Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 6th, 2012

One principle must make the universe a single complex living creature, one from all.


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


How would you play four spades when West leads the diamond queen? The key to the deal is that since you cannot avoid losing two clubs, you must try to hold your heart losers to one.

Declarer won with the ace and drew trumps with the ace and queen. Then, hoping to set up a discard on the clubs, he continued with a club to the queen.

East won with the king and switched to the heart jack. This was the key moment.

What would you have done, as South? Show the hand to someone learning the game and she might say that she had seen the theme already. After all, this looks like a classical example of a finesse. She would play the queen, losing to West’s king, and the defenders would set up a second heart trick, beating the contract. Instead you should rise with the heart ace. When you play another club, it is West (the safe hand, who cannot lead through the heart queen) who wins the trick. You will be now able to throw a heart on dummy’s club winner. If East wins the second club, nothing is lost except a potential overtrick. In other words, the game is still safe if the heart king was onside all along.

If you had climbed to five spades, you would need to risk the finesse. And if you were playing matchpoint pairs, you might consider risking the contract by finessing in hearts, playing for a top or a bottom.

On this sequence I would much rather lead a spade than a heart. The logic is that though East bid spades, he did not try to explore further in the suit. Also, my spade intermediates strongly suggest that if partner has a spade honor we might well be able to set up the suit for our side.


♠ Q 10 9 6
 Q 9 8 4
 7 5
♣ Q 9 5
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2 Pass 3 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


Iain ClimieAugust 20th, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

After the spade ace (when trumps are known not to be 4-0), is it worth either playing the SK or even a spade to the Q then back to the King followed by the CQ from dummy? East will have to be on the ball to play the CK here, especially as it could be a disaster if South has CAx but weaker diamonds.


Iain Climie

Iain ClimieAugust 20th, 2012 at 9:35 am

Sorry, make that weaker hearts as the diamond position is clear unless west is being odd with the lead. It is probably best to play a spade to the ace at trick 2 then the CQ to avoid a helpful discard being possible.

bobby wolffAugust 20th, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, I like your suggestion in your 2nd comment, in which your 2nd sentence would be my choice.

Perhaps not best technically (In case clubs are 6-2 and the defense has a trump left to kill our 3rd club trick), but since this hand seems like a normal breaking hand (no bidding competition and what at least seems like a normal opening lead), sometimes by not drawing all the adverse trump, may seem to the defense (East) that it is not as important for him to cover the queen of clubs, when led from dummy, not so much because of partner’s discard (since hearts are the obvious suit for the defense to attack, regardless of the location of the king), but rather for what you mention in your 1st comment, the possibility of declarer having the Ax in clubs rather than what he did have.

Aggressive players (here, possibly, the declarer) seem, while at the table, to take too many chances, while ultra conservative ones sometimes make it too easy on opponents, but real and mentally tough experts (have lost hands before by these type actions) have a delicate successful blend of risk and gain, which shows up, often at matchpoints, when every trick is so important, regardless whether it is the contract making trick, or only just an overtrick, which usually matters little in IMPs or rubber bridge.

Faint heart sometimes does not yield taking the maximum number of tricks.

jim2August 20th, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Iain –

I think the hand was constructed with considerable attention to detail.

If West has both club honors, one would probably have been led. Even if not, West could never attack hearts. If East has both club honors, the sight of the QJ10 on the board will always have East not duck a club. So, the only cases of interest are when the club honors are split.

When East wins a club, the diamond layout has also been revealed to East on the opening lead. West has shown the QJ10 missing both the ace and king. (I discount that declarer winning the KD would ever make East think West had led QD from AQJ10.)

Notice how the two revealed holdings of QJ10 limit options.

Meanwhile, East also knows South has four good spades from the jump response to the transfer.

What this means is that East will always win whatever clubs his/her holding is entitled to and will always shift to hearts. That is, there is little chance declarer can fool the defense.

In other words, the hand has been carefully constructed to put only one theme into play. I would, as you suggest, play spades so as to lead the QC from the board, but this would be to maximize overtrick chances and I would put little hope in it.

jim2August 20th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Our Host had not posted when I started typing, but did before I hit “Submit Comment.”

Must learn to type faster!

bobby wolffAugust 20th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

The combination of your quick mind and your enthusiastic love of our game causes me to get up at between 4 and 5AM PST just in order to stay up with you or rarely beat you to saying what I usually feel.

