Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.

Emily Dickinson

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


Four hearts appears to be a simple enough contract, but as always, you need to make the right plan at the start of the play. You should aim to score five trumps, four clubs and the spade ace.

You will need to ruff the clubs good if they divide 4-2, which is the most likely split.

After establishing the clubs, you will have to draw trumps, ending in the dummy.

It follows that you should not aim to take a spade ruff. (That would be so even if West had not bid, thereby alerting you to the risk of an overruff by East.)

How does the play go? Best is to win the spade lead (for fear of a diamond switch) and draw just two rounds of trumps with the ace and king. You then play the club queen and ace and ruff a club in the South hand. This line would cost you an overtrick if clubs happened to break 3-3. But it is in a good cause, though, because you give yourself an extra chance when clubs break 4-2. Here West is out of clubs, but cannot overruff.

You return to dummy with a trump to the queen and score two more club tricks.

The trap on the deal would be to start by drawing trumps. After that start you would make the contract only if clubs broke 3-3 or the diamond ace was with West.

Incidentally, if trumps broke 4-1, you would just run the clubs, pitching spades, and hope for the best.

Whenever you have three spades on this auction and your values are in the majors, you should consider raising spades rather than rebidding no-trump. Even if partner is relatively short in hearts, your hand offers the possibility for ruffs or useful discards when played at spades. So it looks right to raise to two spades here.


♠ A 7 3
 A K 7 5 3
 9 6 2
♣ Q 4
South West North East
1 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


jim2November 14th, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Some Souths might rebid 3N, perhaps more frequently at matchpoints (or board-a-match).

On the lead of the KS, should declarer duck one round?

There are 9 tricks off the top if either round suit behaves, 11 if both cooperate. However, ducking would gain in many cases where one or both round suits fail to split, as declarer could concede a trick into the “safe” East hand. (Presumably West’s pre-empt shows at least 6 spades and not the AD.)

Of course, if at Trick 2 West somehow tables the diamond 10/J/Q ….

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Hi Jim 2,

This hand proves what some of us have always suspected, and it is directly involved with your significant question.

I’ll answer it as best I can, but in truth it is like so many problems in making bridge decisions, it depends on how you size up your opponents. If you duck and partner has the hand you suspect, 6 good spades, but without an entry, perhaps his best chance for success is what happens to work on this hand, (as you pointed out), switching to the 10 of diamonds.

However, as you also pointed out, by ducking the first spade and grabbing the 2nd (if you are lucky enough to have that chance) you could withstand a 4-1 heart break or even similar to this hand a 4-2 club break (with the jack not falling doubleton), but the 3 hearts in the other hand.

Now, I am ready to make a controversial statement, so hold on to your hat. A declarer who chooses wrong by either winning the first spade or not, if he guesses wrong either by, ducking the first spade and having his opponents switch to the killing diamond honor or by not ducking and having the wrong layout later has made a wrong decision, not what I would consider an unlucky one.

Why? Because advancing from a very good player to one who is better still, should be able to size up his current opponents, although by doing so refers to the poker element in bridge rather than the technical bridge necessary.

My contention is that a very top player (being declarer in either 4 hearts or 3NT, will almost always to always make the right decisions in these game changing decisions similar to a clutch hitter in baseball, a quarterback who plays perfectly in his game winning drive at the end of a crucial game, or what Michael Jordan did toward the end of his career (which he didn’t earlier), almost always made the game winning shot when given a chance.

That type of talent is what separates the players at the top in almost all competitions.

Patrick CheuNovember 14th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi Bobby, Surely if declarer ducks the first spade, west has to switch to diamonds looking at that dummy because a spade ruff by par is not enough to defeat the contract.Plus the fact, east might hav overtaken the ks with the ace if he has it n play second spade back.It feels natural to win the first spade n play the above line.Best Regards-Patrick.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Hi Patrick,

You have a disadvantage which, in turn, affects your judgment. Being able to look at the entire 52 card layout is hard to divorce from one’s mind, but, why would a good declarer give the defense an opportunity to reap an instant set? Also though, is it likely that partner has exactly the AQJx of diamonds? At the table, even the best players need to guess what to do often, especially on defense and without the benefit of seeing double dummy, mind processes run differently than most would suspect.

However applying a syllogism of Patrick always thinks of how the quickest way to defeat a contract is obtained and will then, without deeper thought, go for it, should mean to that declarer, I will not duck the spade while declaring against Patrick.

The above is not undue approval nor undue criticism of your basic bridge habits, but only an assessment by an opponent of what you tend to do while playing defense.

Great players need to be really special in their determinations, otherwise in order to reach a higher plateau, they need to work harder.

Ted BartunekNovember 14th, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

In a team game you generally have a bit of time to evaluate the opponents, but what about when you sit down at a table at matchpoints with unfamiliar opponents?

I’ll try and get a reading from their body language and the logic of their convention card, but what else could/should be considered?

Patrick CheuNovember 14th, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Hi Bobby, thanks for your assessment, I have work to do-Patrick.

Bobby WolffNovember 14th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Hi Ted,

Good questions, all.

Obviously, my answers will be subjective and created in my own mind, but I will be happy to share with you what I think.

Unless we happen to know that our opponents belong to the upper strata we will tend to overrate their bridge thought process.

My recommendation is to assume that random opponents will play in a random manner, and not really, on the subject hand, lead the 10 of diamonds instead of a far more likely low diamond (especially if they hold the queen or the jack without the ten) and furthermore perhaps no diamond at all, thinking that declarer’s fairly obvious spade duck (not obvious to everyone), was done because he was not worried about a diamond shift.

Somehow Sidney Lazard’s comments to me a long time ago (when he and I played some as a partnership) was that there was a special feel at the table (tension) when the opponents were razor sharp and through the years, if that feeling did not permeate the atmosphere, they usually were not.

Your body language suggestion seems correct, but pairs who play a wide variety of complex conventions are probably looking for unsuccessful methods to improve their results, rather than to gain high-level experience by just playing against the toughest opponents they can find.

The same can be said for borderline examples of proper ethics by the opponents usually, but not always, indicates players who have given up on winning by just better play and need to resort to what they can get away with.

The only sure advice I can give is to learn the so-called “poker” element ever present when good players play against their peers. Over a long match the partnerships who get the best of those high-level competitive bidding and psychological playing battles will win an inordinate amount of those matches.