Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 12th, 2012

First ponder, then dare!

Helmuth von Moltke

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


Declarer looked beyond the obvious when playing this heart slam. Unfortunately, he did not look far enough, and the slam failed.

Declarer appreciated that the obvious route to 12 tricks was to find the club king with East, and dummy’s trumps provided the necessary two entries to repeat the finesse. But South saw another possibility — that he could give up a diamond trick in exchange for generating two extra winners — in which case he would not need the club finesse at all, since there would then be two discards for the queen and jack of clubs.

For this to be so, the most likely lie of the diamonds would be the king in West’s hand, with the jack due to fall in three rounds. So, declarer cashed the heart ace, then followed with ace and another diamond. West took the king, and when the jack dropped doubleton from East, followed with a third diamond. East ruffed and South overruffed, but now only one club discard was available. With the club king offside, down went the slam.

Declarer was on the right track, but failed to allow for the diamond jack being doubleton with East. The way home is, at trick three, to lead the diamond seven toward the queen — without first cashing the ace. West cannot afford to duck, but now a diamond return can do no harm. After South draws trump ending in dummy, both of his losing clubs can be offloaded on dummy’s good diamonds.

This is a forcing auction, since your partner could have shown a good hand, or an even better one, by bidding two hearts or jumping to three hearts at his previous turn. This sequence is stronger still. In any event, in the context of what you have shown (or denied), you have a decent hand. You should raise to four hearts, confident that you will be offering your partner a few useful assets.


♠ K 8 6 3 2
 6 5 3
 J 8
♣ 10 8 7
South West North East
1♣ Dbl. Pass
1♠ Pass 2♣ Pass
2♠ 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


David WarheitJanuary 26th, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“West cannot afford to duck”. Why not? By going up with the king, the hand was over. Declarer makes his contract. If he ducks (of course, quickly and nonchalantly), south might very well play the ten from dummy. Down one.

Bobby WolffJanuary 26th, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Hi David,

Right you are, but on the bidding perhaps the declarer jumped to 6 hearts, holding a losing club and nine hearts along with the singleton Ace of spades and the Ax of diamonds, instead of having the holding he did have. With the purported hand, it would probably not be thought of as terrible to jump to 6 hearts, hoping that partner could take care of his losing diamond in one way or another.

However, I am not advocating West to either play the king of diamonds or to duck smoothly, but it does show the immense advantage declarer sometimes has in timing his plays.

Thanks for your continued interest and offered opinions.

Alex AlonJanuary 27th, 2012 at 7:47 am

Question to all the people that can count, which i don”t 🙂
The diamond option and the club option are essentially a finesse, and while with the diamond option you need a finesse and a specific holding in the other hand ( JX or Jxx) which makes it less than 50% play, the club is purely a 50%.
So why not go for the club play as long as we have the entries to do so twice?
Please feel free to correct me if i am wrong in the percentage calculation.

Alex Alon

jim2January 27th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Alex Alon –

I am not our Host, but the intent of the diamond play was to try it and still have the two club finesses if the diamond play did not work. The diamond play was an additional chance.

That is, if the QD lost to East, declarer would fall back on the club suit, using both the JH and 10H as entries.

Note that there is a nuance in the column line description. If West does rise with the KD and has a second trump to return, declarer would need to unblock the diamonds and check if the JD falls before any third trump round. If the JD does drop (as in the column) then both clubs can indeed be discarded. If not, however, then declarer goes to dummy with the third trump, pitches one club on the QD, and needs only the one finesse (thus no need to enter dummy again).

David WarheitJanuary 27th, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Come to think of it, I was not right. When south leads a low diamond, he must play dummy’s queen no matter what, unless, of course, west plays the king. Say west plays small and south plays dummy’s ten and east wins the king. Now south gets to pitch one club on the queen of diamonds, but he still needs the club finesse. Even if you give dummy the nine of diamonds, playing the ten doesn’t work, even if east wins the king. Why? Because east would then naturally return a club. At this point, the club finesse is 50% while dropping the jack of diamonds is 30 some%, so you would finesse in clubs. So, as the cards lie, what west does is immaterial.

You came up with a hand where west must rise with the king. How about if declarer held singleton ace of spades, 8 solid hearts, and Ax in both minors? This is a lot more likely than the hand you proposed, and now west must duck and duck quickly.

Bobby WolffJanuary 27th, 2012 at 7:31 pm

To Alex and Jim2,

Thanks for the question Alex and for the answer Jim2. Look at what bridge discussions generate and particularly ones on the internet which, according to surveys, have more people reading and watching than could ever, in bygone days, be imagined.

Bobby WolffJanuary 27th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Hi David,

You are probably right in your assumption as to which declarer’s hand is more likely, but also check my answer and my safety play about not recommending either winning or ducking smoothly.

As Al Davis, late owner of the Oakland Raiders once said, “Just be right, baby”!