Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dealer: South

Vul: E/W

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


South West North East
1 3 4 Pass
4 All Pass    

Opening Lead: King

“If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.”

— Voltaire

I have been remiss in failing to mention the death last year of one of the most influential bridge players in the world. Al Roth revolutionized the world of American bidding in the 1950s. He invented the negative double, as well as countless other cornerstones of modern bidding, and was a fascinating writer and problem-setter. Here is one of his best problems.


You are in four spades (reached after an auction reeking of the 1950s!). West leads a top diamond, which you duck. You win the next diamond as East pitches the heart eight. You lead out the spade ace, cross to the spade king, then play a third trump. To your surprise it is East who discards, pitching the heart six. Play on!


You draw the third round of trumps and deduce from the discards that East started life with six hearts and four clubs. Your only chance for a 10th trick is to get a ruff in hand. How do you manage it?


The solution is to cash the heart ace, take the club king and ace, and lead toward the club queen. West pitches a diamond, so you win the queen and lead the fourth club, pitching your losing diamond. East wins his club jack (West discarding another diamond) and has only hearts to lead. What can West do? If he ruffs, you have the last two tricks, so he must discard. You win the heart king, ruff dummy’s diamond, and concede trick 13 to both opponents.

ANSWER: You should balance with a takeout double. Yes, you have a flat hand, but when the opponents are almost guaranteed to have eight or more hearts between them, your side is equally likely to have at least an eight-card fit. Nobody ever got rich at bridge by letting the opponents have the hand cheaply when both sides have a fit.


South Holds:

A Q 8 7
9 7 3
A 10 7
A 8 5


South West North East
  1 Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 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 19th, 2010 at 11:59 am

You did not comment on East’s pitch rather than ruff at trick #2. One imagines that there must be an obvious reason…but it eludes me. With two apparently worthless trumps and an easy lead, I would ruff and lead back the Heart Q. It is hard for me to see how declarer comes to 10 tricks thereafter. Must lose 2 D, 1S and either a H or a C??

Bobby WolffJune 19th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Hi Bruce,

It doesn’t surprise me at all that you are correct. We took this hand from the Al Roth collection, popularized many years ago, which quite often appeared in the highly acclaimed American Bridge World magazine.

Because of your due diligence it becomes easy to see what happened. Declarer, in order to establish the timing to arrive at a successful ending needed to duck a diamond, and immediately passed over (perhaps conveniently), the possibility of East ruffing the second one. Obviously it usually doesn’t help the defense to ruff partner’s trick, but this time the timing for the important ending at the death is destroyed by the second trick ruff.

If anyone else asks we’ll merely tell him that East thought West decided to continue the queen of diamonds, holding the Ace as well as the King and Queen. I will go on to say that even though East is responsible for letting the hand through, there is still an instructive point involved with South’s spendid declarer’s play. It seems to happen often, and in all kinds of competitions, where a brilliancy happens after some mistake was made, leading up to it.

Thanks, as always, for keeping the bridge straight.

bruce karlsonJune 20th, 2010 at 11:32 am

Thank you. Is this situation one of the reasons we now lead A from an AK or AKQ sequence normally??

No one can doubt the elegance of Roth’s play; about the same numer that would find it at the table!!!

Bobby WolffJune 20th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Hi Bruce,

The primary reason for those who lead the A from AK (or AKQ) is to then restrict the K lead to KQ, allowing partner to signal positively holding the J.

I’ve always preferred leading the K from AK (as well as KQ) so that my partner will know my lead of the Ace usually denies the King (except against a suit contract with AK doubleton). If I ever changed horses, I would then probably never choose to lead an unsupported Ace hoping to find partner with the King and usually to be able to ruff the 3rd lead of the suit. Perhaps that specific loss is not a real loss at all. Charge it up to me being a very old dog who chooses not to learn new tricks.

Obviously it is close as to what is best since the expert community, at least in my judgment, is pretty well split down the middle in their choice.

Back to the subject hand and IMO top players would likely find Roth’s line since the counting of hands is the expert’s calling card and once the preemptor turns up with the long trumps, it will serve as a wake-up call to the winning line.