Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dealer: South

Vul: E/W

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


South West North East
1 5 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 5 All Pass

Opening Lead:A

“Something between a hindrance and a help.”

— William Wordsworth

When I am asked what the secret of bridge is, my answer is that it is a game of error. The people who win make the fewest mistakes and, crucially, help their partners make the fewest errors. There is not much you can do when partner is declaring — except put trumps on your right. But on defense it is a different story.


Take this deal from the match between Israel and Canada in a Junior World Teams tournament, where the Israeli East had a chance to cherish his partner. After both Souths opened one spade, the Wests had to decide how much to bid. Wolpert for Canada at our featured table bid five diamonds, but South ended up in five spades.


After the diamond-ace lead, Wolpert decided to shift and (correctly in my opinion) elected to play his partner for the heart ace rather than very good clubs, or a slow club trick plus a major-suit winner. He shifted to his heart, and that meant 11 tricks for declarer.


By contrast, in the other room the Israeli West bid only four diamonds at his first turn. North bid four spades now, and Amir Levin, East, bid five clubs as a lead director, suggesting clubs and a diamond fit. When North-South pushed on to five spades, the defense led clubs and could now set the game. (Note, by the way, that five spades was necessary insurance over five diamonds, which might easily have made.)

ANSWER: Did you remember the message from today’s deal? Jump to three clubs, a fit-showing jump, to show heart support and a source of tricks in clubs. You could simply raise hearts, but then how would partner know where your cards are if he has to decide what to do over four spades? As a passed hand, the jump should not just be clubs — you would have opened three clubs with that hand.


South Holds:

A 6
10 7 5 3
J 6
K Q 10 9 2


South West North East
Pass 1 1 1


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


David WarheitOctober 16th, 2009 at 6:45 am

I’m a little confused. West can make 5 diamonds all right, but only by guessing that South has the doubleton Ace Jack of clubs. What’s “easy” about doing that? Or did you mean that if North had the Jack, 5 diamonds would have rolled?

Bobby WolffOctober 17th, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your comment.

What I meant is actually that it might be possible, using high-level reasoning, to “guess” the location of the Jack of clubs and seize that opportunity. Discussing the practical application is that East would (might) win the spade opening lead and finesse the diamond, running a number of diamonds, possibly 6, and then lead a club and play the queen. South would win the ace and then probably switch to the Ace and one heart, ruffed by declarer. Declarer would then ruff the heart and then, after leading a 2d club would be in the crucial decision making seat of whether or not to make the percentage play of a finesse or the alternate play of going against the percentage and playing for the drop. Declarer may ask himself, “Why didn’t South duck the club if he started with only 2 clubs and, upon counting the likely distributions based on the bidding and then the play up to now, should be able to ascertain the exact distributions of the opponent’s hands?” The opponent’s should have gone out of their way to conceal possible “key” cards which, if known, might have helped declarer make a winning decision. Those key cards might be the King of Spades and the King of Hearts which if known to the declarer plus as little as the jack of clubs in addition (and, of course, his actual distribution of 4-5-1-3) might have suggested to declarer that he would have raised spades immediately. In any event a “VERY” high level declarer might have worked it out since all players would know that it would have been best for declarer to have ducked the first club, since, if he didn’t, the percentage play on the lead of the 2d club would be to finesse North for the Jack.

All somewhat convoluted, but nevertheless the way the expert game evolves. Some, maybe many, are not interested in discussions like these, but for the few who are, it may become a helpful exercise in high-level bridge judgment, which is never just limited to the percentage tables.

David WarheitOctober 18th, 2009 at 11:10 am

What a very thoughtful response; thank you very much. Of course you meant that it would have been best for South, not declarer, to duck the club. But after running all those diamonds, it should be painfully obvious to everyone that declarer’s sole problem is the club suit. So now if South had held Ace-small of clubs, he might reason that if he ducks the first round of clubs, declarer can scarcely go wrong, so he wins the Ace, attempting to lead declarer to think that he has Ace-Jack doubleton of clubs. This is a classic cross/doublecross/doubledoublecross, etc. moment.