Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I reason, earth is short,
And anguish absolute.
And many hurt;
But what of that?

Emily Dickinson

South North
Neither ♠ 7 4
 A Q 10 8 5
♣ 9 6 5 3 2
West East
♠ A Q J 9 3
 K Q J 10 3
 3 2
♣ 10
♠ 10 6 5 2
 9 7 6
 7 6
♣ Q J 7 4
♠ K 8
 8 5 4 2
 K J 9 4
♣ A K 8
South West North East
1 2 2♠* Pass
3♣ Pass 3 Pass
3 NT Pass 5 All pass

*Limit-raise or better in diamonds


In today's deal it would have been easy enough to defeat three no-trump after a top heart lead. (Declarer wins the opening lead and runs five rounds of diamonds, but West simply keeps his club 10 till the last diamond (to prevent declarer from finessing in the suit), then discards his spade on the top clubs. He keeps four winning hearts and the spade ace. Mission accomplished.

However, you have done well to reach five diamonds instead, on the lead of a top heart. You could rely on the spade ace being onside, but before you do that, try something else. The key to the deal is to try to establish clubs to allow you to discard your spade losers without letting East on lead. To that end, you win the heart ace and take the diamond queen, all following. Next you lead a club, and when East plays low, you put in the eight.

West wins the club 10 and does best to punch dummy with a heart. You ruff, draw second round of trump, cash the club ace and king, and ruff a second heart. Now you ruff a club to set up the suit and ruff another heart with dummy’s last trump. At this point the fifth club has been established and takes care of one of your two spade losers.

The avoidance play in clubs requires West to hold one of the three top clubs. You also need either diamonds or clubs to break evenly.

It is very tempting to bid two no-trump, going for the big payout if you are right; but here you have a viable alternative, which is to bid two spades. The point is that with such a misfit and no real club stopper, your chances of making three no-trump are very slim. Also, if partner has extras, he can still bid on if he wants.


♠ 7 4
 A Q 10 8 5
♣ 9 6 5 3 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass
1 NT Pass 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 13th, 2012 at 11:42 am

It is fascinating to note that east-west have a good save, but not in their best fit. Five spades can be set 4 with north getting 2 heart ruffs, while 5 hearts is only off 2 (no ruffs). I guess those results are rather fluky, but do you see any way that east-west could (should) find the good save and not the bad one, or should they do as they did and simply let north-south play and make 5 diamonds?

jim2October 13th, 2012 at 11:51 am

In BWTA, if North now bids 3H, what do you do now? 4S?

bobby wolffOctober 13th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Hi David,

Your questions expose an aspect of bridge which, IMO has, of course, always been present, always will be present, and when accepted includes a luck element (but not 100%, especially such as in this case, about the defense).

Fascinating is a good adjective to use since there are, as you correctly point out, two tricks different in defense, while if EW finds a possible sacrifice in spades, their longest combined trump suit they will be subject to 2 ruffs, if the defense is clever enough to secure them.

No, the defense should always, (or almost) be looking for their longest defensive suit, usually to ward off the tapping bogeyman, allowing them to establish their trick taking suit (this time spades, by after knocking out the ace of hearts, can reach dummy with the nine to finesse and establish spades before drawing trumps). All very doable because of the club holding and, more importantly, the distribution of the NS hands. EW is very close to, while if selecting hearts their eight card fit, instead of spades, their nine, going for a significant bath if the specific card (mainly the defensive club stopper) is not present.

All of this extra excitement is often present in bridge and while uniquely different on this hand should not be thought of as a guide to the future. Think of it as an extra attraction available to NS if EW is unlucky enough to choose spades, their longest trump suit instead of hearts.

Your analysis reminds me (as these points often do, of quotes often discussed post mortem by good players), Shakespeare’s quote of if and when this happens (hearts trump instead of spades), “signifying nothing”, and another, asking bids should much more often be asking the opponents whether or not a key finesse is on or off side rather than used to ask partner whether he has control of a certain suit, when even when he does sometimes the patient (contract) dies or fails because of an unseen factor (difficult to determine during the bidding), in spite of partner having that control.

bobby wolffOctober 13th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

Probably yes, but since, after rebidding only 2 spades, again like the above discussion between David and me, your perfect bid (impossible and worse, illegal) would be 3 1/2 spades, allowing partner, not you, to then make the mistake.

The contract result will probably depend on three variable contingencies, partner’s specific holding, the defensive layouts, and the choice of opening lead (and possibly 4th, your partner’s declarer prowess).

“Bid boldly, play carefully”!