Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 28th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: South


9 7 3

Q 5 3

K Q 10 7

A Q 5


J 6 4 2

A J 9 2

A 4 3

9 4


Q 10 8 5

K 8 6 4

8 6 2

8 2



10 7

J 9 5

K J 10 7 6 3


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

Opening Lead: Spade two

“Men, you are all marksmen — don’t one of you fire until you the see the whites of their eyes.”

— Israel Putnam

Tor Helness of Norway and Geir Helgemo have been ranked as one of the best pairs in the world for 15 years. But Tor’s other regular partner is not nearly as well-known, his wife Gunn.

At the 2nd European Open Championships in 2005, Gunn and Tor swept the board in the mixed events. In the most recent Open Championships, held in Antalya, Turkey, Gunn unerringly found the only defense to defeat South’s three-no-trump contract, arrived at after South had shown length in clubs and control in spades.

Gunn, on lead, chose a low spade, which went to the three, queen and king. Had declarer won the trick with the ace, West might have been left in doubt as to the location of the spade king.- However, if it was East who possessed the diamond ace, winning with the spade king was maybe the right choice.

The point is that declarer has eight tricks on top, and if a ninth could be sneaked through before the defenders could signal the location of their assets, the game would come home.

At trick two, declarer did indeed lead a diamond. Gunn Helness was quick to rise with the ace, and just as quick to return the correct technical card to break the contract — the heart jack. This is the “surround” play, made on the assumption that South held the heart 10, as he did (whether doubleton or tripleton). Whatever declarer did, the defenders could run the heart suit on defense.


South holds:

K 9 4
7 6 4
Q 8 3 2
J 5 4


South West North East
1 1 1
Pass 2 2 2
3 3 All pass
ANSWER: Your diamonds suggest you try to take tricks in that suit, rather than risk setting up a heart discard for declarer. If you do lead a diamond, there is a lot to be said for leading the queen. For sure, if it holds, you ought to know from the sight of dummy what to do next. If instead you lead a heart, the seven is the right card here, since partner knows you rate to have more than two cards in that suit.


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


Steven BloomApril 11th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I don’t buy the view that the spade honors are marked. East would, and should, play the spade queen from AQxx, to keep communications open if the lead was from Jxx. I gave the hand to Betty to defend, and she put up the diamond ace, planning to shift to the heart jack, unless partner played an unusually high diamond. Then she would play partner for the spade ace. I agree. This is a signaling problem, not a logic problem.

JaneApril 11th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

If the NT game is played by the north hand, which in some cases it would be with the bidding being one club, three NT, then which major does the east hand lead? Does the spade suit look “better” because of the ten and queen?


bobbywolffApril 11th, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Hi Steve,

I totally agree with Betty about the defense.

The game itself again wins, since my intention was only to show off the surrounding play in hearts, but the Bloom’s industry in just talking about what a good partnership defense should be, opened up a new, at least just as important a caveat to be considered.

bobbywolffApril 11th, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Hi Jane,

Good question and yes, if I was East I would select a spade because of the 10 and even possibly the 8. Then when a diamond is now led from a visible dummy, again I think West should rise with the Ace and again make the surrounding jack of hearts play.

Surely, since Norths spade holding is tenuous and a diamond, not a club was started, it is certainly possible that the layout is exactly what it is (or very close) and the heart jack gives EW the best chance to defeat the contract.

On a slightly negative, but informative note, this hand would suggest what I have often suspected, that matchpoints is a bastardized version of the great game of bridge (rubber and IMPs) wherein at matchpoints it is much more difficult, bordering on impossible, to determine the right defense when preventing overtricks are likely every bit as important as the possibility of defeating the contract.

Bridge is difficult enough without adding the impossible spectre of guessing what to do on this hand at matchpoints. Se la vie!

See you tomorrow.

jim2April 12th, 2011 at 2:51 am

I found it interesting that, if East were the one to win the AD, that a low heart switch would be needed to then be followed by the same JH lead by West, but this time to pin declarer’s 10.

What a pretty defense that would have been!

Albert OhanaApril 12th, 2011 at 8:20 am

Hi M. Wolff

Only for you information – in case you have to use this formula in the future – the proper manner to write it is : “C’est la vie ! ”

And thank you for using French locutions 🙂

Al. Ohana

bobbywolffApril 12th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hi Albert,

Thanks for the French correction (close to the title of a long ago exciting and fast paced movie).

French is such a melodic and romantic language, it is sad that the author is not better educated.

Oh well, “C’est la vie”!