Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.

Benjamin Franklin

North North
Both ♠ J 10 6 5
 K 7 5
 K 8
♣ A K 8 5
West East
♠ 3 2
 A 10 8 4 2
 J 5 3
♣ J 10 9
♠ A K 7
 9 6
 Q 9 7 6 2
♣ 4 3 2
♠ Q 9 8 4
 Q J 3
 A 10 4
♣ Q 7 6
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1♠ Pass 2♠ Pass
2 NT Pass 4♠ All pass


Just as there is reputed to be honor amongs thieves, so bridge journalists tend to be on good terms with one another. My friend and fellow journalist Frank Stewart has written a new book on intermediate play and defense. Here is a deal from his book "Who Has the Queen? — the Bridge Player's Handbook of Card Reading."

You lead the club jack against four spades, dummy’s king wins, and East plays the deuce. When declarer next leads the spade jack from dummy, East wins with the king and shifts to the heart nine; South follows with the three.

South’s second bid suggested about 11 points with balanced pattern. If East’s heart is a singleton, you must take your ace and return a heart, but if East had a doubleton heart, you need to duck. What about it?

South probably has only four spades — if East had the doubleton trump ace-king, his defense would make no sense — and if South had four hearts, his response to one club would have been one heart.

Accordingly, signal with the heart 10. When East gets back in with the spade ace, he will lead his second heart, and you will win and give him a heart ruff.

Equally valid: If East had a singleton heart, he would have cashed his second high trump before leading his singleton, giving you no option but to win immediately and return a heart.

The book will be available at $21.95 postpaid, from PO Box 962, Fayette AL 35555.

Your partner has shown long clubs, four hearts and real extras. It looks natural to start by developing your hand with a cue-bid of three diamonds, since you really do not know what siut should be trump here or if three no-trump should be your final destination. If your partner does not bid three no-trump, you will support clubs at your next turn.


♠ Q 9 8 4
 Q J 3
 A 10 4
♣ Q 7 6
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1♠ 2 2 Pass

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


Michael BeyroutiDecember 27th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Good defense.
It’s a shame that 3NT is cold for 10 tricks.
Is it ever right for North to accept the invitation to the no-trump game AFTER having found the spade fit?
Wishing you and Lady Kay-Wolff happiness and health for the New Year,

Bobby WolffDecember 28th, 2011 at 6:01 am

Hi Michael,

Yes, I would accept the NT game, instead of jumping to 4 spades if I was exactly 4-3-3-3 and a little extra (which North was). Since there is no way to distinguish beforehand partner’s exact cards it becomes a guessing game.

For example on this real hand, if the opening leader had been dealt 5 diamonds, or even on this hand with diamonds 4-4 (with honors split and led originally) or with a low heart lead if West would have had a spade entry, 3NT would not be manageable, at least, against optimum defense.

What you suggest does get a yes answer, but sometimes the winning call is just a random guess.

Also, and even more important, Judy joins me in also wishing you and yours a great holiday season and all winning finesses for 2012.

MikeDecember 28th, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I think on a D lead, 3N goes down.

Happy new year to everyone, esp. to you Mr. Wolff.

Bobby WolffDecember 28th, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Hi Mike,

And a very happy and prosperous New Year back at you.

A diamond lead from 3 to the jack would certainly cause consternation for declarer, but no cigar for result. As long as declarer lets it ride to his hand wins it, then goes after spades, and because of the diamond blockage, declarer’s playing luck would begin shortly before 2012 arrives.

Whatever anyone wants to say about our great game, it never ceases to amaze me how bridge itself creates the puzzles, leaving us all victims to its sensational intrigue.

David WarheitDecember 28th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Some perhaps minor points. Beyrouti claims 3NT is cold for 10 tricks; your own analysis holds south, on best defense, to 9 tricks. Also, there are very many distributions of the cards in the defensive hands, as you point out, that will defeat 3NT. On the other hand, 4 spades should fail only because hearts are 5-2, not 4-3, Even then, west must have one of the key cards (spade A or K or heart A). Perhaps even more important: when your side discovers a 4-4 major fit, it is almost always superior or at the very least equal to NT, so stick with the fit. On the rare occasions when this is wrong, you can always ascribe your misfortune to bad luck, but if you go for NT and it’s wrong, your partner may never let you hear the end of it.

Matt BlakeleyJanuary 3rd, 2012 at 7:18 pm

You state that with a singleton heart, east should cash both A-K of trumps before leading the heart. Why does he/she do this?

East doesn’t know which red ace partner holds -if any. With a singleton heart, is the best defence from east not to win the first trump, then lead her singleton heart. If partner does not have the ace, then he/she can win a second trump and try a diamond. That way if partner has either red ace, east can still score a heart ruff.

Bobby WolffJanuary 4th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Hi Matt,

Your comment is not only appreciated, it is right on, making me nothing but a selfish results player, based on the actual hand.

Yes, if East had a singleton heart, he would have two shots by first leading it and then hopefully getting an immediate ruff when partner wins the first one and returns the suit, but if declarer held the heart ace, which he well may have, then upon winning his 2nd spade now hopes for partner to have the diamond ace for a belated heart ruff, which, of course, is the setting trick.

Also, on this hand, should West win his ace of hearts after seeing partner win the first spade lead with his king?
(which probably will be accompanied by the ace, based on the play).

No, because on the bidding South is very likely (perhaps 99%) to have only 3 hearts since he bid 1 spade with almost certainly exactly 4 spades so if he also had 4 hearts he would have bid 1 heart first, up the line, instead of 1 spade and since he didn’t, presto chango the overall bidding will have told West how to defend. However, it is very necessary for West to signal the ace, by playing the 10 rather than his lowest one, otherwise the whole defense collapses.

If we the authors would have thought about your accurate sleuthing we could have gone in other directions to describe it, although we may have run out of room along the way.

“Forsooth, my dear Watson, you have uncovered the murderer of this poor hand, and I am the culprit”.

The paragraph starting with “equally valid” is very simply not so.

Matt BlakeleyJanuary 7th, 2012 at 12:24 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that. You have my sympathy – whenever I post a problem on an internet forum or contribute to a discussion I agonise over every detail to see if I’ve missed something blindingly obvious or to see if my logic is wrong. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be to find instructional hands and then posit the definitive to the solution contained in them without missing anything.

I agree that the most interesting problem on the hand is west’s, who needs to think through the consequences of the auction and play to defeat the contract. This is the sort of thing which I love to read about and try desperately hard to be able to incorporate into my game. My main issue sitting with west’s cards is that even if I were able to duck the first heart I doubt I could do it in tempo – I would probably think so long I’d eventually decide I’d have to play the ace since I’d told partner I held it… Learning to count up the hand and figure out everyone’s shape during the pause at trick one is something I am struggling with.