Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

All strange and terrible events are welcome,
But comforts we despise.

William Shakespeare

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


Today's deal, reported by Paul Marston of Australia, occurred in his duplicate bridge club. Before I tell you what happened, look at the full deal to see if you can work out the point of the hand.

What generally happened was that South took his life into his hands by coming in at the two-level, and North had enough respect for the vulnerability to drive to game directly — well judged in a sense. On the lead of the spade king against four hearts, South took dummy’s ace and tried to draw trump in three rounds, ending in dummy. He was unable to accomplish that, and had little choice now but to try to lead a spade to the 10. Operation successful – patient died! West ruffed and got off play with a minor, leaving South with a loser in each of the side-suits — down one.

Even after the helpful spade lead there is only one very challenging path to success — one that nobody in Marston’s club could find (and, I’m willing to bet, not too many of my readers either!). You must duck the opening lead, win the shift, then draw trump in four rounds, cross to the spade ace and take the marked spade finesse for the contract. It is an optical illusion that ducking the spade costs a trick. No matter how the cards lie, you rate to lose a spade trick; the objective of the deal is not to lose two.

This sequence is natural and forcing, and you should show where your values lie by bidding three hearts to help partner decide whether to play in no-trump or clubs. It is easy to see that if you are facing the right red-suit singleton, you might make slam; if you are facing the wrong one, three no-trump is high enough.


♠ A 7 4
 K Q J
 8 6 4
♣ 7 6 4 3
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1 NT Pass 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bruce KarlsonJanuary 17th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Suspect I would have been among the sinners. On further inspection, not ducking seems only a function of sloth, i.e. failure to count tricks…and note the possible lack of entries in dummy. Once ducked, 10 tricks are always available: 3S, 5H, A,A. Physicians are admonished to “first do no harm”. Bridge declarers admonishment should be “first, make the contract”.

jim2January 17th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

When I saw this in the paper, I covered the East-West hands and did duck the KS.

However, my reasoning was different. I was catering to:

KJ —- 9832
xxx — xx
KJ9xx- Q10x
K10x — QJxx

Bobby WolffJanuary 17th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Hi Bruce,

Instead of 80%+ carelessness by not ducking, it is much less than that but the special circumstances of (in case of a 4-1 trump break) no entry back is such a surprise that we do not check back.

Let me create an analogy that as of yet no one, sportswriter, sportscaster, coach or pseudo sports expert has commented on and will never, although it happens frequently.

First of all, one will have to be an avid football enthusiast to understand, but assuming someone will read this who is and I hope it is you Bruce, let me explain.

When Alex Smith of the SF 49ers contributed that great play and ran for a go ahead touchdown against the New Orleans Saints with about slightly over 2 minutes 20 seconds to go into the lead last Saturday when he passed the 10 yard line he had clear sailing into the end zone. The Saints had only 1 time out left and if Smith had dropped to one knee on about the 2,3 or 4 yard line he would have about cinched the result.

Instead, if you remember he scored, but then had to endure a very tedious time later when the Saints came marching in and returned the score making them, at that point a huge favorite to win until the 49ers once again pulled a winning rabbit out of the hat by returning the compliment.

If Smith would have intelligently done what I suggested and after the 2 minute warning and the use of the Saints last TO they would have only had (after basically 3 kneels by the 49er’s no more than 20 seconds left and no TO’s left to traverse the field after SF would have taken the lead with a sure shot FG which would have been exactly like an extra point.

The result would have been far less harrowing for them with an almost sure win in tow instead of the not unlikely glide down the field by the Saints to their go ahead TD with plenty of time left, even giving the 49ers too much time left to keep them from doing the same thing.

Football and Bridge are quite different but intelligent strategy is necessary in both games and ducking the opening King of Spades is certainly intelligent, but one has to think about it, and grabbing the king was just too tempting to think, before doing it.

Sorry for I hope not wasting yours or others time talking about a game (football) which may have no interest to you, but obviously it is also very important to all its fans, and I wonder just how few of them even considered what Smith (a quarterback who has come into his own, but obviously even he, could not think fast enough to insure the win instead of having to sweat it out.

Bobby WolffJanuary 17th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

Was it because you are so disciplined that before playing to trick one you always stop and study, or is it, at least slightly influenced, by it probably being a special hand which makes you thorough?

If it is #1 above I commend you greatly and whether it was or not, I still applaud your serious attitude toward getting the job done.

I think the lesson to be gleaned is that bridge itself is the master and worth every thought we can put into making ourselves better players. I doubt seriously whether I, at any time in my career, would have played the hand carefully enough to consider ducking, but when I didn’t I would have felt terrible, but would have immediately congratulated the gods of bridge for making it such a superior exercise in solving puzzles.

Thanks, of course, for contributing your thoughts.

jim2January 17th, 2012 at 5:59 pm

It was probably the latter, not the former. As one writer/player put it, every column or puzzle hand is an alarm bell ringing, while at the table there is none.

That person noted how much better all players would play if only such an alarm would ring when it was a special time to think.

Bobby WolffJanuary 17th, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hi Jim2,


Howard Bigot-JohnsonJanuary 17th, 2012 at 8:58 pm

HBJ : Like so many players I all too often ignore the good advice that contracts are made or loss by what you do at trick 1…….and we all tend to let impulse take over from caution……especially when it appears you have been handed a gift ( the proverbial trojan horse )
5H, 3S and two minor suit Aces seem there for the taking. However, defenders with ability must be respected, and the prospect of him having 4 hearts is a bummer…….and because the Ace of spades as the only way to get to dummy ( later ) to take the spsde finesse of the jack, ducking the King is the answer !!
Having only 2 minutes at the table to arrive at this inspired solution is never enough time for me…..probably 2 hours with prompts might be enough.
Fabulous hand…..and a wonderful insight as to what separates experts from the rest of us.

Bobby WolffJanuary 20th, 2012 at 4:19 pm


While your comment needs nothing to be added, it may be worth noting that experts, even at the very top, would be likely to miss what is necessary to do, duck the opening lead.

What Zia Mahmood, certainly one of the best players in the whole wide world, has said (or at least pretty close) and used as his theme song, “Bridge continues to amaze and humble me”, meaning that bridge itself is the master which challenges and confounds us in such creative ways that even great and experienced bridge minds fail all too often.

Failing to spot the answer is not what is weak, but only the realization of the grandeur of the game itself, should put pause to our struggles.