Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

S North
Both ♠ Q 6 2
 K 9 8 4
 A 9
♣ J 10 4 3
West East
♠ A J 10 5 4
 K 6 5
♣ Q 9 6 2
♠ K 9 8 7 3
 J 10
 J 7 4 2
♣ 8 7
♠ —
 A Q 7 6 3 2
 Q 10 8 3
♣ A K 5
South West North East
1 1 ♠ 2 ♠* 4 ♠
6 All pass    

*Limit raise or better in hearts


Difficult bridge hands come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes as declarer you are faced with a hand where you cannot see the winning line, while at other times you may have too many attractive options. Today’s deal falls into the latter category: plan the play in six hearts on the spade ace lead.

You ruff and draw trump, finding they break 2-1. Having done so, how do you play the minor suits to best advantage?

First things first; if you take the club finesse and it loses, you are almost certainly down, so long as the defenders don’t do anything stupid. If you play ace, king, and a third club, you will make if the club queen falls. Equally, if clubs break 3-3, you still have a 50 percent chance of forcing the opponents to play diamonds. Overall, though, that does not work out at much more than a one-in-three chance.

All things considered, it looks best to play on diamonds before clubs. If you run the queen and find that West has the king, you will always succeed. Either West will cover, letting you win and play another diamond, to set up two diamonds for club discards; or West ducks, and the queen holds, eliminating your diamond loser.

By contrast, if you play to the diamond ace and back towards your hand, you don’t always succeed when East has the king. (Consider the diagrammed deal with the diamond two and king switched).

So you should run the diamond queen immediately, and fall back on the club finesse if necessary.

If I were a passed hand I would treat this hand as a limit raise by cuebidding two clubs (if you wanted to agree that two hearts was also a raise by a passed hand you might do so, I suppose). As an unpassed hand, though, I would simply raise to two spades. My defensive length in the opponents’ likely trump suits does not make me want to encourage partner to bid on with a marginal hand.


♠ Q 6 2
 K 9 8 4
 A 9
♣ J 10 4 3
South West North East
  1 ♣ 1 ♠ Dbl.

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


BryanNovember 23rd, 2016 at 2:37 pm

How does the ” If you run the queen and find that West has the king, you will always succeed. Either West will cover, letting you win and play another diamond, to set up two diamonds for club discards;”
work if West covers, you win the ace, lead the 9 diamond and east duck? Then what? You will still get the Q, but with east having 4 to J, I do not see how you get two club discards????

Bobby WolffNovember 23rd, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Hi Bryan,

Then, when West does not cover, you merely lead AK and another club, then holding your losses to only one club loser and, of course, no diamonds.

If West covers and East then ducks, the same only one trick is lost. This confusion centers itself around declarer setting up two diamond tricks for club discards in dummy once West has the key king of diamonds. If and when that fails then a straight club finesse working still allows the slam to succeed.

Delving deeper, we can all see that good play (both declarer and defense) centers itself around what should be called “flexibility in bridge thinking concerning card establishment”.

If done, declarer can see for himself that if West has the king of diamonds, his combined other spot cards, (10.9 and 8) will amount to two tricks enabling two clubs to be thrown from dummy, avoiding the 50-50 club finesse.

Finally, missing the above standout line of play is not unusual, if only because we are normally taught to not lead the queen toward the ace unless we possess the jack. However we now can see that when two tricks, (not just one) appear, which does the job, we have managed to see for ourselves what creative thinking (numeracy) has allowed us to accomplish.

Furthermore, although bridge is only a game, the thinking involved, arithmetical in nature, should become helpful in many lines of “real” work and therefore is more than worth teaching youngsters in primary schools. Why 11 countries in Europe and 200 million students in China are now gleaning its wonders on a daily basis, and we in North America make absolutely no attempt to follow suit, will forever haunt my mind as to what we are missing.

Success is as success does, and having said that, perhaps someone on this side of the pond will get it done, logically our parent organization, the ACBL, soon enough before high-level bridge and its many positive learning experiences in just creative thinking, vanishes from view forever.

A V Ramana RaoNovember 23rd, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
Perhaps South can win second trump in dummy and lead Q of spades and when east covers, the odds are fairly on for west to hold K of diamonds

Bobby WolffNovember 23rd, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Hi A V,

Yes, except that West may have 6 spades, instead of 5, tempting him to overcall with very little more.

However your detective work is noted, keeping in mind that if West has both the AK of spades then the king of diamonds does figure to be with East, for his vulnerable sacrifice attempt.

The above only indicates that knowing your opponents and their tendencies figures to help their opponents when playing against.

Years ago when playing much International bridge, the job for our coach was to scout upcoming teams and report back what they thought of each players optimism and/or pessimism in the bidding.

Did it help? Probably, but that is only a guess.

AviNovember 24th, 2016 at 9:12 am

Hi Bobby.
If the diamond finnesse loses, is there any point in finessing clubs?
after all, you have almost surely lost to east’s only HCP (TOCM withholding), so the club Q is almost surely off.
wouldn’t it be safer in this context to take the AK and hope for the Q to drop?

Bobby WolffNovember 24th, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Hi Avi,

You have made a good point, but only if you think West, not East is short in clubs.

Remember West’s overcall may have had 6 spades instead of 5 and he might have then thought his 1 spade overcall may have just been a noise not a full fledged bid. If so, then East, having only four spades, may have thought he needed the club lady for his jump.

As is often the case, knowledge of your specific opponents can be helpful, but in the absence of that advantage, better to play the strict percentages (finesse the club) rather than the possible illusion of that elusive club queen falling doubleton offside.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.