Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 10, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: All


Q 9 6

A 9 8 6

K 6 5

K 8 3


10 7 5

5 2

J 9 8

A J 9 4 2


K 8 3

10 7 4

A 7 3 2

10 6 5


A J 4 2

K Q J 3

Q 10 4

Q 7


South West North East
  Pass Pass Pass
1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: 4

“Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today’s deal demonstrates that the inferences you can draw about how normal mortals defend may be sound, but they may not be proof against the very best. Sometimes you have to pay off to a defender in top form.

For example, when Geoff Hampson and Eric Greco were defending against Steve Garner and Howard Weinstein in the 1997 Cavendish, they produced one of the best defenses of the tournament.

Weinstein had done well to get his side to three no-trump rather than four hearts, and Greco led his fourth-highest club. Garner won the club queen to lead a diamond to dummy’s king. (It is not clear to me whether playing on spades is theoretically better, but if the diamond king holds, declarer can shift to spades with a useful gain of tempo.)

Be that as it may, Hampson as East took the diamond ace and returned the club six, ducked by Greco. Garner took the club king in dummy and led the spade queen, which Hampson ducked without hesitation! Now declarer assumed the spade finesse was wrong. He rose with the spade ace and cashed his heart winners (on which Greco threw two spades), then took the diamond finesse. Greco could win his jack and cash out for a spectacular one down.

Of course, if East had followed the rules for normal mortals (cover an honor with an honor), Garner would have taken two spade tricks, and that would have given him nine tricks without needing the diamond finesse.


South Holds:

10 7 5
5 2
J 9 8
A J 9 4 2


South West North East
    1 Pass
ANSWER: Today’s problem illustrates the point that the correct way to raise partner depends considerably on whether you use a forcing no-trump response to a major. If you do not, then you should raise to two spades here, conscious that the range for this action is 6-10 points. If you play the forcing no-trump, then don’t raise directly — that shows 8-10 points. Instead, respond one no-trump and support at your next turn.


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


Alex AlonDecember 24th, 2010 at 10:56 am

it is funny, how we think sometimes.

When i looked the hands before reading on, i counted my tricks and there are 2 clubs, 4 Hearts and need additional 3. The Diamond suit does not provide enough for the contract so need to play on spades imho.

i am not sure which line to choose, 1) small to the Q 2) heart to dummy and run the Q, i think i would took the first line at the table, to preserve entry for the K club.


Seasons greetings to all and to Mr. Wolf as usuall i enjoy to read your blog.

bobbywolffDecember 24th, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Hi Alex,

Thanks for your kind note and happiness and other joys of the season to you.

Yes, today’s hand is real and taken from a mind battle between two of America’s best relatively young pairs.

Many, as would you, go after spades in order to score our nine tricks and when the Ace of clubs turns up where it should be, all would be peaceful on the way to success. However, Steve’s line, as the column suggests, of leading a diamond first and if that holds, then switching to spades could also work. Whatever though was the motive, the defense was magnificent and shows the beauties of the game from the top.

Thanks for writing.

jim2December 24th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Yes, best wishes for the Holidays, Mr. Wolff!

When I first read this hand, I placed the club ace with West. The low lead with the J-10-9 all out there seemed additional evidence. Thus, West could not have both the spade king and the diamond ace, putting one or both those cards in the East hand.

Cashing two high hearts in hand would reveal the 3-2 break, and allow over-take to take a spade finesse. Once that won, declarer could either continue to play on spades or, simply shift to diamonds.

bobbywolffDecember 25th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Hi Jim2,

And the happiest of holiday seasons to you and yours.

The opening leader could (theoretically) have had J9642 or J9542 of clubs or even one of those holdings missing the 2, instead of holding the Ace, so, if the dummy’s diamond king holds in dummy and then the spade queen loses to the king, as you have then suggested, East (because of West’s initial pass) will likely have the ace of clubs. But unless West has chosen a cunning 5th best club lead, that learned information is unlikely to be of benefit to the declarer.

Thanks for your ever present, always cogent analysis.

A.V.Ramana RaoMay 31st, 2015 at 11:46 am

Dear Sir
The brilliant defense notwithstanding, I think a technically superior play is available to the declarer ( as some of the readers have submitted) Suppose after winning C Q, he plays H K, H Q & H J overtaken with H A in dummy ( after seeing EW follow both earlier rounds of hearts) and now advances D 5 from dummy- East has to duck this otherwise declarer will have easy nine tricks..- If west wins he cannot have S K ( lest he would have overcalled with 11+ points ) & the Spade finesse is bound to succeed. After winning D Q, south plays a heart to 9 and runs S Q. If W wins he can at most cash his C A & return a Diamond ( & only if East has 4 or 5 diamonds with A & J the contract will fail) . As the cards lie declarer can make ten tricks as spades break ( by the way which cards did E & W discard on hearts?)
This analysis is made on single dummy problem unlike the comment I sent sometime back on the Deal figured on 1st Feb 2011 Wherein the analysis was double dummy. However in that hand if the Diamond finesse is working there is no defense
A.V.Ramana Rao

jim2June 5th, 2015 at 1:28 pm

A.V.Ramana Rao —

Our Host’s reply to my somewhat similar line was that the location of the AC remains unconfirmed. Until West plays the AC, East could hold it, meaning that West could hold both the AD and the KS.

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 7th, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Hi Jim2
At the outset – sorry. I posted & just forgot trill you reminded
Coming to the hand. West cannot have both minor suit Aces and also Spade K otherwise he would have overcalled . Also he cannot have just Spade K without any Ace. It would be too ambitious to lead the clubs. So he can have Spade King with either of the Ace or Just one minor suit A or both minor suit Aces. So you run Four heart tricks ending in dummy and take a spade finesse. If it loses and if west leads a club, you have to guess whether he has underled his A .If so , you play club K & if It wins hope for spade break and for three winners . However if spade finesse wins ( east covering) declarer is assured of two spade tricks and now he can shift attention to diamonds leading a low diamond . If west wins with A and leads a club, you have to judge again whether to play K catering to west underleading his A or duck for one round expecting to block the suit. Meanwhile As I mentioned in earlier posting – which are the cards discarded by EW on hearts? Perhaps this gives a clue how to proceed. And if East wins Diamond A when you play a Diamond, club A is marked with West.
Me too placed C A with A with west from beginning.
Anyway lot of ramificatons involved.
Thanks & regards

jim2June 7th, 2015 at 1:20 pm


Hi, again!

First of all, your line is very similar to the one I suggested.

Second, West was the dealer vulnerable, and his next chance to bid would have been to overcall a strong notrump facing a partner who did not open the bidding in third seat. So, while we have all drawn the inference that West does not have both missing aces and the KS, it is not a certainty.

Third, if I have to guess/judge which minor suit ace is in which defender’s hand, I will always get it wrong.

A.V.Ramana RaoJune 7th, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Hi Jim 2
& coming to the last statement, in a lighter vein —
In a Bridge game between equal players, those whom dame luck favors

jim2June 7th, 2015 at 3:35 pm