Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Therefore the sage knows without going about,
Understands without seeing.


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


Only one line of defense will defeat South's contract, but to find it, East had to visualize the holdings needed in the unseen hands.

Against three no-trump West led the diamond 10, and declarer could count eight tricks, with the ninth to come from a 3-3 break in clubs or hearts.

Declarer put in the diamond queen, cashed the club ace and king, and on seeing the jack and 10 fall from West, decided, rightly as it transpired, that clubs were not breaking, so he broached hearts. As a heart trick had to be lost, and expecting to lose no more than three spade tricks, declarer played a low heart to dummy’s eight.

On winning the heart, East did some calculating. West could hold just one high card — either the diamond king, the heart king, or the spade ace. If he held one of the red kings, there would be no defense. But even if he had the spade ace, the defense would have to be precise. East appreciated that on any return bar a spade, the likely 3-3 heart break would see declarer home. Thus four quick spade tricks were needed. For this to be possible, South had to have exactly the doubleton spade queen, and the only way to take those four tricks was to lead the spade king right now. East did so, and a second spade went to the queen and ace. West’s last spade, through dummy’s 10-8, produced the requisite four tricks. Nicely done.

You are clearly too good to pass here, but equally you can't drive to game — partner could have a Yarborough. A continuation of one no-trump shows 18-20 high cards, so you can bid two no-trump to suggest a good two-no-trump opening bid and let partner decide what to do.


♠ Q 4
 A K 7 3
 K 6 4
♣ A K Q 2
South West North East
Dbl. Pass 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 WarheitOctober 2nd, 2012 at 11:13 am

First point: When south leads a low heart, it’s hard to see why west didn’t rise with the ten. It would then be up to him to figure out the winning defense (lead a low spade to partner’s king). However, east should still be in there thinking and should overtake his partner’s ten and proceed with your line of play, rather than allow his partner to make a mistake.

Second point: south’s strategy of first trying clubs and then hearts seems best, but when playing hearts he should start by cashing the ace-king since he can establish a third heart trick not only when hearts are 3-3, but also when one opponent has either queen-nine or jack-nine doubleton, plus there’s no law that says an opponent can’t have queen-jack doubleton, in which case declarer runs the first 9 tricks.

jim2October 2nd, 2012 at 12:33 pm

David –

I did not understand your first paragraph. West does not have the 10H in the layout I can see.

As to declarer lines, finessing the 8H as declarer did offers some interesting possibilities (such as picking up hearts when they are split 9x – QJxx) but I won’t try any math for fear of my head hurting again.


bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hi David,

(My first answer did not go through, but I’ll try again).

While you are unquestionably correct in your isolated discussion of how to play the heart suit (AK with the hope of dropping a double honor, including the 9 as an honor). However, by so doing, the declarer, once the double honor does not show up (probably due to a clever false card by a wily opponent) will lose the opportunity to fall back on what he has earlier deemed an unlikely, but still possible 3-3 club break. Of course, that is always assuming the defenders are incapable of cashing four spade tricks, not true here, but still requiring deft, expert handling to do so.

However your advice is certainly well spent in educating all who will listen, as to the best way to play the heart suit for only one loser, provided, of course, there were no extraneous (as there are here) factors.

All of us together, certainly including Jim2, cover what your comment concerned, allowing our worldwide readers to see the problem as it exists and then decide for themselves the best way to solve it.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Hi again David (and Jim2),

I should have said may lose the opportunity to fall back on the clubs splitting 3-3 if he chooses hearts to break rather than clubs.

David WarheitOctober 2nd, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Jim2: you are right, of course, about my getting the heart spots wrong, but, hey, it was 3 in the morning out here!

Mr. Wolff: you talk about south “los(ing an) opportunity” by adopting my line of play. But if he decides to go for the club break and it fails, he must go back to hearts, only now the opponents have a club to cash & south will almost certainly fail no matter how the spades break. In short, once south cashes the ace-king of clubs and the ace of hearts, he must adopt one line or the other.

bobby wolffOctober 2nd, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Hi David,

If declarer loses a heart early, instead of making the pure percentage play of two high hearts catering to two honors falling (in this case calling the 9 an honor he then might be subjected to losing out on a 3-3 club break since he would be subjected to losing 5 tricks before he was able to test the clubs), but when a “soft” heart is conceded first, then declarer will be able to test both the hearts and the clubs for perfect 3-3 breaks, always assuming that the defense is either unable to take 4 spade tricks or does not find that unique method of doing so.