Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before.

Thorstein Veblen

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


In today's deal from a charity game in honor of Arthur Loeb to benefit the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, how do you find out scientifically whether you want to be in slam?

Once hearts are set as trump, North can ask for key-cards (the four aces and the trump queen). If the response is zero or three, or one or four, the cheapest step asks for the trump queen; the response in the trump suit denies it, and a bid in any other suit promises it. If the responder has two key cards, the immediate response either shows or denies the trump queen.

Today, however, slam has two chances, the first being to find the trump queen, the second to discard North’s clubs on declarer’s spades. On a non-spade lead such as the diamond jack, you should cash the heart ace and unblock both spade honors. Only then do you lead a heart to the king, trying to cash South’s spade winners to pitch dummy’s clubs.

However, at a few tables where keycard Blackwood was not in use, West led the club ace against six hearts, and now the diamond jack shift went to the ace, eight and six.

How to play the trump suit now? After the ace and a small heart sees East follow twice, the old adage is “Eight ever, nine never.” However, East’s play of the diamond eight was surely significant, suggesting shortage. Since West appeared to have many more diamonds than East, the heart finesse was the odds-on play, and declarer duly took it to make his slam.

You may look at this 16-count and assume you have extra values. But in a sense, with your doubleton spade honors not pulling their full weight, you have really nothing to spare in high-cards, and certainly nothing extra in terms of shape. Pass two hearts, and be happy to stay low.


♠ Q J
 A 10 6 5 4
 A Q 4 2
♣ K 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1 NT Pass
2 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


David WarheitMay 1st, 2012 at 10:16 am

There is a lead that defeats 6H: a small club. If west learns from the bidding that north has the club king, might not he be tempted to make this lead? (Of course, sadly do I remember the day many many years ago when, in a very similar situation playing matchpoints, I underled my ace the moment the bidding ended, this being the only lead with the potential to defeat the contract. Declarer looked at my lead with dread and horror, but finally shrugged his shoulders and played the king and thus became the only declarer to make 7. Why did he play the king? Because he didn’t have the jack.)

Iain ClimieMay 1st, 2012 at 10:28 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Couldn’t the defenders show more guile here? West could lead the D9 at trick 2 for example, suggesting he is short in diamonds. Also, if East had 2 small trumps and (say) D853, the 8 would be an excellent false card. There again, declarer might expect such ruses from good opponents – bluff plays double bluff.


Iain Climie

bobbywolffMay 1st, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Hi David,

Your tale is directly related to bridge as it really is, rather than bridge in a fantasy world, with a subtitle (I realize you were only playing matchpoints and trying to defeat the contract), of “how to try and be a shining star but losing 17 IMPs”.

Whenever playing in a 120 board or longer match, such as what is now, as we speak, going on in Chicago and viewgraphed on Bridge Base Online, (BBO), The US open team trials to determine the USA team for the World Team Olympiad to be held in Lille, France in late August, over the course of the tournament when slam hands (or almost) appear, the warning flag goes up, both for the declarer and for the defense.

More often than not, what is done on those hands is usually a determiner in a tight match between two closely matched teams as to which team wins.

My advice is to stick with the straight and narrow, DO NOT try to be a hero and somehow or other, lady luck will usually somehow be a lady, and favor your end result.

For fun (and if you have the time) tune into BBO, starting at 10AM CST and see for yourself, as our best and brightest current stars battle it out. As Damon Runyon, a well known American poet and gambler type once said, “The battle does not always go to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that is the way to bet”. Our best bridge performers try to follow the percentages and leave the brilliancies to their opponents.

bobbywolffMay 1st, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you are right on target, especially while defending against slam hands or other potential big swing hands involving competitive auctions where the underrated poker element in bridge becomes paramount in who wins.

Better to know who one’s opponent are, rather than what one’s eyes see in the form of what might be (as you described) random falsecards.

Thanks for your ever vigilant eye and taking the time to write.