Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 9th, 2017

It was déjà vu all over again.

Yogi Berra

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


Hands up everyone who thought they recognized this deal as being recycled from the previous month? Well done if you thought the hand looks familiar – but there is a material change between the two deals. The heart and club aces have switched locations, and this has a significant impact on how to play three no-trump when West leads the spade 10 against three no-trump. South must decide whether to win or duck, and which suit to attack first.

The question of whether to win or duck is often a complex one when you have two high cards to knock out. With two entries missing in the same suit, you generally do best to duck if you are not afraid of any shift, as here.

This line of play will see you home if spades are four-four, since the defenders take only two tricks in each black suit, or if spades are 6-2 — unless the hand with long spades has both top clubs. The point is that when East takes the first club he has no spade to lead, and if West wins the first club, he no longer has an entry to his suit.

But what if, as here, spades are 5-3 and the club honors split, with West not holding a singleton honor? You still have a decent chance to succeed so long as you duck trick one and win the second spade. Then you cross to a top heart in dummy to lead a low club towards your hand. If East flies up with the king to clear spades, he deserves to beat you!

Your partner is clearly relatively short in spades and probably doesn’t have six diamonds. Since a diamond lead might easily cost a trick, the choice is between a club and a heart. I’m going to go for the heart eight, but don’t ask me to feel happy about it.


♠ A 10 7 4 2
 8 7 2
 J 6
♣ 7 3 2
South West North East
  Pass 1 Dbl.
1 ♠ 2 ♣ Pass 2 NT
All 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 Warheit1October 23rd, 2017 at 11:19 am

Whether S ducks trick 1 or not is irrelevant so long as W continues S if he does so; it all comes down to whether E rises with the CK on the first lead of C. If he does duck, though, W can shift to D at trick 2 and almost certainly beat the contract; now E must allow his partner to win the first C trick. None of these defensive plays are at all easy, but they are possible.

jim2October 23rd, 2017 at 1:07 pm

On LWTA, I think I would lead either JD or 7C.

East’s Double implied hearts, and the 2N bid implied spades while suggesting not particularly good club support.

Meanwhile, pard might well have intended to bid clubs before West bid them first.

Looking at it another way, East has suggested both majors and stoppers in diamonds. What room is there left for clubs?

Bruce karlsonOctober 23rd, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Is there a clue for East? South casually takes the first Spade and goes to dummy with a heart (yawn for effect). On a low Spade lead, if South has the AJ, the K is dead meat. Ergo, why not fly with it on the chance that P has the A? Under a thousand points so please mercy if I again missed the obvious.

BobbyOctober 23rd, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Hi David,

Ducking the first spade is irrelevant on this layout, but not if West (though unlikely) has 6 spades and does not switch to a diamond.

However, sometimes it is difficult for whoever wins the club, to do anything but continue spades, but your suggestion is on point and should cause an interested defender to pause before mindlessly playing anything at trick two.

Thank you for raising this important defensive bridge issue.

BobbyOctober 23rd, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Hi Jim2,

Admittedly, a diamond lead may be right, but it also could give away trick #8 to declarer. No doubt a heart lead (surely the eight) has no great prospect for establishing a long suit trick (only if partner has 4 and both declarer and dummy have 3).

In these many long years since 4 card majors have gone out of style, the opening lead has suffered a lower percentage of being on target, since shorter minor suits have replaced them as the opening bid gambit, but to indirectly misquote Shakespeare, (“Signifying not much”).

Finally, in case of a tie, it is probably better to get off to a wrong diamond lead rather than a wrong heart lead, in order to later assess the mistake.

PS: To lead a club seems a bit of a stretch, since your LHO did bid them, East made a TO double, showing them and you still possess three, but in spite of my admonition, stranger things have happened, though perhaps TOCM has taken firm hold, causing you to not lead, what others may choose. After all, a club lead is unlikely to cost a trick.

Another smiley wanted?

BobbyOctober 23rd, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Hi Bruce,

Just the opposite of your pessimism the result of your lack of experience,

No East, regardless of talent, would “fly with the king” knowing that his play is a winner. It is only done, since unless his partner has that ace, the chances of defeating the contract are very poor, but if he does, then his play probably becomes mandatory to beat 3NT.

Just another reason for me to at least mention (as I do so often) how superior IMPs are to pair games, since giving away an overtrick is so very important while playing matchpoints, but only a very small blip on the screen at IMPs (or rubber bridge). In my insulated opinion, one of the great beauties of our game is to both make contracts and on defense to set them, and by not playing the “real” game of bridge, brilliant plays should be given consistently better results than they get, and sheer luck should not enter the picture causing real talent to not show its face.

Your imagination will allow you to get there from here, provided you take the time to nurture it.

jim2October 23rd, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Back on LWTA, you are the expert, not I. However, RHO’s t/o double surely promised unbid suits but with focus on majors, or a good suited hand too strong for overcall. The 2N bid seems to have ruled out the good hand with suit and the absence of a club raise would seem to reduce the chances of clubs, all the while asserting stoppers’holdings in both spades and the remaining unbid suit (hearts).

Mircea1October 23rd, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Hi Bobby,

Why is it wrong for East to “fly with the king” when declarer plays the suit from dummy? Partner cannot have the singleton ace or declarer would not have wasted an entry in dummy to play the suit this way and in all other cases the king is dead. I realize that it’s not the normal/natural play, but is there any other reason?

BobbyOctober 23rd, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

While no doubt a club lead could be the winner, I do not think it is the percentage bid. Often a pretty much non-descript hand (TO doubler) will just be making a game try with a point or two more than his minimum promised. That being the case and that he saw fit to make a TO dbl. the first time may be the principle reason he is doing anything but pass. That, in itself, doesn’t promise anything more or less about his original club holding, but with clubs now already bid by his partner, I tend to downgrade the magic needed to offer a club lead.

However, it is no more than an educated guess, and you, rather than I
may be right-on.

BobbyOctober 23rd, 2017 at 9:51 pm

Hi Mircea1,

You are certainly right about partner not having the singleton ace, since if he hid, the declarer would certainly be leading the queen from dummy enticing a cover with the king, in order to save a trick and perhaps also then make a bold contract.

However, partner may instead have the jack of clubs, insuring at least one lost trick, and perhaps more if declarer then miss guesses on the lead toward the dummy, for our defensive side.

The above will usually keep even a great player from rising with the king while playing matchpoints.

In any event, it is not an easy play to make, and the ones who get it right need to be applauded.