Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 14th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Both


J 10 4 2

Q 5

A K 10

Q J 10 2



J 10 9 7 3 2

J 6 2

5 3



A 8 6 4

9 8 7 3

A 8 7 6


Q 9 8 7 6 3


Q 5 4

K 9 4


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

Opening Lead: Jack

“This could but have happened once —

And we missed it, lost it forever.”

— Robert Browning

All this week’s deals come from last year’s spring national tournament in Reno, marking this year’s event currently taking place in Louisville, Kentucky.


Take a look at all four hands of this deal from the first qualifying session of the Lebhar IMP Pairs. As you can see, North and South have four “top” losers in four spades — and yet the most common result achieved by North-South was plus-620 in four spades. Of course, at some tables, East-West went overboard in hearts, but at many more tables, the defenders could not work out how to untangle their winners against four spades, and the real problem took place at trick one.


Take a look at East’s problem at trick one. Everybody knows “third hand plays high,” so why did so many Easts duck their heart ace and allow South’s king to score?


The answer is that East was worried that declarer might have three hearts to the king, and playing the ace would give South a free discard. That is true, up to a point, but take a second look at that North hand.


If there are any club losers, they are fast ones — either the ace and king are missing or they aren’t. And East has no diamond honors. What trick could possibly go away on that “bonus” discard? The right defense is for East to cash both aces and play a second club. Mrs. Guggenheim wouldn’t have gotten it wrong!


South Holds:

K 9 7
Q 3
8 6 4 3
A J 4 2


South West North East
1 1 NT
Dbl. All Pass
ANSWER: Your double of the one-no-trump overcall was for penalties and simply suggested your side had the balance of high cards. Although it may cost your side a trick to lead the heart queen, this is your side’s most likely source of tricks. While a deceptive low heart could work out very well, it might also confuse your partner unnecessarily.


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


Bruce KarlsonMarch 28th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

This hand’s empahisis is part of a long line of trick one mistakes, and one that I would probably make. I would decide that in order for the duck to cost partner must have been dealt an unlikely 6 hearts – the j,10,9xxx and play low, demonstrating my bridge sophistication.

The difficulty is that I do not (will not) take the second look in which the answer usually lies. There is nothing to be gained by ducking as you note…but they would be scoring up 620 and my partner would wish he had stayed home.

When I worked for Univac, competing against IBM, the IBM slogan was “Think” while the Univac slogan was “Think Again”. I would do well to remember that but…

As always, thank you for a lesson even though it remains elusive for me inpractice!!


bobbywolffMarch 28th, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your realistic and truthful introspection is all in place to help you overcome obstacles in your hoped for meteoric rise in your bridge career.

“Think again” is indeed a safety play which, especially on the current column hand, hits the bulls-eye. The confidence required is only achieved by getting the necessary experience.

Engulf yourself in the game itself by playing as often as you can, and when not, reading and inquiring. You’ve definitely got the basic ingredients to achieve so relax and take everything in stride.

jim2March 28th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

There always seems to be a lie of the cards that confounds. For example, suppose South had elected to not to open as dealer due to no ace or shape with the following:

S KQ873

H K2

D 542

C K94

The bidding still fits, and dummy’s 4th club stands ready to cover declarer’s diamond loser (even if diamond QJ not onside). In that layout, East would have to rise with the heart ace and shift to a LOW club. (to setup a later club ruff by West upon winning an assumed trump trick)

So, it’s not enough to see that the heart ace is right, one has to make the next play that caters to the most likely layouts. I probably would have risen with the heart ace and returned a club, but I would not have known which club was best.

bobbywolffMarch 28th, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, you are correct about our game in NO TRUMP!

What questions do you ask yourself, after winning the heart ace? Might partner have a singleton club, and if yes, then we need to immediately cash the ace and give him a ruff (assuming he has a non-winning in itself trump in his hand)? The probable answer is no since partner wants to win as much as I do and he should lead to daylight which leading a singleton (even in the opponent’s suit) is prone to do. However he might have King and one club with a true king of hearts singleton (in declarer’s hand) which he has now already played. Could he, assuming he had those two rounded suit holdings: singleton king of hearts and king and one club, have a 5-5 hand? No, since that would leave partner with a singleton diamond which he would (should) have then surely led. But perhaps declarer had 6 spades and 4 diamonds along with the aforementioned club heart holding. Let’s then go further: A fact finding may be in identifying and realizing that any holding partner may have in diamonds will be worthless in front of declarer’s AK10 in dummy. What if (always a key phrase) declarer has AKxxxx in spades and the already known King of hearts. That would leave partner with the king of clubs (which he would be certain to have because of declarer’s original pass) so perhaps partner was dealt Kx in clubs and only Qx in spades making it imperative to lead a low club to partner’s presumed Kx so that we can secure the setting trick vs. a club ruff.

But wait, wouldn’t my LHO have opened a weak 2 spade bid (or even 1 spade) with such a hand? The answer is almost surely yes, but there is, as there usually will be, at least some doubt in your fact finding expedition.

All in all, rather than get into time trouble trying to reconstruct, just lead the Ace of Clubs, hoping to get a positive signal and then if so, or even if not, probably continue clubs (the red suits offer no hope) hoping to begin to tap declarer possibly defending to develop another spade trick in partner’s hand after he continues with the King of clubs when he wins his first spade trick.

Although this discussion is meant for everyone to think about, the main point to consider is what detective work is seemingly always available to the defense to consider after the opening lead is made, the dummy is spread and the first trick is complete.

I sincerely hope that everyone will try it and at least a few hardy souls will stick with it and watch their overall bridge game soar to the heavens.

Again and always, thanks again Jim2 for you to start the ball rolling. After all the only thing humans have that some other forms of life do not have is a working brain, which we should use as often as we can.