Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: South



9 3

8 7 5 4

Q 10 9 4 2


10 3

J 8 7 5

A 10 9 2

K J 5


9 8 6 5 2

10 4 2

K 6 3

6 3


A Q 7 4

A K Q 6


A 8 7


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

Opening Lead: Heart five

“This world, where much is to be done and little to be known.”

— Samuel Johnson

Defense is one of the hardest aspects of the game. But somehow, when the chances of defeating a contract seem remote, life is not so hard. If there is only one card for partner to hold that would enable you to defeat a contract, then you must play him for that card.

As West, you lead the heart five against South’s three no-trump. Partner plays the 10 and declarer wins with the king. He then plays the club ace and another club. How do you defend?

The first thing to do is to work out how many points your partner has. Here declarer has 22 – 24 and dummy six, so partner can have at most a queen or a king. Declarer must have the spade ace or queen (or both), so dummy has a certain entry, and as soon as you win your club king, declarer will have a total of four tricks in that suit. If you are going to beat three no-trump, you need to do so now.

The only helpful card that partner can possibly have is the diamond king, along with two other cards in the suit, leaving declarer with queen-jack doubleton. So you should win the club king and switch to the diamond two. The subtle point here is that you cannot afford to duck the club king, as you normally would in this type of situation, because it is quite likely that declarer will then have nine tricks to cash — as would happen today.


South holds:

A Q 7 4
A K Q 6
A 8 7


South West North East
Dbl. Pass 1 Pass
ANSWER: The simple solution here is to jump to two no-trump. Since a bid of one no-trump in this sequence would show 18-20 points, a call of two no-trump shows approximately 21-22. I agree that it is possible that a 4-3 major-suit fit might play better, but since there is no scientific way to find out, settle for the value bid and let partner explore other strains if his hand warrants it.


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 GibsonJune 21st, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Hi there, HBJ chipping in with a thought. If declarer on winning the first heart trick plays across to dummy’s two top spades only to come back with a heart, to cash out the A/Q of spades….what can West safely chuck away. Hearts are a no-no. Diamonds would give up all hope of defeating the contract, but clubs similarly pose a huge risk. In such a case, declarer is certain to make.

Does this line of play have any real merits, given that declarer can foresee 4 certain diamond losers ?

John Howard GibsonJune 21st, 2011 at 12:57 pm

HBJ Again : I forget to mention that after the first 6 tricks, which has set up a spade winner for East it is essential to play the jack of diamonds at trick 7 relying on declarer to let it run to East’s king. East will of course cash his spade winner, but now West is well and truly squeezed.

Having to keep 2 hearts and 2 clubs, he must bare himself to the Ace of diamonds. Declarer will be down to Q6 and Ace to three clubs Then whatever suit is played back by East the defence can only make 4 tricks. If heart ruturn, up with the queen, exit a heart, gaining and end play on clubs. Diamond return creates the same end play position in clubs. A club return, duck, and now only the Ace of diamonds to lose.

jim2June 21st, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I had been waiting the two weeks lag for this one to show up, and HBJ beats me anyway!

On a similar note, declarer seems to have to decide to rely on the legitimate chances, to try to secure the 9th trick before the defense realizes what to do, or to attempt some combo.

If the diamonds do not include the 10 and the 9 in the long hand, the defense cannot get 4 tricks there. That is, if the suit is:

– H10x H9xx

– HH10 9xxx

– H109 Hxxx

– H10 H9xxxx

– (even HH 109xxx)

– and similar variants switching the 10 and the 9

the diamonds are blocked, or otherwise safe. The suit is ready to run only on layouts like:

– Hxx H109x

– xxx HH109

– Hx H109xx

– xx HH109x

My brain began to hurt again when I contemplated mathing the above into percentages, but the need to have both the 10 and the 9 in the same hand seemed to make it under 50% that the diamonds were ready to run.

If one wanted to mostly rely on favorable diamonds or sub-optimum defense, one might lead a low club rather than cash the ace first. It gives up the chances of a singleton KC, though.

If wanted all the technical chances, it would seem that one might run the spades, as HBJ noted and also cash the AC for the KC singleton chances. The problem, though, is that West can safely pitch a diamond on the fourth spade since East now has a spade winner.

That is, when declarer later tries clubs, West can win the KC, lead to East’s KD, East will cash last spade, and revert to diamonds allowing West to win the last two (3 Ds, 1 S, 1 C).

HBJ’s diabolically clever JD shift at trick 7 avoids the above, though it seems a bit double dummy. It also seems to have one or more counters.

For example, if West wins the AD (instead of East with the KD) and continues a red suit, it looks like declarer gets squeezed ahead of West when East does cash the last spade.

(If declarer can play double dummy, why not the defense?) 🙂

Bobby WolffJune 23rd, 2011 at 11:22 am

Hi HBJ and Jim2,

Thanks for, between the two of you, as complete a bridge discussion involving only one hand, as I have had the pleasure (sort of) of reading in many days.

It seems HBJ is what may be described in the military as the point man, who is the advance scout determining enemy positions, and then after he is mowed down after doing his duty, Jim2 then analyzes what he reported. Both HBJ and Jim2 are exceptional in their respective performances and both deserve significant medals for their education of wannabe bridge experts.

I can only add that IMHO, the only thing that I may have done differently than declarer is, instead of leading ace and a club to just lead a small club to the dummy at trick 2, maintaining a little more flexibility, but losing (as Jim2 pointed out), the opportunity of finding the club king singleton or even the club jack singleton in the east hand) if the opponents are not able to overcome the possible diamond blockage and, of course combined with declarer guessing wrong in clubs.

If there is a lesson to be learned by the above suggestion is that, sometimes it is better to hope that the defense is (again as Jim2 so aptly pointed out) with the diamonds blocked up or lacking that advantage for declarer, that EW is not able to spot declarer’s weak spot simply because the club holding, without first leading the ace, is still somewhat of a mystery.

Like the three bears fable, sometimes the line between when the porridge is just the right temperture, as opposed to being too hot or too cold, should be determined on how deceptive one line of play is against another alternate choice. Only the Shadow knows (with apologies to Lamont Cranston) for sure, but do not ever underestimate the advantage of being a very clever player.

For those readers whose heads hurt (like Jim2’s sometimes does)) all bridge is not this degree of difficulty so keep your heads up, do not get discouraged and understand that this somewhat surreal discussion is not necessary to be completely understood for bridge to still be fun.