Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: Both

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


South West North East
  Pass 1 2
2 Pass 2 NT Pass
3 Pass 4


4 Pass 4 Pass
5 Pass 6 Pass
6 All Pass    

Opening Lead: 2

“A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,

Over the face of the leader came.”

— John Greenleaf Whittier

It is always embarrassing to make a technical error, and to perpetrate it on Vugraph in front of a large audience makes the experience even more painful. Carefully consider the play as South in six spades on a club lead if you want to avoid humiliation — and the turnover of a significant number of IMPs.


What happened in the real world (at the 2000 Bermuda Bowl) was that declarer won the club lead and cashed the top spades, discovering the loser there, then took the diamond ace and king before going to dummy in hearts. When she tried to cash the diamond queen, East ruffed, and while declarer could pitch on this trick, there was still a club or heart loser for declarer one way or the other.


The correct line allows the contract to succeed. Win the club lead, cash the spade king, then take the top diamonds. While you might fail against a 4-1 diamond split, that is considerably less likely than a 3-1 spade split. (Just for the record, spades split evenly somewhat less than half the time; diamonds split 3-2 just over two-thirds of the time.)


Now cross to dummy with the spade ace and cash the diamond queen, discarding your club loser. East can ruff in, of course, but you still have the priceless re-entry to dummy in the heart ace and can discard your heart loser at your leisure.

ANSWER: I do not want you to think I’m a fuddy-duddy; sometimes one has to break the rules. Ignore the fact that you have a six-card suit and instead focus on the fact that this hand is approximately balanced, in the 15-17 range, so the least lie comes from opening it one no-trump. Opening one diamond will give you an ugly rebid problem, no matter what partner does.


South Holds:

A 2
A J 10
Q 10 8 7 4 3
A 5


South West North East


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 WarheitApril 27th, 2010 at 10:04 am

But what if East plays the jack on the first diamond?

Bobby WolffApril 27th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hi David,

Yes, if either opponent (here East) plays the Jack of diamonds on our first high diamond (preferably the ace), it would be pause for thought. While thinking we (as declarer) should consider the following:

1. The bridge on this hand has switched from the technical and scientifically aritmetical part to the “poker part”, a part I, personally, have always enjoyed and especially embraced. First, we need to decide whether East is capable of trying to derail our express. Although the Jack is not a terribly hard falsecard to make, still there are some, with lesser confidence than others who would not venture it for fear of thinking perhaps the jack (if declarer’s ace of diamonds is a singleton and not having a spade trick to fall back on) will help declarer restrict his diamond losers to only one.

2. I think a “poker part” talent is God given, just like the ability to technically analyze. One usually does not have time to think it over, because, especially on defense when the opposition declarer has control of the tempo all we can do is follow suit and a pause becomes tell tale information to the declarer that we had a problem (studying with a singleton Jack is a big No-No).

3. From both a logical standpoint and especially an arithmetical one, the odds of 67% on a 3-2 break have not changed regardless of what card the defender plays on the ace. Of course, if the defender drops the King on the ace with the Queen in dummy, while the original odds have not changed on the suit distribution the evidence is stronger that the King is singleton.

4. One of the many thrills in bridge and particularly while playing against one of the best players on the planet are these moments of poker judgment. As David has inferentially suggested, we had made up our mind to play this hand in the best percentage way (going after diamonds before drawing trump) and what do you know RHO follows with the Jack on our ace. The battle has been joined!

5. Just like the best basketball players hitting key shots at the end of the game, storied baseball players coming through in the ninth, Hall-of-Fame pro quarterbacks leading their team downfield with a perfect performance in the last minute, or Icon hockey players tieing the game up at the death to send it into overtime, it is now up to us to give our opponent credit for a great falsecard and continue to play the King of diamonds while at the same time looking him square in the face.

6. There is NO mathematical table to consult, just one’s own “gut” feel.

7. Is bridge a great game or what? If you happen to think not, It is likely you have some ‘splaining to do.

Again, thanks to David we had something to discuss!