Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 18th, 2012

When people agree with me, I always feel that I must be wrong.

Oscar Wilde

East North
Neither ♠ 7 6 3
 A J 7 5
 J 6 4
♣ 10 9 2
West East
♠ A Q 10 4
 6 3 2
♣ K 7 5 4 3
♠ J 9 5
 10 9 8
 Q 9 7 5
♣ J 8 6
♠ K 8 2
 K Q 4
 A K 8 3 2
♣ A Q
South West North East
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


At the top level of bridge, partnership agreement about signals and discards is as important as agreements in bidding.

Today’s deal comes from a recent European championship match between Romania and Italy, the eventual winners.

At both tables West led a low club against three no-trump. When the Italians were defending, the Romanian declarer won the club queen at trick one, cashed the diamond ace, and played a diamond toward dummy’s jack. Nunes (West) discarded the heart six and Fantoni wasted no time in switching to the spade nine, ensuring that the defenders took four tricks in that suit.

In my view it should have been easier for the Romanians at the other table. Here Lorenzo Lauria, declarer for Italy, won the club queen, cashed the diamond ace and then crossed to dummy’s heart jack to run the diamond jack.

This told everybody that declarer had four heart tricks, and West could surely tell that he had at least three diamond tricks (given his play) and two clubs. So, West should have discarded a club, suggesting to East that he try something else. As it was, West discarded a heart, and East continued clubs when on lead with the diamonds. As far as he was concerned, West could have held both black aces instead of his actual holding. Now it would have been necessary to clear the clubs before putting West in with the spade ace to cash his club winners.

Although you have a decent club sequence, you must lead a heart if you want to have any chance to beat this game. You must either set up or cash hearts at once, and realistically a small heart is your best bet to do that. If dummy has the heart king, declarer may duck, and if your partner has that card, you may be able to cash three hearts on the go.


♠ 2
 A J 9 2
 7 4 2
♣ J 10 9 7 6
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠
Pass 3♠ Pass 4♣
Pass 4 Pass 4♠
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


jim2July 2nd, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Leading towards the JD wins with many layouts. If West’s singleton diamond had been the 7 or 5, however, East could have beaten the hand by simply continuing clubs when in with the Q. That is, the AS could have been onside all along and declarer would still have gone down.

Thus, declarer’s line succeeds when East holds the QD and only a modest subset of other layouts. For example, diamonds could be poised to run (3-2 or a layout such as the column hand) but the defenders run spades. Or, diamonds may be bad but the AS is onside and the defenders clear clubs before declarer can lead towards the AS.

Other lines seem about as promising as the ones chosen by the column declarers. One such would be to begin diamonds by leading the JD from the board. Another is simply to cash the top diamonds hoping for the Q to show and then clearing the hearts before playing towards the KS.

The advantage to the first of the the above is that it reduces the chance of an early loss of the lead to East (and appears would have worked in the column hand).

The advantage to the second alternate line is that it may be the math equal of the others, however, it also simplifies the defense.

Am I mistaken on these alternate lines? That is, are there advantages to the lines the declarers selected that I have missed?

bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

You present an interesting question and I will attempt to answer it as best I can.

First, the safety play of a small diamond at trick 3 wins when West would have the Q109x and false cards the ten (a possible play since it costs nothing). Second (and probably more likely), it wins with the column layout, when the ace of spades is onside, or if not when West only has three spades, including the ace, but declarer guesses it right. Of course if West had only the Ax in spades it would also then always make. Continuing on that subject, most top declarers only wish for the possibility of being able to make the hand legitimately and are confident of their table ability to do the right thing.

Also of course, the safety play works on all mundane layouts not discussed, but declarer proof. It also works when the defenders do the wrong thing regarding either misreading or misdefending by East continuing a club.

BTW, for those who are interested, sometimes hands like these can be used (not on this one because of the unusual combination of the jack with East and the 109 in the dummy) in order to investigate stealthy cheating by pairs who always get these situations right, in spite of no tangible evidence to guide them.

The above is a bonus and not the reason you asked, but to would be bridge sleuths, it is probably worth mentioning (at least I think it is).

Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Hi Gents,

Jim2’s musings make me wonder about a small deception here. If declarer plays the C10 at trick 1 and takes the CJ with the CA, then DA, Dx to the Jack, east will play the S9. Declarer plays the King trying to look like a man with SKJx and West then puts his partner in with his “known” CQ with unfortunate results. It shouldn’t work, of course, although South could be trying to block clubs with CAxx by assuming that West would have led high from KQxxx – possibly more likely than a small one after the 2NT opening. It also reeks of 20-20 hindsight but it flags up a few deceptive possibilities.

East’s S9 switch is the right play for 4 tricks with J9x opposite AQ10x and a known position but here it could fool partner too – south can’t have SKxxx if you’re going to get 4 spade tricks so is the SJ better?


Iain Climie

bobby wolffJuly 2nd, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Hi Iain,

First, is there no end to the treasure troves bridge offers? Second, our little group is getting so sophisticated it takes more than my little mind can stand just to try and deal with all the possibilities.

While, at least to me, your proposed subterfuge about winning East’s jack of clubs with your ace rather than the queen looks quite successful to me and then hopping confidently with the king upon East’s return of the nine of spades should complete the charade causing West to think the jack of spades is with the declarer.

