Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dealer: North

Vul: E/W

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


South West North East
    1 Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
4 All Pass    

Opening Lead: Queen

“It was deja vu all over again.”

— Yogi Berra

The following deal proved too hard for a multiple World Champion in a 1999 Vanderbilt match. The contract in both rooms was four spades by South, and the lead in each instance was the diamond queen.


It seems that, in a worst-case scenario, declarer might have a loser in each suit, but the first declarer did not see any danger.


He won the diamond lead in hand, preserving entries to dummy’s club suit, and played ace then king of trumps, finding he had a loser there. Hoping to eliminate hearts, then somehow effect an endplay, declarer led a low heart from dummy. But East nipped in with the 10 to fire a diamond through. The end result was one off.


Declarer was beguiled by his array of nines and 10s. Try imagining that, apart from the aces and kings, all of North’s and South’s cards are insignificant, as John Solodar did in the other room. He appreciated that all he needed to do was to set up a club trick for a diamond discard, so he too won the diamond lead in hand. But he cashed just the spade ace before leading a club to the ace, another to the king, and a third club. East won and fired back a diamond, which Solodar took with dummy’s king. He then cashed the spade king and played an established club, discarding his diamond loser from hand. A heart and a trump were all that was now available to the defense: contract made.

ANSWER: Your partner has not taken leave of his senses. When you jumped to three no-trump, you could have had as much as a 14-count along with your five hearts. Your partner has a maximum plus a moderate fit for hearts and a source of tricks in clubs. Just in case you were in the slam zone, he is cooperating with you. Since you have no slam interest, sign off in four hearts.


South Holds:

Q 5 4
A 9 7 6 4
Q J 8
J 2


South West North East
    1 NT Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 NT Pass 4 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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Paul BetheJune 14th, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Nice line.

Another possibility, which relies on split club honors, but allows for stiff honor in the West hand is:

Win in hand, lead a heart towards dummy. Perhaps East wins and shoots back a diamond: low to dummy’s King (preserving the Ten to force West in). Heart ruff, Ace of spades, spade to the Jack.

If that loses to a doubleton Queen, after a diamond cashed, the defense is endplayed.

If it wins, the spade loser is gone.

If West shows out, go up King, and exit a diamond. West is now end-played as they are out of trumps — which is why we played spades Ace first, since we knew we could endplay west in this layout.

Bobby WolffJune 15th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Hi Paul,

Declarer’s play hands which offer choices, all appearing to be better than 50% to be successful, sometimes are hardest to judge.

Starting out with the realization, that only having a trump loser would be a danger to the contract, could simplify the task.

However it then becomes necessary to accept the fact that both club honors are almost 50% to be in one hand rather than split and if they are, regardless whether the hand on lead or his partner will hold them we will be destined to defeat, since we will be committed to play for split honors (assuming the defender knows enough to lead his honor, if he has at least one).

John Solodar’s line traded on 3-2 (an approximate 67% choice) rather than split honors.

However, I may have missed somthing and if so, I’ll leave it up to your young, agile mind to correct me.

Paul BetheJune 15th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Neither of our lines work on 4-0 trumps, so that case is ignored.

I think that, because absent other information, split honors is just closer to 52%, where both in the same hand either way is just 48%. (This is due to the slots issue. Once one hand has an honor, it is slightly more likely that the other hand will be dealt the remaining honor – 13/25 or 52% absent other info.)

My line:

avoids a trump loser when LHO has 3(22%) or a 2=2 with Q onside(21%), but requires the 52% split honors in the other 2-2 or 1=3 (28%) [I adjusted the probabilities based on having played 2 rounds of diamonds, and 2 of hearts, and LHO known to hold the J of D]

=22% + 21% + 49%* 51% = 68%

Probably the chance that E has both honors goes up just slightly, since W is known to hold the J of D.

John’s line:

Clubs breaking 3-2 after playing a round of diamonds, and a round of spades, and knowing that W holds the J of D = 69% [ slightly higher than at trick 1 ]

He also should make when clubs are 4-1, but the short hand is in front of the honor led to on the second round and and trumps are 2-2.

So with that added chance, I rate John’s line as slightly better than mine.

Paul BetheJune 15th, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Forgot to multiply 69% by 91% chance of trumps not 4-0 = 63%

Trumps 3-1 onside of 27% [slightly higher chance if you play the hand known to hold the J of D to be possibly short ]

* 41% of trumps 2-2 = 11%

So a total of about 74%

Bobby WolffJune 20th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Hi Paul,

One thing is for sure. You are the person to call on if exact percentages need to be known.

At least to me, any calculations which come within 5% of one another are almost statistically equal in practice mainly because sometimes physically being at the table there are other incalculable indications of where the specific cards or distributions are located making a small difference in percentages change from one perspective to another.

Thanks for your thorough analysis.