Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there When most it promises.

William Shakespeare

S North
None ♠ 9 8 5
 K J 6
 A K 7 2
♣ 5 3 2
West East
♠ Q 7 4
 A 7 3
 J 10 9 8
♣ 10 8 4
♠ 10 6 3 2
 5 4 2
 6 5 3
♣ J 9 7
♠ A K J
 Q 10 9 8
 Q 4
♣ A K Q 6
South West North East
2 NT Pass 4 NT Pass
5 NT* Pass 6 Pass
6 NT All pass    



Looking at the North-South hands, wouldn’t you expect 12 tricks to be made every day of the week? There are six top winners in the red suits, and five in the black suits. Declarer can test clubs and fall back on the spade finesse if necessary…can’t he? Up to a point, yes; but sometimes the defenders can force declarer to commit himself prematurely, and that is so in today’s deal, though it may not be obvious at first or even second glance.

At the table, the bidding saw North make a quantitative jump to four no-trump and South found a scientific way to explore for a minor-suit slam, settling in six no-trump when no club fit came to light.

When West led the diamond jack against the slam, South won with the queen. He led a heart to the king and then led back to the 10. West ducked twice, won the third heart and returned the diamond 10.

Now declarer was at the crossroads. In dummy for the last time, he had to decide what to discard on the other top diamond. Aware that the 3-3 break was against the odds, he chose to discard his small club and take the spade finesse, to go two off.

Declarer might have considered testing the clubs after two rounds of hearts were ducked, though if the hand with four clubs also has the heart ace, the contract would now fail. Nonetheless, this seems the best line to me; but whatever the case, the credit should go to West for his thoughtful defense.

You limited your hand at your first turn, after which partner showed a strong hand with hearts. In context you are very suitable for slam, so let your partner in on the secret with a cuebid of four diamonds. The fact that your RHO opened the bidding should not worry you; he was in third seat after all. Your partner knows your range, so if he just wanted to find the best game he can sign off now.


♠ 9 8 5
 K J 6
 A K 7 2
♣ 5 3 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Dbl. Pass
2 NT Pass 3 Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitApril 12th, 2017 at 11:32 am

Before S leads a third round of hearts, he should cash two rounds of clubs. After all, clubs could be 5-1 or even 6-0, in which case he will need the spade finesse. If both opponents follow to the two rounds of clubs, the situation is that clubs will be 3-3 about 44% and 4-2 about 56%. So, cash the third club. This wins if clubs are 3-3 or if they are 4-2 but the player with the HA has the doubleton and the spade finesse works. Nothing works if clubs are 4-2 and the spade finesse loses. So cashing the third round of clubs only loses when clubs are 4-2 and the player with the 4 clubs has the HA and the spade finesse works, which makes playing the third round of clubs almost 3 times as good as not doing so.

jim2April 12th, 2017 at 12:18 pm

In BWTA, was 3H forcing?

Bobby WolffApril 12th, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Hi David,

Although I am not sure about the exact percentages, I always trust you to be right-on about them.

This hand is a good lesson (especially at a high-level) on what to do on defense about:
not allowing a competent declarer, or at least to make it difficult as possilbe for him or her, to “rectify ;the count” in setting up a squeeze by losing all the tricks (in this case, while playing a slam, only one, the heart ace) so that the conditions will allow the executor of the squeeze to “time” the hand so that the squeeze will have a chance to work.

Here, of course, it means holding off on winning the ace of hearts until the last moment, even to the fourth round if possible (but not on this hand). That said, both defenders can cooperate on falsecarding, trying together to “con” the declarer into what the “real” distribution might be, again won’t work on this hand, because declarer has all the heart intermediates (actually the 10 to go with his combined KQJ).

IOW, oft times when certain players square off, it becomes a game of “cat & mouse” usually resulting in playing strict percentages rather than “feel” (usually what a top player will rely on when playing against a lesser experienced one). On this hand, then judgment would be called for if West was dealt A10xx in hearts instead of the queen of spades and declarer had led to the jack of hearts, back to hand and then led again to the king, both winning. That combination might down a declarer even when the clubs break 3-3 and the queen of spades is onside.

However, on this hand, though the heart ducks are both necessary, it will come down to what you carefully advise, best percentage to play for either clubs to break and if not, for the spade finesse enabled by the 4 clubs not being in the hand also holding the ace of hearts.

Our game is indeed a majestic and beautiful one, worth understanding the arithmetical logic, the defensive counters, the psychological matchups and one which will benefit above average students especially when they are young and enthusiastic about mental competition. Europe and Asia fully realize this, allowing their educational systems to cater to it, but as of now, not the Western Hemisphere.

At least to me, very sad since I firmly believe that the ACBL should make every effort to make it happen, but they evidently do not agree. Instead of catering to all of us “old” people, why not try and perpetuate our game for decades to come, with centuries to follow.

Bobby WolffApril 12th, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

Most systems, with original Acol a likely exception, a normal bid (3 hearts here over a forward going bid, jump to 2NT) should be and is, considered 100% forcing, simply because without being such, bidding becomes too restrictive in attempting to find the right strain, regarding that to be, at least as important as finding the right level.

Of course, there are some useful conventions in this area which do allow sign-offs rather than game forces, but, at least up to now I am not aware of any movement to make the above bid restrictive and therefore passable.