Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 8th, 2012

The past cannot be cured.

Queen Elizabeth I

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


Against three no-trump West leads the spade queen. How do you plan to make nine tricks?

Outside the diamonds, you have five top tricks. So you need a minimum of four diamond tricks to make your contract. Suppose you win the spade lead with the ace and finesse the diamond jack. If the finesse loses, the spade return will mean that you won’t make nine tricks unless the diamond 10 drops. This would be the case even when the diamonds were 3-3, for the entry to the diamonds has been removed.

Accordingly, the best approach is to win the first spade (for fear of a club shift) and play a diamond to the king. Then continue by overtaking the diamond jack with dummy’s ace, even if West has followed with a small card. Here, since the diamond queen has put in an appearance, you can simply dislodge the diamond 10 from East’s hand and make nine tricks: two spades, two hearts, four diamonds and a club.

If the diamonds had been 3-3, the third round of diamonds would have established the suit, with the spade king as the entry to cash them. Notice that you will succeed when either defender began with a singleton or doubleton diamond queen or 10. As we have seen, dummy’s 9-8-7 is then good enough to allow you to knock out the remaining diamond honor, letting you collect four diamond tricks and the contract. This gives you a better than two-thirds chance to make your game.

Simplest might be to bid three spades (or four spades if you believe you have no slam interest). I have no great objection to bidding three spades. It is, of course, forcing since you would have simply raised spades at once with invitational values. But given your excellent side-suit holdings, maybe you should rebid three no-trump directly and avoid risking a bad spade break in four spades?


♠ 9 5 3
 A K 8 4
 K J
♣ A 8 6 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass
2♣ Pass 2 NT 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


Bill CubleyNovember 22nd, 2012 at 5:47 pm


I am thanfkul on Thanksgiving I got the play right very quickly. Thanks for beating Black Friday with this Christmas present.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and Judy.

Iain ClimieNovember 22nd, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Funny on this hand how much easier life is with DK10 or even Kx. That diamond Jack is a possible snare and delusion in suggesting the finesse. Even the idea of playing a diamond to the King then running the jack is a trap; give west DQxxx and East D10x and the play in the column still works better.

How often is choice a curse at bridge? With Qx in dummy opposite Ax(x) there is no real choice of play when the suit is led; make it Q10 and declarer’s likelihood of getting it right seems to fall with each and every thought. I knew one player who, faced with such a decision and unable to bear misguessing again, literally tossed a coin – it was his lucky day, but he had the grace to apologise to his opponents.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffNovember 22nd, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Hi Bill,

And a happy and thankful Thanksgiving back at you.

Card combinations can certainly become varied as to how to play them, often depending on how many tricks necessary, vital entries, as well as the bidding and opening lead to help determine. Learning bridge and the numeracy and practical logic as well as the required active ethics always present, really lends itself to being taught in schools. I wonder how many years it is going to take North America to discover what both Europe (for many years now) and Asia (recently) have, after profound thought and research, committed to do.

You and I are unlikely to be around when it happens, but when it does, the children benefiting from it will be eternally thankful to those who saw the light.

bobby wolffNovember 22nd, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Hi Iain,

Interesting thoughts, yours.

Rather than toss a coin before guessing we probably owe it to ourselves (and to partner and sometimes, teammates) to improve on that 50% choice.

While you sum it up well, not forgetting the frustration present, it should be a goal of our best and brightest players to, at the very least, figure a hook or method to raise the winning percentage to over 50.

The above may get into metaphysical advantage, but by the time the play has begun, whether from the declarer or the defense’s viewpoint there is always some evidence present, little as it may be, to decide one way or the other, if we all make a study of what that opponent has done in the past or merely an assessment of what that type of player is more likely to have done with this or that. Yes, intense concentration is necessary, but that is one of the stunning features of the game itself and teaches a certain dedication to the game itself which often carries over into life, making our time on earth more productive for us and the people around us.

Perhaps a little too profound to be discussed casually, but after all, today is Thanksgiving day here in America and thus a day to reflect on all things happy and positive.

Thanks, Iain, for your always tantalizing perspectives.

John Howard GibsonNovember 22nd, 2012 at 9:35 pm

HBj : Interesting analysis. If west has 5 spades ( East 2) the odds favour East having length in diamonds. The finesse of the jack only works if East comes up with 4 to the Q10. On a 3-3 break, or West having either Qx or 10x doubleton is what declarer hopes for.
But how does one accurately tot up the odds of the last 3 scenarios to balance against the first one?

bobby wolffNovember 22nd, 2012 at 10:46 pm


One doesn’t, but just plays it that way. Strict percentages are somewhat useful, but not all encompassing, since on this hand there is little choice because of the lack of entries to the long diamond hand.

Show me a player who ponders on this hand and I’ll show you one who is not thinking globally. Winning bridge is about concentrating about what it takes to make hands as declarer, set hands, together with partners help, defensively, learning to bid as a partnership and not missing an opportunity to throw tacks in the road in front of your worthy opponents.

Taking time out to figure exact percentages is a study of wasted effort and will likely impair you from concentrating on what you need to be. Bid thoughtfully and take a large number of tricks should be your goal.