Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, December 24, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: All


8 5 3 2

6 4 2

A 10 6 5

A 6


J 9 6

J 10 9 7 5

9 8 4

9 3


Q 10 7

8 3

J 7 3 2

J 10 7 5


A K 4



K Q 8 4 2


South West North East
  Pass Pass Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 NT Pass 6 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: J

“All men know the utility of useful things, but they do not know the utility of futility.”

— Chuang-tzu

How would you play six no-trump after West leads the heart jack? The declarer at one table in a teams match believed he was very unlucky to go down. He took the heart lead, cashed the diamond king and queen, and crossed to the club ace. At this point, slightly late in the day, he realized that there was no other entry to dummy, so he played the diamond ace, discarding his spade loser.

Next, he played the king and queen of clubs, revealing the 4-2 break. Declarer now conceded a club trick, but East had a diamond to cash for the setting trick.

While the first declarer was surely unlucky that the diamond jack had not fallen in three rounds and that one defender had both four diamonds and four clubs, it was left to the second declarer to show how the hand should have been played. This declarer won the heart lead and unblocked the top diamonds from hand, then played a low club from both hands at trick four. He was able to win the return, cross to the club ace, and make a spade, three hearts, four diamonds and four clubs.

The difference between the two approaches was that by giving up a club early after unblocking the diamonds, declarer surrendered his chance of an overtrick. But in return he had insured that the defenders would not be able to cash a diamond winner when on lead.


South Holds:

8 5 3 2
6 4 2
A 10 6 5
A 6


South West North East
  1 Dbl. Pass
2 2 Pass Pass
ANSWER: Although you have a good hand, it seems to be more useful on defense than on offense. Your partner had the chance to compete to three diamonds, but did not take it, so presumably he does not have greater than expected offense either. That being so, pass and hope to beat two spades. If double shows this hand, it might also be an option, but it might suggest better spades.


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 karlsonJanuary 7th, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Insofar as I seem to have a blind spot for gving up a trick unless anticipating a squeeze, I would play on spades:

Unblock the KQ of Diamonds, take AK and lead another Spade. On a good day, they break and I take 3 tricks in each suit. If not, I fall back on clubs and now have to hope for redemption with a 3/3 there.

1. Is that line substantially inferior to yours?

2. Are the odds for success in my approach additive, i.e 33%+33%?

jim2January 7th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I was going to ask a somewhat similar question. Playing spades A then K then small would allow a defender that started with four (suit split 4-2) to cash both remaining spades before declarer can test if the diamond jack fell (Jxx) or the clubs split 3-3.

The line I was going to ask about was to cash the diamond KQ and then duck a spade instead of a club. That line does allow success if spades are 3-3, if clubs are 3-3, or if the diamond jack is Jxx (or shorter).

The chance of a 3-3 break in one suit seems identical to the chance of specifically 4-2 in another suit, so the column line would initially appear to have the same chance of overall success.

However, the club duck line allows the defenders to easily continue with a second club and eliminate squeeze chances, since declarer will be unable to cash hearts while still having an entry to the diamond ten.

Ducking the spade, instead, allows declarer to reach the following position with the lead in dummy, unless a club is returned:

S – x

H –

D – 10

C – x

S –

H –

D –


This appears to win additionally when the defender with long clubs also has either long spades or the diamond jack.

A club return seems less obvious with a spade duck but, with a club return, declarer can still reach the following position with the lead on the Board:

S – x

H – x

D – 10

C –

S –

H – A

D –

C – KQx

This appears to win additionally when the defender with long clubs also has both long spades and the diamond jack.

I may have missed something, however, and I cannot quantify what improvements the squeeze chances actually add (so they may be essentially zero).

bruce karlsonJanuary 7th, 2011 at 3:43 pm


Your approach is better then mine. Why I do not see these obvious first round “ducks” remains a mystery. I simply don’t see the obvious!!!!

However, if the odds of either black suit breaking 3/3 are 66%, is that as good as playing first on clubs.? Have no idea what the change of odds on a second 3/3 are when the first breaks 4/2 or worse. Surely they are worse but…how much?



jim2January 7th, 2011 at 4:46 pm

My math is far from perfect and our host is the bridge expert, not I.

For example, I goofed in my post but cannot apparently edit it. A 3-3 split is about 36%, a 4-2 split is about 48%, as of 64 possible distributions, those splits number 20 and 30, respectively.

Thus, adding a 4-2 suit chance in clubs looks superior to adding a 3-3 chance in spades.

Here, though, ducking a spade at Trick 2 (before clarifying the hand for the defense by cashing two high diamonds) adds squeeze chances that a club duck does not, and this is far tougher for me to quantify.

In general, though, probabilities do not add directly; note that two (or even three of four) 50% finesses do not make a 100% chance of success.

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Hi Bruce and Jim2,

We now need to consult the mathematical tables in bridge to determine what the exact percentages are said to be.

First, Jim2 is correct in that ducking the first spade is necessary and once you, Bruce, start thinking in those terms, it will be like learning to ride a bicycle, never forgotten again.

When 6 cards are out against you, such as spades and clubs it is: 35.53 of a 3-3 break and 48.45 of specifically a 4-2 break and therefore after rounding off it is 36% on a 3-3 and therefore 84% on no worse than a 4-2.

Of the remaining 16% it would be close to even money, but slightly less on the Jack dropping either singleton, doubleton, or tripleton which chance should then be added to the 84% making the combined odds of the column line approximately 91%. The alternate line of giving up both a club and a spade early would be considerably less (36% + 36% +48% (diamond jack falling) making that line around 79%. To that, one we need to consider squeeze chances but as Jim2 mentions will be busted up by the spade winner leading clubs eliminating the communications back and forth for a squeeze to develop. All in all the column line appears clearly superior.

jim2January 7th, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Thank you, sir!

I certainly accept your analysis but I must confess that, when I read the column, I ducked a spade at Trick 2. However, the competition level that I would face would be far less likely (I suspect) to find the club shift at Trick 3 than those at the level you play.

On the human side, I so very rarely ever execute a squeeze, that I would gladly trade a few probability percentage points just to have a chance to do one!

Steven HaverJanuary 8th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

While we are nit-picking.

If DJ drops on first or second diamond honor, declarer should change plans. Cash all major-suit winners, cross to ca, discard spade and a club on diamond winners.

Always making 6; overtrick if clubs 3-3 or long clubs with 4+ spades.

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Hi Steven,

You are not nit picking, you are speaking cold reality.

In real life and being at the table with excellent players,

sometimes these players outthink themseles and after brilliantly finding the solution, then get careless in the execution and immediately cancel out by committing a blunder.

Not unlike an exceptional football athlete making a sensational catch only to fumble away the ball upon getting tackled. All of us need to be judged on successful completion, not interim brilliance.