Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Dealer: North

Vul: Both


10 9 7 2

K Q 6 5

10 7

6 5 3


K J 4

J 4 2

9 8 3 2

Q J 7


8 6 3

10 9 8 3

6 5

10 9 4 2


A Q 5

A 7

A K Q J 4

A K 8


South West North East
Pass Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: nine

“I hear a knocking at the south entry.”

— William Shakespeare

This week’s deals all come from last year’s spring nationals at Reno, marking the current event taking place right now in Louisville.


On this deal from the first qualifying session of the North American Pairs-A, Allan Popkin of St. Louis earned a near-top. Popkin, playing with his wife, Nancy, stayed out of what appeared to be a very playable slam. However, with the spade honors offside, 11 tricks seem to be the limit on normal play.


Against four no-trump, West led the diamond nine, taken in dummy with the 10. Popkin played a spade to the queen and West’s king. He won the diamond continuation in hand and played three more rounds of the suit, pitching a spade and two clubs from dummy. East discarded two spades and a club; West, a heart.


This persuaded declarer not to repeat the spade finesse. Instead, Popkin cashed the spade ace, and now, to guard hearts, East had to unguard clubs. But next came three rounds of hearts, which squeezed West in the black suits in the three-card ending. The perfect nonsimultaneous double squeeze for 12 tricks earned the Popkins 23.5 out of 25 matchpoints.


Very nicely played – but was there anything the defenders could have done? Yes, indeed. When West won the first spade, he should have shifted to a top club. This disrupts the timing, since now dummy has to abandon one of the menaces in the majors, or to discard the club that is the entry to the South hand.


South Holds:

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


South West North East
1 Pass
1 NT Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: Your partner is biding out his shape and suggesting a singleton heart in a 4-1-3-5 pattern. You cannot bid no-trump now but actually appear to have some useful holdings in the black suits, so should not sign off in four clubs. Having already denied four spades, you should bid three spades now, to help partner work out where your honors are.


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 31st, 2011 at 11:48 am

HBJ : As the cards lie, after 5D, 3 top hearts and the AK of clubs, I would suspect most Wests would play their 7 of clubs under the Ace, exposing themselves to be thrown-in on the 3rd round of clubs.Now a simple end-play in spades has been set up to secure the 12th trick. Is this an unreasonable line to take ( especially when his distribution is marked as a 3-3-4-3 one ) ?

bobbywolffMarch 31st, 2011 at 1:45 pm


Yes, that is a possible line of play, especially at matchpoints, where sometimes an overtrick, as here, is as important as making the contract.

However, and especially against clever opponents, the card reading is usually not as simple as you suggest it to be. First, it is far from a certainty that West will have started with 3-3-4-3, and then, of course, why should both spade honors, or even one of them, be sure to be off side.

Not that you are wrong, since obviously West held the hand we are all looking at, but, at the table, it is much more difficult and the psychological battle between declarer and the two defenders will rage straight threw till the crucial determinations at the death, with herky jerky tempo and confusing falsecards the order of the day.

In any event, your confidence in your cardreading is a good thing, so I am not here to say that you are wrong, only that it is possible to be.

John Howard GibsonMarch 31st, 2011 at 10:25 pm

HBJ : Hi there again. My thinking was against no trumps West chooses to lead out a diamond from a poor 4 card suit, possibly (? ) inferring no viable/alternative 4 card suit, with honours in 3 card suits he is reluctant to lead away from.

My play woud be to win the opening diamond with the Ace, and then play the King of clubs straightaway hoping to catch West off guard when he parts with his 7. Then I would play a low heart to the queen hoping to see a distribution signal from West ( showing 3 ). Back to hand with the heart Ace. Back to dummy with the diamond 10. Top heart. Over to club Ace. 3 more diamonds and then the exit ( with prayer mat out) with a 3rd club. Mission accomplished.

Mind you if defenders do opt to falsecard in defence wont this undermine partnership trust and confidence ?

David WarheitApril 1st, 2011 at 7:24 am

I don’t think JHG’s line works. West should rather easily figure out that he is going to be thrown in with the queen of clubs, so he discards it! This loses if South’s remaining club is the ten, but nothing would work in that case.

bobbywolffApril 1st, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hi HBJ and David,

David is right, of course, as he usually is, but there is a definite place, in even high-level bridge discussions, for defensive choices (not unblocking) which are not optimum, but rather unfortunate guesses.

In reality, West might begin to unblock by throwing his queen of clubs away at trick 2, and perhaps his partner will help by brilliantly throwing his 10 on the same trick, denoting his possession of the 9. These defensive plays are not without risk, however, since, when declarer leads a high club it is at that time, at least theoretically, impossible for the defense to legitimately determine how many clubs declarer has and if he started with 4 and West’s play of the Jack was from an original holding of QJ doubleton East later, by signalling partner with his 10, will be holding his head in shame by throwing away a club trick.

We could go on and on, all the time speculating what each player was thinking, but sometimes genius has no ceiling and HBJ’s proposed line of play on this hand fits that declaration.

As either S.J Simon’s Mr Smug or Victor Mollo’s Hideous Hog may have commented after HBJ’s line of play would have been put to good use, “I know you must have duplicated this board earlier or, at the very least watched it being played at another table, which either, at least with me, would be OK, but please do not take any ego satisfaction out of executing it in full range of the bridge gods who were kibitzing”.

To the victor, or in this case, the declarer, go the spoils and “damned it be to the first …………..”