Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Yours is the shame and sorrow
But the disgrace is mine….

D.H. Lawrence

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


Howard Cohen of London is a fount of amusing bridge stories, generally told against himself. Here is one of his recent coups,- resulting as usual in a severe blow to both his pride and pocketbook. If you want to test yourself, cover the East and West cards before reading the commentary.

Against three no-trump West led and continued hearts. Declarer won the second trick and set about finding out what he could before making his final decision on the location of the diamond queen. Three rounds of spades suggested that West had started with four or five spades, while it seemed East had started with five hearts and West just three.

South’s inclination was to play West for the diamond queen because he knew East had at least eight cards in the majors while West had at most eight. But, before he made the diamond play, there was one last thing he could try … so he cashed the club ace.

When East’s king dropped, declarer was now sure East held at least three diamonds. So he cashed the diamond ace and played a diamond to his 10. This lost to West’s queen and declarer went three down!

It is time to tell you where Cohen was sitting. He was South and the East who had made the fine play of dropping the club king from an original doubleton was Graham Orsmond. What was worse, Howard had not thought to cash the club queen to confirm the club position!

This auction does not sound forcing to me: I'd expect your partner to hold a hand in the range of 10-11 points with real diamond support. But your hand is extremely promising because of your excellent controls and long (in context) diamond suit, so you should bid on. My best guess would be to go all the way to five diamonds. (Game may need no more than a successful finesse.)


♠ A K 10
 K 6 2
 K 10 9 6 3
♣ 8 3
South West North East
1 1♠ 2♣ Pass
2 NT Pass 3 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


angelo romanoJanuary 18th, 2012 at 9:52 am

But why not bid 3 NT ? Don’t you like Hamman’s rule ?

Bruce KarlsonJanuary 18th, 2012 at 11:38 am

Dr. Wolff,

I know I am missing something: As South, I would hold up the heart king until the third round. Assuming hearts are continued, take the king, lead a diamond to the board and take the diamond hook losing to the queen. I now have 3 spades, 1 heart, 4 diamonds, and 1 club. In that auction, would you have led the 10? It looks correct but partner will likely think it is from a doubleton. I would tend to lead the 10 from 3 small if I had supported, and low from any 3 card holding if I had not.

jim2January 18th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Bruce Karlson –

I am not our Host, but the column play description said that “West led and continued hearts.”

So East has played small to both Trick 1 and Trick 2. If South does play the KH on Trick 2, East would win Trick 3 with the AH and run the suit.

jim2January 18th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

BTW, when I said “East played small to both Trick 1 and Trick 2,” I meant that he had not played the AH.

Though the column does not say, I suspect East played the QH or JH on the second round.

Look at the heart spots!

Not to have overtaken the second round (9H) with the Q/J (and thus being able to continue hearts himself) would have risked South starting K632 with West having the 109 doubleton and being unable to lead a third round.

Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Hi Angelo,

Yes, I agree. If anything I am a bigger believer in 3NT than is Bob Hamman.

The most likely hand wherein 5 diamonds is a superior contract is when partner has something like:
s. xx, x, QJxx, AKxxxx and the opponents find a heart lead (which might happen if South rebids his NT).

However on this hand, with such a powerful holding in the opponents presumed suit, 3NT should stare him in the face.

Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, Jim2 is correct in his assumptions that EW are defending correctly and not parting with the necessary Ace of hearts on either the 1st or 2nd lead of the suit. If EW would make that mistake (and in this case it would be East) then of course a simple avoidance play of finessing diamonds into the West hand (as you pointed out) would be to give declarer a guarantee on the contract.

Strange as it may seem, if playing matchpoints and after East theoretically ducked his ace of hearts on the 1st and 2nd round, most declarers, after winning their king of hearts on the 2nd round, would start the diamonds by leading the honor from his hand and thus result in taking 3 spade tricks, 5 diamonds, 1 heart and if he then guessed the end position, executing an end play on East, by throwing him in with a heart forcing him to lead from his protected king of clubs into dummy’s AQ, (or if East threw a little club away, then merely just playing the Ace from dummy) making 11 tricks for what certainly would be virtually all the match points.

This result on the hand would prove to some that match point bridge is indeed a bastardized version of the better game of either rubber bridge or IMPs where the primary goal of every hand is to make the contract in the least risky way.

True, the matchpoint game sometimes offers more imagination in the pursuit of overtricks, but in reality it sometimes makes that game just too difficult (with resulting more luck required) to score well and gives better players a means to use their superior numerate play (and sometimes intimidation) to have huge games, but the question has always been, “Is that what bridge is about”?

Some like the thrill of matchpoints and others prefer the sounder game of IMPs and rubber bridge, so to each his own, but, if anyone is interested I am with the old school in preferring the latter.

Denis KristandaJanuary 18th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

The dropping of K is interesting and brave (especially if it’s top bottom play) – but even Cohen cash the Q of Club, at the end, it still a guess.
I mean, the last 3 card (before playing diamond): East+West each has 2D+1S -OR- West 1D+2S and East 3D. Inference from point: East overcalled and East has shown 10 points, but , he also could still hold DQ.

And playing better percentage bridge: 3-1 split is 50% chance while 2-2 split is 41%. So, should I play the Ace of Diamond then another diamond and East show up, it’s a finesse!! Not good for this board, but I hope for the better in long run… Isn’t it, Dr Wollff?

p.s: I am with you in matchpoint vs imp game…

Bobby WolffJanuary 19th, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Hi Denis,

Yes I agree with most of your analysis, but for declarer’s sake on this hand, East’s devilish falsecard of the king of clubs (on the ace) would and probably should (especially in the absence of declarer’s now cashing the queen of clubs) establish East as holding 3 diamonds (he probably has only 5 hearts, because if he held 6 he would win the ace of hearts at trick 2) then together with ostensibly 1 club might possibly get both majors into the game with 5-5 (via a Michaels cue bid) therefore he holds 3 diamonds.

Very logical, but thwarted by the brilliant club ruse.