Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Toil, brothers, toil, till the work is done,
Till the struggle is o’er, and the Charter won!

Thomas Cooper

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


If you can focus on the problem in today's deal, you are halfway to solving the problem. As South, declarer in three no-trump, you win the heart lead and can count eight tricks only.

To establish your ninth winner, you need to set up a diamond trick, but you cannot simply lead out three rounds of diamonds or East will win and play back a second heart, letting West run that suit. So you need to keep East off play for the duration of the deal.

Having established a plan, you cash the club ace at trick two, playing the club five from dummy, then lead the club jack to the king to advance the diamond nine.

East must cover or you will let the nine run. Now you win the diamond ace, on which West should let the diamond seven go, and play the club 10 back to the queen in dummy in order to lead the diamond eight from the board. East can cover by putting up the queen, but you can win the king. What is West to do? If he plays low, declarer exits with a diamond and West must win his jack. But if he unblocks the jack, then declarer’s six will unexpectedly be high.

In summary, if declarer is to make his contract, he needs the diamonds to be 3-3 and West to win the defense’s diamond trick. So East can have no more than two of the defense’s four top diamonds.

Since the jump to three diamonds is game-forcing, you cannot pass, much as you might like to. I think fewer problems will come from giving false-preference to three hearts than from raising diamonds. On this auction a doubleton heart is all your partner has a right to expect.


♠ 10 6 2
 9 5
 9 8 4 2
♣ K Q 9 5
South West North East
1 Pass
1 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


David WarheitFebruary 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am

There is another line of play which might work. Start by ducking the opening lead. Presumably east returns a heart and west either wins or not, but either way east is now out of hearts. Now cash the club ace and lead the jack to dummy’s king and lead a diamond, playing the ace when east plays low. Cross to the nine of clubs and lead another diamond, playing the king when east again does not play the queen. Now lead a third round of diamonds, setting up dummy’s long diamond while forcing east to win the trick. There is a defence, however. West should win the second heart and clear the suit, while east disgorges his diamond queen. Assuming you are reasonably certain that east is not capable of this extremely difficult play, the choice is whether to play west to hold three diamonds headed by a single honor and the seven or to play east for exactly two hearts (or one) and three diamonds to the queen, or to play the hand as it was played, hoping west has 3 diamonds to a single honor and the 7 or holding 7 hearts and 3 diamonds. If you feel that you can ignore the possibility of east making the spectacular discard of the diamond queen on the 3d round of hearts, which of these lines do you think is better?

jim2February 21st, 2012 at 1:13 pm

David –

I am not the expert, but I thought about the same line, and eventually rejected it.

The problems begin with the fact that West may have five hearts, not six, thus giving East a third heart to lead back when in. Next, the line has no chance if West has the QD, while the column line succeeds easily when West has any two diamond honors, and often when West has only one (as in the column hand).

Then, even if everything is right for the holdup line to succeed, West will surely know there is no entry to the hearts at Trick 2 and may shift to spades. Now, it is East that will have the entry to the long spades after the AS is knocked out.

Bobby WolffFebruary 21st, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hi David,

Your comment is indeed interesting and worthy of further discussion.

First, on the probabilities of hearts being 6-2 (as they are) vs. 5-3 the tables would suggest 5-3 as more likely since there is more room left in the short heart hand for another heart than in the long heart hand. Second, the spectacular discard of the diamond queen after East returns his 2nd (and last) heart with West winning and continuing a 3rd would be done, almost as a matter of course, by any really great aspiring player who, by looking at his KQ of spades and counting declarer’s supposed points would realize that partner may or may not have the diamond jack, but he really cannot have any more than that. Going further, after West wins the 2nd heart (he would, of course duck it, if he had only 5) we then, as declarer, would have lost our avoidance play possibility since both hands then become danger hands.

Finally, after West gobbles up the 2nd heart, since he knows how many hearts he started with, he should (will) switch to a spade which will then, in turn, put paid to the contract because of the fortunate spade position which West found.

Please understand, David, that your line is worth discussing and by such, shows creativity in trying to solve the problem, but in fact should be declined for the above reasons.

Our discussion results, or at least should, in the playing of bridge, cause superior overall analysis, which, in turn, is quite often critical. Is it difficult for the defense to find the way to defeat 3NT, if declarer ducks the initial heart? Most certainly yes, but should he? The obvious answer is again yes, since any other attempt is theoretically impossible based on the evidence gleaned.

Thank you for your diligence in writing and enabling many readers to at the very least, begin to see the beauty of what our wonderful game represents. Without your question, many of us would remain in the shallows and misery of missing salient truths which are usually ever present on many more hands, as both declarer and defender, than most of us realize.

Finally, because of the above, shouldn’t bridge be taught in our primary and secondary schools for credit, if for no other reason than to learn the ever present logic of clear thinking? In many countries in Europe and now in China for their 200 million young students it has now been added. I fervently wish that America would, if you will excuse the expression, follow suit with those clear thinking countries participating in what will turn out to be mind developing, painless, and to not forget to mention, a great deal of fun.

MikeFebruary 21st, 2012 at 1:54 pm

After taking the H K, and going to dummy, instead of playing 9 D the first time, why not play small to the 6 if E does not play something higher than the 6? In the actual hand, it is not easy for E to know to play the T or Q when a small D is led off dummy (perhaps really good players will). But more importantly, playing small D caters to E holding QT doubleton in D or equivalent.

RogerMFebruary 21st, 2012 at 3:05 pm


The play you suggest is the one I thought of first before I read the text. I agree with you – it seems to work just as well as the describe solution, and better in some cases. Are we missing something?

Jeff HFebruary 21st, 2012 at 3:05 pm

David –
Your line is foiled if East returns a heart to partner’s ace. West leads another heart to clear the suit and East discards his diamond Q. Now declarer is unable to keep West from winning a diamond to cash his long hearts. So there are two lines (mine and Jim2’s) that defeat the contract if you duck the first heart.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 21st, 2012 at 7:27 pm

HBJ : Hi there. My instinct is to duck the heart hoping that East only has two, and that communications between defenders are severed. Now all prayers turn to East having 3 diamonds to the queen. If this is the case the contract is secure : 4C, 3D, 1H and 1S.
It is also good fortune to have the clubs to get to dummy to lead diamonds twice towards AK, only choosing to duck if East pops up prematurely with the queen.
If defenders do what you suggested in your answer to Jeff H, then I’m happy to go down to a superior pair.
However, what I really wanted to say was ……..if the defence win the first heart with the jack, then a switch to spades will be lethal, with defenders now ahead in the race.
If declarer holds up ( best plan ) he will lose 2S, 2H, and 1D, or 3S, 2H at least.

Bobby WolffFebruary 21st, 2012 at 11:05 pm


The solution of holding up the first heart is, of course, the wrong one, but since it is so widely chosen by the ones commenting, it tends to prove how illusory some intended answers can become.

Just imagine how logical a learning sequence could appear to everyone who would listen, if after due consideration, the victims would all change their minds and immediately begin to see why they had erred.

Bridge tends to lend itself to that type of learning and then a repeat of a future similar thought process would likely lead to the right answer from the beginning.

Such is often the result of some heretofore confusing bridge enigmas which become suddenly clarified.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonFebruary 22nd, 2012 at 10:53 am

HBJ : Tx for getting back to me. The logic of covering has indeed got through to me. South needs to get in quick, and to keep East out on the careful play of the diamonds, and in doing declarer can clearly win the race.
Ducking is an illusion based on different types of hands where such a move is mandatory.