Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, July 20th, 2012

The secret which the mountains kept
The river never told.

John Greenleaf Whittier

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

*Showing the trump queen and club king


Today's deal saw North produce an old-fashioned strong jump shift on a spade suit that would normally be regarded as subminimum, but he wanted to support diamonds next and get across the strength of his hand. The results were entirely satisfactory as regards the auction, since eventually South took control, finding out about the missing aces and trump queen. He could now bid seven diamonds with some confidence.

Alas for him, his play did not measure up. When the bad trump break came to light, he played to ruff a heart in dummy, but East could overruff. As Whitier said, “Of all sad words … the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.'” What declarer should have done on a club lead is to cash dummy’s two high trumps, then take the second top club and the heart ace, come to hand with the spade king, cash the club queen to pitch dummy’s small heart, and ruff a heart in dummy. Now he can draw the last two trumps, and his hand is high.

This line of play will go down only if the clubs break 6-2, while the unsuccessful line goes down when hearts are 5-2, a far more likely eventuality. (For those of you interested in the percentages, a 5-2 break comes up almost one time in three, a 6-2 break one time in six.)

This hand has the values for a jump to two no-trump, which is natural and encouraging, but not forcing. If you decide you want to play game facing anything but a rank minimum overcall, you can cuebid, then bid two no-trump, which is all but forcing. I'd make that call with the club 10 instead of the two.


♠ K 9
 K Q 6 3
 K J 6 5
♣ Q 9 2
South West North East
1♣ 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


David WarheitAugust 3rd, 2012 at 9:31 am

How about: win the ace of hearts and ace king of clubs; then cash the ace king of diamonds and lead the queen of clubs, intending to pitch dummy’s small heart, ruff a heart, cash the queen of diamonds, return to hand with the king of spades, draw the last trump and claim? If it so happens that west has 2 clubs and 4 diamonds, he can do you no harm. Seems to me this line of play caters for everything the suggested line does, plus the one holding (admittedly slight, but possible) which would fail otherwise.

jim2August 3rd, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I had questions similar to those of David.

Cashing a high trump in each hand (leaving one on the Board) means that only East holding trump length is a threat to beat the hand with a ruff.

The next thing to consider is can declarer recover from West trumping in, forcing the Board to over-ruff. In the case of a heart suit only line, there is no problem because the loser has been ruffed – albeit not with the intended trump card – and one of East’s long trump has been pulled at the same time.

In the club suit line (for the heart pitch before ruff), things are different because a winner has been ruffed, not a loser, and declarer’s heart spot loser still remains to be dealt with. Presumably, declarer would (after over-ruffing West’s ruff of the QC) lead the Board’s 8H to hand and ruff the heart loser. That’s fine and good, but now declarer still has to get back to hand to draw that last pesky West trump. Since West cannot have a spade void, however, the KS should work.

(If West started with 0-7-4-2, East would have already beaten the hand by ruffing the opening heart lead.)

Thus, once West is known to have four diamonds, neither line seems to have a relative advantage.

Once East is known to hold long trump, however, the lines for the two suits seem to shift as described in the column.

So, if one knew from the start that it was East with four diamonds, the points by David and moi would not be relevant. Thus, this could be a simple column-space limitations item.

bobby wolffAugust 3rd, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Hi David and Jim2,

The concern of David for the best line in a diamond grand slam, followed by the continuation and eventual summation by Jim were both helpful for the serious bridge player.

Those benefits, as well as the true last line admonition by Jim, while very helpful, sometimes only serve to somewhat confuse the casual player who have the time and inclination to only absorb what could be called the major theme.

For me to suggest or even imply that all the above was considered before and during the writing of the column, would be giving us the best of what we do not deserve.

The combination however, of the way the column is presented and the discussion which has just followed. should satisfy all who love all phases of our wonderful competition no matter the reason of why one is interested.

John Howard GibsonAugust 4th, 2012 at 4:20 pm

HBJ : Am I missing something or what ? When I look at dummy I see an easy way home if spades split 3-3 , requiring a single ruff by South.
Therefore keeping in mind a bad 4-1 trump break I must take 2 rounds of diamonds using declarer’s top trumps. Now I’m home if spades behave : ruffing the 3rd round and then clearing trumps with dummy’s KJ. Trick count is now 4D, 3C, 3H, and 5S including the ruff.

jim2August 4th, 2012 at 4:48 pm

A 3 – 3 split has only about a 36% chance. Actually, once East is known to start with 4 diamonds (versus 1 for West), the odds are even worse.

The chances that hearts split more evenly than 5 – 2 (62%) and clubs split more evenly than 6 – 2 (80%) are much better.

GalAugust 6th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Why not ruff a spade?
Say you draw trumps by cashing a big one from both sides. If East has the length ruff a spade. If West ruff a heart. 5-1 spades seems less likely than 6-2 clubs.

jim2August 6th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Gal –

The odds of a 5 – 1 spade split are 14.5%, assuming no other information, but it’s probably higher here.

With West known to have begun with 1 trump and East with 4, the odds will have substantially increased the 5 – 1 spade split chances. By how much, I am unsure. The math gets further complicated by West’s failure to lead a spade, etc. For example, if East follows with the QS and JS, now what? Still, you could start spades by leading low from dummy in an attempt to get an honest card out of East.

Yours is still quite a good line, best i can tell. Is it better than the others? I cannot tell.

bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Hi JHG, Jim2, Gal, and all the ships at sea, shades of Walter Winchell (WWII star radio newscaster),

Considering the 4-1 trump break, without quoting specific percentages, it doesn’t seem particularly close to me that the line suggested by the column is the higher percentage line than chancing a good spade break, keeping in mind that going after the spades would probably involve using an honor in trumps from both hands in order to test trumps to begin with.

However once the declarer draws trump that way it restricts the other choices, especially the one chosen by the column line.