Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 6th, 2017

Wit’s an unruly engine, wildly striking Sometimes a friend, sometimes the engineer.

George Herbert

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


Place your bets, gentle reader: will declarer prevail or can the defense defeat South’s four heart contract, North having opened the bidding then rebid two no-trump to show a balanced 18-19?

When West led the spade jack, North’s queen lost to the king, and East returned the diamond 10. Declarer won dummy’s queen and advanced the heart nine. East played low, West won with the ace and returned a diamond to the ace. Dummy’s last trump was led, on which East played the king, but that was the last trick for the defense.

East had missed his chance to defeat the game. He must play West to hold the trump ace, (or declarer must have four heart tricks and six plain winners). So East should steel himself to go up with the king on the first heart, then return his last diamond. Now when West wins the trump ace, he can return a diamond for East to ruff with his heart jack.

So is your money on the defenders? Not so fast: technically, declarer missed his opportunity at the opening lead. If he puts up the spade ace, then immediately plays a trump, he will make his contract.

However, on the lead of the spade jack, declarer has to compare the chances of the spade king being offside, as opposed to the chance that he can play hearts for two losers. This is a close calculation: declarer can see the chances that the defenders might have a ruff coming, but it is hard to reject a legitimate finesse, isn’t it?

An expert panel might vote for heart bids at every level up to four; but I would settle for an invitational jump to two. There is no reason to drive to game facing a balanced opener with three hearts, which I might easily buy. Of course just because both opponents have bid doesn’t mean we won’t make game. But partner knows better than I what he has, and he can accept an invitation if he wants to.


♠ 6 4
 Q 10 7 6 4 3
 A 6 2
♣ 8 5
South West North East
  1 ♣ Dbl. 1

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


Iain ClimieOctober 20th, 2017 at 10:15 am

Hi Bobby,

If the spade finesse works, declarer is home unless something like a 6-1 break in a side suit exists. If trumps are 4-1, though (apart form singleton J onside) he has 3 trump losers unless he can manage a trump coup picking up (say) KJxx on his right. I think that pushes it towards taking the spade finesse unless West is the sort of player who won’t lead away from a King against a suit contract. I heard a suggestion that Tony Forrester, one of our best players, has insisted that his partners don’t lead away form an unsupported King unless there has been an ovecall and support. On purely %age grounds, though, the spade finesse looks right – but not as the cards lie.



Iain ClimieOctober 20th, 2017 at 10:16 am

PS Obviously the alleged prohibition doesn’t apply to K10xxx against 1N – 3N.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 20th, 2017 at 11:18 am

The type of “typos” that an automatic spell-check cannot detect: steal versus steel.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 20th, 2017 at 11:28 am

It’s actually steel! My mistake!

Bobby WolffOctober 20th, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, excellent analysis, at least by my standards, but I think on this whole hand, the elephant in the room has managed to remain invisible, especially since one of my pet peeves, may have deserted the use of its trunk.

The popular convention of “jack denies”, while occasionally helping partner, often becomes devastating for the defense since it obviously would print an undeniable road map for all declarers, all the way up, from just above novice, to superior.

I, once, and in an eight board overtime playoff, during the team trials for winning the right to represent the USA bridge team in 1987 in Jamaica for the Bermuda Bowl that year and during the semi-finals of that event were 9 IMPs behind, with only 1 more to play, when I received a jack denies lead of the jack of spades against my aggressive NV contract of 3NT with my holding being Qxx in dummy and Kxx in my hand. Of course, I played low from dummy and my RHO (an excellent player) and while holding Ax decided that his partnership lead convention suggested that he play the ace and one rather than complicate the defense, when he knew the suit will not be miss-guessed later. Because of the timing of that play allowing me a clear path to nine tricks and +400 while at the other table my direction had accurately stopped at 1NT, but not playing jack denies, 3rd seat ducked and later when his partner got in and played the 10, rose with the queen, causing him to only take 6 tricks and thus go one down (-50), The result being 10 IMPs our way to win the match by one, and some months later, to defeat a very good English team in the finals.

Of course, that hand only added to my belief that, while that lead sometimes, but not as often as thought, helps the defense, it more likely will please the declarer more, only sometimes for placing cards where they happen to be, rather than trying to guess.

And, what do you know, my column only emphasized what happened those 30 years ago, to validate my ego. While hopefully for not that reason alone, (no mention of that in this column), but perhaps selfish of me to be happy for small favors, to have a platform to rant.

Thanks for listening, at least to readers who still are.

Bobby WolffOctober 20th, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Hi Michael,

Yes, steeling oneself is quite different from both stealing from others, the similarity of English words (while sounding exact) causes it to be among the more difficult languages to learn, at least from a writer’s (and foreign) viewpoint.

How about, “I went to the dam to get some dam water, but the damn man told me I could not have any dam water, so I told the damn man he could keep his dam water.”.

It will take probably another few years (perhaps 50) before some genius will invent a “smart” computer to, by the text present, use the right spelling.

However, more moving parts, more room for error and thus trouble. However, it is barely possible only you, not I, will be around to see it.

David WarheitOctober 20th, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Michael: Well, it’s now morning out here on the West Coast, and I hope you steel (or is it steal?) regret your mistake.

A V Ramana RaoOctober 20th, 2017 at 1:32 pm

These Homonyms can create lot of confusion and amusement too

Bobby WolffOctober 20th, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Hi David and AVRR,

Still- of course, still regretting your mistake, but also where liquor is produced and apparently drowning the sorrow of doing so.

Yes, AVRR, lots of confusion but however not to veterans of age. Finally found an advantage.

David WarheitOctober 21st, 2017 at 2:19 am

I just realized that Michael is imitating Mel Brooks in The Producers where he plays Hitler on stage:

I don’t want war.
All I want is peace. Peace.
A little piece of Poland
A little piece of France.