Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 11th, 2019

Oh, order! Material order, intellectual order, moral order! … To know where we are going and what we want; that is order. To keep one’s word, to do the right thing, and at the right time: more order.

Henri Amiel

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

*Game-forcing spade raise

**Short hearts


Today’s deal sees North stretch just a fraction to treat his hand as a game-forcing spade raise, then sign off upon finding short hearts opposite. South has more than enough to drive to slam (though pessimists could use Blackwood first if they prefer), since even facing the most unsuitable hand, there will probably be play for slam on most leads.

West is fortunate to have been dealt a sequence on lead, and that gives declarer no help. How should he play to combine his chances for 12 tricks? He has two slow losers (in clubs and diamonds) and two queens whose value he can exploit if he uses them efficiently. He can take a heart finesse and discard his diamond loser from hand, or he can lead to the club queen: If he finds West with the king, he can pitch his diamond loser from dummy on his top club.

It looks logical to win the diamond lead and draw trumps ending in hand, but then declarer has to commit himself, and the order of his plays is critical. He must play West for the club king by leading toward the club queen. If this fails, he still has time to take the heart finesse. Conversely, if he finesses in hearts first and loses, there is no second chance. He cannot avoid a club loser.

As the cards lie, West will take his king and return a diamond, but declarer can win and unblock clubs, then ruff a heart to hand to pitch the diamond loser from the North hand on the club ace.

Your partner did not compete to three clubs himself, so presumably he has a doubleton spade and no more than five clubs. My best bet to beat the contract might be to lead a trump and kill the club ruffs in dummy, in the hope that neither hearts nor diamonds will be easy for declarer to establish. The diamond king is too committal an opening lead for my taste.


♠ 4 3 2
 Q 8 5
 K 2
♣ Q 9 8 4 2
South West North East
    1 ♣ 1 ♠
2 ♣ 2 ♠ Pass Pass
3 ♣ 3 ♠ All pass  

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David WarheitFebruary 25th, 2019 at 10:28 am

If W’s opening lead is a H, S can still combine chances, but his prospects aren’t as good. Win HA, draw trump while ruffing 2 H & then lead C toward Q. Makes if W has CK or if HK is no more than third.

bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your add on, what if, a heart lead?

Even though on Mondays we at least attempt, to tone down the complications, nevertheless you saw (and acknowledged for all others concern, to choose the overall best percentage chance for success).

Although ruffing out the king of hearts is not as great a chance as a straight finesse, when a heart is led, our percentage choice has taken a definite hit, but there is no better solution to take than what David suggested.

Besides if then East started this hand with both the king of clubs and the king of hearts, but the heart king having only two small ones with it, West, in his innocence, will have allowed a slam contract to make, which, upon original reflection, was doomed to go set.

Add that to the then possibility that this defensive partnership played a popular opening lead convention that the lead of a jack denies a higher honor and West was dealt J109xx in hearts and unless EW had their blinders on they would agree with me, that while that lead convention has some advantage, its telltale aspect to the opponents makes it a definite no, no with me, to be worth playing.

Of course, proponents of that conventional lead will say I’m using a “bully pulpit” to voice my dissent, and perhaps I am, but, if so, and with my experience, I am saying what I think best to advise.

In any event, with the structure of this 52 card hand, the best play this time, while playing a small spade slam is (if any heart is led), is up ace.

Thanks again David!

Mircea1February 25th, 2019 at 5:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

Two quick questions:

1. Not that it really matters here, but considering declarer’s advertised shortness in hearts, isn’t an opening lead in that suit a better choice, if only slightly?

2. What would you have responded on the first round with the North hand?

Ken MooreFebruary 25th, 2019 at 9:54 pm


In this case, the usual finesse of leading the Queen loses regardless of who has the King as covering it gives them a second club trick. The usual finesse does not work if you have split honors and the opponents have most of the high cards in that suit.

Iain ClimieFebruary 25th, 2019 at 10:48 pm

Hi Bobby,

I have to agree with Mircea here as a direct 6S seems more sensible. Could miss 7 to be fair, but pard needs exact cards and not telling the oppo anything may up the chance of 6 making.



bobbywolffFebruary 26th, 2019 at 12:40 am

Hi Mircea1 & Iain,

No doubt, the solidity of J1098 was compelling to West for an opening lead, and I tend to agree with him. No doubt a heart (knowing declarer is short) is a safe lead, but perhaps an opening heart lead will set up the slam going trick in dummy before the setting trick is established.

Sure the opening lead is a guessing game, with the most encouraging words to add, but an educated percentage guess, at least when it works.

Again I would probably elect to do the same thing North did, no doubt a slight overbid, but I would not feel comfortable going for an underbid of three which is only usually played as invitational to game but not a GF.

Also to not show partner immediate 4+ card support the first round is a distortion of sorts and often leads to confusion later.

True, perhaps an immediate 6 spades by South the 2nd round is just too unilateral for partner to have future confidence in that partnership’s slam bidding and, and while I believe in sometimes bashing, this hand looks too easy to legitimately find the right contract whether it is game, or a small or grand slam.

Of course, the difference between all the suggestions is very small allowing only the ones who get it right to then do the explaining.

bobbywolffFebruary 26th, 2019 at 12:49 am

Hi Ken,

No doubt the leading of the queen of clubs today from the declarer’s hand should not even be called a finesse, but rather a fool’s folly. However, when appropriate, leading a small one toward the queen may very well be correct as it might be on this hand. Yes that play would probably be also called a finesse since it looks and acts that way, with the only difference being to develop a slow trick rather than a fast one.

In order to progress by climbing the bridge ladder, card combinations need to be spelled out specifically along with how they apply to that particular hand. No short cuts work, but, in fact, slows the development of complete understanding which then, when that makes sense, move on to the next challenge which always seems to be awaiting.