Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: North


A J 10 9


7 4 3 2

J 8 6 5


8 7 4

K 5 4 3

J 8 6 5

A 7


6 5 2

J 10 9 7 2


K 9 4 2


K Q 3

Q 8 6

A K Q 10

Q 10 3


South West North East
Pass Pass
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

Opening Lead: Heart three

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

— Benjamin Franklin

It usually pays for declarer to have the more powerful hand so that the high cards are hidden. It makes the defense that much more difficult. Today’s deal comes from the final qualifying session of the Women’s Teams at the 2007 European Open Championships.

Against three no-trump the lead was the heart three. The opponents were using standard leads, and count rather than attitude signals, so when East played the deuce on the ace, declarer knew exactly how the hearts were divided between the defenders. South cashed two diamonds, getting the bad news, so now knew she needed to establish a club trick.

Wishing to keep East off lead, she led the spade queen, overtook it with the ace, and led a low club toward the closed hand. It was not obvious to East in second seat to rise with her king, so she followed low, as South had hoped she would. West took the queen with the ace and returned a spade. Smith now cashed out her spades, and on the last one, West had an awkward discard.

She chose to let go of the heart four, and Smith could now envisage the blockage in the heart suit. The club 10 went to East’s king, and on the heart-jack return, South played low. A third heart went to the queen and king, setting up the hearts for the defenders but endplaying West, who had to lead from the diamond J-8 into South’s Q-10 : nine tricks made.


South holds:

6 5 2
J 10 9 7 2
K 9 4 2


South West North East
Pass 2 Dbl. 3
Pass Pass Dbl. Pass
ANSWER: Despite your initial passes, you have a pretty good hand. It would be cowardly to bid only three hearts — you must jump to four. To put this in context, your partner rates to have at least an ace more than his initial double promised — in other words, at minimum a three-suiter with a hand worth about an 18-count.


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 KarlsonApril 9th, 2011 at 11:58 am

Must be missing something again:

East “knows” that West has the Heart K or Q (South should have one for his 2 NT bid) and that South started with the Spade KQ, Diamond AKQ and, given his identified point total cannot have the Club A (20+ hcp not likely in that auction). Ergo, it seems as though going up with the King to lead the top Heart makes sense.

What am I missing??


bobbywolffApril 9th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

HI Bruce,

You are missing NOTHING and, in fact, catching the very essence of the game.

On defense and as the hand unfolds, each defender needs to turn into a bridge Sherlock Holmes, think and act as you suggest and, in this case East (in spite of the “second hand low” adage), literally rise to the occasion with his king of clubs and therefore put paid to the contract.

However, without the proper defensive thought, a normal defender would have no real practical chance to shine.

Thanks for your comment.

John Howard GibsonApril 9th, 2011 at 4:33 pm

HBJ : This hand is so instructive on good defence. Clearly, if I was East, I have only one chance of getting in with a trick to fire back the jack of hearts. That trick of course being the King of clubs. If I hop up and it’s take by South’s King, then so be it.

But by failing to do so, I’ve unwittingly subjected my partner to a subsequent squeeze in the red suits.

On such aberrations. it would come as no surprise to see some partnerships ending in a very acrimonious and unhappy way.

Albert OhanaApril 10th, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi M. Wolff

IMHO, the line choosen by the declarer was poor, because if East had the Club Ace, or if East had the Club King and had played it, the contract was set. On the contrary, if declarer had cashed all the Spades when the Diamond break was known, it would have been very difficult for West to discard the only card that had beaten the contract, the Club Ace !

Many thanks for all what you so kindly teach us. I am in progress since I read your columns 🙂

Al. Ohana

bobbywolffApril 10th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hi Albert,

You are mostly on target with your suggestion of declarer’s cashing all four of dummy’s spades before he leads a club from dummy, since West may have a tough discard on the 4th spade.

However, on further review, South also would be forced to discard a club on his good spade and West, based with the inferential knowledge of knowing declarer’s heart holding, the queen (no doubt protected), as well as the diamonds already determined by the play, will leave him with little option but to jettison the club ace and hope partner will provide the king. Of course, with the actual play West was a bit naive in hoping his partner somehow had the king of spades instead of the king of clubs.

A possible concluding statement on the defense of this hand would be that the declaring and defense involved on this hand was like a game of cat and mouse with the last mistake made by the mouse (defensive spade return by West). Declarer then guessed the end position causing the poor mouse to be gobbled.

East would have saved the mouse by rising to the occasion, but in order to do so he needs to be into the hand with all cylinders of his brain turned on.

Such is the deadly game within a game we often play and to play it well it basically takes experience, dedication and above all, intense concentration.

Thanks for your thoughtful note, your kind words, and your discussion about defensive options which only serve to increase our strategic bridge knowledge.