Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Our watchword is security.

William Pitt Sr.

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



At matchpoint pairs it is often very hard to determine if you are in a normal contract, or an unusual one. In a standard contract, it is normal pairs tactics to consider playing for the maximum number of tricks. If you go down, you can at least console yourself that you were following a sensible strategy.

By contrast, at rubber bridge or at teams you want to follow the safest line for your contract, and as a defender you look for the guaranteed way to defeat a contract. That means the number of overtricks or undertricks is less important than beating or making the contract.

Today’s deal is a classic example. After North produced a jump raise of spades – which according to his partnership agreement was preemptive – South found himself in game. West had no reason not to lead the club queen, and South won the first trick and had to formulate a plan.

The obvious thing to do is to ruff clubs in dummy. Declarer trumped a club, led a diamond to the ace, and ruffed another club low. Then came the question of how to get back to hand: declarer chose the safest line of leading a heart to the ace, and ruffed the fourth club high. East could choose whether to discard or overruff, but declarer was sure to score four more trump tricks and make his contract.

Had declarer finessed in hearts, West would have won his king and sunk the contract by shifting to trump, to kill the third club ruff.

While it might be right to cash club winners before they go away, a trump lead is surely the favorite here, since declarer will be planning to ruff spades in dummy. If dummy goes down with three or four small diamonds, the low trump will likely work better than the queen. This is a close call, since West seems to be much stronger than East.


♠ J 5 3
 K 8 7 5 3
 Q 7
♣ 10 8 3
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1 ♠
Pass 1 NT 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitFebruary 6th, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Very minor point, but S should not ruff the first two clubs “low”, but rather with the 5 & 6 of spades. This gains in the very unlikely (but possible) case where E has only one or two clubs but not the S8, and it can never cost.

Second point: the same line of play should be adopted at duplicate. Finessing in hearts is, of course, only 50% plus there is the chance that at some tables EW have taken the save at 5C, which as far as declarer can tell will certainly fail but possibly not by so much as 3 tricks. Declarer doesn’t need an overtrick to beat any NS pair unfortunate enough to have to defend in such an event.

Oh, by the way, welcome back!

Bobby WolffFebruary 6th, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Hi David,

While only a small technicality you are no doubt correct, in your zeal for perfection. Since by force the third club will be ruffed with the 5 or the 6 and for clubs to be 7-1 originally would require West to be leading the queen while holding the king and, of course, not bidding them with KQJ109xx over a one spade opening.

However, by ruffing the 2nd club with the 5 instead of the 3, the dummy as well as observant kibitzers, if any, will realize that declarer is trained into making the right play in spite of it not making any appreciable difference, except for the taking of pride in his own declarer’s play.

It never hurts and often is a great feeling of satisfaction to “feel” careful in the play, if only to let both your partner and your two worthy opponents know that you are serious about performing as well as is possible.

Regarding your second point, while I agree with you that I would not jeopardize the correct contract, (although one which may go down with a trump lead) it is not a slam dunk to do so.

The simple reason may be that with the king of hearts onside, at other tables the following may or may not be happening.

1. A heart lead which would give all other South declarer’s an excellent chance for making 11 tricks, whether or not the king was onside from the beginning.

2. A lesser declarer might just convince himself that he was dealt the AQ of hearts in order to practice his finessing ability, not to mention the opponents, one way or the other giving away the location of that card, as being onside.

3. Sometimes, perhaps often an early finesse, might not automatically alert an average defender that it is the right play to switch to trumps, particularly so if he, as here, is dealt only a singleton with partner having been dealt queen third.

4. None of the above three caveats are excuses for “not playing it safe” even at matchpoints, which, at least to me, establishes that game as far inferior to the greater games of IMPs and rubber bridge, which rightfully (IMO) put such a large premium on “amount of gain” rather than “frequency”.

5. No doubt, matchpoints is highly competitive and very worthwhile, but I cannot help my enjoying the game to be played as, I firmly believe it was intended to be played, going to every extreme to play a hand with the idea of making one’s contract, rather than to gamble making that extra trick.

However, far be it for me to criticize players who do not mind gambling the contract for that almighty tied for top score with that extra trick or sometimes two. As Shakespeare might have
said, “Therein we will get the conscience of the king “, (player).

Thanks for writing and especially the welcome back.

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 6th, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

If East follows up with club king on first ruff which is a fine deceit. Should then declarer try for heart finesse or should he hope for spade ace to be onside to make his contract ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Bobby WolffFebruary 6th, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Falsecarding the king of clubs by East is an excellent deceptive play, but there is other evidence. For West, ostensibly holding QJ10xxxx and being NV vs. V, would likely be preempting therefore any good declarer would strongly suspect a ruse and go about his business of ruffing clubs with the 5 and the 6 (later) rather than risking the heart finesse, allowing the defense to put paid to 4 spades with ace and one trump.

However, the very best players will “feel” at the table whether those specific opponents, after the king of clubs play by East at trick one are capable, and if so, it is not much of a risk (although no doubt, some) to part with that king of clubs when partner has seen fit to lead the queen.

And so it goes, but a word to the wise, that ability to be one step ahead of even worthy opponents separate top-level players IMO more than does either strict technical ability (as long as it is close) or better bidding systems, though only slightly.

Also the ace of spades does not have to be onside for the play of any spade to be death to declarer after and if West wins the king of hearts.