Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 4th, 2011

Vulnerable: Neither

Dealer: East


J 10

A K Q 4 2

K 10 8

A J 2


A 4

7 5

Q J 6 5 2

K 8 5 3


9 6 2

J 10 8

A 9 4 3

Q 10 6


K Q 8 7 5 3

9 6 3


9 7 4


South West North East
2 Pass 4 All pass

Opening Lead: Diamond queen

“A man that could look no way but downwards, with a muckrake in his hand.”

— John Bunyan

One of the things that separate the expert from the average bridge player is the ability to see beyond the horizon of the current trick. To see whether you have the capacity to be an expert, put yourself in East’s shoes here, and look only at your cards and those of dummy.

Defending four spades, you see partner lead the diamond queen, covered by the king and your ace. What is your plan to defeat the game?

Most defenders would return a diamond, hoping to cash the diamond winners for their side. They might even succeed in doing so; but the question is whether they can ever defeat the contract this way, assuming declarer has six spades plus two of the top three honors in that suit — surely the least you might expect him to hold from the auction.

If declarer has six spades, your side has probably one spade trick and one diamond trick so you need to find two more winners. The problem with playing a diamond back now is that you establish the diamond 10 for declarer, whether South has two diamonds and two clubs, or his actual hand (when he can discard a club, or ruff and play trump, then set up the hearts to pitch his club losers).

To defeat the contract, you must shift to a club, playing your partner for the club king and one of the two top trumps. If he does not have that hand, you surely won’t beat the game.


South holds:

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


South West North East
1 2
Pass Pass Dbl. All pass
ANSWER: This does not look like a hand where you need to take ruffs (they rate to be with trump tricks). Instead, set up your winners, and the best way to do that is surely to lead your diamond sequence rather than the heart queen. I might lead a doubleton heart honor if my trump suit were king-queen-fifth, when the ruffs would not be coming with natural trump tricks.


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 KarlsonJuly 18th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

From the cheap seats: Happily I did see the “surround” play and suspect I would at the table. Playing IMPs the switch is easy; at MPs I might flinch, as I could be giving away a top.

As to the lead, I would probably lead a low diamond, fearing an unhappy lie of the cards and, hopefully, putting declarer to an early guess. Perhaps, if I were confident that declarer was unlikey to hold an ace, given the opening bid, I might lead the queen anyway but…


Bruce KarlsonJuly 18th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

“hold an ace” should read “hold the ace or king”, fearing that if partner holds neither my jack disappears.

Bobby WolffJuly 18th, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Hi Bruce,

You are trying to do too much and by that remark I am referring to your attempted visualization as to where the cards are going to turn up.

True, bridge is an intellectual game which needs sophisticated judgment, especially in determining an opening lead. However, all we can go on are time honored theories and, at least in my opinion, when holding the QJ and some little ones and leading against a suit, I would always choose the queen instead of a low one.

Your retort about, while sitting in the 3rd chair, that you may lead a diamond back after winning the first one with your ace. It well could be right to do it at matchpoints (as you suggested), but as I (and others) have said many times, matchpoints have a very high ratio of luck involved, which reduces its value, certainly not adds to. There is very little evidence present which is credible enough to make that decision, but unless the game is allowed to be held up while you think for 15 minutes or more, it will still result in luck as to what to do.

Thanks for your comments which will be widely read and appreciated.

John Howard GibsonJuly 18th, 2011 at 10:22 pm

HBJ : In the East seat after taking the first trick in diamonds, there’s no way I would continue the suit given dummy’s potential trick in the suit ( with that nasty looking 10 ). Hearts are a complete no-no, so the club….. by a process the elimination ( rather than divine inspiration )……… is my choice of return.

Hey, am I on a roll or not ?

Bobby WolffJuly 19th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Hi John Howard,

Yes, while, if I am talking to HBJ instead of JHG, he might illegally be able to ask partner how many diamonds did you start with (assuming he was playing matchpoints) and even more importantly, “who has the king of clubs?”. When receiving the correct answer, he would also switch to the low club and achieve the right result. However, since I am talking to JHG you have to find out the card placement by logic, instead of stealth, which you undoubtedly and by admission have so done, you too, will then also succeed mightily.

The above is only kidding, but your usual veiled reference to the famous Robert Louis Stevenson dual character, “the infamous, Mr. Hyde” in the form of HBJ, is who you try and represent and all macabre illusions are done with vivid imagination. Thanks for continuing to entertain your readers and mine.

Paul BetheJuly 19th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Of course, when you all switch to clubs, I as declarer at non-vul hold:

K8xxxx xxx xx Kx

Your club switch was the only way I could make the hand.

Bobby WolffJuly 19th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Hi Paul,

Ah, Yes and that’s why HBJ will, almost always, according to a previous comment, outscore JHG, but that is an oft told tale which is wearing thin.

No matter how one slices it, two results stand out:

1. Good bridge requires deft judgment and reasonable playing luck.

2. Matchpoint bridge, while extremely entertaining, socially acceptable, and relatively easy to stage, is not the mostly skilled game that IMPs and rubber bridge represents, because of the rather large luck element involved.

However, to each his own and many enjoy, even prefer to play old-fashioned exciting, duplicate bridge.

jim2July 19th, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I almost posted precisely the same hand that Paul Bethe posted!

But, I thought I might have run the “Theory of Card Migration” a bit much.

Bobby WolffJuly 20th, 2011 at 5:42 am

Hi Jim2,

Your “Theory of Card Migration” can never be overused because of a cross between the apt name and the sheer frustration it brings.

A fair barometer that the switch to a low club by East, playing partner for the club king, instead of a diamond return is the correct play is that both you and Paul, between you, can only come up with one likely holding which fits the diamond return, and even then would declarer have covered the queen of diamonds, if he had been dealt a doubleton diamond, allowing East a more or less, free shot in forcing the defense to give up a trick rather than covering and allowing East to return a 2nd diamond, but declarer would then have to concede an immediate trick if he wanted to make use of the 3rd round good ten of diamonds.

All of these various differences should be factored into the declarer’s Ouija Board before he chances his play and declarer’s choice might then, in turn, influence the defense into getting it right.