Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 31st, 2018

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.

J.K. Rowling

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


When I saw a close variant of this deal from the Common Game in 2017, I thought it had the makings of a good problem. At the table, most North-South pairs played five clubs on a deal where slam seemed highly likely to make. But with neither spades nor clubs behaving, the limit on the hand turned out to be 11 tricks.

However, imagine that North finds a slightly off-center raise to two spades rather than a negative double. This is sensible enough, since a decent hand with Q-10 of spades plus short hearts virtually corresponds to a three-card raise. Can you imagine how the defense would go against four spades?

West leads from his heart sequence. Declarer wins and crosses to the diamond king to run the spade queen to West, who forces declarer with a second heart. Now declarer must be careful not to draw any more trumps. Instead, he plays a club to the ace and a second club. East will probably discard, and declarer will clear the clubs. He can now ruff the next heart in dummy and come to hand in diamonds to draw trumps, then claim the rest. Note that had declarer drawn trumps before playing on clubs, the combination of bad breaks in the minors would sink him, since he runs out of trumps.

Still, I wonder if the defenders might have prevailed by following a more devious line. If West can duck the first trump smoothly, declarer will probably repeat the spade finesse. Now the force in hearts will work, since dummy is out of trumps.

It may be a little bit of a push, but you are just about worth a jump to three diamonds. You have high offense, and it is easy to imagine coming to nine tricks in no-trump or 11 in a minor if partner has any extras in shape or high cards. Make the diamond king the queen, and two diamonds would certainly be enough.


♠ Q 10
 8 6
 K 9 7 6 2
♣ A 8 7 2
South West North East
  1 Dbl. Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


A.V.Ramana RaoJune 14th, 2018 at 11:14 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
If south can divine that diamonds are 3-3 , he can make four spades without taking spade finesse as follows:
Win the lead in hand, play three rounds of diamonds ruffing out , lead club to A in dummy and return a club. East cannot profitably ruff, so win in hand and clear clubs. West does best by returning a heart which is ruffed by south and now south exits in club. Whoever wins and whichever card is returned, east west can get only K of spades
( but again, this is double dummy play)

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 14th, 2018 at 11:20 am

& I think it should read ” the bad breaks in black suits ” instead of ” the combination of bad breaks in minors ”
(Last sentence in Third para)

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2018 at 12:13 pm


First and no doubt, thanks for pointing out the unnecessary gaffe, sadly not caught by me, regarding which suits had bad breaks (black suits not minors)

While you are correct in your analysis about both minors (diamonds 3-3 and clubs somewhat behaving in at least the positioning of who had the singleton (East instead of West).

However, and decidedly more to the point, it seems the column line which, from a practical viewpoint needed only the trump king being able to be successfully finessed, or an even break (3-3), and even a defensive mistake, the king being taken prematurely, should vouch for the column line to be the more likely avenue to success.

However, I do think that West should, after seeing the dummy, duck the first spade in tempo, if for no other reason than to quickly (or at least not slowly) realize that if, in fact declarer only has 5 spades, it becomes vitally necessary to have declarer repeat that finesse, (and to not would be a superhuman effort by a brilliant, or instead, peeking one). To do so by West, would run very little risk with a huge amount to gain.

However, in order to do so, the dummy’s doubleton only boost, should raise defensive eyebrows, enabling such a duck, without which, our game will suffer from shoddy defense resulting from lack of total concentration.

Often early in the play but after dummy is exposed for both declarer and defense to plot their strategy is definitely the time to deeply consider the task of what it might take to defeat a decent declarer, keeping in mind that poor tempo, (in this case, studying before ducking the original trump finesse) is a sure death knell to its success).

Is that a relatively easy defensive play to make? Heavens, no, but to not, will indicate a lazy defender who has fallen into a bad habit, of taking time off from wanting to prove that he indeed is with it and forever more, will be a defender to not be taken for granted.

Quite a difference in the result and worth every aspiring player’s rapt attention as to whether or not the game itself is worth the effort.

In retrospect almost all will agree yes, but whether or not that will inspire, will always remain to be seen.

As usual, thanks for your discussion, which almost always leads to at least what I think, worthwhile back and forth.

jim2June 14th, 2018 at 12:43 pm

It is also pairs, so OTs are of potential value, especially at 4S.

Declarer cannot do anything about pairs who bid and make 6C, and simply making 4S will beat those in clubs who take 11 tricks no matter what they bid.

