Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, July 29th, 2016

There is always a countermove, always an escape or way through. No one said it would be easy and of course the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.

Ryan Holiday

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



Let us look at the contract of four hearts after the lead of the club queen to the ace. At trick two declarer must play a spade, to preserve entries for the elimination that is to come. East takes the spade king with the ace, and a diamond shift is surely the only chance to set the game.

If declarer wins this and draws trump, he will surely go down, since he will strip the hand and play a diamond, and West will cash out three diamonds for down one.

So say South ducks the diamond. If East is left on play he can do no better than exit in a black suit. Declarer draws trump, cashes the remaining black winners, and takes the diamond ace to find the bad news. Then he takes his one remaining chance when he exits from hand with the spade 10, pitching a diamond from dummy. East can win, but must now surrender a ruff-sluff, and dummy’s remaining diamond loser goes away as declarer ruffs in hand.

West should maybe find the defense to beat the game at trick three. Once his partner produces the spade ace and diamond queen, declarer must have all the missing high cards, and four hearts. The only chance for the defenders is for West to overtake the diamond queen and give his partner a ruff. With three tricks in the bag, a passive exit from East leaves West with a diamond winner, and East with the spade jack, to counter declarer’s pressure in the endgame.

After you have transferred to hearts and partner has obediently completed the transfer, you want to offer a choice of games. Today diamonds is highly unlikely to be the right spot, so simply bid three notrump and let partner pick where he wants to play. If your diamonds were better, and your spades worse, you might feel differently about bidding your second suit.


♠ K Q
 K Q 10 5 3
 7 6 4 2
♣ 7 5
South West North East
    1 NT Pass
2 Pass 2 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 12th, 2016 at 10:20 am

Or S wins the DQ with the A, draws trump, cashes the SK then the CK and exits with the S10, discarding a D from dummy as E wins the J. E returns a C and S ruffs, discarding another D. He now only has to lose 1 D trick, making 4H! Is this an inferior line? I’m not sure, but it works if the opponent with the SJ has no more D or if one opponent at this time has left just one D and it is the K or the J. Actually, I am quite sure this line is a bit better; after all, why did E lead the DQ instead of either the 9 or the 8? And don’t forget, as you pointed out, if declarer ducks the DQ, W can for sure defeat the contract by winning the K and giving E a D ruff.

jim2August 12th, 2016 at 12:12 pm

I do think West should work it out, and offer another line of reasoning. South has shown four hearts.

If South has four diamonds, then the over-take and diamond ruff will set the hand.

If South has fewer than four diamonds, then declarer will be able to ruff two black cards, scoring the last three trump in the two hands separately: 4 top side tricks + 3 trump leads + 3 ruffs = 10 tricks.

Thus, the over-take and return is the only chance to set the hand. At MPs, it does risk giving up an important over-trick, however.

jim2August 12th, 2016 at 12:28 pm

(I should note that my previous post may be exactly what Our Host meant in the terse column phrase, “… and four hearts. The only chance for the defenders is for West to overtake the diamond queen and give his partner a ruff.”)

Mike HeinsAugust 12th, 2016 at 2:01 pm

I don’t see why this isn’t always cold.

Win C, lead S. Win diamond return, spade to Q, club to K, ruff S. Now draw trump and exit with a diamond. They can win, but have to give ruff-discard or lead toward DT.

jim2August 12th, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Mike Heins –

West’s diamonds at that point will be KJ9.

Peter PengAugust 12th, 2016 at 3:05 pm

There is always a countermove, always an escape or way through

bobbywolffAugust 12th, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Hi David,

While your analysis is 100%, it relies on East having a singleton diamond, significantly against percentages unless the situation lent itself to that possibility turning it into a probability.

As declarer, one must (if given the opportunity) imagine himself in East’s boots, upon winning the spade ace and looking at that dummy, knowing from the queen of clubs lead that declarer, not partner, has the high missing club.

It follows that it would be normal (a better word might be mandatory) for East to switch to a diamond which could in turn be from any number (1 through 5) and that person not to be necessarily trusted to lead an honest one (could even have the king) since the defense is now obvious to all four players, perhaps even the dummy who only is able to gaze at his own hand, all down on the table.

It is because of percentages, not view, which makes your play wrong (against percentage).

No doubt, most of us, (close to all) who at some time or another start playing results, not related to proper play, but of great value in convincing all who will listen, who really is “Cock of the Walk”.

