Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.

Agatha Christie

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


In today's deal from the Dyspeptics Club, South, finding himself in his accustomed position as declarer, received a club lead against three no-trump.

He won the first club and tested diamonds, uttering a snort of disgust when the suit failed to break. At this point he gave himself the best chance he could when he cashed his last diamond winner — East carefully discarding spades on both top diamonds — then played hearts from the top. The blockage in the suit meant that he could cash only three tricks there, and the defenders had enough communications to take five winners whatever declarer did next.

As usual, North was dismissive of his partner’s efforts. Can you see why?

It is tempting to be overconfident and expect to take lots of tricks when diamonds come in. But even if diamonds break badly, you may be able to make four heart tricks and your contract; however, you need to test that suit first in case someone has a doubleton jack. As you can see from the lie of the cards today, you have four heart tricks, but you need to retain an entry to the South hand to score the last of them.

Cash the heart ace and queen at once, and when the jack drops doubleton, you unblock the heart 10 and have the entry in the form of the diamond ace to untangle your winners and take your nine tricks.

In an auction of this sort, where your partner has used fourth-suit as an exploratory move to determine more about your hand, supporting partner economically with honor-doubleton and a decent hand is normally a good idea. This leaves space for your partner to decide where he wants to go next. So a call of three diamonds looks right.


♠ J 10 6 5 2
 A K 3 2
 A 5
♣ A 7
South West North East
1♠ Pass 2 Pass
2 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


jim2April 18th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

On the column play,messing up late entry management is an easy trap to fall into. On this hand it is particularly treacherous because one might want to try for four heart tricks by a second round finesse, rather than hoping for 3-3 or doubleton jack. Testing the diamonds first looks like an obvious way to postpone the decision but … oops!

On the bidding question, bidding three diamonds sounds like 5-4-3-1 or maybe 5-4-2-2 w/o a club stopper. I think I might try 3N, instead, especially as the 4th suit bid seems to carry a club length inference. That is, pard did not support either major or rebid diamonds, so 2-3-5-3 and 2-2-5-4 seem to be the most likely patterns.

RogerMApril 18th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

@jim2 – I agree with your analysis on the bidding question, but it looks like NT would play better from my partner’s side (picturing partner with Qxx of clubs).

jim2April 18th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I actually wrote – then deleted – a comment that specifically addressed Qxx of clubs in pard’s hand! (I was already going long.)

Basically, I said that if I KNEW pard had Qxx, I would like to hand him the 3N card from my bidding box. However, pard would have heard me bid two suits and support diamonds, and might well be a bit chary of 3N if his Qxx were to have to be the parnership club stopper.

Thus, I wasn’t sure how to get there from here.

At least I could let the lead float around to my AC and try to keep West off lead thereafter.

RogerMApril 18th, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Yes, I do see your point. I’ll be interested to read our host’s take on the choices.

jim2April 18th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

RogerM –

In a happy world, pard would reply to “our” belated diamond raise with a raise of one of our major suits. At this point, we would flourish the 3N card and have had a wonderful bidding sequence.

Sadly, that rarely seems to happen for me. 🙂

Or, pard could bid 4D, hinting at something like 1-2-6-4, or maybe 2-2-5-4 with just xx in spades. At MPs, with 3N in our rear mirror, we might be now destined to 6D. Our hand is pretty good if pard has a nice suit and a singleton spade so, over 4D, I guess we bid 4H and away we go ….

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hi Jim2 and RogerM,

Sadly, at least for me, I just lost my answer to the proposed bidding problem on today’s AOB hand. Instead I’ll just attempt to paraphrase what I think to be an important message to be carefully thought about.

It is a slam dunk for, while playing a 2 over 1 system, to which I am of mixed emotion, to bid 3 diamonds, not 3NT in response to partner’s artificial 3 clubs. I do not agree that the responding hand should have bid 3 clubs but rather 3 diamonds first, with 2 spades second choice. It might have been better to even eschew 2 diamonds and to have responded 1 forcing NT instead.

While, of course, preferring to have 3 diamonds in hand for my 3 diamond choice, my hand is such a tremendous force for an eventual slam (probably but not necessarily diamonds) that to woodingly just bid 3NT (showing a club stop) does not begin to do justice to what my hand represents. Even with partner’s sub par hand, 6 diamonds only requires a 3-2 trump break and 4 heart tricks and if partner’s 2 diamond response included both red jacks it would be a laydown (as would 6NT).

