Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.

John Stuart Mill

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

*Heart support


On this deal from the second qualifying session of the Mitchell Open Board-a-Match Teams from the last national championships in Seattle, imagine that you have reached three no-trump, after both you and your vulnerable opponents have done a lot of bidding.

The heart queen held the trick on opening lead. A second heart to the ace was followed by a third heart, on which South had to discard from dummy. Name your poison!

At the table, declarer erred in practice — and maybe in theory as well — by pitching a spade. He then crossed to the club king to play a diamond to the ace in an attempt to keep West off lead while setting up diamonds. (The first diamond play had to come from dummy; if East had a doubleton queen or a holding such as J-9, he could defeat the game by unblocking his honor if declarer led low to the diamond king.)

The 4-1 break — disappointing, but hardly surprising — brought South up short. The best he could do was finesse in spades against East and hope for the clubs to break. That failed, but if declarer had pitched a club from dummy at trick three, then when the diamond break came to light, he could have crossed to the club ace and finessed in spades, then cashed the spade king.

At this point, he could have endplayed East by leading the king and a second club to force a spade play into dummy’s A-10 at the end for the ninth trick.

Should you raise to two spades here? Had your RHO passed, you would surely have left your partner in one spade, but in competition, a simple raise here does not guarantee great extras. It suggests either real shape suitability or decent extras with four spades. This hand just about qualifies by virtue of the nice controls.


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

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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieApril 14th, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Hi Bobby,

Is there any case for South taking T1 and playing a heart straight back? Msybe not as the csrds lie today but he could shed 1D and 2C from North, trying for a zqueeze.



bobbywolffApril 14th, 2018 at 6:01 pm

Hi Iain,

You have offered into bridge evidence, a declarer plan worth considering. However (and yes that exclamation is damning), there are only 7 sure tricks instead of 8 (one less than is usually needed before an alternative squeeze line comes into playable focus for the contract trick (9th).

Granted the winning line (on this hand, theoretical, not chosen) makes sense, but in order for it to stand tall enough to choose, the declarer must somehow guess that the long diamonds are also held by the long hearts (a non-percentage view).

That key distribution can then only be felt by a very aware declarer who senses that West is a happy bird because he will get in when and if declarer proceeds normally to set up his longest suit (e.g. South opened the bidding in diamonds and though balanced, did not ever support spades).

While choosing to mention the above I realize that top level players almost never give correct extraneous, but often vital information to especially, keen declarers.

The above, at least to me, is the piece de resistance of our great game and after getting there, doing that, would be very difficult to not fall in love with that process, let alone, even seriously think, about giving it up.

In truth, the winning line is indeed a possible choice, certainly so, if a genie, while sitting on one’s shoulder, whispers to the declarer (think Pinocchio).

However, I would enjoy hearing other site members give their opinions and, if up to it, rate the degree of success expected.

A.V.Ramana RaoApril 15th, 2018 at 5:55 am

Hi Dear Mr.Wolff
Just wondering- what would have happened if declarer pitched a diamond on the third heart. South is not bothered if east turns up with two, three or more diamonds The unblock may not really help him as there is no communication between east and west in case east holds doubleton diamond. So south pitches a diamond on third heart and leads a diamond playing K form dummy and returns a diamond planning to duck if east plays Q else to win( in which case east has at least doubleton diamond) . As it happens east shows out on second round of diamonds and he can only discard a spade. Now south can read east’s hand as 5 3 1 4 and he can play a club to dummy’s A, take spade finesse ( length inference) cash spade K and lead club to dummy’s A and endplay east with club and get last two spade tricks and if east happens to have four carded diamond which would come to light when dummy leads second diamond, east can be thrown in with a diamond . But as can be seen if west happens to possess the dame of spades, the contract is straightaway down
Perhaps I am missing something perhaps not

Bobby WolffApril 15th, 2018 at 1:38 pm


If you are missing something in your proposed play, it is not in substance, but only in percentage technique, in order to gain maximum advantage in preventing good defenders, with certain holdings to offer effective counters.

For example while leading a diamond from hand to dummy a good defender will always jettison his queen (assuming he has it doubleton with his other not the jack).

The column pointed out the fate of the declarer who concentrated on first making the hand with the length in diamonds as it figured to be, long with the shorter hearts. However, by his discarding what turned out to be a key 4th spade on the 3rd heart play instead of a club, he lost out on a winning ending, in spite of the non-percentage diamond holding.

No intelligent bridge player has likely ever said that declarer’s play is not often tough, requiring experienced and sometimes complicated thought early (the errant spade discard instead of a club). While you came close to the better line of play, discarding a diamond from dummy and then leading toward dummy instead of from dummy restricts success since it enables East to get rid of his blocking queen, enabling partner the opportunity to cash the setting tricks in hearts.

Your play would work, but only because of the unusual diamond position which comes to light when East shows out, but slightly better play earlier (discarding that club instead of a spade) and, of course the spade queen being onside, with East being eventually squeezed and end played, a vicious combination for him, but glorious for South.

However the very good news is that you take the time (and effort) to analyze the play and then decide how best to proceed. There is nothing to be ashamed of, with a tiny flaw in thinking, since the experience of playing against very good defenders will alert you in the future of planning, if possible (not always available), to overcome their good defense, by even better declarer play or at least a logical fallback line in case the cards are located (no fault of yours) in other (usually specific), ways.

Shantanu RastogiApril 17th, 2018 at 12:24 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

Sorry for responding late. I have a problem with Diamond play. That is how does one figure out that diamonds are 4-1 without conceding trick to West. If one goes to dummy with club K and plays diamond to Ace with east contributing 8 and west 2 now when another diamond is played west contributes diamond 9 and now what should declarer do. If he is hoping J8 or Q8 with east right play is low from dummy. But if he does so west would gain lead and cash hearts. So the whole purpose of playing first diamond from dummy towards Ace is defeated. So perhaps discarding a diamond is better afterall.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi