Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 14th, 2011

Dealer: West

Vul: Both



8 3

A J 9 8 7 4 3

J 6


Q 9 8 3

A 4

K 5

A Q 10 7 3


J 10 6 5 2

9 6 5


9 8 4 2


7 4

K Q J 10 7 2

Q 6 2

K 5


South West North East
1 NT 2 * Pass
4 All Pass

* Diamonds

Opening Lead: three

“Biography is a very definite region bounded on the north by history, on the south by fiction, on the east by obituary, and on the west by tedium.”

— Philip Guedalla

Few autobiographical bridge books have made much of a stir recently, but one that I enjoyed was “A Bridge Too Far?” by Tom Hanlon with Enda Murphy. It centers on the Irish bridge player Tom Hanlon and his decision to become a full-time bridge professional and poker player. Although there is more narrative than customary in bridge books, this is not necessarily a bad thing. And there are certainly plenty of deals, mostly featuring those (good and bad) played by the Irish team that has established England as the most powerful of the English-speaking countries of Europe.


Today’s deal, from the 2004 Schapiro Spring Foursomes, highlights an accurate defense to four hearts. After the spade lead was won in dummy, declarer cashed its second top spade, then played a heart to his king.


It takes card-perfect defense to beat four hearts, and Hanlon’s teammate, Adam Mesbur, was up to the task as West. He ducked the heart king, an essential part of the defense, though far from an obvious one, then won the heart continuation. Now came his second master-play, the switch to the only card that could defeat the contract — the diamond king. This locked declarer in dummy.


South knew from the bidding that West held both the club ace and queen, so to draw the last trump, he attempted to come to hand with a diamond. But East, Nick Fitzgibbon, was quick to ruff, then shift to the club that sent the game one down.


South Holds:

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


South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: After your partner reverses, guaranteeing extra values, your thoughts should turn to slam. But in the short term, emphasize your good hearts by a forcing jump to three hearts, showing a good six-card heart suit. Let partner tell you if he fits hearts, then you can decide how to move forward.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


John Howard GibsonJanuary 28th, 2011 at 11:10 am


Am I missing something here. For West to play the inspired king of diamonds as a stroke of genius requires two conditions : (i) his partner only to have a singleton diamond, which means of course declarer does not the option of ducking, and (ii) his partner to also possess a 3rd heart, to ruff the second round of diamonds whether the suit is played from the West or North hand.

Was this brilliant analysis…or simply the product from the nil desperandum school of thought ?

Or was he relying perhaps on his partner having just enough room to hold the queen of diamonds ?

If declarer held Qx of diamonds, the play of the king would have then looked very bold but incredibly dumb.

Steve BloomJanuary 28th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Shifting to the diamond king, though not easy to find, can never cost the contract, assuming South holds the club king, which is 100%. If South held, say Qx in diamonds and Kxx in clubs, there was no defense. The shift was crucial anytime South held 3 diamonds and six hearts. What else could West play for?

West probably also had help from partner, who could echo in trumps, to show three, and use the second spade to suit preference for diamonds.

bobbywolffJanuary 28th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Hi John Howard,

Your questions about West’s adept reasoning (at least it certainly turned out that way) was probably (almost certainly) based on the following syllogism:

The declarer heard a strong NT on his left followed by an overcall in diamonds by his partner. Thus for him to entertain and then arbitrarily jump to game in hearts (somewhat rare) of course, undoubtedly implied solid hearts (missing the ace) and a likely diamond fit (which certainly included the queen). Also declarer’s cashing the other high spade honor in dummy (and with a possible count signal from partner) pretty much confirmed the distribution of the spades. The next hurdle would be to determine who has the king of clubs, which, since declarer bid no less than 4 hearts and partner, now thought to be holding 5 spades to the J 10 if he also held the King of clubs he might well compete over his RHO’s intervention with a competitive 2 spades. Since that dog did not bark, presto chango, declarer also has the King of Clubs. Furthermore if declarer had 7 solid hearts (again missing the known ace) and only Qx of diamonds then he will not cash the 2d high spade, but rather lead a heart immediately and then upon reaching his hand (with either the first or second round of trumps) finesse diamonds ASAP.

“Ergo Watson, since I have eliminated the impossible (declarer’s holding what he didn’t) whatever is left (his actual holding) is what I need to play for”. “Eureka Watson, if he holds his actual hand I have concocted a magic potion which will send my English opponent to a crushing defeat”. And so it occurred.

All that is left is an Irish whiskey toast to his magnificence.

jim2January 28th, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Maybe south should just bid game in the known 10-card fit. There would seem to be no defense to five diamonds, or even to three notrump.

West could also have been 4-2-3-4 and led a diamond to start. The defense could take the first five tricks with the trump ace still to come!

bobbywolffJanuary 29th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

All you say is true, but probably because it is, or even in spite of, it doesn’t make a final heart contract and especially one where the declarer is internally solid (KQJ10xx) the wrong direction to take, especially since it happens to be a major suit and only needs 10 tricks, instead of 11 for game.

None of us should ever forget that bridge itself, not us, is the master and since there are so many various nuances to consider and only a very limited language (bidding) to converse, we are at the mercy of our own judgment, based on what we think to be our best opportunity for the highest percentage final contract.

To be right as often as the world’s top partnerships tend to be should be our only goal and leave an attempt at perfection to the fantasies of the napkin players.

Thanks for providing the leverage to discuss this philosophical subject.