Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 5th, 2012

Words are but empty thanks.

Colley Cibber

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


**Three aces


I'm always pleased when my correspondents send me deals, and even happier when they contain educational points. Today's came from Rich Mannheimer, who was generous enough to let me have a deal where he described his role as that of the goat, not the hero.

Six diamonds looks like a splendid contract here; ideally South would like to get North to be declarer, but after a Gerber auction, South settled for declaring what he thought would be the best slam, albeit the wrong way up.

If the defenders find a passive lead, then declarer can simply establish an extra spade winner for his 12th trick. How should you play the hand on a club lead, though?

At the table declarer won the club lead, drew trumps, then led a spade to dummy’s queen. East won his king and cashed a club winner, and declarer claimed the rest.

It was only in the long watches of the night that South woke up slapping his forehead and realized that while the play in spades might look like a blind guess, he had given up a 100 percent line for a 50-50 shot.

If you win the club lead and draw trump, then play a spade to the ace and pitch your club loser on the spade queen, you have guaranteed the contract. Even if West can win the spade king, the defenders no longer have a club to cash. Moreover, South can subsequently pitch his slow heart loser on dummy’s spade winner.

Your partner has not promised any more than four clubs on this auction, since your hand typically delivers four or five clubs for the simple raise of a potentially short minor. Accordingly, the lead of the club ace looks unnecessarily dangerous. I'd lead a fourth-highest diamond as the most passive option.


♠ Q 8 4
 Q 2
 10 6 3 2
♣ A J 6 2
South West North East
1♣ 1
2♣ 2 3♣ 3
All 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


Richard SchmalbeckMarch 19th, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Always enjoy your columns, usually understand them. Puzzled by today’s (Mar. 19) about Zia Mahmood’s brilliant false card. I understand the brilliance, but don’t understand how the contract was a sure thing otherwise. South has a diamond loser, and it’s not at all clear what he can do about it. Best play seems to be to trump west’s second heart low in the dummy, cash dummy’s three high trump, then lead a diamond back to the ace. Then play south’s three little trump and the queen of hearts, and hope that east discards a diamond, so that south’s diamond four will be a winner in the fourth round of that suit. East might well discard a diamond, since he doesn’t know that west has clubs covered. But it looks to me like a fifty-fifty guess from east’s viewpoint. Doesn’t Mahmood defeat the contract even without the brilliant false card, as long as he holds onto his four diamonds?

bobby wolffMarch 19th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Hi Richard,,

Please forgive me, but I do not have a copy of the real March 19th hand and would have to do a few handstands to get it. If you can wait until April 2nd, when that hand will be up on our bridge blogging site (2 weeks delayed) I will promise a complete response to your comment.

Unfortunately it has been 3 or 4 months since that column was actually written and my memory is not doing its job. Besides your comment is supposed (in a perfect world) to be shared by everyone who tunes into this site and most will not be able to be looking at what you are describing.

Till two weeks go by and thanks for writing.

Paul BetheMarch 19th, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I note that when adopting the winning line, South may actually make 13 tricks as the best defense is challenging.

Ace of clubs, draw trumps, Ace of spades, spade:
To hold the hand to 12 tricks, East must DUCK.

Because if covered, ruff and finish trump pitching two clubs and a heart. In the four card ending S has 3 hearts and a club, N 3 hearts and a winning spade. A heart to the Ace, spade finishes East. As this is the only available squeeze, even intermediate declarers should ‘fall’ into this.

Instead if on the second spade it is ducked, South must pitch the club for the ‘100%’ line (since he doesn’t know who has the spade king), and then is not able to affect a squeeze on East later.

bobby wolffMarch 20th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Hi Paul,

A truly brilliant analysis. If you were proof reading our column and wanted to make sure nothing was left unsaid you would have moved at least one of the key clubs spots to the West hand.

Thanks for using your bridge acumen and your eagle eye to uncover an unmentioned aspect of this hand.

Michael BeyroutiMarch 20th, 2012 at 4:27 pm

@Paul Bethe:
I did not find the squeeze but my imagination led me to this instead:
When East covers the SQ declarer ruffs high, preserving the D4 in hand while the D6 remains in dummy to serve as a later entry. Next, declarer cashes the HK, plays a heart to dummy’s Ace, discards a heart on the good spade and ruffs a heart high. If hearts are 3-3, enter dummy with D6 and discard the club loser on the good heart. Which line has the higher probabilty of success?

bobby wolffMarch 21st, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Hi Michael,

Yes, between you and Paul there are no bases left uncovered.

You are correct in scoring up 13 tricks if East covers the queen of spades, but if he does not, and as Paul points out, it is somewhat foolhearty to throw a heart now (with the idea of ruffing out the suit for the overtrick), but instead to throw a club which is the way to guarantee (loser on loser with the ability to eventually succeed in the small slam contract).

Of course, if somehow a grand slam is reached, and East does not cover the queen of clubs, the declarer must do as you and Paul suggest.

This grand slam part of the discussion reminds me of words coming from the late and great Johnny Crawford, who upon being asked why his declarer play became so extra special replied, “Easy answer, my bidding, in the early stages of my career was so bad that, in self-defense, I needed to find ways to take enough tricks to make my aggressive contracts”.