Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey.

W.B. Yeats

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




In the finals of the 2011 NEC tournament in Yokohama, Japan, both tables in today's deal reached six hearts on a spade lead, but in one case with North declarer, and in the other case with South.

For the losing Chinese team, Peng (North) won the spade lead in dummy, cashed the diamond king, then drew three rounds of trump ending in the North hand. Next he led a spade up, and David Gold, for the Anglo-Dutch winners, hopped up with the spade queen and returned the suit to eliminate any pressure in the endgame: down one. In fact, once declarer had cashed the heart ace and king, he could no longer make the hand.

Ricco van Prooijen showed how to do it at the other table. Sitting South, he won the spade lead in hand, played one top trump from hand, then led the diamond king, and crossed to a trump in dummy as East pitched a spade. Now declarer ruffed a diamond high, played the club ace, ruffed a club, and ruffed another diamond with his last high trump.

Next he ruffed a club to dummy, and East had either to let go a spade — in which case declarer would draw the trump and play on spades — or pitch a diamond, his actual choice.

Van Prooijen drew the last trump, cashed the diamond ace, and led a spade toward his jack at trick 12, with East down to the Q-10 of spades. Contract made.

Although you have a beautiful hand you have no reason to assume that your partner has anything at all — even four hearts — since he might have been forced to act with nothing. Having doubled already to show a good hand, you can raise to three hearts now, to show an even better one and rely on partner to bid game with as little as queen-fifth of hearts and a black king.


♠ A J 7 2
 A K 10 2
♣ A 9 8 6
South West North East
Dbl. Pass 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


RogerMFebruary 28th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Looking at the hands – in particular from the North point of view – I don’t understand what layout of the cards the Chinese declarer would have been hoping for by drawing trumps first.

If I were sitting North, on the lead of a high spade, I would think (hope) I would have counted up 5 hearts, 2 diamonds, 1 club, and eventually 2 spade winners – 10 tricks. Which seems to make ruffing two diamonds the obvious line.

bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi Roger M,

Sometimes and without specific empirical evidence we need to assume. The playing of high-level competitive bridge is cultural, not so much because of talent (my experience tells me that all, (or almost), nationalities are equally bright, sharp and have more or less like abilities to learn and then become world class.

However, because of extraneous reasons, (usually, at least to me because of necessary background), different cultures are at different levels, with obvious non-predictable exceptions.

The losing declarer probably combined two deadly habits, lack of learned technique (taking a line of play which didn’t offer enough tricks), together with impatience (sometimes face saving, trying to avoid looking slow witted).

While no one could recommend what happened above, please keep in mind that there are many other so-called deadly sins which could also basically paralyse what is needed to compete in bridge at any and every level.

Until bridge is accepted in our early school curriculum in both primary and secondary schools as it has been in many countries in Europe for years and is now begun in China, our beloved game will never achieve what it so richly deserves because of the skills involved, arithmetical, logic, detective work, psychological, intensity, partnership cooperation and general problem solving.

Since I cannot prove any of the above without help and dedication by those with the computer knowledge, time and resources to make it happen, we in the USA can only bide our time, hoping it still remains on the charts.

Thanks for writing, which, at least in my opinion is truly a critical statement in where we find ourselves now in world bridge and where we need to get to be.

RogerMFebruary 28th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I was certainly not trying to imply anything negative about the declarer who failed. I certainly have made – and continue to make – many, many mistakes that my partner would say were too obvious to miss 🙂 But I did want to comment that, in this case, counting your winners seems to lead you to the right solution.

Thanks for your reply. It’s always nice to read your bridge insight!

David WarheitFebruary 29th, 2012 at 6:23 pm

There is another line of play which works as the cards lie. Win the opening lead, cash the king of diamonds and ace of clubs and ruff a club. Cash the ace of diamonds and ruff a diamond with the ace of hearts. Now lead the ten of hearts to dummy’s queen and ruff another diamond high. Finally lead the deuce of hearts and finesse the eight, draw trump and lead a spade. It seems to me that this is a reasonable line of play since there is some reason to believe that west led a spade at trick one because he had a singleton, meaning that he is probably long in trump. Also, this line of play is virtually guaranteed to work not only if west has the nine of hearts but if the nine of hearts is singleton. What do you think of the relative merits of this line of play and the one adopted by van Prooijen?

bobby wolffFebruary 29th, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Hi David,

Without a great deal of agony, I would choose van Prooijen’s line since, the thinking of hearts being 3-1 and diamonds 3-5 could just as well be 2-2 (with East in possession of the 9, a 50-50 proposition) and 4-4. A short cut description is that the black suits mirrored each other with both opponents having a known total of 7 black cards each. Your proposed line is reasonable and for result purposes it is more flashy, except for the Dutch declarer playing for East to be caught up in the squeeze which guaranteed making the contract.

At any rate, you have a good sense of analysis and, at least it appears, not afraid to back your judgment.

David WarheitMarch 1st, 2012 at 9:26 am

I’m going to take one more shot at this. First of all, no line works if hearts are 4-0. It seems to me that both van Prooijen and I assumed that west led a singleton spade. If so, the chances are 12-7 that west held the 9 or hearts + there is the chance that east had the singleton 9, which means the total chance of hearts behaving is close to 70%, not the 50-50 which you state. Furthermore, van Prooijen’s line depends on east having at least 4 diamonds, otherwise there is no squeeze. I’m not sure what the odds are on that, but knowing that east has 5 spades and at least one heart, that only leaves at most 7 cards for him to hold in the minors, with 8 cards missing in each minor. That can’t add up to a 70% chance of him holding at least 4 diamonds. If my analysis is correct, then my line is superior.