Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dealer: North

Vul: All


A 8 7

K 5 2

Q J 7 6 5 2



Q J 10 5 4

Q 10 6

9 8

9 3 2


9 6

A 9 4 3

A 10 4

J 10 8 7


K 3 2

J 8 7

K 3

K Q 6 5 4


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

Opening Lead: Q

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.”

— Reinhold Niebuhr

Today’s deal is from the 2002 European Mixed Teams Championship. Although most Souths were successful in three no-trump, best defense would have posed South a very knotty problem.

When West led the spade queen, declarer won in hand, played a club to the ace to unblock that suit, and followed with a diamond to the king. When this held, just one top club from hand was cashed, then diamonds were continued. East could win the ace but now, with the spade ace as an entry to the established diamonds, declarer could not be denied nine tricks.

Compare the situation if East rises with the ace when the first diamond is led. South must unblock the king; otherwise, a further spade removes dummy’s last sure entry. But the unblock leaves declarer without access to the clubs in his own hand. East returns a spade, and now declarer has to run the diamonds, to reduce everyone down to four cards. He keeps two clubs and two hearts in hand while focusing on West’s discards.

South must assume that East has the heart ace, or West will have an entry to the spade suit, and must decide in the ending how many hearts West has kept. If West has kept all his spades, declarer advances the heart king, smothering West’s queen. But if West parts with a spade, he is thrown in with dummy’s last spade. After cashing his second spade winner, West will be endplayed in hearts to concede the ninth trick.


South Holds:

K 3 2
J 8 7
K 3
K Q 6 5 4


South West North East
    1 1
2 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: Whether or not this hand is worth driving to game, you should bid four hearts now. Your spade king rates to be working as well as an ace, and you have a useful ruffing value in diamonds. Even your heart intermediates may contribute to the chances of making game.


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


jim2January 1st, 2011 at 5:41 pm

The hand sure looks like it plays easier if declarer ducks the first spade and wins the second. A heart shift would be uncomfortable, though, but that seems unlikely.

I think that the line that the column describes following the East play of rising with the diamond ace assumes that West with five spades (East presumably gave count), does not have the heart ace but does have the heart queen, and that diamonds are 3-2.

Alternatively, declarer could choose NOT to unblock the diamond king. Then the spade return could be won, the diamond king cashed, and the clubs played out endplaying East. This line still assumes East has the heart ace, but appears to assume additionally only that West with 5 spades and at least one diamond does not also hold 4+ clubs. This line gains when diamonds are 4-1 and does not depend on any specific location of the heart queen at hand’s end.

Curiously, how many Easts dealt J10872 would retain the deuce when the club ace is unblocked?

bobbywolffJanuary 3rd, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

Sorry for my delay in responding.

Yes, if everything else is equal it would usually be better for declarer to duck the first spade, sometimes to clarify and thus learn more about the defender’s hands, but also occasionally to rectify the count in the end game for both squeeze and endplay possibilities.

However, in this particular case (by looking at the hands from declarer’s perspective) of the clear and present danger of a heart shift (which would never happen, although it possibly should, if the opening leader had his actual spade holding plus both the diamond and heart aces). Frankly, from his viewpoint on this hand, spades, on this bidding, could never be the way to defeat this hand, but hearts could, so that it seems like a heart shift, by a very good player, may well be made.

Second, and in regard to your last provocative thought about East unblocking from that hypothetical club holding, yes it appears that after due defensive consideration, that correct technique may be to do just that, envisioning the play that you suggest.

As an aside, may I also say that the thrill of playing high-level bridge against equals or sometimes (please do not tell anyone) even, at least, sometimes possible better analysts, is quite an upper and represents the ultimate calling card which bridge has to offer. Keep playing, loving the game, never give up, and just maybe you’ll have the chance to experience what I am talking about. If so, you especially, will cherish it.

Dream away!