Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

Robert Browning

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


This week's deals all come from last fall's Bermuda Bowl in Veldhoven, won by the Dutch. On this deal from Australia's qualifying match against USA-1 in the Bermuda Bowl, Sartaj Hans played skillfully to land a three-no-trump contract that failed at many tables.

For the U.S., Martin Fleisher led the spade four, ducked by declarer and taken by Mike Kamil with the king. On the spade return, Fleisher played low on declarer’s jack. Hans played a diamond to dummy’s ace, cashed the diamond king, and then ran the club 10 to West’s jack. A low spade cleared the suit and put the lead in dummy.

This position was reached at many tables, but whereas many of the unsuccessful declarers took a second club finesse, letting West win and cash out his spades for down one, Hans instead played a club to his ace, realizing that he wanted to keep West off play, at least for the time being.

Next he cashed his two diamond winners. Fleisher could spare a heart on the third round of diamonds, but he had to let a spade go on declarer’s final diamond.

Now Hans exited with a club, leaving Fleisher on lead. That player could cash a spade, but then had to lead a heart, giving declarer his eighth and ninth tricks with a club and heart winner.

Had West discarded a heart instead on the fourth diamond, declarer would have led a heart himself and built an extra trick for his side in that suit.

With a minimum hand and not even half a spade stopper, just bid three diamonds. If your partner has a full opener, he will bid again. If he does not, you are surely high enough. A two-spade call here would suggest a better hand or better spade fragment.


♠ J 10
 Q 9 5
 Q J 9 5
♣ A Q 6 3
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 1♠
2 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


jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 12:35 pm

This hand has puzzled me since Veldhoven.

Hans presumably realized that Fleisher had begun with five spades to his partner’s three, but somehow divined to play Fleisher for both the JC and the KH.

That is, by the time Hans was on the Board with the AS, he surely knew the spade layout, and also had seen both defenders follow suit to two diamonds and one club. So, Fleisher was known to have two spades amongst his remaining seven cards while East had no spades. On the face of it, taking a second club finesse or leading a heart towards the closed hand seem better lines.

The only thing I could think of was that either Fleisher [unwisely] concealed his four of spades, or E-W revealed the diamond 2 – 5 split with their carding, or Hans simply elected to play against the odds for some reason.

I tried to find a card-by-card of this hand back then, along with a few others, but had no quick success and went on to other matters.

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yours was a near perfect recount of what must have happened. I was not watching nor privy to this hand at the time and so must guess on the answer to your questions.

No doubt, once the jack of clubs won, it is usually the case that a good declarer will follow up on his original plan of playing for one of the two key club honors to be in separate hands.

That is, unless the table action tells him that the defender appears confident in his defense. e.g having the 2nd high club honor and, just as important, the setting trick with the 5th spade.

For that declarer to play as he did for West to also have the king of hearts is certainly not the percentage play, thus making the squeeze ending a lesser percentage than his original plan.

My guess is that West gave his defensive hand away, by perhaps his confident manner of seeming likely to visualize the upcoming set by holding both the fifth spade plus the king of clubs. East, his partner, probably led his highest one back, the five, which connotes an original holding of 3 instead of a cunning 2 back which often implies 4, (suggesting the suit is dividing 4-4).

If the above is true, and my guess, that it is, the defense should be extra careful that they do not create that aura at the table, unless, of course, the opposite is true, and together the defense wants the declarer to fall into their trap and do what this declarer did.

None of this suggestion has to do with poor table ethics. The defense is NOT required to give their hands away and make a likely hero out of the declarer. Sometimes the ethics line is murky between those two different attitudes and can be confusing to relative bright beginners who are not sure of what is to be expected, but I can assure you that the defense only has to keep their tempo, their specific cards played and their table behavior reasonably consistent, with neither joy or not so, ever evident.

The very best partnerships ever to play the game are also masters at legally misleading naive declarers into convincing them that whatever is opposite of the true holding, is going to happen on that hand.

As an epilogue and in summation, sometimes the defense will play fast when they see a set in sight, but active ethics do not, in any way, require the defense to step up the tempo, or for that matter, step down the tempo with the opposite holdings, in order to allow declarer to suspect where the defensive cards are likely to be.

The above is discussing a very important part of the game and is quite often the deciding factor in winning and losing. You probably will not be able to appreciate the above until you see and feel at the table from the top-level players as to what I am trying to say.

Finally, and I have recently mentioned this story before, the late and great Victor Mitchell, a cunning player from New York city, on his own, used to say, “There are a very few players around when I feel at the table where certain cards (and distributions) are and where they aren’t, so I automatically play for them to be in their partner’s hand (or a different distribution) because I know that they know where they are, and their psychology will always lead me astray, by their cards played and their legal tempo, if I let it”.

jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Yes, I meant the missing club honor, which I re-read now to be the KC, not the JC.

Perhaps this is one of those hands where the finesse is not necessary when the missing honor is onside.

That is, if East has the KC, simply winning the AC and exiting with a small club will suffice once West follows making the clubs 2-3. East will win the KC, but the QC is now good and is an entry to the two diamond winners.

