Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 11th, 2011

Dealer: West

Vul: Both


A K J 10

10 5

6 4

Q J 9 7 4


9 7 6 4

A 3

10 9 8 7 3

K 2


8 3 2

K 7 6 4 2


A 6 5


Q 5

Q J 9 8

K J 5 2

10 8 3


South West North East
  Pass 1 1
1 NT All Pass    

Opening Lead: Diamond Ten

“Small is beautiful.”

— E.F. Schumacher

Larry Cohen, famed for publicizing the “Law of Total Tricks,” has won many American titles, most in partnership with Dave Berkowitz, but is in temporary retirement – and working on his golf game.


It was Cohen, a professional bridge teacher, who originally picked up on this hand from the 2000 Olympiad, on which more than a few top players failed in their contract of one no-trump. Cover the East and West hands and try it for yourself.


West did not lead a heart, which would have life easy for declarer, but the diamond 10. East overtook with the ace and played back the queen. Plan the play after capturing this trick with the king. Which is the right suit to go after?


The answer is that it doesn’t matter — you have already gone down in your contract! You can count on six tricks, but whether you set about establishing clubs or hearts, the defenders will win the race to seven tricks. Say you play on hearts: West wins the first heart lead and continues diamonds, which will remove your last stopper. When East gets in with the heart king, he can cash the club ace and play a low club to West’s king, allowing the two established diamond tricks to be cashed.


However, by allowing East’s diamond queen to hold, you guarantee seven tricks for yourself. Even if East has a third diamond, the defenders can only come to two diamond tricks, for then the suit would be breaking 4-3.


South Holds:

A K J 10
10 5
6 4
Q J 9 7 4


South West North East
    1 Pass
ANSWER: It is almost never wrong to introduce a four-card major in response to a minor suit for which you have support. It is especially true that when your four-card suit looks like five, it is mandatory to bid the suit now. Conversely, I suppose that if you had four small spades in a slam-going hand, you might start with a forcing club raise. But of course that is not the case today.


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


MikeNovember 25th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I can never get this situation right at the table in match point. It makes no difference whether to duck the second D or not if W has 3 of the outstanding A and K. So it comes to whether she has 2 or 1. Ducking would be right if she has 2, while it would give up an overtrick if she has 1.

Given E’s play on the D pretty much said the suit is breaking 5-2, so W has 8 unknown cards vs 11 for E. The probabilities for W to have 1 vs 2 of the outstanding honors are 34% vs. 40% respectively, so ducking is right (?), but not by a big margin.

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Hi Mike,

Your mathematics appear to be right on, which will only serve you well as you pursue improving your judgment within your bridge game.

If I were to pick a subject for you to zero in on, it would be, do not worry so much about whether you are playing matchpoints or IMPs and rather concentrate on making one’s contract.

All forms of bridge are varied and with so many different minds and personalities playing, the exercise of trying to predict mathematically who has what, at least in my opinion, will produce a diminishing return.

Not that what you say has one iota of being incorrect, it is just better to spend one’s energy on making your contract and let the probabilities (different bidding, different opening lead, different skill levels of the opponents, etc) take care of themselves.

Thanks for writing.

MikeNovember 27th, 2011 at 3:32 am

Many thanks for your expert advice. Mike