Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: West


Q 9 8 3

Q 4 2

Q 9

J 7 5 3


A 10 7 6 5

8 3

A K 8 5 4



J 4

9 7

J 10 3 2

Q 10 9 8 2


K 2

A K J 10 6 5

7 6

A K 4


South West North East
1 Pass Pass
Dbl. 2 Pass Pass
3 Pass 4 All pass

Opening Lead: Diamond king

“They draw, they sit, they shuffle, cut and deal,

Like friends assembled, but like foes to feel.”

— George Crabbe

As South in the balancing seat you are far too good simply to bid two hearts, and a jump to three hearts, while it should not be weak (or you might have passed), should be intermediate, say 13-16 with a good six-card suit. Accordingly, you should plan to double, then jump in hearts, to suggest close to a strong jump overcall in hearts, allowing North to appreciate his collection of queens and jacks and raise to game.

West starts off accurately by cashing his side’s two diamond winners and exiting passively with a trump. Declarer appears to need a minor miracle in spades or the doubleton club queen, but he can do much better than that. He draws trumps ending in hand and leads a low spade toward the queen. Assuming West can bring himself to duck, you take both club winners and exit from hand with the spade king, hoping to drop either the spade jack or 10 from East. If that happens, then West is on lead and either has to open up the spades to provide you with a discard for your club loser, or play a diamond to allow you to ruff on the board and pitch your club loser.

Assuming the spades are 5-2 rather than 6-1 (likely because West did not to try to give his partner a spade ruff), this line succeeds whenever East began with a doubleton jack or 10, about a 50 percent chance.


South holds:

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


South West North East
Pass Pass Dbl. Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: If your partner had doubled in the direct seat, then raised you in a noncompetitive auction, he would be suggesting four trumps and a hand somewhat better than a strong no-trump. By contrast, since his balancing double promised less, this auction suggests about a 16-count and four trumps. Your soft cards make this hand an easy pass.


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 13th, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I am pleased to note that I probably would have stumbled into the winning play, but it would not matter much. The score would be 170 as I would have demoted the value of my apparently vulnerable spade king and settled in a heart part score. It seems that success requires a 2/2 trump split plus the 50% chance of a 10 or jack doubleton with East. That makes it a 25% game methinks. Does that justify my timidity??

jim2April 13th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I think our host may have slightly understated the spade suit chances. That is, the bidding also places the spade ace in West’s 5-card suit, making the math effectively a 4-2 split looking for a doubleton J, 10, or J10. That looks like 60%, but I might be wrong.

North seems both aggressive and unlucky here. East’s preference pass should have led to discounting the diamond queen (and doubleton). The club jack turned out not to be helpful, but could have been. The hand below seems an easier game raise:





Another way to view the bidding is that West’s rebid and then East’s preference pass told South that North must have some soft values. South’s 3H then invited North re-evaluate those values in light of the auction.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Hi Bruce,

If I was your bridge medical doctor and you were a new patient, coming clean with your thoughts outlined above, my initial reaction might be:

1. Your cardplay skill in being able to execute what is necessary to make 4 hearts is way above average and, whose value is not to be underestimated.

2. I would want to work with you in developing “learned optimism” a phrase possibly coined by Dr. Marty Seligman from Philadelphia, a noted psychologist, who would list bridge as his favorite pastime.

Incidentally he then proceeded to write his classic, named, guess what, yes, “Learned Optimism”.

For starters, since there are so many combinations possible, I would frown on anyone, are you listening, Bruce, who tried to even begin to think about which ones would work and which ones probably wouldn’t.

Yes, the king of spades is a tenuous holding, but the strength of your heart suit isn’t and the AKX of clubs will usually give you plenty of time to find a safe landing for your little one. Also, since defense may be difficult for the opponents and a great deal of it is blind flying, especially the opening lead, but even after that, defensive problems may arise.

Everything considered, when faced between pro or con, go pro, especially at IMPs or rubber bridge. The other unseen advantage is psychological, because by being aggressive your partnership will be putting more pressure on the opponents which tends to undermine their confidence.

Above all, good luck to you!

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your summation, as usual, is sensible and worth following.

Yes, the possibility of the doubleton spade in RHO’s hand is certainly over 50% and right at 60%. Whether the Queen of diamonds is overrated is basically a guess, but the fact that the weak hand preferred diamonds bodes ugly for what would turn out to be a better holding for partner, eg. three little diamonds and AK doubleton club. If left to choose from declarer’s standpoint he would, in a vacuum, prefer the AKx of clubs, but not on this hand.

And the beat goes on, but please no one should try and pinpoint anything until the dummy goes down when every player’s judgment then rises a significant amount.

John Howard GibsonApril 13th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

HBJ : Yet again a lovely hand requiring a small miracle to see the contract home. I recognise the need to find East with Jx or 10x of spades, but surely the line of play required West to hold a singleton or doubleton club.

I recognise that West’s bidding shows at least 5-4 in spades and diamonds, so having followed twice in hearts He cannot have more than two clubs.

However, what would be the line of play ( if any ) if there was no bidding from East/West ? West with a 5-2-3-3 distribution, and East with a 2-2-6-3 .

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2011 at 4:39 pm


With no other clues, other than both opponents being silent, the only real worthwhile play available is to lead a low spade from dummy hoping East to have the ace and then a low spade back hoping for a doubleton ace with East or if having enough entries to dummy a tripleton spade ace. However that line has no chance because of shortage of entries. All that we can really hope for is either Qx of clubs in one hand or the other or a defensive mistake.

To even insure that chance, assuming East opens up with a trump is to take another trump in hand and lead a diamond, giving some bait to the opponents to err.

All in all a slim chance, but better than none.