Cashing the fourth diamond set up a East winner should East hold the KC, but that would still be only the fourth trick for the defense as long as the spades were 5 – 3.

It looks like Hans’ play was even more skillful than it first appeared to me. That is, the pressure and endplay on West may not have been the main thrust.

JaneOctober 23rd, 2012 at 2:47 pm

If north opens a NT, then he probably won’t get a spade lead, and the hand should make because the timing is preserved. I wonder why north did not open a NT unless they play weak NT openings? If they do, then shouldn’t south bid a diamond so the hand can be right sided for the possible NT contract? Maybe east would lead a spade anyway, but hard to find from Kxx.

On the BWTA hand, if south holds three spades to the JTx, and one less club, would it be OK to cue bid two spades looking for a NT partial after the two heart call? Since diamonds have already been supported, north can always go back to three diamonds himself, or would the hand still be too weak to do that?

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

Remember, since both East and West had at least 3 spades (probably), it was not hurtful for either E or W to win the first club, but the idea is that, since spades were sure to be continued, it was undoubtedly correct for declarer to first finesse the 10 of clubs, (hoping either to knock out the king or even better for the 10 to win). The hand then resolves itself, after losing to the jack, into the unlucky sequence of having to take the 2nd finesse in clubs into the now danger hand.

Since, at least IMO, declarer sensed by the table action, that West was primed for a set, he changed his declarer’s course to instead play for a squeeze (directly involved both with West holding the king of hearts and he, the declarer, reading whether he had discarded down to the singleton king or not, a particularly poor percentage action when considering also having to guess the situation).

You call it skill, I call it table presence, which often separates the sheep from the goats and probably, but not necessarily, helps determine who wins and who instead, moans and thinks of what might have been.

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Hi Jane,

Sure NS were probably playing weak NT, but it is pure luck (not anything else) which gives one defensive hand or the other the chance to get off to the possible killing lead by usually having the length in the suit most likely to succeed on defense.

Concerning the BWTA, you are correct in suggesting that if the opening bidder had J10x in spades, he should invite partner to bid NT, by now cue bidding 2 spades after the opponents have overcalled the suit.

Once partner does, you, of course, hope for your partner to have Ax, instead of Kx, or Qx, so with the spade bidder on lead you will have two stops in the suit making the NT game (not partial) a likely make, instead of the lesser holding which might be touch and go to make, depending on whether he will have nine fast tricks at his disposal upon winning an early spade.

Iain ClimieOctober 23rd, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I take your point on sheep and goats but I wouldn’t knock moaning as a hobby. It is cheap, portable and clearly yields the moaner hours of pleasure (or something, anyway) even if it can be a bit wearing for those in earshot. Victor Mollo’s Karapet was a prime case although I knew one guy (sadly now deceased) whose tales of woe were always instructive or amusing.



jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Did I analyze wrong?

You said:

The hand then resolves itself, after losing to the jack, into the unlucky sequence of having to take the 2nd finesse in clubs into the now danger hand.

Above, I think I worked out that the second club finesse is a chimera. If East has the missing KC, Hans would still make it if he went up with the club ace and exited a club. Cashing the last two diamonds could not hurt if East had the KC, but might squeeze/endplay West if he had the KC.

What I’m saying is that I thought Hans went against the odds on table feel or E-W carding revelations, but now I think he simply saw deeper into the position than his competitors.

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Hi Iain,

Since we all know and agree that the human condition suggests that “misery loves company”, moaners merely prove and cherish that fact.

However, if we linger too long on this subject, many may think “that if fools can fly”, bridge might be an airport.

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

You bring up a superior bridge play which I totally overlooked, playing the ace of clubs as a safety play, guarding against KJ doubleton in West’s hand. Kudos to you, but before you get too pleased, you give up the possibility of the King of clubs being onside with the opponents having falsecarded the spade suit and being 4-4 all the time.

However, in reality, I concede your safety play will work more often than mine.

jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 6:11 pm

If the spades are 4-4, the diamonds are much more likely NOT to be 2-5. In that case, the defense gets only two clubs and two spades and the QC is the ninth trick.

(East would have in your scenario 4 spades and 3 clubs. For East also to have 5 diamonds, he would have had to have had a singleton heart. Unless it is precisely the king, Fleisher would have had a better heart suit than the spade one he actually led.)

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

I’ll tell the stories and use the bridge logic around here.

How dare you tell me how to play a hand, even when you are 100% right, since by doing so you’ll attack my self confidence

Have you no shame?

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hi again Jim2,

Actually on this hand West led a spade from Queen third, leaving East with 5 of them to go with his 5 diamonds and Kxx in clubs and of course, very few hearts.

Have you no imagination?

jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 7:16 pm


I have no shame, but no world titles, either.


Hmmm, is my imagination up to West leading a small spade from Qxx while holding six hearts to the KJ, not covering the JS with the QS but, instead, leading it after winning the JC?

Maybe, but only if I can also imagine that Martin Fleishman’s middle name is Zia.

jim2October 23rd, 2012 at 7:19 pm

“Fleisher” — sigh.