Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 6th, 2017

But I was one and twenty, No use to talk to me.

A. E. Housman

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



Loose lips sink ships, they say. When one of the eventual defenders contributes a bid during the auction, declarer will occasionally be gifted valuable information, which he must take care to use intelligently.

While that may be obvious, it can occasionally be equally important to remember when the defenders have had the opportunity to bid but declined to do so.

Suppose West did not open the bidding and has already shown up with 10 points. He is unlikely to hold a missing queen, and so you can confidently finesse his partner for that card. Today’s deal is a fine example of this theme, where the best play is indicated by a bid that a defender did not make.

When West leads the heart king against your spade game and switches to the club six, how will you play the contract?

You can confidently assume West holds the heart ace-king. Since he is a passed hand, he cannot also hold both the diamond ace and spade queen. So after winning the club switch with the ace, you should cash the spade ace and then finesse the spade jack. If the finesse loses to the spade queen with West, you can be sure that the diamond ace will be onside and you will still make the contract. The finesse gains when the cards lie as in the diagram, because you avoid losing a trump trick. Today, if you play for the drop in trumps, you will go down.

You have no attractive or even passive lead available, so you have to listen to the auction and trust your opponents. Declarer appeared to need help from dummy in clubs and dummy did not provide it. That suggests to me that a club lead is more likely to strike gold in partner’s hand than a heart.


♠ 8 4
 Q 7 6 3
 K 8 3
♣ K 5 4 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 ♠ Pass 3 ♣
Pass 3 ♠ 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 20th, 2017 at 9:21 am

There is an alternate line which succeeds: win the C in dummy, ruff a H, cross to SA and ruff a H. When the A drops, cash SK, cross to a C and cash HQ, discarding a D. Okay, this is nowhere near as good a line of play as the one suggested, but suppose W had opened the bidding (and why, for heaven’s sake, didn’t he?). Now I think this is the best line.

Iain ClimieFebruary 20th, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I recount a cautionary tale on card placing, even though it is obviously sensible. At pairs, I opened 1S after 3 passes and played in 3S with AQJ98x opposite xx. Late on in the hand, after the side suits had been played early, RHO had shown 11 points and I had ruffed once in dummy and once in hand, but the lead was now in dummy so I led a trump for the first time. RHO followed low and I realised there was an extra chance of LHO holding a stiff K while the trump finesse would surely fail. So, I played SAQ, which went round to RHO’s Kx and he was able to generate a trump promotion for his partner’s original S10xx – AARGH! Through mutual tears of laughter, RHO apologised for miscounting his points (it was getting late – see yesterday’s column) and I apologised to partner for making 8 tricks when 10 had been cold.

How exactly (apart from seeing the funny side or burning the cards and stomping back to the chess board if you can’t) is anybody supposed to cope with such a scenario?



bobby wolffFebruary 20th, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Hi David,

Yes, yours is a complete analysis, one which covers different contingencies (usually the bidding, but not always) and how to go about them.

Remember that above all, bridge is a game of detective work, often utilizing the theme of the dog which barked compared with the one who didn’t. However, after Iain’s post, one occasionally has to sometimes deal with neurotic dogs and, since bridge usually will not allow for that, suffer the consequences when it does occur.

Bobby WolffFebruary 20th, 2017 at 7:18 pm

Hi Iain,

Some of us, especially Jim2 with his TOCM TM, whichever way he chose to play, was born to suffer much ignominy. While yours must have badly hurt, simply because it was caused accidentally, but by sloth, you can, like poker players often do, suffer “bad” beats.

No, it is not fun to have it happen, but like Victor Mollo often wrote, it allows a covey of interesting and humorous (to others) stories of real life at the table, “a pox on virtual sure trick lines of play”.

However, with your specific endeavor it may be wise to check with where the hand records were located before the event, since the defense (no opening bid) appeared much too smoothly to be believed.

However, when such a thing occurs, it is relatively easy to get paranoid about why, causing people like me to go “crazy” trying to deny it really happened, at least legitimately.

However, perhaps TOCM is contagious and even through the internet, not just FTF. If so, a pox on you, Jim2, except for already knowing you, through no fault of yours, already have it, but poor Iain, many miles away has apparently also been infected.

Iain ClimieFebruary 20th, 2017 at 9:50 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the consoling words but I knew the guy well enough that he wouldn’t have tried that (especially as the director kept the hand records under close control). He just had an arithmetic brainstorm, but my face when SK appeared on my right must have been a picture; it is essential to avoid UI when defending but (justified) expressions of horror from declarer are part of the pleasure of defending IMO. Of course, declarer mustn’t try and pull anything here but the “Wile-E-Coyote in mid air” look from declarer when you are dummy is a test of tolerance and compassion which I used to fail in my younger days.

The quote is from “A Shropshire Lad” and is from a poem lamenting youthful impetuosity in love. It is a good attempt at calming the youthful down near Valentine’s day but will have approximately no chance in practice.