Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Things have their due measure; there are ultimately fixed limits, beyond which, or short of which, something must be wrong.


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


In today's deal from a set of international trials, a farsighted defense led to the defeat of South's four-heart contract.

West was unable to lead a spade, the suit that her partner had bid during the auction, so she attacked with a low diamond. Declarer rose with dummy’s king, and decided that the route to 10 tricks lay via a cross-ruff. But East had ideas of his own about that. He knew from West’s lead of what he knew to be a broken suit rather than his own suit that she had a void in spades. Accordingly he could see that declarer would need to ruff spade losers in dummy.

At trick two declarer led a spade from dummy and East made his first nice play when after rising with his king, he returned his singleton deuce of trumps. Declarer won cheaply in dummy – West withholding her jack – and South continued with dummy’s second spade. East now made his second nice play when he withheld his ace, so that West would be forced to ruff the trick.

This was the winning defense: it put West on lead, she of course being the only one of the partnership who could continue the trump attack – which she did.

Declarer was now a trick short for his contract, as he had only one heart left in dummy – insufficient to deal with three losing spades. This fine defense was not replicated at the other table.

Your partner's double is for takeout, suggesting both majors, or one of the majors with club tolerance, and decent values (about a nine-point minimum). The choice is to rebid clubs or to introduce a three-card major. I slightly prefer the latter course of action — the club spots seem a little too feeble for a rebid.


♠ 7 3
 A 9 7
 K 6
♣ A 10 7 5 3 2
South West North East
2♣ 2 Dbl. 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


glibAugust 22nd, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Declarer could partially counteract by running the 7S first, then the 3S. Although West will certainly wonder what is happening when East is winning the trick with the 4S.

Iain ClimieAugust 22nd, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Many years ago I read a book on overcalls (possibly by Mike Lawrence) which argued that length in rho’s suit could be a boon as partner would probably be short. Naturally others take a different view, suggesting that misfits require caution.

What is your view, please, particularly in the light of today’s hand? Should south have settled for 3 hearts, for example, given his long weak spades and singleton club? If he’d had (say) SA9xx and CJX but the same overall strength, then I would regard the hand as far more promising.


Iain Climie

jim2August 22nd, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I confess to being perplexed by this hand when I read it in print a couple weeks ago.

Declarer embarked on a clearly losing line. That is, if trump are 3-2, there are no trump losers but the defenders will always be able to prevent more than one spade ruff. The only way the line can work is for the defenders not to be smart enough to prevent the ruff, or for the trump to be 4-1 and the defenders be unable to figure out how to lead them, twice.

Yet, there are lines that prevail against any defense for certain card layouts. For example, if trump are 3-2 and clubs 3-3, declarer need only:

– win diamond lead in hand
– AC
– ruff club
– draw trump ending on Board, ruff club
– cross to KD
– run clubs

Making 11 tricks, an easy game this bridge.

Even if Declarer recognized the spade void (via the non-spade lead Sherlock Holmes “Silver Blaze” inference), East would still have seven non-spade cards. Thus, a 6-2-2-3 hand remained possible for East.

However, if the defenders were leading 3rd-5th best, then Declarer could deduce that East held four diamonds to go with the known six spades, leaving only three round suit cards. In that case, clubs could not be set up and run against good defense.

Did Declarer have that second lead datum? (3rd-5th best leads) That seems the only reason to adopt the column line.

A curious alternate line (requires only a cooperative West):

– AD
– AC
– club ruff w/10H
– small trump to 7H
– club ruff high
– small trump to 9H
– club ruff high
– AH (leaving West with the last trump)
– run clubs
– West can only have diamonds left whenever West ruffs a club
– win diamond return on Board
– last club is a winner
– concede last two tricks to East’s AKS

bobby wolffAugust 22nd, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Hi Glib,

Since declarer won the opening diamond lead in dummy he led a low spade, which was gobbled up by RHO’s King. Then the defense proceeded along the lines described in the column which, of course, becomes different than your reference to the low spade spots.

However, in any event, I hope you enjoy the column and on a daily basis even though it is 2 weeks delayed here on the internet.