I realize that the old bromide, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a beautiful Christmas we would have.” but one of the big distinguishing marks, (perhaps even the top of the list) of rising to fame as a bridge player is the ability to visualize playing trick potential as the bidding unfolds. On such a platform should the opening bidder be placed upon when he realizes the enormous impact his three aces and a matching king makes opposite a hand which, at least theoretically, is able to make a GF into his best suit.

As both of you may know by now, I do not jump to criticize close decisions whether they be in the bidding or the play and defense, but not bidding 3 diamonds over 3 clubs, at least to me, is a significant error. BTW, partner can now (should) bid either 3 spades or perhaps 3 hearts (neither are perfect) which should then probably elicit 3NT from the opener as a safety play against partner’s slight original overbid.

Bob LoseyApril 18th, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Why not (2nd trick) play the K of D’s then the Ace of D’s. If the Diamonds split (48% of the time) you go to dummy with the Q of Hearts and merrily go about taking 11 tricks.
If the Diamonds don’t split it seems to me the logical thing to do next is take the 50-50 chance on the finesse of the Jack of Hearts, which means that when the Diamonds don’t split (52% of the time) you still make your game half the time. So chances of making game this way are 48% + 26% = 74%.
If my math is correct it seems to me this line of play is superior to first playing for the Jack drop (1/3 chance?) then playing for the Diamonds to split the 2/3 of the time the Jack doesn’t drop. Using this strategy from today’s column I calculate that you will make the game 1/3 of the time + 2/3 x .48, or 33.3% + 32% = 65.3% of the time, so not as good as the first strategy.
I must have made a mistake because you are wrong so very rarely.
Bob L

nancy raneApril 18th, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Your column on April 18 which starts with an H.L. Mencken quote, “Conscience is the inner voice which warns us somebody may be looking.”

I don’t see how south can get 4 diamond tricks if east splits honors on the first diamond lead from dummy and then when declarer leads to his diamond 8, east plays low. You’ve already used two heart entries and cannot get back to dummy to run the diamonds.

Nancy Rane

jim2April 18th, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I think the 3-2 diamond split probability is 68%, not 48%, but that should not affect your basic argument.

Since both your line and the column one work when diamonds are 3-2, the general question you pose is which has the greater probability when diamonds do NOT split. Specifically, what is more likley, a simple finesse, or a 3-3 break plus Jx doubleton chances when the cards are 4-2. That is, the failed declarer relied on the 3-3 break, while the column line added to it the chance of Jack doubleton.

The finesse is, of course, simply 50%.

The 3-3 break is 36% of the remaining probability (whatever it is), so the question is if Jack doubleton is more or less than the difference between 50% and 36%.

The odds of a 4-2 break are 48% and my quick check suggests that the jack will be doubleton in one-third of the potential cases for 16%. If I am correct here (hopefully our Host or someone else will correct me if I am mistaken), that would put the combined chances at 52% versus the 50% finesse. (The column line would also work for 5-1 off-side.)

In practice, of course, I think the situation is different. That is, once you have played two rounds of diamonds, your knowledge of the hand at that moment will have improved, and this may affect your choice of plays.

For example, if West has four diamonds – as in the column case – you now know that West began with four clubs and four diamonds, leaving only 5 major suit cards, while East is known to have 7. Alternatively, if East is revealed to hold the four diamonds, then East has only 4 major suit cards, versus 8 in the West hand and – since a club was led – West is likely 4-4-1-4.

In the first case, the two lines are probably toss-ups while, in the second case, yours would probably be superior.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Hi Bob,

While your analysis is reasonably accurate, your percentages are a little off. The diamonds figure to break 3-2 about 67% of the time, not 48%. The question now turns to the finesse of the heart jack which when 4 diamonds appear with West (as in the actual hand), the odds on the heart jack being with West are about 12 to 9 against, about 43%-57% making your overall successful plan about 81% (67%+ 14%). Playing for a 3-3 heart break (after discovering the diamonds) is about the same. However, If East, not West, had the 4 diamonds then the Jack of hearts being finessable raises a few percent while the 3-3 break remains the same.

Since the thrust of what we are doing here should accent bridge not mathematics, suffice it to say that the above calculations only suggest that all of the discussed lines of play are roughly similar.

Thanks for your kind words and good bridge luck to you.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Hi Nancy,

There is an April 18 AOB hand and then there is another April 18 AOB hand which really made the newspapers on April 4 and has been two weeks delayed, due to fairness necessary for our client newspapers who pay for the service.

I suspect that the one with the H.L. Mencken quote is the real AOB hand which will not be seen on the internet until May 2.

Hopefully your mystery has been solved, but the bad news is that we have another bad diamond break in our near future. And all the time we have been led to believe that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.