Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.

Edmund Burke

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


Compare what happened in this deal from the first round of last year's Vanderbilt tournament, when a top-seeded team met a less highly ranked squad.

At the first table, where the expert was declarer, the heart jack lead went to declarer’s king. East held up the club ace twice, West discarding a small diamond. Now, instead of playing a third club and giving East the chance to shift to spades, declarer cashed his red-suit winners and took his nine tricks.

In the other room South also opened two no-trump and was raised to three no-trump. West led the heart jack to declarer’s ace, and declarer then played the club king, West playing the five. How did the expert East defend?

East could see that he would never beat this contract unless his partner had good spades. Since one of the red queens in dummy was sure to be an entry to the clubs, the holdup in clubs was never going to be that effective.

Accordingly, East decided to break the rules and win the first club (in case it was declarer’s ninth trick, as could easily have been the case if declarer had five diamonds). Now he switched to spades, and — more importantly — he covered the possibility that his partner had the ace and jack of spades by shifting to the spade queen.

Declarer was helpless now; whatever he did, the defenders had four spade winners.

You have a decent diamond stop and enough bits and pieces to make the no-trump game the most attractive option, so bid three no-trump. Note that this is a suggestion to play no-trump, not a command. Your partner can bid on with significant extra shape, or really short diamonds.


♠ 10 9
 Q 7 2
 Q 10 2
♣ Q J 9 8 3
South West North East
2 Dbl. Pass
3♣ Pass 3♠ 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


Iain ClimieDecember 5th, 2012 at 11:57 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

This is an ideal hand for a Smith peter (also highlighted by Dorothy Truscott in a BOLS tip) except poor west has just the one club. Perhaps he should either throw a high diamond at T2 as suit preference (he can’t want a diamond back having not led one) or even a low heart to stop partner playing one back.

Any thoughts here?



bobby wolffDecember 5th, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Hi Iain,

At least to me, this is not a spectacular hand.

While especially playing IMPs, which of course the Vanderbilt is, to me it is a slam dunk to win the first club and switch to the spade queen.

It would be hard to construct a hand where any other defense would have any chance of defeating 3NT. Of course, the East player could get away with ducking one club, since by doing so, NS did not yet have 9 tricks, but why risk it when the only remotely possible combination would be the one which existed.

Sure partner could have 5 spades to the ace, not lead them, and have East switching to a low spade and a miss guess made by declarer (holding KJ doubleton), but what would partner be doing by not leading from his 5 card suit?

Problem solving is one of high-level bridge’s great attributes and this, after, of course, much experience with card combinations, is not one of the more difficult ones.

It may seem somewhat arrogant by me to say what I have, but truthfully this is what bridge is all about, so why mince words.

Iain ClimieDecember 5th, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Seems like fair comment, I must say.
The hand is also a really good warning of the risks of playing on autopilot.



jim2December 5th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I might add that declarer knows the only risk to the hand is that East might have the AC and West the AS. Hence, declarer should sequence the play to lead the second club from the Board, denying East the chance to see West’s card before playing to that trick.

Iain ClimieDecember 5th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Is there a case for declarer taking the

HQ at trick 1 then leading the CQ and then the CJ if it holds. This gives more scope for the defence to fail.


jim2December 5th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Depends on the opponents, I would imagine. However, playing the QH rather than the more natural play of letting it ride around to the closed hand is just the sort of play that might wake up a defender.

Over-taking the 10C and then leading the other Board honor might be one, but East woul dknow declarer has no singleton so that also might be a wake-up play.

I think I would simply lead low to QC and then low away from Board, probably subvocalizing a lullaby as I did so ….


bobby wolffDecember 5th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, by George, I didn’t think about declarer’s counter measures, but your last comment undoubtedly, by leading the 2nd club off dummy might, as you say, lullaby the bridge baby (RHO) to sleep. We could call it a
Brahms bridge bullaby.

It shouldn’t work against a qualified and determined defender, but that doesn’t mean not to try.

jim2December 5th, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Bobby’s Bridge Lullaby!