Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 13th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: South


K Q 7 4 3


K J 6 5

Q J 6


10 9 8

8 4 3

A 8 4 2

10 7 2


A J 6 2


9 7

9 8 5 4 3



K Q 9 7 6 5 2

Q 10 3



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

Opening Lead: Club two

“Secure, whate’er he gives, he gives the best.”

— Samuel Johnson

In the following deal from the Cavendish Teams, Gunnar Hallberg and his partner, Brian Glubok, produced a sparkling defensive coup.

The contract of four hearts is not a thing of beauty. Off three aces with a delicate trump holding, declarer’s cards seem to lie so well that only an initial diamond lead beats the hand by getting a ruff for East.

That is not quite so. Consider the effect of the lead of the club two (fourth-highest), which was found by Hallberg. Declarer won in hand to play on spades. Glubok took his ace and played a second club — nice, but by no means obvious, defense. Declarer won and played a diamond, and West also did well when he hopped up with the ace (drawing the inference that declarer had the diamond queen or he would have unblocked the clubs before playing the spade). Had West not taken his ace, declarer would have cashed the black queens to discard both of his remaining diamonds. Hallberg now played a third club. Declarer won in dummy and ran the heart 10, covered by the jack and queen.

At this point declarer had to read the precise heart and club positions and exit with a low heart to have any chance to make his contract. When he made the more natural play of the heart king, Glubok won and led a fourth club, promoting the heart eight to the setting trick.


South holds:

K Q 7 4 3
K J 6 5
Q J 6


South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: Whether the response is forcing to game or not, I like the economical rebid of two spades here. Though your diamonds are good enough to bid, that call suggests extras in high cards or shape. You can still find the fit later, while the minimum action gives partner room to describe his hand. The suit rebid doesn’t promise six; it is the default action on a hand unsuitable for bidding no-trump.


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 GibsonMay 27th, 2011 at 6:20 pm

HBJ again with a question : with five hearts out and very little in the way of getting to dummy without putting the contract at risk, what are the combined odds of finding jack doubleton plus an Ace/jack holding ? By playing the king of hearts at trick 2, declarer is home and dry once he’s in again with a club/diamond or spade ruff. The queen of trumps now swallows the jack, and 3 aces is all he loses.

Am I failing to see that the actual play of a spade at trick 2 is the best line to take in making this contract ?

jim2May 27th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I am not the expert, but I wondered about that, also.

It looks like the contract fails unless trump are 3-2 (68%), as even a singleton jack lets the 8H win a trick by force.

The chance of any particular card being in the doubleton holding would appear to be 40%.

Thus, by playing hearts from the top, declarer would have a 40% x 68% chance of success, or ~27%, as the defense would have no difficulty in that line of cashing their non-trump aces.

By adopting other lines, declarer may benefit from a defensive mistake (such as Mr. Wolff alluded to in the column (“cashing both black queens”). Those chances are impossible to quantify, but they are real, nonetheless.

Additionally, certain more subtle mistakes also add success chances. For example, I found the play of the heart jack to be perhaps worthy of more mention, but Mr. Wolff has tight column length restrictions. If East flies with the AH, declarer can now ruff the club high and draw trump. Yet, letting the JH go to its doom so blithely had to be tough.

At the table, I think I would have tried a diamond instead of a spade, probably after unblocking the second club honor (seeking to pitch a spade rather than 2 diamonds). I would be trying to gain my entry while hiding the QD. I do not think it is necessarily any better than the column declarer’s, but it is what I would have done.

bobbywolffMay 28th, 2011 at 12:19 am

Hi HBJ and Jim2,

In regard to whether it was right or wrong for declarer to lead a spade at trick two instead of a simple heart king and play for a doubleton heart jack in either hand, I beg off answering since I do not know.

HBJ thinks it right to take a view, lead the heart king, hope for the best, and not subject oneself to other ways (there are several) to go set. Jim2 sort of agrees and wonders if there could be other reasons to do as declarer did, first lead a spade. Jim2 also makes an intelligent statement pertaining to these type of discussions and decisions of being hard to quantify since hoping for the opponents to make an error, in this case ducking the ace of spades, would be much more likely if the spade ace is with West.

What about if declarer was dealt: xx




Granted, declarer could always make 10 tricks in hearts, but he sure would prefer West taking his ace of spades early, while he then would be granted a sure entry to the dummy, especially if West, upon winning the ace, did not lead one back immediately.

My general experience of playing against good opposition is to, if at all possible give the defense guesses in the early going, because if he waits, the defense will usually have a much better feel for the whole hand and be less susceptible to error.

In my view no one is right nor wrong and again to go back to what Jim2 said, “it is hard to quantify”.