Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Anybody can be good in the country.

Oscar Wilde

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


Before we look at the contract of six hearts, a word on the auction. If you play two-over-one game-forcing (meaning that a two-level response in an uncontested auction sets up a sequence that cannot die below game), then North's jump to three hearts shows good trump support and slam interest.

South has minimum trump support but excellent side-suit controls. When he shows his spade and diamond cards, North takes control and uses Blackwood to bid six hearts.

When the spade jack is led, South should see at once that he has no losers in the side suits and should therefore focus his attention on holding his trump losers to one. The natural thing to do is to win the spade lead in hand and play a heart to dummy’s queen. If it loses, South will regain the lead and then play the heart ace — ready to finesse against East if he turns up with four trumps, and losing only to a singleton king with East.

What if the trump finesse holds? It would be easy (but fatal today) to cash the heart ace next. Instead, declarer must make the somewhat unnatural move of coming back to hand with a club to lead the heart nine. If West follows with a small trump, declarer must duck in dummy. This will sometimes lose a trick unnecessarily to East’s 10, but giving up on an overtrick to secure the slam is a price worth paying.

However risky your initial response to one heart was, your partner has set up a game-force. Passing now would be a breach of discipline even though it might work. Your best chance to put the brakes on is to bid three no-trump. You may not make it, but at least you won't tempt partner to flights of fancy. Raising clubs might see him reaching for the sky.


♠ Q 9 4 2
 Q J 3 2
♣ 9 5 3 2
South West North East
1 Pass
1♠ Pass 3♣ 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


John StoreyAugust 2nd, 2012 at 11:55 am

Dear Mr Wolff

On the second hand, I would be tempted to bid 3 Diamonds after three clubs, in an effort to have North bid 3NT. That way the strong hand would be declarer. But would that show 5 spades or a better hand?

bobby wolffAugust 2nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Hi John,

Probably both, but especially a better hand.

Again, we have to, and at an early entry level to the expert game understand that bridge is not a total scientific experiment, but rather closer to a practical exercise in using the limited language available (bidding) to make stabs at the right contract, of course, far from perfect, including many times playing the hand as you are calling it, from South, maybe the wrong side.

If you instead bid 3 diamonds, partner has a right to play you for a much better hand, both distributionally and with more high cards, leading to the partnership likely bidding too high.

Remember, as mentioned in the column, you would like to raise partner’s clubs, having 4 of them, but your very limited assets (HCPs) should cause you to tread carefully, otherwise partner will have every right to expect much more from your hand.

Often, a player needs to make a 2nd best bid in order to avoid misleading partner as to usually strength, but also sometimes distribution. Passing your partner’s 1 heart opening is an option many very good players would originally take.

The lesson learned here will often occur and must be honored for success.

Again, thanks for writing.

Ted BartunekAugust 2nd, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf,
After the heart finesse wins and you return to your hand, is there any technical advantage in running the 9 over running the Jack if not covered? One caters to the doubleton King with West, the other the doubleton 10 with East. Are there any inferences available?

Iain ClimieAugust 2nd, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Hi Gents,

East could be up to no good with HK10xx and have ducked the HQ – tricky but not impossible. In such a case trying to run the 9 (albeit having a change of plan when west shows out) is clearly best.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffAugust 2nd, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Hi Ted,

Yes, there is a definite technical advantage to leading the nine rather than the jack with the intention of “running it” if, of course, West follows.

What if West shows out, then the original purpose of making the safety play in the first place goes up in smoke and down we go. The play of the Jack is a possible play if somehow we reached a grand slam, but a No, No in a small slam since it could lead to a disaster.

As far as I am concerned the special game of rubber or IMP bridge is superior to matchpoints just because of the sometimes necessity of making safety plays to try and guarantee the contract. Once the queen of hearts holds, then we have a safety play available. By all means use it, even if playing matchpoints.

Ted BartunekAugust 3rd, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Thank you both. I was obviously asleep when I wrote the question, since it is really dealt with within the column itself. Too much effort spent trying to pin 10s in matchpoints I guess.