Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: North


7 5

A 6 4

J 2

A K J 9 6 3


J 10 9 2

J 9 7

Q 9 7 5

8 2


K Q 8 6 4

8 5

10 6 4

Q 7 4


A 3

K Q 10 3 2

A K 8 3

10 5


South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
4 NT Pass 5 Pass
6 All pass

Opening Lead: Spade jack

“When Fortune means to men most good,

She looks upon them with a threatening eye.”

— William Shakespeare

Today’s heart slam is a somewhat delicate one after West finds the most testing lead of a spade. Now the defenders are in place to cash a spade winner as soon as they obtain the lead. How should declarer cope with the possible threats in hearts and clubs?

Ruffing diamonds in dummy seems needlessly risky. Declarer can guard against a bad trump break with East having the length by leading out the heart king and ace. But then he is reduced to needing the club finesse, a 50-50 shot.

An alternative line is to forget about 4-1 heart breaks (trumps split 3-2 over two thirds of the time) and play to ruff out the clubs, using the heart ace as a late entry to dummy. Alas, with the cards lying as they do, no matter how many rounds of trump South draws before trying to ruff the third club, West can overruff with his heart jack and can cash the spade winner. Back to the drawing board!

The winning solution is to take the spade lead, cash the club ace, heart king and queen, then lead a club to the king and play a third club from dummy. If East discards, you can ruff, and draw the last trump to make 13 tricks. If East either plays the club queen or ruffs in with the master trump, you pitch your spade loser instead of ruffing. This way you can ruff the next spade in hand, draw the trump, and run the clubs.


South holds:

7 5
A 6 4
J 2
A K J 9 6 3


South West North East
1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
2 NT Pass 4 NT Pass
ANSWER: This is a quantitative sequence, not Blackwood, since no suit has been agreed upon. Your partner has suggested more than a strong no-trump, probably with a 5-2-4-2 pattern. Although you have no high-card extras, your quick tricks and powerful club intermediates suggest six clubs rates to be the best slam.


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


jim2May 2nd, 2011 at 6:54 pm

West playing the JH under the KH ….

bobbywolffMay 2nd, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, that particular falsecard would awaken the local graveyard, but probably the best solution for declarer would be a second high heart from hand, rejoicing with both opponents following and then setting up the clubs with the eventual ace of hearts entry to make an overtrick. If the second heart confirms them being 4-1 then after hearts are all extracted, a simple club finesse seems best.

Also, isn’t it at least a possibility that declarer has K10xxx in hearts. In any event no declarer would like you either on his right or his left and I guess being a feared defender, becomes at least one step up in winning the battle, if not the war.

jim2May 2nd, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Can it be made if West had been honest with:





I ask because I recall someone saying you had a little voice that could tell you.

Of course, two finesses cannot be done due to the early cashing of the AC.

bobbywolffMay 3rd, 2011 at 12:03 am

Hi Jim2,

I realize the prose suggests the cashing of the ace of clubs first, but because of the restricted entries, cashing the high club is not the best percentage play, although it could be right in an unlikely situation where the singleton queen drops which would then allow us to play the hearts to better advantage.

Sometimes, in the interest of clarity and emphasis some details are often left not discussed or worse, just wrong, not that we are anywhere near good enough to always cover all the bases, especially against your tough questioning. Keep on coming, which will only cause us to try harder.

Angelo RomanoMay 3rd, 2011 at 4:05 pm

sorry I’m late …but why play heart king “and queen” ?

just in case there is a singleton clubs together with two hearts ? that’s much less probable than 50% of a 4-1 (in clubs). If you keep the heart queen you can pick later the heart jack fourth on the right, and that’s almost 50% of a 4-1 (in hearts).

You shouldn’t put the heart ten in South, I think, for the text be correct.

Many thanks for your attention

jim2May 4th, 2011 at 3:17 am

AR –

The probabilities of 5-card splits are about:

– 5-0 — 4%

– 4-1 — 28%

– 3-2 — 68%

The thrust of the column line is playing for both hearts and clubs to split 3-2. Playing for the clubs to be 3-2 (68%) is thus better than the 50% club finesse. (Playing the trump king and then the queen – leaving the ace in dummy – lets the ace be the entry to the clubs after ruffing/discarding on the third round, drawing the last trump in the process, if necessary)

Playing the heart king and then the ace would indeed let you pick up East’s Jxxx – that would mean trump could be drawn without loss both for all 3-2 splits and also for the 1-4 holdings (ignoring jack singletons, about half the additional 28% because the Jxxx-x holdings would not be). Thus, the heart suit success probability might be 68% + ~14% = ~82%.

However, this would make you dependent on the 50% club finesse, for a total probability of 82% x 50% = 41%.

Playing it in the column fashion succeeds when both suits are 3-2 or, roughly, 68% x 68% = ~46%.

My numbers above are approximations, but I believe they are generally correct. Among the nuances I omitted is that the opening lead pretty much places three cards in the West hand but only two in the East (J109 versus KQ of spades), thus making East slightly less likely to hold 4 hearts than otherwise.

I was teasing our esteemed host because the printed sequence of plays was less than optimum in that a slightly different sequence catered to an additional few low probability layouts.

jim2May 4th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Ooops – typo alert!

I meant “East slighly MORE likely”.

(That’ll teach me to rewrite as I go. Also, without computer software, I could never quantify such nuances at the table, anyway. No expert am I as, for example, I discounted West leading from KJ109, but is that right?)