Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: North


5 4 2

Q J 4

9 5 4

7 5 4 2


9 3

K 9 6 2

A Q 10 7 2

K 3


K J 8 7 6


K J 3

Q J 10 9


A Q 10

A 10 8 7 5

8 6

A 8 6


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

Opening Lead: Spade nine

“I saw their starved lips in the gloam

With horrid warning gaped wide,

And I awoke and found me here

On the cold hill side. ”

— John Keats

In today’s deal from the 2004 Cavendish tournament, many East-West pairs were going down for large numbers after East had opened the bidding. Quite often South could double three no-trump, and Al Roth, the apostle of sound bidding, would have been able to say, “I told you so.” However, Billy Cohen as South was in a position to collect a different sort of large number. Having missed his winning play at the table, I can only applaud him on his subsequent analysis and his public-spirited masochism in then passing it on to the Daily Bulletin!

He declared two hearts doubled on the auction shown and won the lead of the spade nine cheaply in hand. The defense was threatening a spade ruff, so if declarer delays drawing trumps, East-West will obtain an easy sixth trick. Suppose you lead a low heart up toward dummy. North’s queen will hold the trick; now what? If you play a spade, the defense will surely arrange to get a ruff; if you lead a heart to the 10, that holds the trick too. The defense now doesn’t get a ruff, but you can never collect your third spade trick. The winning move is to lead the heart 10 at trick two! Whether a defender wins this trick or ducks it, this play gives you your entry to dummy when you need it. The defense gets only one heart trick now, and you get to repeat the spade finesse in peace and quiet.


South holds:

A Q 10
A 10 8 7 5
8 6
A 8 6


South West North East
1 Dbl. 2 2
ANSWER: Your high cards might tempt you into competing further. But as a matter of principle you should only bid on with extra shape, not high cards, whether it is in the form of extra trumps or a side suit. Here, you are as balanced as you can be. Let partner bid on with a fourth trump — you cannot act again.


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


HBJSeptember 6th, 2011 at 11:20 pm

HBJ ; Would there be any logic in West leading a small heart, as this surely can’t cost and might have a lot to gain. As it happens declarer finds himself restricted to just one entry to dummy and only one spade finesse available.

Moreover wouldn’t a forcing defence in diamonds be another alternative, leaving tricks in spades for later….. assuming East has got some to take in this suit.

Personally I think leading a spade just because partner bid them is a little wooden. But hey who I am to comment on the play of top players ?

jim2September 7th, 2011 at 1:14 am


It looks to me like the opening trump lead changes the timing.

Declarer wins the opening trump lead on the Board and takes the first spade finesse.

Next, declarer leads a second small heart towards the Hx in dummy. West still has a spade left, so playing the KH does not allow a spade ruff. If West plays low, however, South wins on the Board, takes the second spade finesse, cashes the AH and has 8 tricks. In effect, the opening trump lead transposes to Cohen’s success line.

On three rounds of diamonds on the opening lead, it looks like South can lead twice to dummy transposing to the opening heart lead line, also.

Thus, it’s the opening spade lead that causes the trouble.

Still, declarer could win the first spade, play a heart to Board, then NOT taking the spade finesse. Instead, say declarer plays a club to the ace and then plays a SECOND small heart towards the Board.

If West lets the second Board honor win, declarer takes the second spade finesse, then plays AH, and has 8 tricks, as before.

It looks like the defense can prevail, though, because the clubs are 2-4. That is, if West goes in with the KH on the second heart, cashes the KC, then AD, and plays xD to East’s KD. Now, East shoots clubs through South. Declarer’s trump spots are good enough to prevent a trump promotion, but West pitches the last spade on the third or fourth club. That would have been a very pretty defense!

Actually, it looks to me like the defense can always prevail if West starts with the KC, or maybe the AD and then decides from East’s card, perhaps, to shift to the KC.

Bobby WolffSeptember 7th, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Hi HBJ and Jim2,

Admittedly, double dummy analysis is a great part of the game, where “what if” is used to analyze and often makes for interesting bridge conversation.

However, there is another side to realistic non-double dummy discussion, which undoubtedly should, if it is not already, the basis for more practical learning wherein what to expect becomes the norm rather than what could be named the bridge twilight zone, rarely exercised, although sometimes thought about, plays both by the declarer and by very innovative defensive players.

All of the above have its place in bridge tradition, but for the actual teaching of the very high-level game as it is, at least in my opinion, to stick to the game as we know it, trying to put together logical caveats to follow, usually based on somewhat vague evidence, but, in truth, leading to guesswork, although hoped for it to be at least educated.

To lead either a low heart, possibly weakening the effect of your 9 of hearts, while not expecting such a strong heart holding in dummy, or leading the ace of diamonds, merely hoping for partner (or at least the dummy, rather than declarer) to possess the king.

Dream on in private, but for the kind of practical discussions we have and BTW hope to continue to have, let us assume that we are not possessed with supernatural powers (or partnership illegal signals) which would, of course, change our already good enough game, into an exercise of just double dummy analysis.