Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, May 25, 2009

Dealer: North

Vul: E/W

K 8 2
10 8 2
A J 7 6 2
A 10
West East
Q J 10 9 7 6 5 4
A 4 3 9 7 5
8 3 K 9 4
J 8 4 Q 9 7 2
A 3
K Q J 6
Q 10 5
K 6 5 3


South West North East
    1 Pass
1 1 Dbl.* Pass
3 NT All Pass    
*Three-card heart support

Opening Lead:Q

“The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.”

— Baruch Spinoza

The London Trophy, a team-of-four contest open only to nonbridge clubs, aims to introduce duplicate bridge to newcomers.


Today’s deal is from the main final of a recent event, where both Souths succeeded in four hearts. However in the 3rd/4th playoff and in the Plate final, the contract was three no-trump at both tables. Cover up the East and West hands and plan the play.


Three of those four declarers in the no-trump game won the first spade trick and took the diamond finesse. East won and continued spades. Eventually, West got in with the heart ace and cashed his established spades for one down.


The successful declarer also won the opening spade lead, but her first play was a heart. West won the ace and continued spades, but declarer ducked, won the next spade, crossed to hand with a heart, and took the diamond finesse. East won his king but had no more spades to return.


This was good technique. Declarer expected to have to knock out two high cards to come to nine tricks. The priority was to dislodge the heart ace, for the diamond king could be knocked out when East had no more spades left.


Incidentally, note that it was correct for declarer to win the opening spade lead. Ducking would be fatal if West found the club shift. The defense would establish two club tricks to go with one spade, one diamond and one heart.

ANSWER: Lead the heart four. Declarer has bid his major only once and has not tried to look for a 5-3 fit. Furthermore, dummy has not supported his partner at his second or third turn. Consider that even the jack of hearts in partner’s hand may be enough to get the heart suit going.


South Holds:

10 8 3 2
Q 10 8 4
9 6
A 4 2


South West North East
  1 Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All 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 2009. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonJune 8th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Obviously, an initial duck of the spade, leaves declarer vulnerable to a club shift. I might figure out that I must duck a spade to isolate East but would be so busy patting myself on the back for my brilliance that I would fail to see the danger in clubs and duck trick one…but almost always get away with it.

In this example, partner’s spade 4 is ambiguous (either 2 or 3?) but not helpful in telling partner what to do. Suspect that at the highest levels, the card could be suit preference but for regular players it is count/attitude. It is extremely rare at local club and/or tournament games for leader to switch after winning trick one with a good suit. It is never against the field to switch, and one risks the ire of partner if simply pressing on will do the job.

Finally, the question!!! What do you look for to determine if a killing switch is appropriate and partner is unable to give any meaningful help??

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your question concerns itself with the most difficult part of bridge in general and requires the most imagination. I am not sure there is an intelligent answer at all and actually suspect it is one where only generalities apply. Let us consider the factors involved for the defense and from a broad point of view:

1. Sometimes the opponent’s bidding will suggest the declarer’s distribution or, at least, narrow it down.

2. Often, when playing against a respected player, his tempo at trick one will give a clue as to a possible perceived problem on his part. BTW, in all of my 60+ years of playing (started at age 12), with around 45 of those years against many of the best players ever, Benito Garrozzo of Italy stood out, at least to me, as being the best overall declarer I ever had the displeasure to play against. He had a genius way of allowing his tempo, quite ethically, to lead the defense in the wrong direction. In other more descriptive ways, if the defense was on the right track or sometimes on the wrong one, his tempo made you think otherwise. Curiously Giorgio Belladonna, also of Italy, was probably second in doing the same. Players like Zia (Pakistan), Bob Hamman, Gabriel Chagas (Brazil), Howard Schenken, Johnny Crawford, Lew Mathe, Johnny Gerber, Paul Soloway, Helen Sobel, and now Jeff Meckstroth with Eric Rodwell close behind, have also been quite good in camouflaging, if possible, their tempos and general play against even wary and quite capable opponents. Of the youngsters (or sort of) perhaps Geoff Hampson (formerly of Canada and now the USA) has emerged as the leader of that pack. Remember I am only speaking of my experience. To overlook Eric Murray and Sami Kehela of Canada or Paul Chemla (France) Tim Seres (Australia), Patrick Huang (Taiwan), Geir Helgemo and Tor Helness (Norway) is not fair of me, not to mention so many others who are right in that class, but either do not come to my mind or else I didn’t have all that much experience of playing against them.

3. Your partner’s signal (if any) is a very small part of the opening leader’s decision, first because, for example, the play of the three rather than the deuce (if he has it, remembering that the declarer will try and interrupt your communication by a probable intelligent falsecard) is often like a straw in the wind. Also, PLEASE keep in mind that it is UNETHICAL for an out of tempo play by partner to help you (in any way) determine where important cards are located. Unfortunately, these possible ethical violations, are looked upon as different strokes by different folks, by today’s top and not so top players, and add that to the current incentives for winning (professionalism (money), reputation and other ego gratifications) it becomes a significant conundrum. Honoring the great game we are blessed to be able to play should be enough of a goal to stay honest, but everyone has got to go figure for himself.

4. Getting back to the opening leader’s hypothetical problem, my recommendation is to, after the opening lead, and while still on lead, try to first analyze the bidding, then the declarer’s tempo (and his capabilities), while allowing you to win the first trick and then picture first the declarer’s possible problem and whole hand, never forgetting to then realize what partner might then have to complete the picture. Oft times the opening leader will discount certain distributions by realizing that if a possible one is held, partner would have entered the bidding earlier. All in all a game of detective work, problem solving, cat and mouse, and then only an educated guess.

5. The above is a lot of words, but probably not a great deal of help.

Good luck!

David desJardinsJune 8th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Declarer can duck a spade, duck a club, win the second club, clear hearts, win the third club, and then finish the hearts to strip-squeeze East.

David desJardinsJune 8th, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Or just duck a spade, duck a club, win the second club, lose the diamond finesse, win the third club, and then clear hearts. Especially if he can read the club position from the spots.

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Hi David,

You are, of course correct, but it would involve reading the cards, including downing the king of diamonds when righty unprotected it.

I think that the column’s suggested line is quite straightforward and the percentage action.

Thanks for writing.

David desJardinsJune 9th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Sorry, I do agree with declarer’s straightforward line as stated in the column. I was wondering about Bruce’s question of whether West should try a (possibly risky) club shift at trick two, if the first spade is ducked. Maybe not, if declarer is likely to have resources to make the contract anyway.

Bobby WolffJune 10th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Hi David,

Your question of whether East should find the club shift, if the declarer (South) allows him to hold the first spade, is a difficult one to answer because of the various intangibles, mainly of which unseen hand (South and East) has what cards.

Chalk it up to being a metaphysical question, but a simple but usually accurate answer lies in the capabilities of the declarer which figures to revolve itself around “If declarer is giving me a chance to defeat the hand for no particular reason why should I assume that to be true”? Obviously that happens all the time, but rarely when a great defender is playing against an equally world class declarer.

Is bridge a great game or what????