Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 17th, 2012

The smiler with the knife under the cloak.

Geoffrey Chaucer

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


Today's deal reminds me of an expression my grandmother used to use: "He was so sharp, he cut himself."

The exact auction was different at the various tables, but East frequently opened three diamonds and South overcalled four spades. West leads the heart king and switches to the diamond eight. Plan the play.

You are not sure whether East has six diamonds or seven for his opening pre-empt at favorable vulnerability, so it looks dangerous to duck the diamond. The problem is that if you win and play a spade to the queen and another spade, West may win his ace and play a second diamond. Now a third round of diamonds may promote a trick for his presumed spade 10.

One declarer, alert to this danger, found a neat solution. At trick three he crossed to dummy’s club ace and played the heart queen, discarding his second diamond from hand. This play was designed to cut the communications between his opponents’ hands so they could no longer get the trump promotion.

Or could they? While declarer had neatly protected himself against an imaginary danger, he had created a new and fatal problem. The real layout was as shown in the diagram.

When West won the heart ace he continued with a second round of clubs. He then won the first round of trump with the ace and gave his partner a club ruff. One down!

Note that almost any other “normal” line of play would have succeeded.

I like to play that the one-spade rebid shows at least four clubs. (With only three clubs and 4-3-3-3 pattern I rebid one no-trump over one heart.) Accordingly, I can raise to two clubs with a clear conscience; with the spade king instead of the queen I might well have bid three clubs instead, but this hand looks just short of invitational values.


♠ Q 5
 Q 10 7 3
 J 10 5
♣ A 10 9 7
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1 Pass 1♠ 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


RogerMMay 31st, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I am not nearly smart enough to go down on this deal 🙂

Michael BeyroutiMay 31st, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Well said RogerM; most of us do not see hidden dangers until it’s too late.
Mr Wolff, may I try to improve on declarer’s line… at the risk of cutting myself!
He can win the ace of diamonds and play a spade toward the queen. West can hop up with his ace to continue diamonds but then declarer can afford to ruff the third diamond high and no harm can come to him.
If, on the other hand, West does not take his spade ace immediately, then the queen in dummy holds (hopefully). If that is the case then the lurking danger that declarer imagined, with West having started with A-10-4 in spades, becomes real and legitimate. Note to RogerM: this is the point at which some of us wake up and realize there is a hidden threat coming from an impending uppercut.
However, at this point the lead is in dummy and declarer can now play the queen of hearts discarding the diamond from hand. He thus succeeds in cutting the communications between opponents without touching clubs.
I wonder if this was included in the “normal” lines of play alluded to at the end.
I don’t think any line succeeds if East started with the trump ace and West with 10-7-4, since West will get his trump promotion…

MikeMay 31st, 2012 at 4:06 pm

If E has singleton A S, a C to the A and a small S off the board would do it (or if clairvoyant, just play small S from hand and S from dummy to avoid the danger of C ruff).

Bobby WolffMay 31st, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Hi Roger M,

Thanks for your very brief, but poignant comment.

However, my definition of smart is very different, having, in this case, nothing to do with the subject of bridge status, education or learning ability. What it starts with is a realistic appraisal of what is necessary for you to rise in quality in the ability to solve bridge problems, starting out with lesser ones and heading full throttle upward.

“The beginning of wisdom is realizing how little we know” can be, and often is, the start of something worthwhile.

Bobby WolffMay 31st, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi Mike,

Bridge can be very frustrating and often is, but that should be one of its attractions, not one of deficiency.

If I was asked (and have been), what might be the determining factor in rating world class bridge players one from another, what would be the answer?

Being right in predicting distributions, based on the evidence beforehand which include the bidding (or lack thereof), the opening lead, tendencies known, and not least, tempo variations, keeping in mind that the very best players usually give the least away (but restrict their behavior to being bridge ethical).

The above talent is a rather large dose of high-level bridge experience coupled with a God given talent of recognizing the human condition as it pertains to world class bridge competition.

jim2May 31st, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Michael Beyrouti –

Our Host may not have commented yet, but that sure looks like a beautiful line to this non-expert!

Ted BartunekMay 31st, 2012 at 7:50 pm

If the opening lead was a diamond, it would be a tough decision whether to hold up or not. With the opening heart lead, I would feel absolutely convinced (maybe wrong, but still convinced) that West did not have a singleton diamond.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFJune 1st, 2012 at 3:27 am

Hi Mike, Jim2 and Ted,

All of us are always looking for more evidence in hope of pointing the play in the right direction.

At least from my viewpoint, this hand is truly a difficult one. While West may more likely have led his singleton diamond (if he had one) it takes great nerve to not start with a high heart, if for no other reason than you, the opening leader, will probably still be in the lead to consider what to do next. Consider how you would feel to lead a singleton diamond only to see the ace in dummy (or with declarer) and realize that your partner’s heart holding (in most cases a singleton) would allow you to take the first three tricks with, of course your ace of trumps to come.

One, ten or even one hundred hands of this type of problem are not conclusive evidence of any specific answer, but it can be fun and even instructional to talk about it, although almost every hand will have some different application.

One of my first absolutely terrific partners, by the name of Curtis Smith, at least 50 years ago required his partner to have the ace of any suit he preempted, just to seek an edge when this type of bidding appeared. Much too restrictive and resulted in a lack of preemption which ultimately reflected in the opponents being right too often.

Michael BeyroutiJune 1st, 2012 at 11:07 am

Thanks Jim2 for your support. (That’s my consolation.) I especially appreciate it because it is coming from you: I sort of grew to like this “one student in the class who always seems to be raising his hand”… at the right time with the right question.
I think both our host and Lady Kay-Wolff thought Mike and me are the same person and, in a sense, answered me. I think the confusion comes from the fact that my email name is mikebeyrouti@…

jim2June 1st, 2012 at 12:07 pm


(I really WAS that student! When I spotted errors in the math books, some teachers did not like but enough others did that I never stopped.)