Just kidding about any discomfort felt by my usual rising, since in the early morning hours I seemingly am more alert than later after the day has progressed and my advanced age begs for recognition.

In case I have not mentioned it before, it truly makes me very happy and significantly worthwhile to see you, Iain, HBJ, David, the Jeffs, Jane, Michael and many others (sorry for any significant omissions and to some with pseudonyms) consistently adding intelligence to the MasterPoint Press bridge site, which I am told, is read daily by many thousands the world over.

Sincere thanks to all of you!

JaneAugust 20th, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for including my name, although I certainly gain more from the expertise shown on your blog by you and the other contributors than I have to give. I enjoy reading it every day. I figured out the play of the hand today, but no doubt it is because of all the guidance you have shared with us before with similar hands. Keep up the good work. Fun game, this bridge!

jim2August 20th, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I agree with Jane, and let me add my thanks to our Host, also, for providing this venue and even taking the time to respond to our questions and comments!

As for moi, as I have posted here before, “I am just a non-expert willing to post comments, nothing more.”

David WarheitAugust 21st, 2012 at 10:17 am

The question has been raised: if south wins the opening lead, crosses to the ace of spades and leads a club, should east play the king? It has been suggested that if south has Ax of clubs, it would be wrong to do so. Not necessarily. First, it could only be wrong if south had the Ax of clubs and the specific distribution he does have. If he had 4 hearts and 3 diamonds, a club pitch would do him no good. On the other hand, if he did not have the ace of clubs, then he must have, at a minimum, the ace and queen of hearts, in order to justify his opening bid. So, going up with the king of clubs would cost nothing, except possibly an overtrick, but would gain nothing either, unless south misplays by playing the queen on a heart lead. In short, playing the club king can only either cost an overtrick or beat the contract if south misplays. Okay, who is south? Is he capable of making such a mistake?

bobby wolffAugust 21st, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Hi David,

Yes, very well analyzed, but, as you are aware, all players, world class or not, are usually taught (and early in their bridge careers) to not cover early sequences of equals (QJ10 being an excellent example), simply because, in the absence of somewhat unusual circumstances, from a trick taking viewpoint in that suit, it cannot gain.

However, there are (surprisingly.too often in bridge), other reasons for taking exception to the rule, such as obviously in this case when declarers side suit needs to be led through (and of course partner has the ace of clubs). Still going further, let us suppose that dummy had only the QJx of clubs (without the ten) and led from the dummy his small club. Sometimes and more often than one might think, the declarer will have the singleton 10 (why is the declarer leading low?) and be hoping for you to duck with either the ace or the king, so that after losing the first club to his LHO’s honor, he then can go back to dummy, entries permitting, and finesse RHO for his 2nd honor to develop, somewhat out of thin air a 2nd club trick for possibly the contract fulfilling trick.

The above violates one of the first caveats learned in bridge instruction, 2nd hand low on defense, when an astute defender needs to rise with either his ace the first round, or sometimes even more difficult to do, his unsupported king.

Strange game, this bridge, but very challenging, so that defenders need to completely concentrate during the bidding (when declarer may well figure to have a singleton in the key suit described above) and the earlier play which would either tend to deny that contingency, but sometimes, on the other hand, have that possibility be real and not imagined. Also of course with J10x in full sight in dummy and the small one being led, sitting with the Ace over that holding would not be nearly as difficult to rise as would be the king, but, when the defenders, between them, have both, dame fortune herself was throwing out her gauntlet to test the 2nd seat player’s mettle, especially if one’s play (at Imps or rubber bridge) made the difference between the hand making or not, but always in matchpoints where even an overtrick is so very important in the scoring (frequency of gain principle instead of amount of gain).

Hopefully, when these important tidbits of our sensationally challenging game are discussed, please do not anyone feel overmatched, since with time, effort and above all, love for the game present, most everyone will eventually get to where they want to be, assuming, of course, one possesses fierce determination to succeed.

Thanks for listening and also for your continued contributions to continually titillate both the readers to think clearly and me to make fewer mistakes in the presentation.

Iain ClimieAugust 21st, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Hi Jane and Gents,

Just to add a quick note of appreciation about David’s input here and Mr. Wolff’s response. Despite my frequent habit of taking a tin opener to the can marked “Worms”, the resulting comments are useful, interesting and much appreciated.


Iain Climie