Thanks for writing.

bobby wolffAugust 22nd, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Hi Iain,

When holding length in RHO’s suit (especially 5+) it still becomes prudent to bid one’s own long suit (presumably also 5+). The bidder’s view then takes shape when he hears from his partner and if partner does not give immediate support, be very wary of a misfit and head for low ground and an early sign-off.

However when partner raises your suit, it is probably correct (with enough values) to accept an invitation since the opponents will rarely lead a trump since he figures to be short in his partner’s overcall and is likely looking to maybe secure a ruffing trick. When the dummy then comes down, also short in the overcaller’s suit, it is then too late to decide to lead trumps instead.

As a general rule, do not hang one trick short of game unless you have already stretched it to bid the first time. Bridge is no where near an exact science and partner can have a very wide variance of holdings, making trying for the game bonus usually well worth the effort.

The only additional comment worth mentioning is that once the declarer accepts the game invitation he, of course, should accept a minimum amount of high cards from his partner, but sincerely hope for a 4th trump which will certainly be critical for his success. Partner will have no way to judge his hand by visualizing yours since he would just be guessing because of the astronomical possibilities of what your hand might be.

Finally, it is a bidder’s game and luck seems to follow those who bid a lot. Do not fall into a common trap of over thinking a simple situation when at the point of decision (when partner raises to three hearts) nothing of real substance is known and everything is dependent on how the hands fit (and how the defense defends, sometimes not perfect and even among experts).

bobby wolffAugust 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, probably almost everything you surmise is true, and it well could be right to go after establishing the club suit in dummy, of course, hoping trumps break and also clubs not so bad, but since you are right on in reading the opening diamond lead to not be all that long, prospects for good breaks indeed look bleak.

Even as long as I’ve played the game, rarely on hands of this type of speculative choices, do I embark on a line of which I am relatively sure of success, but rather I play something (hoping it to be intelligent) and parry and thrust my way through it the best way I can.

This part of the game is difficult and to spend too long trying to analyze exactly what to do is probably not productive. This area is one of the key areas in having special talent for the game since instinct plays a large role in choosing a winning line (if there is one or if the opponents do not slip up on defense).

Show me a player as declarer, once he receives the diamond lead and then studies the dummy, and then goes into a long brown study before he plays to trick one and I’ll show you two types of players: 1. Either a perfectionist who doesn’t like his choices, but is also selfish enough to make the whole world wait forever until only he tries to think about almost every possibility (impossible to say the least) before he embarks with his first decision of which hand to win the first trick. or 2. A top player who, after a brief amount of thinking, perhaps 1 to 2 minutes (a long time for some) embarks on one line or another and as Jackie Gleason use to say, “Away we go”.

Here, I apologize for not being of more help, but perhaps I am acting out the part.

Iain ClimieAugust 22nd, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hi Again,

Thanks for this although I don’t think hiding behind even your advice excuses some of my dafter flights of fancy. I
tend to hold back on tight games at pairs though, although IMP scoring is very different.

Iain Climie

jim2August 22nd, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I continue to tinker with this hand and the oddball alternate line I added at the end of my previous post.

Suppose Declarer is unwilling to risk a singleton 8H in the East hand and plays:

– win opening diamond lead in hand
– AC
– club ruff (w/10H)
– low heart to Board’s 9H (West cannot gain by inserting JH)
– club ruff
– diamond to Board
– club ruff
– low spade from hand

At this point, Declarer has won the first 7 tricks and so needs just 3 more.

———- North
——— S 73
——— H A7
——— D –
——— C 107

–West ———– East
S – ————— AKJ10
H J85 ———– –
D J97 ———– 108
C – ————– –

———- South
——— S Q9852
——— H K
——— D –
——— C –

If East allows West to win two spades and lead to Trick #10, Declarer will always score the 7H. That is, North will over-ruff East, South will ruff Trick #11 high, and lead a spade towards the Board at Trick #12. East, holding the J5 of trump cannot shut out the 7H.

If East ruffs small, say at Trick #9, and leads the 8H to make Declarer use two trumps on one trick, Declarer has an answer: a self-inflicted crocodile!

That is, North rises with AH to decapitate his majesty, and leads a good club from the Board. East has only the one master trump remaining. East can ruff, but the Board will ruff the diamond return and score the last club for the game-going trick.

Note that this line essentially only requires that West hold any four hearts to the knave after East is “known” to hold only three round suit cards and West known NOT to have a club sequence to lead (so East has at least one club honor).

