Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

The soldier is … exact in sums, master of the art of tactics.

Walter Bagehot

South North
Neither ♠ A J 10
 6 3 2
 K Q 7 5
♣ J 10 4
West East
♠ 9 4 3
 K Q 9 5
 10 8 3
♣ K Q 3
♠ 8 7 6 5
 8 7
 9 6 2
♣ A 9 6 5
♠ K Q 2
 A J 10 4
 A J 4
♣ 8 7 2
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


The play by fourth hand on any trick tends to be a case of winning when you can, and playing small when you can't. But there is scope for both the tactical and strategic duck in fourth chair.

By using these terms, I am trying to differentiate between a play calculated to increase your trick-taking potential within the suit (a tactical play) and one where no further tricks are gained from the suit (in fact, you may even sacrifice tricks), but you end up with more tricks overall than if you had not made the play.

Today’s deal is an example of a tactical duck — a variation on the Bath Coup. West leads a top heart (suggesting a king-queen holding without the jack) against three no-trump, and East’s discouraging seven may be hard for West to read. If you win the first trick and play on clubs, you might persuade West to win and continue hearts.

But you may feel you are better advised to duck the trick; however that is not enough. If you follow with the four, West will know his partner’s card was a small one, so he will switch, and you are unlikely to get a second heart trick without letting the defenders find the club shift.

Better might be to duck trick one and follow with the 10 from hand. West will now ‘know’ his partner has a high heart and surely will continue the suit. That will give you your ninth trick.

Facing a two-level overcall, which promises both a decent suit and about an opening bid in high-card strength, there is a lot to be said for simply blasting to three no-trump at once. However, the defenders might be able to run the hearts against you. The alternative approach is to cue-bid two diamonds and rebid two no-trump — but that probably will not help you find a heart stopper.


♠ A J 10
 6 3 2
 K Q 7 5
♣ J 10 4
South West North East
1 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 KarlsonFebruary 16th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

It has been suggested to me that Souths in that situation play the card that they would if signalling partner (standard carding). Ergo, a high heart “asks” for a continuation and makes East think. It has worked for me…

Bobby WolffFebruary 16th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hi Bruce,

The suggestion to you would be correct, at least on this hand, and would very likely get the job done, because of how following suit with the ten or the jack would effect West.

Let’s use the three little pigs example with the first pig winning the ace and immediately leading back the 10 or the jack, trying to establish his ninth and contract fulfilling trick.

Back to the drawing board (an euphemism for thinking about the entire hand) for West after winning his other high heart. No self-respecting opening leader can miss the implication that you, the declarer are in search of trick #9 and almost whatever his club holding happened to be he would switch to one, and in the absence of a very unlucky blockage would succeed in doing his job, taking enough tricks to set you.

The second little pig would follow with the 4, making it a little more difficult for West, but he would eventually if not sooner reason that if his partner had either the ace or jack (or both) he would not follow with his lowest heart (assuming normal defensive signals of high encourages, low discourages). With only Ace low partner would overtake and continue, hoping that his partner could run the suit.

However even the brightest pig, the 3rd one would almost certainly fall for your ruse of playing the 10 or the jack since he has taken the precaution of hiding the 4 making it look like the defender’s 7 was a high card.

The above are the inner workings (or should be) of the declarer’s mind in throwing up legal smoke screens which are very difficult, e.g. almost impossible, for any defender, even the very top class, to read.

Summing up, you were told right about what to do, but, as in almost all fairly high level bridge situations, including cagey falsecards, you will move a step up to fully understand what has occurred, rather than to memorize a bromide and become a virtual robot.

Bruce, I can assure you from so many years of experience, that what looks so difficult to you right now, opens up over time and flows like rain water, once these heretofore never really considered positive thoughts, become epiphanies in your yellow brick road to learning and beginning to master our great game.

RogerMFebruary 16th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Hi Bruce,

If I might add a comment to what our esteemed host has explained… you said “if signalling partner”, but what you really want to be doing is signalling (trying to fool) the opening leader (and maybe that’s what you had meant).

That is, to take the example one more step, if the opponents are playing upside-down count and attitude, you would want to play the 4. You’re hoping in this case to convince the opening leader that his partners 8 could be his lowest card, and therefore encouraging him to continue.

Hope this doesn’t confuse things unnecessarily 🙂

Bruce KarlsonFebruary 16th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Roger- Thanks and I did mean “…as if signalling partner”. Your thought about UD carding is, of course, correct and requires knowing the defensive agreement before taking one’s carsz out of the shoe. How many ask before “it means anything”???

RogerMFebruary 16th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Yes, it’s a good habit to ask about the opponents leads and carding when dummy comes down!

Jeff HFebruary 16th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Bobby – You indicate that the lead of the King suggests a KQ holding without the Jack. What would be the appropriate lead with the Jack?

Bruce KarlsonFebruary 16th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

BW – I did not mean to indicate that I was simply following a ‘rule” absent understanding the reasoning. Obviously, concealing a card lower (or higher if contending with UD carding) has benefits as amply described. There is hope, however limited, for me!!!

Bobby WolffFebruary 16th, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Hi Jeff H,

The lead of the King from an opening leader, while always showing either the ace, the queen, or both (depending on specific partnership agreement) could, in the absence of unusual partnership understandings always also include the Jack, if, of course, it is held.

It is slightly unusual to lead the King from the KQ combination unless either the jack or ten (or possibly, as in this case the 9) is held except sometimes from at least a total of 6 of them, when the opening leader is hoping to find both the declarer and dummy with only 2 each, in order to not let the jack become an undeserved trick for declarer.

If the above becomes a problem in trying to sort out why exactly it is done this way, the answer does not specifically lie in just what bridge percentage tables suggest, but what experience demands after the opening leader has analyzed the opponents bidding.

Are there other factors involved, you may ask?

Absolutely, at least I would answer, and the randomness of what works comes closer to nothing but sheer luck than any other so-called sophisticated attempt at a better answer.