Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 11th, 2012

When the truth entails tremendous ruin,
To speak dishonorably is pardonable.


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


Today's deal shows how you can achieve remarkable results with smoke and mirrors.

Even if North had passed, you might still reach a delicate four -spade contract from the South seat. Looking at the East and West cards, you would assume the contract was doomed, but West gives you a respite when he leads a club at trick one. It does not appear at first glance that this will be quite enough of a helping hand.

If you win the trick cheaply and cross to a top heart in dummy, then take the spade finesse. West wins, and knowing you have the missing club and spade honors, he rates to shift to a diamond, doesn’t he? East can help his partner in the decision-making process if his side is playing suit preference in trumps. He would then follow with the spade two on the first round to emphasize diamonds over hearts.

But now see what happens if you take East’s club jack with the ace at trick one, then cross to dummy with a heart for the losing spade finesse. If West can resist underleading the club king for his partner to make the diamond switch, then he is certainly a better man than I. Of course, if the spade finesse succeeds, you still make 10 tricks by pitching a diamond on the hearts.

Incidentally, the same sort of play can arise when you have the A-K-J in the suit they lead. Winning East’s 10 with the king can create the same illusion.

With everyone bidding, your partner is probably the player who has stretched to act, but you cannot afford not to invite game here. Cue-bid three diamonds to show a high-card limit raise or better, but don't hang your partner any higher. If he signs off in three hearts, accept his word for it and let him play there.


♠ A 9 6 3
 Q 7 2
 J 5 2
♣ A Q 2
South West North East
1 1 2

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


Jeff SFebruary 25th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Given the poor contract South finds himself in, I suppose there is nothing to lose with the swindle attempt, but it seems to me that as West, I should smell a very large rat sitting to my right.

After all, my partner put up the JC denying the queen on the first trick. I think he would be a little peeved with me if I took South’s word for it over his!

MikeFebruary 25th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Since when does J deny the Q?

bobby wolffFebruary 25th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jeff S,

For what it is worth, I certainly agree with Mike, although since you have been obviously playing, that your 3rd seat partner should play the higher of equals (QJ) if he has them.

Mike is correct in that it is customary (mandatory) for your partner (3rd seat player) to play his highest one unless he has equals (QJ) then the lowest of the two or if holding QJ10 then to play the ten.

Chalk this up to a learning experience and thanks for writing.

Jeff SFebruary 25th, 2012 at 10:53 pm

So chalked, even if I am not 100% sure I understand the reasoning.

If it is customary, then I assume that, on balance, the pluses outweigh the minuses, so that the aids to defensive communication (or declarer confusion?) more than make up for situations like this one where it sets the defenders up to be nicely hustled.

Clearly, I’ve still got a lot to learn – and I have one question to start: Does playing from the top in most cases put a partnership at a material disadvantage over one that habitually plays from the middle or bottom?

There are obviously situations for both methods where you may deem it profitable to stray from your normal habit in order to befuddle declarer while not materially affecting your partner’s read – ie, because the way the cards lie, it doesn’t matter if your partner understands what is going on. But is the top-down method noticeably weaker than the other?

Thanks in advance for wading through this rather long response.

One last question: if the 5C was a helping hand, what SHOULD West have led here? Thanks again!

jim2February 25th, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Jeff S –

I am not the expert, but I see what might be some communication confusion here.

Standard practice is generally to LEAD the highest of two touching honors (like K from KQ).

Standard practice when following suit is to play the LOWEST of two touching honors (like Q from KQ).

bobby wolffFebruary 26th, 2012 at 4:42 am

Hi Jeff S,

As Jim2 has stated clearly, the standard practice in the entire bridge world is to do as he suggests and for logical reasons.

Using the Aces hand as an example, when partner plays the queen he denies holding the Jack, but could hold the king. Since his partner holds the king and his partner’s jack has driven out the ace, the opening leader, by positive inference can usually rely on what was played at trick one to confidently play partner for the theoretical queen, or else why didn’t the declarer win the first trick with it. It, of course, was not true on this hand because of the diabolical and brilliant play by declarer of the ace, trying to mislead the defense in case of the trump finesse being wrong.

Yes, this is a special column hand, but top of the world players are versatile and imaginative enough to forsee this outcome. It really happens every now and then, perhaps once out of every 300 hands one plays or defends, but hats should be doffed to the declarer who knelt (instead of rose) to the occasion.

To some readers their comment would be, this hand is just too unrealistic and no one should expect his readers to understand why such a play was made. To that I would say, Fie on that notion and here is an example which all of us can aspire to do.

Traditionally learning bridge is done in spurts, wherein we go for certain periods at perhaps our status quo and all of a sudden the game gets easier as we learn to cope with it. After several of those delightful spurts we then are lured into playing tournament bridge at our local club and presto, we magically have found a hobby which will last for a lifetime and keep our minds sharp for many years after retirement.

Good luck to all who have already experieced it and to those who are looking forward to doing it for the first time.