Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Both


Q 7 6

Q 10 7 6 5

K J 2

K 5


K J 9 8 3

J 4 3

A 9 7

Q 9


10 5

A 9 2

8 6 5

J 8 7 4 3


A 4 2

K 8

Q 10 4 3

A 10 6 2


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

Opening Lead: Spade 8

“Obtruding false rules pranked in reason’s garb.”

— John Milton

Rules are made to be broken, they say, and both tables missed their chance to break the textbook rules in the following deal, when Norway took on Finland in the Junior European Championships.


Both Souths ended up in three no-trump on the lead of the spade eight. In a fairly desperate situation, they started well enough by winning dummy’s spade queen and guessing to play a heart to the king. Then the plays diverged.


The Norwegian declarer turned his attention to diamonds, dislodging West’s entry, and now he could duck a spade and kill the suit. West shifted rather desperately to clubs, but declarer finished up with 11 tricks when he subsequently brought the hearts in as well.


The Finnish declarer sneaked the diamond 10 through at trick three and then went back to hearts. He guessed that suit correctly for nine tricks.


Both declarers must have thought they had done well — and indeed they had. But both Easts had mechanically followed the normal rules without giving the matter proper thought — second hand low is all very well, up to a point. If either defender had risen with the heart ace at trick two to play a spade through, the contract would have had no play. And why duck the first heart, since your heart nine means that declarer cannot misguess the suit?


Rising with the ace would also have been right had West’s honor trick been the heart king, of course, since it would again have preserved his entry.


South Holds:

Q 7 6
Q 10 7 6 5
K J 2
K 5


South West North East
ANSWER: From time to time I set up a straw man, giving my readers a chance to overcall, so that I can then make the point that one-level overcalls do not necessarily guarantee good suits or indeed good hands. But any two-level overcall must guarantee good offense. With this example hand, an overcall would be marginal, even if the heart five were the king. So you must pass here.


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


ClarksburgOctober 8th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

With the Heart King instead of the five, the hand comes to 14 HCP, and the five-card heart suit has three honours. To finish off this lesson, could you indicate what further change in shape or strength would be required to make this hand an overcall?

Ernie HammOctober 8th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

With the Norwegian declarer the defence would get diamond ace, a spade when declarer ducked a spade and the ace of hearts. This leaves 10 tricks for declarer. The only way to get 11 tricks is if he did not duck a spade.

John Howard GibsonOctober 8th, 2011 at 8:24 pm

HBJ : As East and trusting my partner’s 8 as fourth highest, I see no problem rising with the Ace even if it beats thin air. Declarer has erred in knocking out my entry first before West’s. A spade back at trick 3 sets up the suit hopefully for partner, with his precious diamond entry intact.

This is clearly one of those hands where ( say ) even with the king of hearts East must rise up with it, to ensure declarer’s jack doesn’t drive out partner’s Ace prematurely.

For once in my life I’m one up these junior experts.

David GoldfarbOctober 8th, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Eric Rodwell several times in _The Rodwell Files_ says “danger hand high”, and this is an excellent example.

Bobby WolffOctober 9th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

In trying to directly answer your question and, of course, to get across its main point, the actual hand, with Q10765 does not measure up to what a 2-level overcall should symbolize. Exchange the king for the five and it becomes marginal like some people’s choice for chocolate or vanilla. It would be a then better hand for an overall if one adds the 2 of hearts (making it a six card suit) in exchange for the jack of diamonds).

If looking for the teaching reason, playing in hearts the extra heart will almost surely be a full trick while the holding of the jack of diamonds (which while with the king is probably worth more than the supposedly 1 point one gives it) is still not worth the whole trick an extra heart is.

Summing up, which experience will bring, the original Goren point count learned is only a guide to a hand’s worth and, as the bidding materializes the hand’s value changes, but for original 2 level overcall judgment, suit lengths better provide the difference in decision than do high card points.

Bobby WolffOctober 9th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Hi Ernie, HBJ and David,

Yes, the Norweigan, in order to make 11 tricks certainly did not duck a spade or else together with his two lost red suit aces would have only scored up 10 tricks, obviously playing West for a 5 card suit (a moral certainty) and must have won the 2nd spade lead.

HBJ suggested the correct defense, rising (2nd hand) when declarer started at trick 2 by leading a heart from the dummy. At that point East still had a killing spade return available, because he could preserve his partner’s theoretical ace of diamonds for the precious entry necessary for the defense to run 3 spade tricks, together with the two red aces for the set. And yes Ernie 2nd hand high is the right defense in this case.

For something else to ponder, and likely critical in this bridge encounter, is, in the event of the two red aces both being in different defensive hands, a very possible layout, it should occur to West to smoothly duck declarer’s lead of a small heart to his king, and then when declarer now triumphantly (he thinks) switches to diamonds East wins, returns a spade and declarer is one trick short of his required nine.

It should also be noted that West, just in case declarer immediately continues hearts, should duck again causing declarer to finesse dummy’s 10 (thinking East surely has the ace) causing an even larger set. Might Shakespeare have answered that foray of cards with, “The play’s the thing in which we will capture the rapture of the king”.