Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!

Lewis Carroll

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



In today’s deal, which comes from the semifinal of a regional knockout, Gavin Wolpert brought home a delicate game. He played it very nicely, but the deal just goes to prove that, as Bob Hamman said: The best play lousy and the rest play worse. See if you can spot how the defenders missed their chances.

The contract of four hearts looks fine — except on a diamond lead — but that is what West led. Wolpert ducked the diamond jack, then won the diamond continuation as West followed with his small diamond. Wolpert now led a low club to dummy’s queen, which won the trick. Yes, West could have flown up with the ace, but that would have looked silly if South had held king-third of clubs.

When the spade finesse held, Wolpert crossed his fingers and cashed the heart ace-king followed by the spade ace, before exiting with a third diamond.

Much to his surprise and pleasure, his LHO was forced to win the trick and had no spade or heart to lead. He could cash his club ace, but then had to lead a club and concede a ruff-and-discard. Wolpert could ruff in hand, discarding the spade from dummy. He could next ruff a spade to dummy, to draw the last trump and claim his contract.

So have you spotted the significant error on defense? West should have unblocked his diamond king at trick two, so that he could let East win the third diamond and avoid the endplay.

This hand seems to be at the very bottom of the threshold for a jump to three hearts. The spade fragment may be useful facing shortness, and it is easy to imagine making game facing an opening bid with a singleton spade. If you play that your take-out doubles normally deliver shape-suitable openers, as you should, then your hand is just worth this action.


♠ 10 7 3
 A Q 6 5 4
 9 6 2
♣ Q 10
South West North East
  1 ♠ Dbl. 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 WarheitNovember 14th, 2017 at 9:26 am

Seems to me that S should bid 3NT over partner’s 2NT bid. From his point of view, looks like 5 H, SA, DA, and probably a C, so he needs just one more trick, either the S finesse if partner has nothing more to offer, or maybe partner has SK or CQJx or DK, whereas at 4H it seems like if partner doesn’t have much besides 5 good H, 4H has little chance. Or is Carroll about to kick me downstairs?

A V Ramana RaoNovember 14th, 2017 at 11:05 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Perhaps South should be playing this hand in 4 Spades which on the lay of the cards is ice cold. Only if south opened 1S instead of 1 NT, certainly 4 S would have been reached instead of the touch and go 4 hearts

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Hi David,

Yes, you are certainly right in your prediction of making 3NT against the best lead, a club, by with the help of the normal heart break and the 50-50 spade finesse nine tricks will immediately appear, which can be described as “on the run” which translates to the first nine tricks.

Also, and with no doubt, after the “killing” diamond lead by West and thoughtful, but not difficult, later defense (the jettison of the king of diamonds after partner’s third seat jack forced declarer’s ace, West should certainly have known who held the queen) plus the much more difficult play of rising with the ace of clubs when a low one was led toward dummy.

All of the above led to what you espouse, 4 hearts should have gone down while 3 NT was cold. However, while holding South’s hand I think it a “slam dunk” to return to 4 hearts, while holding 3 medium type hearts, a side 5 card suit, therefore a side doubleton, at least to me, definite evidence of hearts, at least on the drawing board, a preferred contract to 3 NT.

No doubt, our beautiful game (often) lends itself to what could be called aberrations, but methinks percentages (simulations now available with computers) will corroborate what many think, that a 5-3 major suit fit, will be a higher percentage “game make” than will be 3NT.

Obviously this hand is, at least to me, an exception, but the old adage, “Let the winner explain” and no doubt, on this one, you are just that, a winner, causing me to agree with the result, but not the overall caveat.

And again, because of the diversity of what works sometimes and, of course other times does not, makes playing bridge more exciting, and adds to, instead of subtracting from, its enjoyment.

Finally, thanks for your judgment, which often leads to further discussion, resulting in more plus than minus in better understanding our versatile and sometimes elusive conclusions.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2017 at 2:54 pm


Yes, you, like David, are 100% correct in your assessment to the success of a 4 spade contract, probably arrived at, if South had opened the bidding with 1 spade rather than 1NT. Yes 4 spades, with the same diamond lead, would make because of the normal major suit breaks, but also needing the third and winning spade trick to be in the same hand with the length in hearts, denying the setting trick to be cashed before a diamond discard will be made “in time”.

Much of what I wrote David, would be echoed to you, since I would choose to open the bidding 1NT instead of 1 spade in order, at least to me, to get my overall values across rather than naming a 5 card major.

You too, are a winner in this discussion and I, now a two time loser, but nevertheless I think that computer simulations would suggest that a 1NT opening bid, will work better, in the very long run, in reaching the right “final” contract and the fact that 4 spades will make and 4 hearts not just part of our diversified game and, while not the rule, but the exception, especially when we are “dealing” with another 5-3 major suit fit which should not make.

While bridge learning should benefit from results, perhaps the complications of what some of us think, may tend to cloud the keen minds of others, but again we should let the “winner” explain and then proceed, if willing, to deeper analysis of why.

By so doing, the experience gained, and over the many years, not any time frame less, needs to be thoroughly analyzed and by those same “keen minds” in order to form eventual valid conclusions.

And, on a much lighter note, to think that I thought this would be a good real life hand to include. With the kick downstairs, I’ve not only reached the basement, but likely well on the way to the home of the devil. DUMB IS DUMB!

Mircea1November 14th, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

Correct me if I’m wrong, but West’s unblocking of the HK at trick 2 was imperative because of his holding in the other suits. He could/should see the end-play coming. But what if West had held, say one more card in spades hearts (and less clubs). With the danger of end-play significantly reduced or probably eliminated, is it still better to jettison the HK simply based on how the play went so far?

What I mean to ask is, is there a danger in dumping the king under the ace when on the previous trick partner’s jack was allowed to hold?

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Hi Mircea1,

First, a housekeeping item of what you named as the heart king was meant to be the diamond king.

When West at trick two is faced with either holding or unblocking the king of diamonds and for what it is worth, the opening leader, after his partner then returns a small diamond, should know that his partner started with exactly four of them to the QJ since partner’s play denies the ten, but shows four, since with three he would normally return the queen. IOW declarer started with A10x.

Since West would still hold the ace of clubs he would be in a position to get in but, after further thought, if necessary, would keep the defense more flexible with the unblock as evidenced by the result of necessity to do so, when the final holding is what it is. And since if partner held the queen of spades (without the nine) it would be critical for him to initiate the first spade lead, otherwise West’s holding of jack and a low one, would make the defense vulnerable to the setting trick lost, because of no unblock.

Yes, these questions and answers are first learned and then by experience “felt” during the play, in this case making the unblock almost automatic.

However, every hand, depending on the location of card combinations, is different and needs to be individually analyzed, which makes various bridge experiences necessary and could simply be defined as numerate.

The above discussion is somewhat vague, and, to my knowledge, never gone into detail in How To bridge books, with the reason probably simply, too complicated with no general rules to quickly explain.

No doubt, the above discusses the techniques necessary to learn, but memorizing them is not a satisfactory solution, but rather the right “feel” often just born within a, to be expert future bridge player the norm rather than an exception.

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