Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, April 21st, 2012

All good things which exist are the fruits of originality.

John Stuart Mill

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


Today's declarer in six spades was entitled to claim he was unlucky. He ruffed the opening lead of a club and led a high trump from hand. The 5-0 trump break made him open his eyes wide. He switched his attention to diamonds, hoping three rounds might stand up if East had the length. No luck there: East ruffed the third diamond and exited with a heart. Declarer still thought he might come close to making his contract if the heart finesse succeeded, but when it lost, he was struggling to escape for down one.

The swing on this deal was especially expensive since his opponents had stayed out of slam in the other room. Can you see what declarer might have done, even against the foul trump break?

It is a lot easier to see when you are looking at all four hands, but if your objective is to take 12 tricks rather than 13, surely the only thing you have to worry about is a bad trump break. It then makes a lot of sense to duck the first trick, discarding a heart from hand rather than ruffing in.

West does best to shift to a diamond, which you win in hand to lead a spade to the board. Now when West discards, you lead a spade back to the 10, cross to a top diamond, and play a spade to the nine. After drawing trump, you have 12 tricks: a club, a heart and five winners in each of the other suits.

When playing negative doubles, you typically reopen when short in the opponents' suit, hoping that partner can make a penalty double — here, against clubs. Given your club length, you know partner is weak, typically without diamond support. Accordingly, you must pass and hope the opponents are in the wrong spot.


♠ K 3 2
 8 4
 A K J 9 7
♣ K 7 6
South West North East
1 2♣ Pass 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


Iain ClimieMay 5th, 2012 at 9:20 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

I’ve often seen that specific trump combination misplayed, although usually it makes no difference. With AQ109x opposite K8xx, and the extra trump, obviously you start with the Ace or Queen to ensure 5 tricks. With the combination shown, you clearly can’t pick up 5 trumps over the AQ and can only pick up Jxxx on your left if West shows you his/her cards. Hence playing the King first is the best percentage shot for 5 tricks, barring strong indications of LHO having length.

Much of bridge play is based on pattern recognition; it strikes me that many poor results are when the actual hand is subtly different to the pattern that appears to be there. Playing on autopilot is all too easy and often makes no difference; here it does. Having said that, I wince at the number of times I’ve had a good long think and then done something daft, again through not quite thinking things through completely.


Iain Climie

bobbywolffMay 5th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Hi Iain,

Your advice is as clear as the story of the three bears where the porridge you offer is neither too hot, complicated with hard to understand unusual bromides which rarely appear, nor too cold, but rather to the point play, which is tied to the actual bidding and is certainly a live possibility to occur.

To the above qualities you add a large touch of modesty which endears you to all who attempt to smartly play our beloved game.

All an admirer like me can do is thank you for a beautiful presentation which will, at the very least, cause many of our readers to think that discarding, instead of trumping, at trick one is indeed the right play to make, and, whether it is or not, a play which could, or even should, be made.

Very high level bridge, together with superior play is made palatable by your descriptions. To do otherwise, sometimes runs lesser experienced players, but ones with significant potential, away and that effect is the opposite of what all of us bridge writers want to do.

In simple words, thank you!