Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 23rd, 2012

A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest.

Thomas Jefferson

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


For today's deal put yourself in the East seat. After South had opened a strong no-trump, North's call of two no-trump showed diamonds, and South's three clubs indicated a maximum with a diamond fit, meaning that if his partner could invite three no-trump, he would accept that invitation. West, your partner, leads the heart three and declarer plays low from dummy. Plan the defense.

Everybody knows the rule “Third hand plays high.” Are there exceptions? Yes, and today’s deal provides one.

Consider what suit your partner has led from: you can see all the low hearts from the seven down. Your partner must have led from a four-card suit, which can only be either A-10-8-3 or Q-10-8-3. In either case there is nothing to be gained from playing your jack, since declarer will take the trick whatever you do. But can you see why it is important for you to withhold your heart jack? If you do not do so, you will be left with four small cards — and each is smaller than the three cards your partner has left. Consequently, your suit will be blocked, and declarer will knock out your partner’s diamond winners while you cannot cash out your suit. Take a look at the full deal to see why playing the heart jack at the first trick would let declarer make his game.

Leading a spade rates to cost a trick a fair amount of the time when declarer might take a finesse. But, then again, it helps to establish your side's long suit, and you know partner has the entries to finish the task. Since the lead of any four-card suit might cost a trick or tempo or both, lead your spade.


♠ Q
 A 8 6 2
 9 8 4 2
♣ J 8 7 3
South West North East
1♠ 1 NT
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


David WarheitAugust 6th, 2012 at 9:20 am

“…playing the heart jack at the first trick would let declarer make his game.” Yes, what you say east should do is completely correct, but declarer would surely go down anyway. South would have to duck 2 rounds of diamonds to make his contract. This would succeed only if west had exactly 4 hearts, including the 8 (he’s known to have the queen and ten), whereas ducking only one round of diamonds would succeed whenever diamonds were 2-2 (or 3-1 with east having the singleton ten, although now that would lose if east had king-ten or queen-ten doubleton). 2-2 diamonds is much more likely than the specific heart holding.

jim2August 6th, 2012 at 12:23 pm

David –

You always post faster than moi!

West could have started with five hearts, not four. Unless East followed suit with the revealing heart deuce, declarer has to consider that possibility.

What is certainly the case, though, is that declarer will lead a diamond at trick 2, West will win, and declarer will win the second heart lead at trick 3 on the Board.

At that point arrives declarer’s dilemma. If East has withheld the 2H for both heart tricks, then declarer has to consider that West may have lead from Q10x32 leaving East with Jxxx.

(I suppose if West is a sober soul who would never dissemble, declarer might conclude West would always have lead the 2H at trick 3 if s/he had it. My opponents never seem to be so accomodating, however.)

In any case, declarer is on the board at trick 4 and can either under-lead the diamond suit hoping for heart blockage or play for diamonds to be 2 – 2. If the 2H is still missing, I think the odds do favor the 2 – 2 diamond line.

If declarer concludes from the play that the hearts are 5 – 4, however (and not 4 – 5), then it looks to be an odds calculation. Say, there are four missing spot cards: 8, 7, 6, 5. It seem that West must hold specifically the 8 to make the double diamond duck work.

A lucky declarer (or poor defense) would have East insert the JH at trick 1, then have West lead the 8H at trick 3 with East following suit with the 2H. At that point, declarer has reason to believe the hearts are blocked and can execute the double duck.

jim2August 6th, 2012 at 12:26 pm

** sigh ***

In my penultimate paragraph, I meant:

“If declarer concludes from the play that the hearts are 4 – 5 (West holding 4), however and not 5 – 4 (West holding 5), then it looks to be an odds calculation.”

bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hi David and Jim,

Two parables come to mind, one a moral, “Genius is its own reward”, and the other, lyrics from a long ago love song, “But I can dream, can’t I”.

Knowing you two superior bridge technicians were lurking in the audience, ready to pounce, I purposefully left out (only dreaming I did), after discussing why East should not rise with the jack at trick one, did not say specifically that he should play the 2, showing an odd number rather than beginning a high-low thereby showing even, but leaving it to both of your superior bridge intellects to realize that would probably occur. Also the declarer would likely win the first trick with the ace, leaving it still available to him to change his mind about playing for diamonds 3-1 instead of 2-2. This declarer play, certainly with reason, does allow the defense easier access to do the right defensive thing, but bridge is a game which sometimes demands perfection, but even sometimes and even among the world’s best, does not achieve it.

The phrase about genius is often present in very high-level bridge (and the trait I miss most) about my basically not being able to still tee it up nearly as often as I did in bygone years, and watch my more than worthy opponents (and also my partner and my teammates) exercise it to sometimes my team’s detriment, but also to my team’s benefit.

There is genius out there and it reflects numeracy, in bridge, meaning someone who constantly thinks about numbers (distributions) and about all suits and entire hands without which he (or she) would only be a bridge mortal rather than be remembered as a bridge immortal.

Yes, I can dream, as all of us can, and your twin eagle eyes often show the way those dreams can point the way to expert bridge thinking and its constant beauty. At the table when the declarer plays the jack of diamonds at trick five and East covers with the queen or king he has to then be careful, as all defenders are not, to not give away that he has the other honor as well.

Thanks to both of you for keeping me and the rest of our readers who take bridge seriously, on our toes.

bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hi again,

Like Jim2, I apologize for stating that East rather than West needs to be careful. Achieving anywhere near perfection, who am I kidding, even when I think I have proof read it, I cannot seem to avoid error.

jim2August 6th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Uh, “superior bridge technician[s]“?! Moi? Maybe in the way Victor Mollo derided, but that’s it.

I am just a non-expert willing to post comments, nothing more.

bobby wolffAugust 7th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

You may be “just a non-expert willing to post comments, nothing more” but I would expect you, in your role as bridge lover and often contributor, to agree with me in amending Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote to:

A strict observance of the written bridge laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good bridge tournament director and then a bridge appeals committee, but it is not the highest duty, but rather, if at all possible, establishing bridge equity by interpreting the rules to so do, is.