Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

S North
None ♠ 6 4 3
 A K 9 4
 9 7 6 4
♣ Q J
West East
♠ J 9
 Q J 8 6 5 2
♣ 8 6 3 2
♠ K 8 2
 10 7
 J 5 3 2
♣ K 9 7 4
♠ A Q 10 7 5
 A K Q 10
♣ A 10 5
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣ Pass
2 Pass 2 ♠ Pass
3 ♣ Pass 3 Pass
4 NT Pass 5 Pass
6 ♠ All pass    


Not all finesses are created equal. Sometimes the timing of the play dictates that one suit must be broached before another.

The explanation for the bizarre auction here is that North responded two clubs because he thought he was a passed hand and was bidding Drury to show a strong spade raise! If you think this can only have occurred at a local club, it came up in a topbracket knockout final, and North was a famous player. Luckily, the contract reached was a reasonable one.

When West led his diamond, it might appear that declarer needs two out of three finesses in spades and clubs (and probably to find trumps breaking 3-2) to succeed. However, dummy’s shortage of entries means care is required. Declarer wins the opening lead, crosses to the heart ace, and takes the club finesse. If West wins the king, declarer must find East with K-J or K-J-x of spades. He leads the club 10 to the jack and a spade to the 10, then ruffs the club ace to play a spade to the queen.

If the club queen holds, declarer leads a spade to the 10, then ruffs the third club in dummy to lead another spade. If East covers with the club king, the club jack and the club ruff are declarer’s two entries.

Taking the spade finesse first fails today, because the early club finesse creates two additional entries. Also, be careful not to discard a club on the heart king – that loser has an important role to play!

The choice is between a simple raise to two spades and a three-card limit raise (going via one no-trump if that is your style). I prefer the simple raise, especially if you play this as constructive. Yes, you have 10 HCP and a doubleton, but your spades are tiny and the queenclub jack are not pulling their full weight. Additionally, we might belong in hearts.


♠ 6 4 3
 A K 9 4
 9 7 6 4
♣ Q J
South West North East
    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 WarheitAugust 10th, 2016 at 9:17 am

S wins the opening D lead, crosses to the HA, finesses the SQ & cashes the SA. He then cashes the rest of his D, E helplessly following suit, and then throws E in with a S. E must now lead either a H or a C, and with the C finesse winning, S makes 6S.

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2016 at 11:41 am

Hi David,

True as the card’s lie but doesn’t this line fail if West has CK and East has SKJx? There again, if East is a pet nemesis, it would be so much more enjoyable to make the slam on your line.



bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Yes, by choosing an inferior line which works is a sure way to make taunting opponents the angriest.

However, to do so, one has to be Clark Kent (aka Superman with, of course, his handy XRay vision which, of course, easily penetrated mere paperbacks).

For us, mere mortals (unless some extreme talent has remained hidden) it would be easier believed to just arrange for a hand to be rigged in a match which should be named the such & such MINDBUSTER in honor of the prick himself (or, of course herself, no sexist me!).

The idea for the above is not an original thought, since I think it happened once with me on a certain specific famous hand, sadly against not in favor, and in a World Championship, which I hope to find out for sure from the proverbial horse’s mouth, before I eventually leave for my destination unknown.

Somewhat surreal, but in fact as realistic as the absence of hair I can surely testify, has been left on my head.

slarAugust 10th, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Does it matter which order you finesse spades? My inclination was to finesse the queen first but I’m not sure it matters.

jim2August 10th, 2016 at 2:11 pm

slar –

Finessing the 10S wins against some KJ onside scenarios where the Q would fail.

(One example: 2 – KJ98)

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

In my first incarnation as a bridge player (pre 1986) a team was caught fixing hands in the Hubert Phillips bowl which was scored on aggregate points. It only needs a grand slam making “luckily” after a bidding mix up or a good one going off due to a 5-1 break to swing a match in a way that IMPs couldn’t. They were caught and (I think) banned though.


bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Hi Slar,

The only difference would lie in the likelihood of being able to only have one loser (in that suit) instead of zero.

In a vacuum, (which no one ever plays in, at least to my knowledge, up to now), the finesse of the ten first and then the queen would be recommended for frequency of securing no losers. Of course, the extreme small percentage of a singleton jack offside should enter the discussion, but not necessarily as an addendum to this conversation.

OTH (on this hand) one needs to know where the club king is located, before he takes the liberty of finessing the queen of spades next (assuming he is either in a spade slam or lesser, whether he was playing matchpoints rather than rubber or IMPs).

The above shows a disdain for overtricks, methinks the proper attitude for playing bridge in general and a major reason for why our chosen game is the best ever (matchpoints, NSM, not so much).

bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks again for your intervention. I didn’t even think about the KJ98 onside, which would be critical if I went down in a slam you would have made.

Excuse me for not surmising that the KJ98 onside (with only five out) would be a very lucky card combination for you, but wouldn’t for most other humans.

jim2August 10th, 2016 at 4:34 pm

That was just one example. I think West holding any spot singleton is the same. (8 – KJ92 or 9 – KJ82)

bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Hi Iain,

Since anything close to being (“caught red handed”) has never been attempted, nor thus accomplished in at least my history of playing the game, I can only dream.

