Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, May 31, 2010

Dealer: South

Vul: All

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


South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: 4

“What is reasonable is real; that which is real is reasonable.”

— Friedrich Hegel

When this deal came up, South was the sort of player who prided himself on calling a spade a spade and who would have regarded the failure to win a trick when he had a high card available to take it as showing a lack of machismo.


Accordingly, when declaring three no-trump, he captured the spade queen with the king, took a heart finesse, and went down at once when East took his heart king and the defenders rattled off four spade tricks.


South’s comment after the deal was that he had been very unlucky when two major-suit finesses had lost. That was all well and good, but declarer had failed to appreciate that he was still laydown for his contract if he had exercised just a little care and attention.


Instead of taking the first spade trick, South must let the spade queen hold. East may clear the spades, but later, when the heart finesse loses, East has no spades left to play. If East has a third spade to lead after taking the heart king, the suit will have split 4-3, and South will lose just one heart and three spades.


Students of the game will note that if the heart king and queen are switched, declarer has another textbook play available. He must win the first spade and play West for the heart queen. If the heart finesse loses to West, no return can hurt South.

ANSWER: You should definitely lead a club, not a spade. A low club might work if partner has club length and only one top club honor. This lead might generate an extra club trick if declarer misguesses. Equally, however, the play might block the club suit by leaving us on play at the end of trick two, instead of our partner. You should probably lead the club queen and tell partner you did “think about it” if the low club would have worked.


South Holds:

J 10 9 4 2
6 5
J 10 7 2
Q 4


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


bruce karlsonJune 14th, 2010 at 11:38 am

To add insult to injury, baring a truly odd spade lead, there are 10 tricks available if the heart hook is on and 9 if it is of off regardless of which side takes trick 1. Ergo, it appears that taking trick 1 can never gain but can lose. I read somewhere that one should count his tricks before playing to trick 1. Not a bad idea…

Bobby WolffJune 14th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Hi Bruce,

You are right and furthermore, you are right again in what you say. Of course, the exact number of tricks to be taken in 3NT depends on how the hearts break as well as whether the finesse works. Also a wily declarer, after ducking the spade and having the spades cleared may, after taking a winning heart finesse may even manipulate the diamonds, keeping East on lead, but producing an extra trick sometimes. Your quote at the end (“Not a bad idea”) as you know, is a great understatement.

Matchpoints, being the kind of game it is, sometimes leads to strange developments in trying to produce the all-important overtricks (in my judgment, although exciting, more of a minus to our game than a plus).

Victor Mollo might have written on this hand, with his highly entertaining cast of characters, that West decided to lead the spade 4 from the 4 3 doubleton with partner inserting the Queen at trick one. Then after a duck and a low spade back, won by declarer, then loses the heart finesse to East, being the only declarer on the planet to go set in 3NT.

Oh, what fun we can have, both at the table and at the library, while playing and reading about our great game.

Thanks much, Bruce, for your continued support and interest.