Making 11 (or more) tricks at 4S, however, will also better those at 5C who take 12 or or even 13 tricks.

Thus, declarer should play fairly safely at 4S, but should choose the line that also offers the best chance of taking more than 10 tricks.

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 14th, 2018 at 2:14 pm

I was concentrating on four spades, but now ( again double dummy) I think six clubs can be made. South wins heart lead, plays a club to A in dummy , ruffs a heart, cashes K of clubs and when trumps do not break, plays three rounds of diamonds ruffing the last one and concedes trump to west who gets hopelessly endplayed. If he leads a spade, south scores spades and if he leads a heart, dummy pitches spade (!) while south ruffs and Dumy will be good. ( even on a diamond or club lead, same play can be developed)
And Jim2 please: however south might try, he dannot make five spades on this hand unless west leads a spade

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, your post would and or should, remind all, when playing pairs the immutable difference between the two competitive games.

Furthermore, when during the bidding, it becomes a choice between final contracts, especially with part scores and games, not so much with slams (since there is usually a lesser chance of everyone opting to go for one, often playing the safer one, such as a fitting minor suit, rather than a riskier major or of course 6 No Trump).

My guess is that a 5-2 major suit fit when only a part score is involved may score higher than an 9 card minor suit fit (consider 140 for scoring up 9 tricks as against 130 scoring up 10 with a longer combined minor suit contract). And, of course when NT is in the mix, particularly so when opponents often lead from their longest suit, allowing declarer to gain a trick he, in fact, is not entitled to.

IOW, while playing matchpoints and with part scores lean toward NT and majors, while at rubber bridge and IMPs go for the safest contract in order to make sure your partnership goes plus.

With today’s hand it is more difficult, and when North decides to bid 2 spades usually showing at least 3 of them, it would take a magician to then eschew the major in favor of a longer minor suit fit.

However, although the devil is often in the details, your suggestion needs to be continually guiding a matchpoint bridge partnership during the entire session.

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2018 at 3:18 pm


Yes, as long as diamonds are 3-3, but your analysis only shows the advantage in scoring up tricks (one way or the other) when the partnership is able to choose its longest trump suit, rather than one which scores more per trick.

IOW, it will almost always be advantageous, at least for scoring more tricks, for a partnership to play the contract in their combined longest trump suit, regardless of the individual trick score. And without trumps (NT) the prospect is usually much more limited since no trump tricks are allowed to count.

However, thanks to both you and Jim2 for your comprehensive analysis.

Ted BartunekJune 14th, 2018 at 4:41 pm

For a vulnerable 2 level overcall missing the Heart Q, at the table I would have assumed LHO had the Spade K and at trick 2 immediately lead a small Spade to the board, watching for West’s reaction. If he takes the K, proceed like the column. If he holds up, his tempo may give you a clue to later drop the K after establishing the Clubs.

jim2June 14th, 2018 at 5:44 pm


Can you point to where I said declarer could make Five Spades on the actual column layout?

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Hi Ted,

While your post and thus judgment have much to recommend it, it is barely possible that West has six or even perhaps seven hearts, leaving East with not much including balanced distribution, but still holding four spades to the king and belonging to a school of bid em up early and then hope for poor judgment from the other partnership.

However, methinks your play is not only reasonable, but likely the right percentage way to proceed.

As alluded above, guessing what the opponents are doing, especially with their bidding tactics, sometimes leads their opponents astray (both in the bidding and the play), but what else is new?

What you suggested certainly needs to be said, so thanks for following through.

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2018 at 6:29 pm


All Jim2 was suggesting pertained to sound matchpoint strategy of scoring a higher score than your opponents, which, in fact, are, as you know, never your table opponents, but rather the other pairs sitting in your same direction.

Obviously in order to make at least 11 tricks in spades either the clubs need to come in without loss and/or the spade king needs to be either finessed or in other subtle ways be picked up.

Finally and most important, declarer should devote every effort to protect against a 4-2 division in trumps since to not do so in a proper fashion will pass a giant advantage to the hated opponents.

When declaring with only seven trump quite often there are handling charges in order to be successful and this hand certainly is a good example.

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 15th, 2018 at 11:10 am

Hi Jim2
Point noted. Sorry

jim2June 15th, 2018 at 12:04 pm


NP – fare well and prosper.

jim2June 15th, 2018 at 12:05 pm


(BTW – leading the JC would also do it … 🙂 )

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