Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Dealer: East

Vul: Neither


A 10

A J 7 3

K J 10 3

10 9 8


J 9 7 5

6 4 2

9 5 4

6 5 2


Q 8 6 3

Q 10 8 5

8 6

A K 3


K 4 2

K 9

A Q 7 2

Q J 7 4


South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: five

“Don’t let us make imaginary evils, when you know we have so many real ones to encounter.”

— Oliver Goldsmith

When this deal was originally published in the Daily Bulletin from the Spring National Tournament in Reno last year, the author asked every East-West pair who had commented after defending three no-trump, “Well, it’s cold!” to take a second look, and then apologize to Brigidda, the Goddess of Bridge.


In three no-trump South ducked the first spade, won East’s continuation of the spade three, and guessed well to knock out the club honors and claim 400. All declarer lost was the two clubs, the spade queen, and the fourth spade. So what’s the point of the hand? Declarer guessed correctly to play on clubs and not hearts — big deal.


All that is true, but East was asleep at the wheel. By counting the high-card points, he knows partner has precisely jack-fourth of spades, but he also knows that declarer can’t see through the backs of the cards. East should return the spade eight at the second trick, simulating a remaining doubleton, then hop up with the club ace at his first turn and play the spade six back.


Surely declarer’s best line now must be to take an immediate heart finesse before tackling clubs again, a line that would lead to immediate defeat if West had five spades and the club king. If the heart finesse loses and spades are 5-3 as expected, then declarer can revert to clubs and still succeed if East has the missing club honor. Unlucky! The losing heart finesse represents the defenders’ fifth winner.


South Holds:

A 10
A J 7 3
K J 10 3
10 9 8


South West North East
1 Pass Pass
ANSWER: In theory you could pass, bid either red suit, or double and hope your partner does not respond in spades. All of these are at least partly flawed, as indeed is the answer I’d advocate here, which is to bid one no-trump. The club stop is less than robust, but you are defining a hand in the 11-15 range with this action so at least you limit your hand nicely.


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


jim2March 30th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

As the cards lay, I think it WAS cold because, fortunately for declarer, there appear to be TWO heart finesses and the better one wins.

That is, once the board has won the spade ace and declarer has decided to play on hearts, it looks to me that is technically better to lead to the heart nine. If West wins with the queen, the jack is trick nine. With spades 4-4, the probability that the heart 10 is onside (with East) should be no less than the chance the heart queen is onside (with West). Nor does hurt if East puts in the heart ten, as South wins the king, drives out the queen with the preserved nine, and has nine tricks.

In fact, if East’s return of the spade eight were a true card and the spades 5 – 3, then it would be slightly more likely that East held any specific non-spade card. That is, West would have started with 5 spades and 8 non-spades, while East would have started with 3 spades and 10 non-spades.

The finesse of the heart nine also gives declarer the extra chance that the queen might still drop tripleton. Leading the nine to finesse the jack does not have an equivalent extra chance.

bobbywolffMarch 30th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

Do not forget the holding of 10 8 and another or only doubleton (not the queen since both choices then work) in the West hand before making your overall assessment.

Some bridge practical souls will claim these exercises are studies in futility, and perhaps they are, except for greater understanding of the complexity of card combinations.

There are various ways to see and describe what is involved here, but one thing is for sure, both the theme of the hand (especially) and your impish improvised suggestion only proves that bridge is a thinking man’s game not to be underrated by anyone.

jim2March 30th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Good point on short holdings by West that include both the 10 and the 8. Missed that.

Not sure what that does to the overall math. My head hurts enough already.

Simply resulting the hand, at the table following a spade 8 return, I would have either stolidly pushed ahead in clubs or hooked the heart 9. So, I would have made this one either in ignorance of the spade falsecard, or due to the actual heart lie.

Amnon HarelMarch 31st, 2011 at 9:23 am

Hi Jim2,

If you decide at trick 2 to play on hearts, your line is indeed much better. No math needed: both lines win whenever their respective 1st finesse wins, and in your line having the J in the long suit also yields 3 tricks when the finesse looses but the highest outstanding honor after that started life in a 3 card holding. That is, when lefty started with QTx or righty with Qxx.

That’s good enough for the table.

For a blog, I double checked with suitplay (a free computer program): your line also gains on oddities such as righty is void, or started with Q8 (QT in any hand, both line wins). So it totals 68% vs. 57% for the other line.

Suitplay also confirms your conclusions in the case you believe lefty led from a 5 card suit: your line is indicated even more strongly – 71% vs 52%.

Looking at the whole hand, I like the logic of the declarer play Bobby presented: play a round of clubs to try and read the position – three good things can happen: lefty may follow suit with the lowest spade, revealing the position (maybe even in trick 2), or he may win the first club. If those don’t happen, there’s still a 50% chance in hearts.

But in retrospect, I think your line really is better: the key is to notice in trick 3 that neither opponent played the lowest spade. Playing standard signals, this means they’re trying to hide the distribution, and are unlikely to mess up the club entries. So the naive line will only work when a) spades are 4-4, which seems unlikely both from the free lead and from the play, or b) lefty has to win the 1st club entry, which is ~25%, or c) the simple heart finesse works. So even assuming you’ll always guess right in trick 5, and estimating spades will be 4-4 20% of the time, this come out at ~70%, comparable to your line. And those are very generous assumptions.


bobbywolffMarch 31st, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Hi Amnon,

Thanks for taking the time and doing the hard work to determine which may be the best percentage way to go about making this specific column hand contract.

Percentages only offer the superior line of play exclusive of psychological factors, which may or not be present, when choosing what to do.

My experience is that it is more difficult than meets the eye for normal defenders, usually less than completely world class, to fool wary declarers into taking the wrong line because of devilish, clever falsecards. Obviously it is possible, but, at least according to me, unlikely because most defenders have had poor experiences with fooling partner in the past. In this case with RHO leading his highest one back, though holding four originally, together with LHO falsecarding by not following with his lowest one, takes on an aspect of the game which is rare, though very possible.

My conclusion, although subject to “feel” would be to usually follow what is right in front of my nose rather than illusions, which might only be erroneously assumed.

Nothing I could say however, should indicate that the subject not be discussed, and because of Jim2 and now you, it has secured a spot on the agenda.