done during the bidding, when using judgment as to what contract to reach, when your pair is blessed, rather than your worthy opponents, with the stronger 26 cards.

Slar, use your natural bridge talent well, not all are dealt the hand you hold.

Peter PengMay 10th, 2016 at 3:43 am

hi Mr. Wolff

There is a wrinkle in this hand that declarer could have tried.

After eliminating trumps and diamonds and clubs. play the 3 of spades from dummy.

It is very possible that E will play the 2.

In that case, play the 4 to end-play West.

Just a chance it could happen, what do you think?

Best always,


Peter PengMay 10th, 2016 at 4:34 am

hello Mr. Wolff

me again…

just came back from the club, missed a slam.

here were the hands


A K Q 10 7 2
– –
Q 10 8 7 4 3


9 6 4 3
Q 7 6 5 3
A 10

I was East, opened 1H. South overcalled 2C, partner, West, doubled.

I dutifully bid 2S, partner took it to 4. Easily made 7.

Partner said she was afraid to use Blackwood because an Ace in Hearts was not useful.


1. Are there “exclusion” key card Blackwood to take hearts out, and after I show 2, she could easily go to 6 spades.

2. Are there ways to ask for Aces and then, after I show 2, ask which ones?

thanks as usual

Best always


Iain ClimieMay 10th, 2016 at 11:10 am

Hi Peter,

There used to be 3041 CRO Blackwood (where 5H showed 2 Aces of same colour, 5S 2 Aces of same rank and 5N either C&H or S&D Aces) but it was generally inferior to RKC (although perhaps not here). I think your partner should maybe bid 3D over your 2S (if forcing) when you bid 3N and now she perhaps bids 4C but it is difficult for her to realise that the heart void is a good holding – your hearts could be much stronger and the hands fit absurdly well – DAK, few wasted values in hearts, CA opposite singleton etc. 4S is surely an underbid, though. Perhaps 3C first after you’ve bid 2S, then 4C?

I await BObby’s views with great interest, although finding 7 is still hard work.



jim2May 10th, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Peter Peng –

I think you meant hearts (not spades) and Our Host covered that in the text:

“Now play a heart, planning to duck the two, going up with the ace in any other case …”

bobby wolffMay 10th, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Hi Peter,

Jim2 answered your first query to which I thank him and now to the second:

Since Dame Fortune is responsible for all dealing, sometimes being kind but too often being devilish.

Today is an example of the second emotion and to a great extreme giving you aces in your short suits and an extremely necessary king who appeared uninvited but himself thrilled with being part of a virtual laydown grand slam. (all monarchs love publicity).

Your partner’s negative double of 2 clubs may have been well intended, but while holding a 6-6 hand it becomes vital not to ask but rather to tell of your long suits.

Now after West bids 2 spades, you East should immediately cue bid 3 clubs showing a spade fit (4 of them) and control in clubs, usually the ace, but possibly a void. Next I would advise your partner to raise to 4 clubs showing 2nd round control and above all making it easy for you to cue bid 4 diamonds which, of course, you will do in a New York minute.

Then the fun begins, wherein now spades have been definitely agreed so it becomes logical for you to cue bid your void in hearts (however do not try this at home since you may have trouble making 13 tricks in hearts, or for that matter even 10).

But once you two are on the same wave length West might try 5 clubs as an effort to seek 2nd round diamond control, which you will be happy to oblige,

Then of course, your partner can then bounce to 7 spades with not a use for any ace asking device.

Yes, life will be beautiful, but please, Peter don’t wake up, pinch yourself and realize all this has happened. Reason being you’ll be sure to give up your job and become a bridge bum the rest of your life.

Good luck and go back to sleep.

No, I have never heard of once partner has opened a suit then for his partner to jump to 5 of that suit can only be a raise of some sort and not exclusion BW. However I am sure some enterprising partnership has a way to do it, but if they then keep it only their secret, who can blame them?

bobby wolffMay 10th, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Hi Iain,

Being exhausted, after my letter to Peter, I do remember those Italian (I think) ace asking responses, but not as well as I should, and since this exact hand is not likely to appear again soon, let’s keep it under wraps as to how to unearth how to bid it well.

Also going back to the 1930’s Eli Culbertson had his own ace asking theories which included some of the above, but since he will be difficult to now consult let us both look forward to running into that great man later in whatever it is that is next.

jim2May 10th, 2016 at 1:53 pm

A Flannery auction would also have been fun.

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