Interesting game, Bridge.

Iain ClimieAugust 22nd, 2012 at 10:59 pm


Can I just put in an odd question from tonight’s session. At favourable vulnerability at pairs in 4th position you hold SAKQJ HQJ84 DAK9 C32 and there are 3 passes. What do you bid playing a natural system with 2NT being 20-22 pts?

If you bid 2NT LHO bids 3C partner bids 3H and RHO bids 4C. If you now bid 4H LHO takes the push to 5C.

jim2August 23rd, 2012 at 12:59 am

As I have posted here many times, I am not an expert.

With that disclaimer restated afresh, I would probably have opened 2N and would now play pard for Hxxxx of hearts and not much else. The opponents would need a 10 (or 11) card club fit for 5H to make, unless pard’s Heart honor is the ace and the KH was onside.

However, if pard’s heart honor is the ace, it is likely to cash at 5C. If an opponent has a heart void such that the AH does NOT cash, then 5H’s chances also are lowered, especially as I doubt LHO would be the one holding four hearts along with spades (making the KH off-side)

I think I would double 5C and hope to beat it two. Actually, I like my chances.

bobby wolffAugust 23rd, 2012 at 1:13 am

Hi Iain,

OK, let me get this straight, you open a 4th seat 2NT (which most everyone would agree) and even though the opponents are vulnerable and you are not (favorable vulnerability) your LHO bids 5 clubs over your 4 hearts, which I assume your partner has passed it back around to you.

It reminds me of a line from Guys and Dolls which went something like,”If a person stops you on Madison Avenue, takes out an unopened deck of cards and bets that the Jack of Spades is going to jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your eye, do not bet him, since if you do, you will wind up with an eyeful of cider”.

Its dollars to doughnuts your LHO is probably at the very least 7-5-1 and his partner will fill in the distributional gaps, so go ahead and bid 5 hearts as a possible make, but maybe even a worthwhile sacrifice.

That is, unless the 5 club bidder is well known as a fool, but he is more likely playing you for one, so do not fall for the bait. Possibly your partner’s biggest asset may be a void in clubs with very few high cards, but enough to make 11 tricks which will be better than your score will be if you double even if you go set.

My advice is to “Beware of the vulnerable coward” since my guess from this side of the pond is that he is playing with your mind.

My 2nd piece of advice is to be sure and tell me if I am right, but if not, and 800 would have been waiting, you are welcome to not answer me and embarrass me in front of my fan(s) and on the Aces on Bridge web site.

Happy trails!

Oh well, I can accept whatever the answer happens to be!

jim2August 23rd, 2012 at 1:22 am

I discounted the chance of a true freak West hand due to the original Pass.

Hopefully, Iain will provide a Paul Harvey post.

Iain ClimieAugust 23rd, 2012 at 7:39 am

Hi Folks,

Your LHO is larking about big time with SNone Hx DQ10xxxx CKQJ98x and dummy (I actually hit 4C) has S109xxxx HA9x Dx CA10x. When partner didn’t lead a trump that was minus 1110 but 5C doubled and making is 0 percent too. Ouch! 5hearts will probably go 1 or 2 off according to whether they get the diamond and spade ruffs.

Live and learn, ironically against a moderate pair whom I didn’t think had that much guile!


jim2August 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I would think a trump lead would have been clear, especially w/o an ace to lead.

Iain ClimieAugust 23rd, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

Probably true but we would still have been stuffed. I should perhaps have made a forcing pass over 4C but I think the minor suit hand might still bid 5C. My double of 4C was poor (I’ve already shown the hand and don’t have extra defence) but I just didn’t believe what was happening. I asked LHO if he’d considered bidding 3NT over my 2NT but he is a fairly new player and didn’t know about the UNT! Still, it made their evening.

I wasn’t quite right on the score – 5C dbl’d making 11 tricks would have been 1 mp out of 20 while 3 pairs were allowed to play in 4H making. There was another 6610 hand later but that was fairly boring. Two long strong majors opposite a weak NT but no slam due to 2 losing spades.


jim2August 23rd, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I have filed this one with the other entries under the “Reasons I should keep my day job.”

I used to keep them in a file drawer, but have had to go to steamer trunks.