Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 25th, 2012

The dodgerest of the dodgers.

Charles Dickens

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


You reach four spades after East has opened one heart. West leads the heart two. Plan the play — and to make the problem more challenging, cover up the East and West cards before making your decision.

Today’s deal is all about avoidance. You must duck your heart ace at trick one, since you want to cut the defenders’ communications. If a diamond comes back, you can put up the queen, and if it loses to the king, you will know to take the trump finesse since East must have that card to make up his opening bid.

Whether East shifts to a diamond or not, you will be able to cash the spade ace and king, play on clubs, and the defenders will never score a diamond trick. The point is that West will never be able to get on lead in time to play diamonds through the ace.

However, if you make the mistake of winning the first trick with the heart ace, the best you can do is to cash your top spades next and take the club finesse. East can win the club king and then put West in with the heart jack. Now a diamond switch will beat the contract, since even if you put up the ace and play on clubs, West will be able to ruff in. He can then cash his side’s diamond trick before you have been able to establish a discard for yourself.

Leading a heart seems like a hugely committal position. While a club might be right, your partner's silence in the auction suggests he may well have diamond length. If so, a passive defense may be best, and that involves a trump lead — which is unlikely to do much for declarer that he cannot do himself. Accordingly, I'd lead a low spade.


♠ 9 7 3
 A J 7 5
 10 7 3
♣ J 9 3
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2♣ Pass 2♠
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 9th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

The column hand is carefully constructed, I might add.

For example, switch South’s 9H for West’s 7h, and the JH lead can defeat the hand. As it is, however, even the JH lead (which might be best anyway) cannot succeed because declarer must take the AH, else East may signal for a diamond shift. This would leave South with a higher spot heart than West, preventing an underlead by East in hearts.

Iain ClimieJuly 9th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi Jim2 and Mr. Wolff,

Should West read anything into East’s failure to double 2H, especially given west’s heart length? It may be useful to have an agreement here, other than an urge to pull out the X card for fun. Having said that, a diamond at T1 doesn’t actually help.


Iain Climie

jim2July 9th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I think the hand is cold with a T1 diamond lead. Declarer later pitches the losing heart on the Board’s AD.

It is the diamond switch AFTER a heart is lost that poses the risk.

bobby wolffJuly 9th, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi Jim2 and Iain,

You both make worthwhile points, constructive about giving the defense better chances to take the setting trick against their opponent’s game contract.

No doubt many bridge contracts, particularly games and slams, but even taking an extra trick when defending against a matchpoint part score sometimes become critical for doing well. However, one should always keep in mind the usual limitations present in bridge language, the bidding, and sometimes the confusion in leading a different card than expected by partner.

Jim2, if West leads the Jack of hearts while also possessing the nine, will his partner, upon declarer now having to win the ace immediately, be able to play his partner for the nine, when since East possesses the KQ10 thinks his partner probably has no more than two? And Iain, when and if East does not double 2 hearts, give up the natural meaning of the double, good hearts and a better than minimum hand, played that way in order to further compete in the bidding, if partner is able.

None of the above should begin to detract from discussing these worthwhile and interesting tidbits, but in reality to get too much into them might prevent relative novices and other newcomers from realizing that bridge, especially the bidding (before the bidding is completed and the dummy is faced), is not close to an exact science and at least IMHO is virtually impossible, not having x-ray eyes, to begin to visualize any of the other three hands at the table, much less their specific holdings, and how to defeat a contract not yet arrived at.

Does the above detract from the game? Not a bit, since it leaves the door open for sometimes chance taking brilliancies which go beyond which is normally expected and becomes a bell ringer. However, at least as far as my experience extends, sometimes attempted great plays backfire, but without which our wonderful game loses luster unless unusual well thought out gambits are, at the very least, attempted. Leaving my advice to be, yes be creative, but be prepared for tacks in the road.

Iain ClimieJuly 9th, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Granted – blame West for not being dealt HJ10 or similar, as you noted in the first comment. The defence just can’t unravel themselves.

jim2July 9th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

It’s not so much if East can reasonably work out the presence of the 9H in pard’s hand, as it is that there is nothing else that East can hope for.

That is:

– JH won on Board with AH, East following with 10H to encourage diamond shift,

– AS and KS, with West following 4, 3 to show QS

– QC finessed into East

– East leads …. what?

Not a black suit, obviously, but which red? Well, it just so happens that East has some data. West has shown QS and JH, while South has shown AKS and QJC. South pretty much MUST have the QD for the 3S call.

Additionally, if South is 6-4-1-2 (West having led from Jx), with the QJ club doubleton, the hand is cold no matter who holds the QD due to North’s club spots.

So, I think East must underlead hearts and risk the overtrick to have a chance to defeat the game.

jim2July 9th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Oh, and if South does win the 9H for an overtrick, I agree with Iain: blame West!

bobby wolffJuly 9th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Hi Jim2,

It would never be productive for me to be argumentative while discussing important bridge points, but and however, let me suggest some possible problems.

You say West playing the four and then the three shows the queen. The high-level treatment of what is called a trump echo (trump peter in England), merely shows three of them (not necessarily the queen). Also “East playing the ten of hearts not a small one” encourages West to switch to diamonds, when however many top players play high (or low if playing upside down) to encourage, but the opposite to switch to what may be called the obvious suit (here surely diamonds since the length in clubs would, a huge percentage of the time, make the declarer vulnerable to losing a trick(s) in diamonds before the club suit is eventually established).

While your thinking and comments are, in no way, not pretty much on target, but, however, again bridge signalling usually does not lend itself to inviolate rules, but rather to likely choices, which involve detective work including standard leads, the bidding and its tempo, player’s habits, and most of all, the way a declarer goes about playing the hand. On this subject hand, declarer’s heart duck at trick one might be caused by either declarer’s wanting to trump a 3rd heart held by him in dummy or by (what was really the reason) East being kept out of the lead because of declarer holding the queen of diamonds and not wanting the ace led through. before clubs were established for the contract fulfilling trick.

Sometimes, declarer has to put up a brave front, hoping to convince East not to lead a diamond even though the defensive side together held both the king and the queen and in order to get away with that against worthy opponents the declarer has to be lucky enough to have other possibilities which keep East from chancing boldly sending a diamond back as the best percentage move to defeat the contract. (In this case, possibly leading a low club to the ten instead of flashing the queen for all to see).

It is my considerable respect for both of you (including Iain), to even delve into these sometimes boring issues, with the hope of making defense in bridge more realistic, with its peaks and valleys, rather than an exercise of a perfectly scientific experiment with always sugar for the thoroughbred who overcomes its poisoned flowers.

jim2July 9th, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Not argument! Discourse!


I knew following 4 – 3 showed three (and not necessarily the Q), but that declarer did not draw the last seemed to suggest it was the QS that remained. Now, it could also be that declarer had more than two hearts and needed Board’s last one for a heart guard, but the odds seemed to be with the former interpretation.

On the 10D, that is how non-expert moi would have interpreted it. If a different card would have sent the desired message, I am sure that the different card would have been the proper choice.

Once declarer is revealed to have only six spades, that 3S call sure would seem to suggest some sort of extra values outside the spade suit. I had a tough time envisioning it w/o the QD, but sobeit. You are the expert, not moi.

bobby wolffJuly 10th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hi Jim2,


I completely agree with you, but only wanted to shed more light to the casual reader (not you, who already is quite knowledgeable), on the specific meaning of random signals which needs to be well learned and practiced correctly by both partners on hand after hand.

Without which, that partnership will likely break up (somewhat like Hollywood marriages), long before it reaches full bloom.