Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 29th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: North




A Q J 7 6 2

A Q 3 2


10 8 4 3

K 10 9 4 3

J 10 8 6


Q J 9 7

A Q 9 4


9 7 5 4


A K 6 5

10 8 7 6 5 3 2




South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
4 All pass

Opening Lead: Spade three

“Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths.”

— Moliere

Today’s deal play proved too challenging to both expert declarers. Can you do better?

Both tables in the match between Netherlands and France stopped sensibly low at four hearts, but Bompis for France found the deceptive diamond lead. Declarer, Wubbo De Boer, protected himself against the wrong eventuality when he went up with the diamond ace and played the heart king. The 4-0 heart split doomed him, since East, Henri Szwarc, won, cashed the heart queen, and exited with a spade. Now there was only one home for a spade loser. Declarer had to lose a further spade and a heart trick for one down.

At the other table Christian Mari didn’t find quite the best line either after a spade lead, but he had a chance to recover. He won the first trick, cashed the club king, and played a heart to the king. His LHO cashed two hearts and got out with a spade, but Mari could win and play a diamond up. When diamonds were not 6-0, he escaped, since he could now cash two clubs to throw his spade losers away and could then simply concede one more trump trick.

The right play is to unblock the club king at trick two and then ruff a spade in dummy. Now you pitch your second spade loser on the club ace and play the heart king. This way you are sure to lose no more than three trump tricks, whatever the lie of the cards.


South holds:

8 3
Q 5 3 2
J 7 4 2
Q 8 7


South West North East
1 1
Pass Pass 2 2
3 3 All pass
ANSWER: There is no good reason to lead anything but a club now, and if you are going to do so, leading the queen to try to retain the lead and plan the defense makes good sense. There is a reasonable chance that dummy or declarer may have a higher club than you, but if that is not so, you may be happy to have remained on lead to trick two.


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


Jeff SSeptember 12th, 2011 at 5:11 pm

No question your method makes the hand. Looking at the hand, I had a different way of playing it that seems to work as well. I am wondering if it was just as good or if there were layouts that make the method given in the column superior.

My way was to take the AS, immediately trump a spade, lead a club to the K, trump another spade, lead the AQ of clubs, dropping my diamond and spade winner (unless E trumps the last club low) and then trumping a diamond and leading from the 8H to protect against the the 4H on the 4-0 split. It seems I lose three trump tricks, but only two if they happen to split 2-2.

Thanks for your help!

jim2September 12th, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I took the column’s last sentence as a challenge!

What if West started with:










After all, a 1 – 7 split is not less likely than a 6 – 0 and, unless I’m mistaken (again!), Mari’s line seems to work for both of the above.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Hi Jeff,

While your line of play is successful, whether it is better, the same, or not quite as good as the suggested one is difficult (at least for me) to quantify.

As always, in trying to decide between several 99%+ lines, I leave it up to those possessing numerate genius to distinguish. Bridge hands often offer such a variety of mathematical puzzles and when it comes to dissecting very small differences it tends to leave me somewhat disinterested.

This particular hand was used:

1. Because it was a real hand which was dealt at an important tournament.

2 Because of the quality of the two declarer’s discussed (they are both great and fun people besides), and their slightly different choices, one of which worked and the other not, might cause special interest.

Your point is a good one and whoever takes the time to specifically figure it out exactly deserves a special place in my heart, if only for all the extra work it entails, which probably will involve using a calculator since, in order to do it right, have to delve into all four suits breaking certain ways.

Good luck and please forgive me for leaving it unsolved as Moliere’s column quote might be attesting to.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Hi Jim2,

And for you and your challenges, please never take the words, “whatever the lie of the cards” for real should those words be used again, and realize you are the only reader of AOB who has a disclaimer especially in his honor.

In finality, I hope no one else endeavors to join your exclusive club. I only have one hair left on my head, but until now it wasn’t gray.

jim2September 12th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I am both flattered and dismayed!

You need to save that hair for next month in Veldhoven!

Jeff SSeptember 12th, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I may have given an incorrect impression. I wasn’t wondering whether my line was better. As far as I can tell, the line given works against any lie of the cards, so I don’t see how you can do “better” than that.

I only asked because I looked at the hand before I read the column and came up with a different way of playing it and was wondering whether it also always worked.

Thinking about it more, I think it must. Even if E were able to overruff both the K and J, it shouldn’t matter as he is using up his high trumps without declarer having to use his trumps.

Thanks again.

HBJSeptember 13th, 2011 at 9:36 am

HBJ : Looking at the hand what is wrong with taking the first 2 tricks in spades, ruffing the 3rd with dummy’s jack of hearts. Cash the diamond Ace before getting back across to declarers hand with the club king. Then ruff out the 4th spade in dummy with the King. Now declarer 10876 of hearts will concede only 3 tricks to East’s AQ94.

jim2September 13th, 2011 at 12:34 pm


Mr. Wolff’s column noted that the declarer (Mari) incurred a risk that diamonds were 6 – 0. Your line has that same risk.

Bobby WolffSeptember 13th, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Hi Jeff, HBJ and Jim2,

Sometimes the reason for including a hand (already given in an above comment) does not satisfy numeracy addicts for 100% accuracy.

There is a certain symmetry in everyone’s comments in that all mentioned were 95%+ (guessed) in favor of making the hand.

The only original statement I can think of making is that this enterprise produced just the opposite of the crime drama featured in the “Murder on the Orient Express” where all 12 (I think) suspects were guilty wherein on this journey “Percentage Declarer’s Play on the Ace’s Internet Express” all commentators are innocent (or almost) of incorrect analysis.

Thanks to everyone for their contributions (tongue in cheek). Your checks are in the mail.

John Howard GibsonSeptember 14th, 2011 at 1:37 am

HBJ : Ah but to cater for the 6-0 diamond split….take the first two tricks with the A/K of spades. Unblock the king of clubs. Ruff a spade with the jack of hearts. Play the Ace of clubs pitching a diamond. Then the Ace of diamonds looking to pitch the last spade. It East ruffs it will have to be with the queen of trumps, and so declarer still pitches a spade. Now the only two other losers are in hearts to the A9. If East elects to ruff low then over-ruff, and lead the spade to be ruffed by dummy’s king ( with only3 hearts to lose ).

Only if West roughs the diamond with the 4 of trumps will the contract be in jeopardy. Very small odds indeed.

jim2September 14th, 2011 at 2:21 am


East-West never bid, so it could just as easily be West with the diamond void and trump.

Additionally, see my first post above to Mr. Wolff, as those club 1 – 7 holdings beat this line, too.

John Howard GibsonSeptember 14th, 2011 at 7:54 am

Jim: I agree but the odds of a 6-0 diamond split with West having all six… plus West to hold just a stiff heart ( which has to be the 4 ) makes this line of play near certain…surely ? As for West also holding a stiff club as well as a stiff 4 of hearts this too involves very long odds indeed.

Mind you it always when distributions are like this I always come a cropper…..never knowing whether they can be countered or not.

John Howard GibsonSeptember 14th, 2011 at 7:55 am

Jim : Sorry re read first line as East having all 6 diamonds….

jim2September 14th, 2011 at 1:11 pm


No problemo! But, as Mr. Wolff noted, we are down in the math weeds.

While the two of us are down here, though, West holding all four trump (instead of only the singleton 4) also defeat the line.

Note that it was Mr. Wolff’s comment in the original column that the actual declarer’s line risked a 6-0 diamond split (with East holding either all four trump or the singleton 4)that got us here in the first place!

And, as I said, a 1 – 7 (clubs) split is mathematically more likely than a 0 – 6 split (diamonds).