Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Both


K 5

A 6 3 2

Q 10 8 6 2

J 4


Q 9 8 3

K Q 7

K 7 5

9 8 3


10 2

J 9

J 9 4 3

A 10 7 5 2


A J 7 6 4

10 8 5 4


K Q 6


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

Opening Lead: Club 9

“So, the powder’s low, and the larder’s clean,

And surrender drapes, with its blacks impending,

All the stage for a sorry and sullen scene:

Yet indulge me my whim of a madcap ending!”

— Helen Gray Cone

After a simple auction to four hearts, West has no reason to avoid leading one of the unbid suits. With his potential defensive tricks, a passive defense seems right, so the club nine looks like the most helpful card. East wins his ace and cannot sensibly switch to any other suit, so continues with a second club.


South takes the second trick and cannot draw trumps at once. If he plays a trump to dummy’s ace and a second trump, the defense might win and play a third round. Even if trumps split, this could leave him with a problem, as there would be only one trump in dummy to cope with two or more possible spade losers.


An alternative approach might be to draw no trumps at all and play on a crossruff. The danger with following that route (or even drawing exactly one round of trumps with the ace) is that the defense may make their three high trumps separately. Try it, and you will see that the defenders are likely to win out.


The simplest winning line is to give up a trump at trick three. You can win the return, then play the heart ace, and only now will you tackle the spades. After the spade king and a spade to the ace, you ruff a spade. You can later ruff another spade to establish your fifth spade in hand. The defense wins the first trick, the heart you give up, and one more trump at the end, but that is all.


South Holds:

Q 9 8 3
K Q 7
K 7 5
9 8 3


South West North East
  1 Pass
3 4 Pass Pass
ANSWER: Your three-spade call was a limit raise and was not forcing. Hence, your partner’s pass of four diamonds is also not forcing. Since part of your assets consist of an apparently badly placed diamond honor and you have a minimum hand with no aces, you should have no problem in passing now.


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


jim2September 16th, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I agree with the early heart duck, and it seems not uncommon when the ace is the sole top trump declarer has (as is the case here).

Would there be any incremental gain in cashing the spade king at trick three and THEN ducking the heart?

South has to hope spades are not 5 – 1 anyway. With the spade king unblocked, declarer could pitch Board’s last spade on a club return and ruff the second spade instead of the third.

Bobby WolffSeptember 16th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Hi Jim 2,

Al least to my eye, there cannot be a gain to cashing the good club for a spade pitch before you offer the opponents a small trump to take.

However, there is little to lose, except possibly a singleton queen of spades which shows up on the 1st round. Then, of course the wrong opponent (for you) may win the heart and give his partner the setting trick with a spade ruff with only a doubleton heart. Also you intend to establish the 5th spade (no worse than 4-2) for the game going trick.

This hand is concerned with technical declarer play and primarily about not willy-nilly leading out ace and another heart, instead of the necessary low heart first in order to protect against the opponents leading a 3rd lethal round.

This technical ability could (should) be classified as the art of fine-tuned declarer play and, if so done, be categorized under timing in proper declarer’s play.

jim2September 16th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I guess I was not clear.

The line I suggested was:

– club opening lead to ace

– club returned

– KS

– xH from both hands

The Board’s spade pitch would only be if the heart was won and a club returned.

Your point on the singleton QS seems to remain valid, though.

Bobby WolffSeptember 17th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Hi Jim2,

I was neglectful to not have responded to your King of Spades play before you ducked the first heart.

It seems that if the defense then upon winning the first heart leads a 3rd club, yes you can toss a spade away and then ruff the 2nd spade instead of the 3rd one, but I believe it all comes out the same since you plan on cashing the ace of hearts anyway and if the defender overruffs the 3rd spade it will not matter since the declarer will only lose two trumps and a club and a 4th trump remains in dummy to cater to the no worse than 4-2 spade break (with, of course hearts the necessary 3-2).