Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Dealer: North

Vul: Both


J 8 6 5

8 7 5

Q 2

A K J 9



A Q 10 3

A J 8 7 3

6 3 2



J 9 2

K 10 9 6 5 4

Q 5 4


A K Q 10 4 3 2

K 6 4

10 8 7


South West North East
Pass Pass
4 All Pass

Opening Lead: Ace

“When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun with nettles.”

— Horace Walpole

Some readers have claimed that column deals must be the product of a fevered imagination, rather than the humdrum affairs that come up at the club or the rubber bridge table.


Possibly true, but the deals in this column, whether from real life or not, try to convey a message. Sometimes that message is brought home by the striking nature of the route to success, as in today’s deal. As South, you opened four spades in third seat. Plan the play on the lead of the diamond ace.


At the table most players would probably ruff and draw trumps, then take the losing club finesse. Now comes the second critical moment in the deal. If East thoughtlessly shifts to a low heart, declarer can duck, and the danger in hearts has passed. If East switches to either the heart jack or nine, the defenders take their three heart tricks and set the contract.


Alert readers will note that I said the second critical moment had been reached; can you see what the first was? At trick one declarer can almost insure the contract by discarding a club from hand! He wins the continuation, draws trumps, and cashes the club ace and king. If the queen has not dropped, he plays the club jack from dummy, discarding a heart unless East plays the queen. This gives him seven spade tricks and three club tricks.


South Holds:

J 8 6 5
8 7 5
Q 2
A K J 9


South West North East
Pass 1 2 Pass
ANSWER: You have a surprisingly good hand but no obvious prospects of game. I suppose you might raise two diamonds to three, your high cards perhaps making up for your lack of trumps. However, at the table I would simply pass two diamonds. While a bid of three clubs would show a club stopper and ask partner to bid three no-trump with a heart guard, this looks like a big overbid to me.


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


David WarheitFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 9:55 am

You state that “declarer can almost insure the contract by discarding a club from hand”. I had fun thinking of how he could still go down. He goes down if 1) west has 1-6-6-0 distribution or 2) west has 1-7-5-0 distribution or 3) east is void of clubs and west has the ace of hearts and no more than one spade or 4) east has 1-6-6-0 distribution or 5) east has 1-7-5-0 distribution. I think that the combination of these 5 chances is better than the odds of winning the lottery, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I therefore nominate your use of the word “almost” as the most careful word to appear in a bridge column this year.

bobbywolffFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your assessment of the probabilities of declarer’s thoughtful line of play. The detective work involved has been, and still is, the primary reason I have always been enraptured with the game itself. Also, careful appears to be the perfect toned down word to sometimes describe a superior effort.

To add icing to your comment, when considering your stated exceptions (unusual distributions), which would lead to contract failure, the declarer can rule those theoretical possibilities out because of the lack of competitive bidding which they would undoubtedly cause. At the table, these dogs were silent, proving once again that careful and successful are entwined.

Again, thanks for your pertinent comments.

Alex AlonFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf,

it took me about 30 seconds to recognize the danger of hearts being played from East, and to find the winning line of a club discard. unfortunatly i do think that at the table i would not see this option as fast and even not at all…

Is there any suggestion you may give to improve the “thinking process” at the table to match the one in a relaxed enviroment?

thank you for your answer.

Alex Alon


bobbywolffFebruary 23rd, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hi Alex,

You are, if even nothing else, a very practical person.

The problem you cited can be narrowed down to not having an alarm go off at the table, alerting you, the declarer, to the dangers of the hand and what, if anything, can be done to downsize the risk.

My suggestion is one which is often recommended by bridge authors and that is, before playing from the dummy, at trick one, adopt a regimen wherein the hand is generally planned.

With this layout as a prominent example, it is relatively easy (as you immediately realized when presented with the column hand) to understand that East is the danger hand on lead (with a likely lethal heart through your vulnerable king). Once asking oneself if there is anything to be done about it, bingo, the counter intuitive play of discarding on the ace of diamonds becomes a standout choice, especially with the club spots being what they are.