Yes, the vast overwhelming nature of the weakness of total points vs. the much improved IMP scale (courtesy of your side of the Atlantic perhaps 60+ years ago) is now fondly remembered and to think that the punishment they received was only a lifetime ban as against much worse (what they richly deserved) would then remind me of Mary Poppins and her ever loving and especially forgiving personality.

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Let the punishment fit the crime” said it best as did Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist with his “Crime and Punishment”.

bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

You just went from More Right to Most Right! Tragic experience is the best teacher.

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

I may have said this before but the ideal punishment for bridge cheats is described in a short story involving a Mr. Kremelkopf. He absent mindedly trumps his partner’s winner so his partner shoots him. He wakes up, apparently uninjured and is invited to play in a game by a beautiful young woman (a hostess) who smiles at him but tells him that only winning players can escort her home. He gets into an iffy 6NT but it looks set to make, and then…

No plot spoilers unless anyone wants them.



bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 7:59 pm

Hi Iain,

Obviously he finesses the queen, but it loses to the king, though the end play planned, gobbles back that trick with a lovely one to boot, counting time to root. Then Kremelkoph exclaimed, I scored up enough, 12 tricks the goal, time to roll. Little did she know, since he had 48 to show. He escorted her home, but her husband at the door, asked if Mr. K thought his wife is a w—–.

K. then wakes up and immediately feels blessed, since he has gone to rest, but it is the best with bridge every day to show the way.

My version has a happy ending. What about yours?

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2016 at 8:05 pm

I’m afraid not. The auction has caused the defence to miss the killing lead (knocking out a singleton spade Ace) and he keeps plugging away, everything goes right and he claims 12 tricks but his LHO is a card short. He says the deal is in anyway, but his oppo point out there has to be a new deal and the hand is void.

He calls over the hostess and asks for a new pack as this one only has 51 cards. But all our packs have only 51 cards she smiles. “Why this is Hell” shouts Mr. K. “Of course”, comes the still smiling reply, “where did you think you were?”

Ouch! Even TOCM isn’t that bad!

bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 9:16 pm

Hi Iain,

It did feel very warm in here.

My new slogan: “Play here and for no extra fee, your TOCM comes with”.

A new pair to the club duplicate walks in, takes their seats and announces, “We play strongish NT 14 12/13-16 12/13 and of course 2 way Stayman, not transfers, searching for 3 3/4 card majors”.

Iain ClimieAugust 10th, 2016 at 9:20 pm

What about their leads from length though? 4.5th highest?

bobbywolffAugust 10th, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Yes and the rule of 11 1/2 or is it 10 1/2 which applies for the 3rd seat player?

David WarheitAugust 11th, 2016 at 12:14 am

I’m not so sure that my line is “inferior”. I think that you are accepting that W has led a singleton D, but “It ain’t necessarily so”. How about S wins the C finesse, then finesses the S10 as you suggest. W wins, returns a D & E ruffs? And, of course,
“Taking the spade finesse first fails today” is doubly incorrect since a) there are 2 spade finesses available and b) one of them works.

bobbywolffAugust 11th, 2016 at 1:24 am

Hi David,

While most judgments in bridge, whether as a defender or as a declarer all anyone can do is follow normal technical lines, of course, taking into consideration, if possible, the experience and expertise of one’s particular opponents.

At least to me, it would be highly unusual for West’s opening lead to not be a singleton, since South has rebid in diamonds (usually showing four) and then, of course East has not doubled the BW response of 5 diamonds which only shows that he would prefer partner to lead that suit (IOW) a solid holding attempting to get partner off to the right lead.

It then follows, at least to me, that the normal lead, on this bidding, would be a heart through length in dummy, but not up to a declarer who may be waiting with something to gain.

Obviously many other bridge players may reason differently, but for purposes of discussion, I think it likely that West will have a singleton to make that choice.

Meanwhile back with declarer, methinks all he can do is maximize his “shaky” chances to succeed and that is to first take the club finesse, and if that fails to be relegated to have both the KJ of spades both onside and with them breaking 3-2.

The only key information declarer is getting is that once the club finesse works, his chances improve greatly with all that is then needed is for the trumps to behave while declarer loses only one trick and, of course nothing unexpected occurs.

Finally, and at a higher level than average, most good players consider the opening lead, particularly against slams, very important indeed since a huge swing often occurs when bad choices are made. Therefore if ever an adequate declarer can rely on any opponent (however good he may be) yes it may be a tricky lead such as the jack from queen jack doubleton in trump, but the choice of suit will usually measure up to be at least intended for the least help to the declarer.

And to repeat what I intended to emphasize, leading from nothing and it not being a singleton should not pass muster for certain levels of tough competitors. However sometimes when one does lead a singleton, if he happens to hit partner’s ace, magic has happened as it also does when partner’s one trick is the ace of trumps.

Of course, all I have talked about is tradition the way I see it, which is certainly not guaranteed to be the truth nor, of course, to
always work.