Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Both


10 8 2

10 8 4

K Q J 9 2

A 2


K 7 4

K 7 5

6 4

Q 10 8 6 3


J 9 6 3

J 9 6 2

8 7

K 9 7


A Q 5

A Q 3

A 10 5 3

J 5 4


South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: Six

“He hears … the sound

Of public scorn.”

— John Milton

Three of the players who habitually make up the rubber game at the Dyspeptics Club have long believed that South is an accomplished expert in the black arts. What else but witchcraft could explain the rock-crushers that he picks up with such frequency? 

South’s complacent response — that he simply gets more out of his cards — frequently makes North choke on his medicinal vodka and tonic. And deals such as today’s weaken South’s case. 

He declared three no-trump on the lead of a low club to East’s king and a club continuation. Winning the second club, South crossed to a top diamond to take the heart finesse. The defenders ran the clubs, then exited with a diamond. South took this in hand, cashed the heart ace in case the jack fell, then took the rest of the diamonds, eventually trying the spade finesse. When it lost, South lamented that an unlucky combination of circumstances had defeated him. North snorted and caustically commented that perhaps a 100 percent line had not been good enough for him. Can you see what he was getting at? 

North had fractionally overstated his case, but nonetheless the contract could not be defeated as the cards lay. The winning line is for South to take the second club, cash two rounds of diamonds, then exit with a club. West can take his winners, but must then lead a major suit and concede the ninth trick.


South Holds:

K 7 4
K 7 5
6 4
Q 10 8 6 3


South West North East
1 Dbl. 1
2 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: Your partner has suggested a hand too strong to overcall one spade, probably with a minimum of 17 HCP or so. With strong trump support and three apparently working honor cards, not to mention a ruffing value, do not hang back by raising to three spades. Since you know you want to play in game, just up and bid four 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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


John Howard GibsonMarch 10th, 2011 at 11:43 am

HBJ : Love it. So simple. Should be glaringly obvious…..but not to some. End playing West at trick 5 completely removes the need for taking a major suit finesse.

There ought to be a book on ” Winning Bridge Without Ever Needing To Finesse “……and in my view your the man to write it.

jim2March 10th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

On the bidding quiz, if the South red holdings were switched, would you still bid four spades? Or, perhaps only three spades?

I ask because South did make a free bid in the previous round.

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2011 at 12:45 am


Thanks for the kind words.

Becoming a competitive bridge player is, of course, helped along, if at home (especially during ones early formulative years), he is exposed to various card games, such as pitch, hearts, and some rummies. Poker, for example, is really not a card game, but rather another type of a super competitive mind game, which happens to be played with a regular deck of cards.

That exposure will emphasize that it is ALWAYS better for the player (as far as competing on that trick) to have the last say on what to play. From that, in the great game of bridge, one learns that armed with that information, the best players always look for enticing, but better, as in the above hand, to force the opponents into a no win (for them) choice of being between a rock and a hard place. You are 100% correct that this concept is not automatically learned, but rather needs to be taught, but in any event this gambit and others like it have never ceased to have thrilled me into singing the praises of the sheer joy of playing our exciting game well.

Finesses, like declaring war, are never to be sought, but only attempted, when all other winning avenues are off limits.

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2011 at 1:08 am

Hi Jim2,

You, again, continue to strike at where it is at.

Exchanging the king of hearts in the example hand (partner of the takeout doubler) for the king of diamonds should definitely limit your response to only 3 spades and certainly not 4. At least to me, I would rather pass 2 spades than jump to 4.

All, or almost, of bridge experience will reinforce the ever changing value of specific cards, wherein the king of hearts is immense, not only because it is held behind the heart bidder, but also by two facts: 1. Your partner’s TO double would normally have a major heart honor, in spite of your RHO bidding the suit and 2. The king of diamonds, on average, might be subject to be gobbled up by LHO’s possible ace held over our hand.

As Damon Runyon, an American, and colorful sometimes poet and often gambler once wrote, “The race does not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet”. Extending his judgment to bridge would make me suggest that the king of hearts be worth, on average, about 3 1/2 high card points and the king of diamonds only about 1 3/4.

On reflection, I would raise partner to 3 spades since it is just too unilateral to not, but my expectations on the number of tricks he will take is not nearly as high and we very well may need some playing luck to make our game if partner continues on.

Matt BlakeleyMarch 13th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

This one WAS simple… when I knew I was doing a bridge “puzzle”! I wish I could get better at spotting such puzzles at the table.

Given our holding of the small club spots, west’s lead of the 6 strongly implies a holding limited to five cards. If it were not so clear, such that west might hold a 6-card suit, do you think the odds still favour this line?

bobbywolffMarch 14th, 2011 at 4:04 am

Hi Matt,

If East-West conventionally lead 4th best from broken holdings, the lead of the 6 from West would preclude him from having more than 5 since the 5, 4, and 2 are in clear view to declarer, leaving only the 3 for the opening leader to be able to have.

However, there is no bridge law which would require West to not be leading 5th best and therefore, including the 3 would then hold 6 clubs. A defender is entitled to use his own judgment and if he opted to psyche a 5th best lead he is entitled to do that with no moral issues involved. The only stricture is that if East had experience with West not leading 4th highest previously he needs to come forth honestly with that information given to the opponents.

Summing up, both sides are entitled to know what the other sides agreements are and also to approximately what degree they can be trusted to follow their own convention. Is that another way to call it “an honor system” to which I would reply, definitely YES and if one player or more gets the idea of not conforming secretly, it might work once or twice, but eventually, sooner rather than later he or they will be caught and total ostracism from the game itself would be an appropriate penalty.

The above opinion is not necessarily shared by everyone, but at the high level, and world wide, almost no one tries to resort to this type of shady tactics, although too many have gone one step worse and engaged in stealthy cheating, but that will about 99% of the time be eventually caught up with by the expert community.

Getting back to your question of what to do if West may have 6 clubs instead of 5 and the answer is strictly arithmetical, which line of play will result in a greater chance of making the hand legitimately and then go about it that way. Six card suits are statistically less likely than 5 card suits so the bias starts out in favor of playing West for only 4 or 5 and in this case to not play it the suggested column way would be a straight 50% chance of whatever major suit finesse declarer took would work (assuming West did have 5 clubs).

Sorry for the long winded answer, but you seem to be a serious player who wants real, rather than political answers.