Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 10th, 2017

I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.

Elbert Hubbard

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


Not all nine counts are created equal. Facing a strong no-trump, North has a chunky five-card suit. He knows that his partnership is close to the game zone, and the long suit may well provide South with enough material for the nine-trick game to have play. So he should simply bid three no-trump instead of merely inviting it with a bid of two no-trump.

After a heart lead, not only does the heart finesse lose but the heart ace is knocked out of the dummy before South has had time to establish the clubs. Nonetheless it looks logical for South to go after the clubs, but look what happens when South leads out the club king and another club. West will duck both the first and the second club but will take the third club if South plays it. Similarly West will likewise refuse the king and diamond queen, but should take South’s low diamond at his first opportunity, to block the suit. Then he can clear the hearts, and South will end up making only two clubs and two diamonds. Coupled with two tricks in each major, that comes to just eight tricks for declarer.

By contrast, if South goes after diamonds early, he can make sure of reaching dummy for the third diamond trick, because he has a sure entry to the board in clubs. The defenders can take two hearts and two aces, but declarer can come to three diamonds and two tricks in each of the other suits, for nine tricks in total.

When you have a weak hand and four spades, you want to boost the auction to the three level as quickly as possible, so bid three spades right now. Yes, you don’t expect the opponents to bid four hearts, but you will certainly not object if they do – and they might well have a minor-suit fit that you have just made it far more dangerous for them to find.


♠ Q 10 7 2
 K 10 7 3
 9 4 2
♣ 7 5
South West North East
  Pass 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2March 24th, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Are you saying that playing the JH from dummy on the opening lead is the correct technical play?

BobliptonMarch 24th, 2017 at 12:37 pm

I think he didn’t say. I would rise with the ace, lest East win and shift to a spade.


David WarheitMarch 24th, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Jim & Bob: S finesses the HJ at trick 1. E wins and a) returns a H, in which case the play goes as our host describes, or b) E returns a S. S wins and attacks D. W wins the 3d D and leads SJ. S ducks. W now leads a H. Dummy wins the A, cashes the last D, discarding a S, and plays CQ and then CJ. W must duck both, but he has to win the 3d C. At this point declarer has won 7 tricks and W must now lead either a H or a S, allowing S to win 2 more tricks. Making 3NT.

jim2March 24th, 2017 at 1:25 pm

David – that is why I said technically.

(e.g., give one ace to the defender with four spades.)

jim2March 24th, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Let me clarify a bit more. Perhaps simplest is to give West in the column hand a fourth spade.

– KH wins and a spade shift
– S wins and attacks Ds
– W wins and clears spades
– S eventually wins and eventually plays Clubs
– W wins and defense gets the opening H + 2S + 2 aces

Bruce karlsonMarch 24th, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Suppose W led 4th best from K1076. That was not considered but…I would look at it. That seems to change the entire consideration. True??

jim2March 24th, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Bruce –

Declarer still has just two heart stoppers even JH wins, so declarer can still go wrong the same way if declarer goes after clubs first.

That is,

– JH
– W ducks club
– W ducks club
– W wins third club and clears hearts as before

Thus, declarer does not appear to gain anything with the heart finesse on that holding. The column line works as before, and the “wrong” line fails as before.

The JH winning the first trick DOES prevent the spade shift, but so would winning the AH.

Bobby WolffMarch 24th, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Hi Jim2, Bob, David, and Bruce,

Yes what ifs and general suppositions are important factors while at the bridge table as well as afterwards when others gather around to discuss the various logics emanating from the play.

Furthermore, those thoughts, creating possibilities no doubt, lend themselves to the essence of the game, both declarer's play and defense as well as during the bidding phase, helping judge what to do, whether on offense to find the best contract, extending to, while on defense, sometimes risking a chancy overcall in order to get the right opening lead.
Today's hand provides evidence to which relatively young players with great potential usually take a while for them to get the right "feel" for what later becomes, if they are to be as successful as they fervently desire, and no doubt, critical to possess.

If possible and thus realistic:

1. For the offense to get to the right contract, but do so by telling their worthy opponents as little about their hands as possible. example being after partner opens a strong NT 15-17 merely jumping to 3NT with either: s. Q109x, h. Kxx, d. Axx, c. J10x instead of using Stayman, or s. xx, h. Kxx, d. xx, AQJxxx disdaining exploring what could be a better club game (or even 4 hearts when his partner might have 5 or even a very strong 4) in the hopes of the 4th seat bidder not being able to direct a killing lead with a 2 level overcall.

2. Flexibility of thinking, allowing a "man (or woman) for all seasons type of declarer" to establish diamonds, not clubs on today’s hand simply, but surely, determining, after examining the 26 cards at his disposal and under his control, the best way to go about it.

3. Again and hopefully without malice or even undue influence, on my part, sometimes the difference between the games which I prefer, IMPs and rubber bridge, as against matchpoints (where every overtrick is so very important) there is often really no logical method to do more than guess what to do when matchpoints demand attention to what our great game SHOULD not be about, failing to safeguard, or at least try one's best, the making of the contract, even with no overtricks as opposed to go virtually crazy deciding on what, so often, is merely the randomness of the deal itself.

Bridge, again only IMO, is just too great a competition to allow interloping factors (relating to sheer luck) to disturb the balance of what was intended when our great game came on the scene.

Finally, and on a less emotional note, yes Bruce, no doubt the number of hearts the opening leader could have would have a strong influence on that partnership defense on today's hand. Especially so if declarer falsecards at trick one, always trying to be the toughest opponent he can be.

Iain ClimieMarch 24th, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Hi Folks,

It is a trappy hand, although can’t declarer still recover in the column line if he plays a club to the K at his first opportunity but then goes back to diamonds? I’d have been on autopilot at the table and gone off I suspect.



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