Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the shortcut to everything.

Samuel Johnson

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


The German Women's Team won their Round Robin group at the 1st World Mind Sports Games. When they met the Netherlands, the runners-up in their section, the contract at both tables was three no-trump.

Both Wests found the only lead to give declarer problems — a spade. Both Souths took East’s jack with the ace and continued with a club toward dummy. The West players both correctly ducked. This play was not just trying to restrict declarer’s communications, but was also hoping for a suit-preference signsl from partner as to the best continuation after West won the club ace. The order of East’s play in the club suit should help West out.

Declarer has eight tricks, so just needs one more from the red suits. At one table, after West won the club ace, she cashed the diamond ace, then led the queen — the right play if East had started with four diamonds to the king along with either the nine or eight. It was a nice idea, but not in this layout.

At the other table, West continued with a heart to the ace, and back came a diamond. Declarer ducked, so West cashed the queen, then the ace, but that gave South her ninth trick.

The only return to defeat declarer is another spade. South wins and plays a heart honor. East captures this, then puts declarer in dummy with a club. Declarer must cash her black suit winners, but in the process she will squeeze herself and lose the last three tricks.

In this auction there are many (including me) who play two hearts as natural and invitational, showing five hearts and an aproximate 10-count. So to cuebid, you must bid two diamonds now, a call that simply sets up at least a one-round force and may help you to reach spades if your partner has four of them.


♠ K Q 8 3
 10 7 6 3
♣ K Q J 10 4
South West North East
1 Dbl. 1

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 ClimieJuly 6th, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I would say that the hand serves as a warning about overbidding poorly fitting combined 23 counts but both declarers made the contract! If declarer had HAJ rather than HKQ her life is much easier unless there is an early and unlikely heart lead. I recall Terence Reese suggesting (in Practical Bidding and Practical play) that having Aces is often crucial in 3NT, a slightly surprising conclusion.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffJuly 6th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Hi Iain,

First, thanks for your right-on, to the point, philosophical discussion of your spotted anomaly in results (having only 23 combined hcp’s) but both declarers succeeding in scoring up 9 tricks in NT.

Reese’s suggestion regarding aces and NT contracts surely had to do with an ace rounding the declarer’s trick total to 9 by simply cashing it, after 8 other tricks, (as was here) been developed. Kings and queens (and sometimes jacks and even tens) are better used in the developing stage instead of as just mentioned.

A subtle point of note is what declarer would play if East had shifted to the possible sneaky jack of diamonds, when in with the heart ace, which, in theory, could be held, along or not with the queen accompanied or not with the nine (if both the queen and nine are held by East, declarer must duck the jack) requiring West to win declarer’s king with her ace and return her low diamond.

We will, of course, never know the result of that individual mental battle between West and declarer.

Iain ClimieJuly 6th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hi again,

Good point about the diamond play (which could even be AJx) and I’ll look up the Reese comment as I thought there was something more subtle to it – but quite possibly not! I’ll come back to you.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffJuly 6th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, the defensive combination or either AQx opposite J9x, or, of course, AJx opposite Q9x, is fraught with psychology with both deception and tempo (how fast the defender came up with the play of the queen or jack) sometimes a determining factor in the battle.

The other obvious advantage which Reese may think, but I do not remember him extolling it in print, is that the ace enables a holdup one trick more than does a king, sometimes critical in preventing the running of an established suit by the opponents.

In whatever case, I have total confidence in your research searching out the truth in reporting.

Iain ClimieJuly 6th, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I found it – he was discussing SQ8x H AKx DQJ10 CKQ104 after 1C (1D overcall) 1S from partner and suggested a cautious approach at rubber bridge. He postulated a typical hand for responder as SAKJxx H10xx Dxx CJxx following a comment of “The problem illustrates that when there is a long suit against you the normal standard of 25 points for 3NT has no meaning. What you want, in addition to a guard, is a long suit of your own and Aces”.

In the example hand he highlights that, with only 1 stop in diamonds, the combined KQJ10 of clubs are a lot less use in 3NT than just the CA. Obviously there is an element of exaggeration in saying “no meaning” but I can see where he was coming from – as well as your point on the hold up. QJ10 opposite xx(x) is very fragile in 3NT when a small card is led from AKxxx.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffJuly 7th, 2012 at 2:14 am

Hi Iain,

Obviously Reese was postulating about the special differences in bridge as opposed to other games where goals and the scoring for them seems to not have as many nooks and crannies as does bridge.

Playing in a trump suit, the declarer usually, after extracting the opponent’s fangs (aka trumps), have protection against the defenders long suits by simply being able to trump them. Therefore, while playing NT and needing specifically 9 tricks to make game, sometimes need a side suit ace for the magical ninth trick and instead, having instead the KQJ, will not get the job done.

All of the above, plus your report on Reese’s wisdom confirms what he meant when he extolled the value of aces in NT. Also what we discussed of an ace and some others can significantly be superior to a king and one or two others, or in his example a QJ10 in that you, the declarer will then have more leverage in deciding whether to hold up and possibly make the contract because of that advantage.

Little by little we not only can understand, but if we take the time to do it, we might be able to improve our bridge teaching to allow others to also move forward.

le_valet_de_piqueJuly 11th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

In the bidding quiz, what is to be said for or against a second double, indicating values in the black suits?