All the above is done on a working backward basis by the bridge author. Real hands do not usually offer such clear cut choices, but the laboratory for thinking is a taught science not an automatic born to talent. “Little by little we can do great things” and although playing excellent bridge is unlikely to prevent wars or to save lives, it still, at least while becoming addicted, is, like one’s first love, all consuming making other endeavors insignificant.

Good luck and do not expect every bridge hand to be a successful enterprise, but do expect that tomorrow you will become wiser at bridge than you are today.

And while you are at it, also understand that the World Bridge Federation has, as its motto, Bridge For Peace, which I am convinced that the respect bridge players have for each other, especially among the world’s top players, is what this very old troublesome world needs to convince each other that logical thinking and practical application added to love, is the potion necessary for all of us to devour. Bridge can serve a useful purpose for accomplishing just that.

jim2February 23rd, 2011 at 8:55 pm

The bidding quiz fascinated me. Partner has stepped into – at the two level – an auction where both opponents were still essentially unlimited and after a pass by me.

And yet I hold 11 high card points!

I suspect an optimist would indeed assert that partner must have a six or seven card suit that my queen would make solid. Additionally, partner did not pre-empt, and so should hold one or more value cards outside the diamond suit.

I agree that we rate to have nine tricks, but I think they rate to take five-plus first. Thus, like you, I would not try for 3N.

However, I think West is pretty much forced to double.

East’s pass suggests a minimum without four of either major, a desire to convert a re-opening double to penalties, or a reluctance to rebid clubs. South “knows” that East has a bad club suit, has no diamond stack, and is likely on a minimum, but West has no such knowledge.

I believe you said you did not advocate responsive doubles in this auction, so East would probably remove West’s double to two hearts, suggesting three card support. My point to all this is that I think South’s next bidding decision may be just as interesting as the quiz!

————— 1C

P – 1H – 2D – P

P – D – P – 2H


If one would now bid three diamonds, then perhaps it would have been better to have bid it on the previous round. The opponents could be cold for three hearts, with 4-5-2-2 facing 3-3-2-5, and partner’s major suit king-doubleton in the pocket. They would have a hard time, though, bidding it over an immediate three diamonds.

bobbywolffFebruary 24th, 2011 at 3:29 am

Hi Jim2,

My advice here is to just wait and see what happens. I would guess that at least 75% of the times when everyone seems to be bidding them up, that assumption turns out to be true.

My take is that West will pass out 2 diamonds and partner will probably make an overtrick. If West does compete I will definitely raise partner, but will go quietly vs. 3 of a major, although at match points it is probably worth a double, especially if the opponents are vulnerable. I have always thought that matchpoints is a bastardized form of the game wherein in order to score well we need to take big chances on these types of hands since we do not want to beat 3 of a major 1 trick and find out that 3 diamonds or 2NT was cold our way. Also if the opponents score up 3 of a major -140 will score about 20% instead of the zero we will get for having them scoring it up doubled.

The important thing to remember is that the ebbs and flow of playing good matchpoints is to take each hand separately and not worry about what happens. Playing good bridge will win its fair share and that should be our only responsibility.

Matt BlakeleyFebruary 28th, 2011 at 12:08 am

Continuing the theme of match-points being a strange wordl…. would you advocate your line of play regardless of scoring method being used, or only at teams / rubber bridge approach? I unfortunately only get to play once a week, always at duplicate scoring. While 10 tricks on this particular layout would be near top (at my level, some easts would get the heart play wrong…), if the club Q was onside, my partner may not be too impressed with our zero on the board when all other souths in the room took the club finesse and made an easy overtrick…

bobbywolffFebruary 28th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi Matt,

You make a valid point about match points. At least to me, match points is a bastardized game, catering to frequency of occurrence (a difference of an overtrick can be as important as a game swing) rather than the disciplined old school rule of insuring one’s contract.

I have no strong opinion, except that when faced with a logical close choice, I will revert to what the game of “real bridge” is all about and revert to insuring the contract, making the column’s choice of plays, my choice.

The good news for doing that, is that many years ago in my rather long career my best feelings came when I thought my choice of plays was correct, regardless of what the result became. Sometimes that feeling, when failing, became somewhat shallow, but, even to this day, many years later, it has sustained me, and maybe the Bridge gods appreciate that choice and seem to favor that attitude.

Thanks for your well-presented pertinent concern.