Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 25th, 2011

Dealer: East

Vul: Both


K 4

J 9 8

7 5 4 2

A Q 7 3


A J 9 5 3

K 10 2

8 3

J 6 4


Q 10 8 6

7 6 4

Q 10 9 6

9 5


7 2

A Q 5 3


K 10 8 2


South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: five

“But I apply the term unstrung to a man when he is rather under the pressure of feelings than under the pressure of conceptions.”

— Friedrich von Schiller

The second Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championships were held in Melbourne a couple of years ago. The English team of Michelle Brunner and John Holland, with John Hassett and Bill Hirst, took the silver medal, aided by deals like today’s.


You may care to cover up the East and West hands before choosing your line of play in three no-trump. There has been no opposition bidding and West leads the spade five. You have no choice but to play the king from the dummy, and there would be no story if it had lost. What now, when it holds the trick?


The best technical line is to cash the ace and king of diamonds to see if the queen drops, then run off the clubs, and finally take the heart finesse. This turns a 50 percent contract into a 60 percent one — a significant additional chance. The Australian declarer duly elected to cash the top diamonds, take the heart finesse, and go down.


By contrast, John Holland went for the psychological line. At trick two he led dummy’s heart jack. When East did not play the king, John rose with the ace, cashed his clubs, and later took the diamond finesse to make his contract.


From the 1970s through the early 1990s BOLS Royal Distilleries sponsored a series of bridge-tip competitions. Zia Mahmood’s 1989 winning tip was “When they don’t cover, they don’t have it.” It is excellent advice and worked well for John Holland here.


South Holds:

K 4
J 9 8
7 5 4 2
A Q 7 3


South West North East
1 Dbl. 1
ANSWER: Although you do not have a real heart stop, it is right to bid one no-trump now, rather than introducing that feeble diamond suit. You have clubs under control, and partner’s double guaranteed some heart length if not strength, so there is no reason not to head for the most lucrative partscore.


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 GibsonApril 8th, 2011 at 9:52 am

HBJ : Surely top class opponents sitting East can signal on the spade lead their excellent holding in spades….. AND THE FACT THEY POSSESS THE QUEEN ? Then it is easy for West can hop up with the King of hearts and proceed to cash out 4 spade winners.

As for declarer the contract looks most likely to make ( without the risk of conceding 1H and 4S, by making 4C,3D 1H, 1S. All that is required is the 50% diamond finesse. Why is this line inferior to the gamble of trying to sneak a heart trick against defenders who might have already flagged up their spade holding ?

John Howard GibsonApril 8th, 2011 at 10:23 am

HBJ : Oh yes….why the diamond finesse and not the hearts ?

Well, the bidding and careful play will establish West with 5 spades and 3 clubs ( 5 vacant spaces for H/D ). If West had four hearts, might he not bid Landy, or some other bid showing H/S? So the distribution is most likely 3-2. East on the other hand has 7 red cards, which must mean only he possesses one 4 card red suit….but which ? After 1S, 1 top diamond, and 4 club tricks ending in dummy, then West’s second discard might be most revealing ? I believe it will be a low heart, telling me to pin all my hopes on him having 4 diamonds ( to West’s 2 ), and therefore the odds favour him to hold the queen.

bobbywolffApril 8th, 2011 at 1:45 pm


The line of play adopted at the other table, after similar (or identical) non-indicative bidding and opening lead could be said to be the best technical line of play where, in addition to the 50-50 chance of a friendly location of the heart king, if the diamond queen fell from either hand doubleton the even money heart finesse need not be taken. The extra diamond gambit increased the technical odds to about 60% in favor of success.

Compare that line with the play at the successful table when the declarer, after winning the spade king immediately led the heart jack from dummy, enticing East to make the “book” play of covering that honor with his king, that is, provided he held it. For East not to cover with his illusory king would subject him to much ridicule if, by not covering, he allowed declarer to make an unmakable contract. The two different lines of play presented a battle of psychological verses technical with psychological (egged on by Zia’s advice) winning. If either East had possessed the heart king, not covered and/or the queen of diamonds was held doubleton in either hand, technical would have won, hands down (excuse the pun) and there would have been much different emotion and an obviously different hero.

In bridge, and often among the highest level players, heroes come and go depending on both skill and luck. In the long run, the best of the best, like in all competitive sports, win more than their competition, but the winners of these battles still recognize the greatness of the game itself and it is indeed ironic that the person whose advice was followed, Zia Mahmood, said it best by stating something like, bridge continues to humble me, just when I think I am finally learning the game, it bites and embarrasses me greatly.

In my opinion, no one person now plays the game better than does Zia, so follow what he says, but be prepared for significant glitches along the way while enjoying the great challenges while traveling.

Daniel SkipperApril 13th, 2011 at 3:19 am

Nice hand. It demonstrates how much more there is to the game than simple technical skill; something to be celebrated.