However, such an awakening is as normal as the sun coming up in the morning (or possibly the evening since I am tending toward senility) for the whole human race, not to be criticized, but ripe for correction.

However David, you are indeed a lovable character to all who read your posts, normally 99.99% accurate, so when and if, you ever stray, jerks like me are there in droves.

bobbywolffAugust 12th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your posts cover that waterfront to perfection, only proving the value of contracting TOCM TM therein honing your theoretical bridge skills, making up for impossible (to you) success in your bridge career, but just the definition of your disease.

We all appreciate them and will be among the first to notify you in case we ever run into a medical office, introducing a specialist by name and stating his degree in TOCM and its cure.

Perhaps even an inoculation against ever getting it.

bobbywolffAugust 12th, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the intelligent philosophy referencing Ryan Holiday’s quote.

To have the winning determination to never give up till a solution is discovered should be both a person and then his or her country’s ambition.

The world today is in great need of that practice with the result still in need of clarification.

David WarheitAugust 12th, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Here are the percentages when E leads DQ: a) E has all 5 clubs: down we both go. b) E has 4 diamonds: if W’s singleton is the K, we both make. If it is the J, I make & you go down. If it is the 9 or 8, you go down & I make if W has SJ. c) E has 3 clubs. If he has KQJ, you make & I go down. Anything else & we both win. d) If he has 2 clubs, we both win if he has KQ or QJ. You win and I lose if he has Q9 or Q8, but I don’t believe a good E would lead Q from either holding. f) Singleton Q, I win & you lose. Very important point, however. In determining the odds of the various holdings of diamonds in E’s hand, you must also factor in the odds that from each holding E would specifically lead the Q. So, for example, E will hold KQJ 3.4% of the time, but he will lead the Q only 1/3 of the time, or 1.1%. On the other hand, if he has singleton Q, this is only 2.8%, but he will lead the Q 100% of the time (I guarantee it!). Without doing the rest of the math, I think it is VERY obvious that winning the DA is MUCH better than ducking at trick 3.

David WarheitAugust 13th, 2016 at 5:26 am

I say “clubs” several times when, of course, I mean “diamonds”. I apologize for the misstatement.

bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Hi David,

Please excuse my delay in answering, but yesterday was unduly hectic.

No doubt, because of various diamond blockages the expected 3-2 diamond division is difficult to almost impossible to predict or, in truth, accurately compute exact, without outside help, chances when the first diamond is taken, theoretically making the defense the winner (when 3-2) but not so when the blockages do occur.

However, a few assumptions need to be made, which when not discussed need to be implied.

1. The opponents are good players and will be expected to know what they need to do in order not to fall on their own sword.
2. Sometimes there are subtle "tells" which help predict the distribution of a suit or not, (breaks in tempo (BIT) during the bidding or defense and the likelihood for falsecards by those same opponents) but for all practical purposes, being at the table is, at least to me, worth more than what those percentage tables are sure to show, in the form of judgment in declarer's play.

The above is only necessary to state, likely not applicable on this hand (but perhaps so) in order for me to attempt to replicate how a good declarer should perform.

While I am not in a position to question your "findings" with your stated percentages, but at least to me I see no real reason why the diamonds will not be distributed 3-2, and if so it becomes overwhelming to take the column line suggestion of ducking the diamond ace.

Yes, it is possible, perhaps eminently correct for West to overtake partner's diamond queen and lead his lowest one back but will he? I doubt it and whether he is capable of such a play is another question. My conclusion comes from only my past experience of playing the game, sometimes against "great" players and since everything is going relatively smoothly at this point. e'g. no reason for West to expect me to have 4 diamonds, since the duck is usually made with 3 (when there are trumps out, at least up to now on this hand).

Furthermore, to then go down when the diamonds are neither blocked not distributed badly, seems to be an example of "grandstanding" rather than taking the relatively simple other avenues to possible success.

Summing up, we, as players, do not have the opportunity (since playing bridge, even at a high level, sometimes slows the game down to an exasperating pace) to figure out what you have evidently uncovered.

Obviously I am not completely in agreement with your conclusions (only because it does not "feel" right, but while not underestimating your capacity for probabilities I realize that yes, it is possible for you to be right as rain).

However some may also believe that Ponce de Leon did in fact discover the "fountain of youth" somewhere in Florida and who is to be sure he didn't?

No doubt I am hardheaded and also lazy to boot, but attempting to figure the odds on those 3-2 diamonds being blocked is just too grizzly to contemplate. It is not that I respect your sensational talent less, but that I value my sanity more.