Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 20th, 2012

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

Oscar Wilde

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


Because the opening bid of two no-trump promised 20-21 points, North had an easy raise to the small slam in no-trump. How do you plan to make 12 tricks after West leads the club 10?

You have 11 immediate winners along with the possibility of a winning finesse in spades, hearts or diamonds. While those who never get a two-way finesse wrong will have no problem, the rest of us have to find a plan that avoids guessing which finesse to take.

The secret is to win the club ace and cash the three remaining club honors. Next you should lead a spade from dummy, intending to cover East’s card cheaply. Suppose he plays the four, then your spade eight will force West’s queen and you will have 12 tricks immediately. Even if West were able to win the trick with the spade 10 or nine, he would then have to lead into one of your tenaces. Your 12th trick would then come in whichever suit he chose to return.

You may ask “What would happen if East played the spade 10 or nine?” Well, the spade jack would be taken by the queen, and the A-K-8 would then be good for three tricks if West chooses to get off play in spades. As a red-suit return would also cost a trick, you would still be certain of making 12 tricks.

The consequence is that this simple plan of covering the spade that East plays on the first round of the suit guarantees 12 tricks no matter how the cards lie.

All options are unattractive. A club lead is perhaps the least likely to cost a trick, but I have a sneaking hankering for leading the ace of hearts, in the hope that at least I may know what I should have done after seeing dummy. But I'll settle for the club as less likely to arouse partner's ire if I'm wrong. Without the queens on the side, I might have yielded to temptation.


♠ Q 8 2
 A Q 3
 Q 5 2
♣ J 8 4 2
South West North East
Pass 1 NT
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


jim2September 3rd, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Perhaps North should have listened to Oscar Wilde and yielded to the temptation of the grand slam bonus.

In seven clubs, even if the defense manages a safe lead, declarer merely ruffs a spade before attempting a red finesse and the hand is over.

bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

Oh yes, a grand slam in clubs will make, using your superior line to first try for the queen of spades to drop before relegating the hand to a red suit finesse if it doesn’t.

That line would arithmetically make the percentage for success 50% + whatever the falling of the queen of spades would be with 7 out probably another 30%+ of the remaining 50% getting us up to 65%, then figure in a non club lead played from South adding something more and still another advantage of finding out the club distribution before the key finesse taken making the overall percentage, at least in the 70%+ area.

All within the proper range for risking a grand slam and so you would (should) along with Oscar Wilde’s yield be proclaimed as playing expert percentage bridge for attempting it.

However it has one drawback, if we also succumbed to that temptation and wrote about it, the tale of the eight of spades being the X factor in enabling an expert 100% line in 6NT we, like Robert Darvas would have explained if he had used this theme in his superior book of “Right Through the Pack”, that poor card would have lost his ability to bask in the bridge sun, as the “key” factor in enabling a laydown small slam.

Do you now agree that cruelty to small cards (CTSC, a proposed society not yet formed) renders it not worth flying to another subject, though an “Oscar winner”, of sufficient percentage to attempt an “all the tricks” percentage line of play.

In any event, you have titillated the readers of our blog site into another sophisticated subject which, no doubt, separates the wheat from the chaff.

Michael BeyroutiSeptember 3rd, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Jim2: Excellent grand slam in clubs!
But how to get there?…

jim2September 3rd, 2012 at 2:49 pm

– Mr. Wolff

I apologize to the spade eight but, as in war, in grand slams, sacrifices must sometimes be made!

At the table, if the spade eight failed to fetch her ladyship, I might cash the KD and lead the JD hoping to draw a cover. If that failed, I could try to drop it doubleton and then try the heart finesse. That would add another couple percent, I think.

Alternatively, there are a few potential squeeze lines.

– Michael Beyrouti –

Club grands have always seemed for me to be the hardest to bid, especially in notrump sequences. With such a strong suit and a 9-card fit, there really ought to be a way, though.

Some play 2S/3S over 1N/2N as the start of a minor-showing sequence with some opportunity for the notrump bidder to show a “super accept” (like in some more common transfer sequences). With ace-fourth, South might do that, sending North off to the races.

jim2September 3rd, 2012 at 2:56 pm

As for CTSC Society, sign me up!


David WarheitSeptember 3rd, 2012 at 5:35 pm

South: 2NT. North: 4C (Gerber). South: 4D (0 or 3 aces). North: 5NT (we’re going to play 6; bid your suits up the line). South: 6C. North: 7C.

bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Hi David,

Your sequence to 7 clubs is probably as good as most of us can suggest, without a slam oriented system, especially the Baron ask of 5NT for suits up the line (always forcing, but usually following partner’s bid at the 5 level). The alternate meaning of a jump to 5NT is usually a grand slam force, asking partner to bid 7 with at least 2 of the top three trump honors, but here there is no suit agreement so logically Baron should prevail.

However, the possibility of partner having something like:
s. AKQ
h. Qxx
d. AQ
c. Axxxx
merely reminds us of how bridge itself is in control and how necessary it is to have slam gimmicks available which may allow us to stay out of virtual no play grand slams.

Admittedly, I cannot recommend anything better than what you did, but when bidding grand slams, it becomes a very tricky experience and before attempting it, especially against a fine team in an important match, just perhaps it might be a better choice, to not chance it.

I certainly realize that whether one bids a small slam or grand, is a big risk either way, but in the absence of concrete methods, perhaps the conservative action will work out more profitable in the long run.