The only tiny problem with it all is that in a Alice in Wonderland world West would win his singleton Ace of spades and then lead back to his partner’s withheld king of clubs in order for 5 more spades to be cashed by your worthy RHO. And then to find out later that the queen of diamonds was doubleton would involve going down 4 tricks in your contract with the king jack of clubs being doubleton on side along with the queen of diamonds falling and the spade ace singleton would as Desi Arnaz (I love Lucy’s famous bandleader husband) would have confessed, “I think I have some splaining to do”.

All in fun Iain, and don’t worry about the little old ladies in your section taking 7 more tricks than you did on this hand. You can tell everyone that you are studying hard and will try and restrict the fewer number of tricks taken on future hands.

Iain ClimieJuly 2nd, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for this and it reminded me of a Victor Mollo hand where RR lead the 2 (5th or 6th from a suit headed by the 10) on which the Hog played the J from KJ doubleton, thinking it was from 4 and aiming for a switch. Papa won the Ace from AQ doubleton to induce RR to play away from his “known” K if he gained the lead. RR did so and continued his suit, the King dropped the Queen and a switch through declarer’s Kx in another suit led to the sort of disaster you describe.

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. As one of my partners often says “stop thinking and start playing”.

Wen TaoJuly 3rd, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

This is very interesting hand. I enjoy reading your analyses along with all 5 comments. I understand that it is a technically correct play to cash the diamond ace first, and then lead a low diamond from hand towards the Jack. Since the declarer, in this deal, keenly intends to block the opponents’ communications to prevent a spade switch, how about breaking away from the norm and leading a low diamond from hand towards the Jack at trick two. In this way, if East holds the queen, he/she most likely returns a club since no signal was given by his partner. As long as diamonds breaks no worse than 1-4 and West’s singleton is Q, 10, or 9, the declarer could manage to get 4 diamond tricks and bring home the bacon.


bobby wolffJuly 4th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Hi Mr. Wen Tao,

Thanks for the kind words. They serve, in addition to being nice to hear, a reminder that bridge is only a game, played by humans (though bridge intelligent) who, being merely mortal are subject to whatever Dame Fortune has dreamed up for him (or her).

In answer to your veiled question about immediately leading a low one to the Jack, before the opponents are perhaps ready for such a play, many of us suffer from wanting to play the percentage of, like in this case, to lead a major honor first in order not to be making the only play which leads to disaster and to a “want to know partner or teammate”, an unexplainable deviation from the norm which sometimes leads to an event changing decision. Not to do it, call it unimaginative, not daring enough, being afraid of masterminding, or whatever, the fact remains that all of us (or almost) remember plays which cost matches and possible championships far longer than we remember steady play which sometimes leads to what we seek.

Thanks for suggesting a different type of mind set which may or may not lead to a different result, even if it is not everyone’s taste.

Wen TaoJuly 4th, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for your reply and for your time. I agree with you that at vast majority of the time, one should stick to the percentage play. I am a firm believer and practitioner of percentage play (spent some of my spare time studying probability and statistics). What I am wondering is that in a rare occasion like this deal, when a declarer senses that he needs to block the opponents’ communications, should he sacrifice a small percentage to make a deviated play to achieve that purpose or should he stick to the percentage play? (In this case, if East held a singleton Q (rough estimate of 2.8%), it would be a disaster to lead a low diamond at trick two). The other related question is how one evaluates and judges this kind of situations. I do not know the answers. But I feel that studying the situations will help me determine whether it is worthwhile or not to occasionally deviate from the percentage play to serve other purposes (blocking communication, deception etc.) at the table.


Wen Tao

bobby wolffJuly 5th, 2012 at 4:47 am

Hi Mr. Wen Tao,

The answer to your philosophical question lies out in the galaxy along with the multiple stars.

Every situation in bridge has many intangibles some having to do with percentages, others to who you are playing against, but primarily to what type of deception you are planning. Sure, I could answer within a certain radius of deception as applied to the bidding, another on opening lead when a false card is used (e.g jack from queen jack doubleton when the opening leader is playing standard, not Rusinow), but it is very difficult to calibrate deception as applied to playing suits a certain way, rather than strict percentages. On various bidding sequences when the opponents have either bid (or sometimes it is the dog who did not bark but might have) it might call for unusual handling.

The only worthwhile advice I can give you (or anyone else) is that experience (and by that I mean playing against top players for many years) is worth all the intelligence (both natural and intuitive) anyone else might have and in spite of that, experience is considerably more valuable than any other special talents any player may have (and it especially applies to child proteges in bridge, even junior champions) who must go through that period in order to not only get to be world class, but also in order to stay there. To quote Zia loosely, “Bridge has a way to humble me in every way and the more I play, the more I need to learn”.

Good luck!

bobby wolffJuly 5th, 2012 at 4:54 am

Hi again Mr. Wen Tao,

I neglected to end with there are and have been over hundreds of years, child genius’ in art and music as well as mathematics, space knowledge, probably chess and countless other important talents, but exactly zero in bridge, I think because of how important the experience issue becomes in coming even close to mastering the game.

For that matter no one has even come close, even with overwhelming experience, to begin to master the playing of bridge. JUST TOO DIFFICULT!

Wen TaoJuly 5th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks very much for your reply and for your insightful advice. You also hit a bull’s eye on your last paragraph. I think that in arts, music, and chess, one has all the information throughout, while in bridge, one could not be 100% certain about a hand until it is nearly finished. I will play more bridge. Thanks again.


Wen Tao