Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Yet they, believe me, who await
No gift from Chance, have conquered Fate.

Matthew Arnold

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


When this deal occurred in a team game, at the first of the two tables West made his natural lead of the club king against three no trump. Declarer allowed this to hold the trick, as he did the club queen continuation.

South won the third club perforce, and counting eight tricks, chose to combine his chances in the red suits to seek the ninth. He cashed the heart king, then the ace, but no queen appeared. His last chance was the diamond finesse, but when that also failed, so did the contract.

At the second table, and against the same lead, South won the second club and was pleased to see that East followed. Declarer then led three rounds of spades, and this time was happy to see West discarding on the third round. He was about to cash dummy’s last spade when he paused to do a little arithmetic.

He intended to throw West in with a club, thereby effecting an endplay in the red suits. But for this he needed two discards for the clubs, so he had to retain the heart K-J-5 and the diamond A-Q in hand. Therefore he could not cash the fourth spade until West had taken his club tricks.

So declarer left the spade winner in dummy and played a club at once. West took his tricks as South pitched one card from each red suit, but then had to concede the balance.

Although I've expressed my distaste for overcalling in a five-card suit at the two-level, there are exceptions. A very chunky suit in an overcall that takes up the maximum space is perfectly forgivable. Here you make both major suits more difficult for West to bid, and making the opponents' life hard is always laudable. Vulnerable, I'd think twice, though, if facing a passing partner.


♠ 10 7
 Q 9 3
 K 4 3
♣ K Q J 9 3
South West North East
Pass 1

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


jim2December 4th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Not cashing the fourth spade is probably easier to see when one is physically holding the cards than it may be as a printed problem. That is, one may be able to catch that one will be squeezed and that none of the cards being held in one’s hand can be discarded w/o loss.

I wonder. Has there been any discussion in the on-line bridge community about such phenomena? That is, are there traps that are recognized as easier (or harder) to succumb to when playing on-line versus at the table holding cards?

bobby wolffDecember 4th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Hi Jim2,

As a direct answer to your important question, I do not know whether or not such phenomena has been discussed.

From my view (and I just finished participating in a Nationals for the first time in a few years), it really doesn’t make much difference to me, although I have played very little on-line bridge. To me, the key factor is to learn while very young in bridge, to count all hands and since numerate people (not necessarily supremely gifted, genius like, in arithmetic or certainly higher mathematics) but nevertheless accepting numbers enthusiastically into everyday life (consciousness of time, arithmetical influence, odds, numerical strategy, money management, value, etc.) start out having an advantage in a bridge class (hopefully to eventually being taught for credit in the USA’s beginning schools like it already is in China and much of Europe), but without it being natural or wisely taught with emphasis (and sadly, many of our current bridge teachers do not, for one reason or another, emphasize the necessity to do so) , the game itself will always be more difficult for those less numerate. IMO, it can be taught early and, although with varying results, still serve to be effective in getting everyone acclimated to its sensational benefits in dealing with today’s fast paced problems, including the playing of bridge.

No doubt, the psychology and setting, for on-line bridge, is different than being in close proximity to opponents at a table but to probably many, it doesn’t make any difference, while to others, it does.

Perhaps psychologists can break it down, as to what is needed, to overcome that obstacle.

Patrick CheuDecember 4th, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Hi Bobby, the play of the spade suit, a discovery play, about west’s holding, decides the line of play for declarer.If West follows to three rounds of spades, declarer still plays on clubs, and if west has four spades, the diamond finesse is still available at the end, as the saying goes finesse is the last resort. Best regards-Patrick.

bobby wolffDecember 4th, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Hi Patrick,

Only if West might not have started with 5 clubs which sometimes cannot be ascertained when declarer gobbles up the 2nd club.

Of course, the declarer will always know whether or not West has or has not 4 spades, by, of course, whether East also followed to the 3rd spade. If both opponents follow to 3 spades, the dummy can pitch two diamonds (or one diamond and one heart) and declarer one diamond and one heart, making the hand foolproof, even if West does hold 5 clubs.

But, if West has four spades, nothing is foolproof and some imperfect decision needs to be made (to be determined by the bidding, lack of it and/or possibly the body language of the opponents). Intuitive declarers have better track records of being right more often than scientific analysts.

jim2December 4th, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Of course, if West really is 4 – 5 in the blacks, declarer will always have one or lines that will lead to nine tricks. The problem will be to ascertain one that works at the table.

That is, with West holding only four red cards, one or both red suits can always be played to yield the necessary tricks.

Perhaps when East shows out on the third spade, declarer should go ahead and cash the fourth and pitch the last club from the closed hand, giving up on the end play. After that, maybe lead a heart to the king and back to the ace. Maybe the QH will drop doubleton.

If West shows out, say on the second heart, then leading the third round from the Board yields the game-going trick. If all follow to both rounds, then declarer leads either a diamond or a third heart from the Board.

At that point, West would already be marked as having at most two diamonds to East’s five-plus, so finessing the QD would seem to have odds of 71%, or better.

Patrick CheuDecember 4th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Hi Bobby, 28points between both hands and we are ‘trying’ to make 3nt safely, with Jim2 trying to swing the odds in declarer’s favour.Fascinating game!