Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 27th, 2012

'You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter. 'It's very easy to take more than nothing.'

Lewis Carroll

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


Timing the play to take advantage of all possibilities can be very difficult. Today's deal defeated one of the best declarers in the country (who shall remain nameless).

Against four spades West led the diamond ace and king, then switched to the club four. Declarer won in the dummy and took a spade finesse. When that was wrong and clubs failed to break 3-3, he had to go one down.

Can you see how he could have done better?

Since he needed one of the major-suit finesses for certain, he should have won the club in hand and run the heart queen. In practice West would have covered with the king (it doesn’t help him to duck), and declarer wins with dummy’s ace. Only now does declarer play a spade to the queen. West wins and no doubt continues with another club. Declarer wins in dummy, draws trump, then cashes the heart jack and crosses to the club king. If clubs are 3-3, he has no more losers. He can ruff a heart, cash his long club, and ruff a diamond with dummy’s last trump.

However, when clubs fail to break, he can take a ruffing heart finesse. The king and 10 have gone and East just has the nine poised over dummy’s eight-seven. This finesse is certain to succeed because declarer knows that West started with two spades, four clubs, five diamonds (for his overcall) and therefore only two hearts, both of which have been played.

On this auction you would like to take a shot at three no-trump if partner has a spade guard. The way to find out when the opponents have bid two suits is to tell rather than ask. A bid of three clubs here shows the club guard and asks partner to bid three no-trump with a spade guard.


♠ 10 6 4 2
 A 8 7 4
 Q 3
♣ K Q 2
South West North East
1 1♠
Dbl. 2♣ 2 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 11th, 2012 at 9:57 am

At another table, the first 4 tricks, following your line of play, are the same. At trick 5 however, when south finesses the queen of spades, it wins! South now ruffs his last diamond in dummy and repeats the spade finesse, and it loses. West exits with a club to dummy’s king. South now has a choice: play for clubs to be 3-3 or west to have king-ten or king-9 of hearts. Best is for him to cash the heart jack, hoping that west ddidn’t start with the singleton king. When he sees west play the 10, he can cross to the spade ten, thereby finishing drawing trumps, and take the ruffing finesse in hearts, or he could treat the ten as a falsecard and play for clubs to be 3-3. But by west ducking the first trump, he has given south a losing option.

An alternate line of defense is for west to win the first spade trick and lead a third round of diamonds. This results in the same ambiguous ending as I just described.

David WarheitOctober 11th, 2012 at 10:02 am

On BWA: suppose partner has Jx xxx AKJ10xx Ax. 4NT is cold, but how is partner supposed to know that Jx constitutes a spade stopper? With that hand, should he respond to your 3C bid by bidding 3S?

Michael BeyroutiOctober 11th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
can you name the nameless, please, please. It’s so comforting for a mere mortal to know that they’re human too…

John Howard GibsonOctober 11th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

HBJ : Now that story truly sums up the benefit of counting, reconstructing the defenders hand , noticing all the suit cards played , in order to give oneself an extra chance to see the contract home.
Great hand….. and a great example of how to be an highly competent declarer. Thanks for the instruction and guidance.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Hi David,

Your imagination directly hits bridge writers and, if allowed good bridge players, right where it hurts. This talent of yours (make no mistake, it is serious analytical ability) tends to make the reporting of REAL hands require more words than are allowed.

Consequently, some chronic problems in the play need to be too briefly discussed, in order to present the basic theme without the need to make it longer than we can get away with.

Thanks for your thoughts, especially to those readers who are sophisticated enough to “dance along with David”.

Regarding the BWTA I also agree to your thoughts and would, at the table, simply bid either 2 or 3NT and pray for that spade jack, or if not, partner should with that Jx, xxx, AKJ10xx, Ax bid 3S over my 3C with the same 3NT in mind, since his diamond holding and specific Ace of clubs cries out for aggression.

Thanks for your educational additions, which are not subject to length restrictions.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Hi Michael,

While I do appreciate your (and possibly many others) curiosity about what great player slightly erred in his (or her) timing, proper writing ethics, within the bridge world, forbids my disclosure. To do so would effectively turn the AOB into a gossip column, unfair to a specific player without then, at the very least, giving a great play or bid to which he made.

I apologize for creating the temptation, but from what was described, the thought that even among the best players, bridge is still a very difficult game with many reasons to sometimes drop a pop fly.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2012 at 3:28 pm


Thanks for your continued support and special appreciation for the game we all love. Your heartfelt and written admiration is always so sincere and will tend to make readers, with even borderline interest in our game, come forward instead of stepping away.

JaneOctober 11th, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Hi Bobby,

Was south’s two spade call a little ambitious? North is a passed hand. I know it is a “bidder’s game”, but is 14HCP and a fairly flat hand really good enough to jump? The QJ of hearts look pretty good, but north does not have to have the ace either. I know north can pass, nod and smile, and thank partner for asking, but I would have taken south for a better hand than he had. North can always raise to two spades, or even three to show his hand and invite.

Fun game, this bridge. Even the best of the best can make an error in judgement. Gives those of us in the lower echelons hope, especially on those days when nothing we chose to do at the table works out well.

bobby wolffOctober 11th, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Hi Jane,

Yes, South’s 2 spade call was aggressive, but probably made by a player who often opens the bidding with 10+ HCP’s. For those type players, the numbers change for future bidding, since from the opening bid on, his partner will be suspect and allow for a lighter than normal opening bid.

Yes, the near best or even better all make their share of mistakes. Proving that statement, at least to me, is what I consider one of the nicest comments one can make about any top bridge player is that he rarely, if ever, goes down in a laydown game and seems to hold his outright mistakes or misplays to a minimum.