Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Oh, how shall I help to right the world that is going wrong!
And what can I do to hurry the promised time of peace!

Richard Gilder

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



When you hold a long strong major facing a balanced hand, the nine-trick game may prove easier to make. Today's deal was just such an example though one can hardly blame North here for insisting on playing hearts, after East's two-diamond bid, which was explained as weak with diamonds, often only a five-card suit nonvulnerable.

In four hearts, declarer won the lead of the diamond king, drew trump, and played a club. When West had the ace and East did not have both spade honors, declarer had no real chances left.

South should have ducked the diamond king at trick one, the right play even if the lead was a singleton. If West switches to a club and East has the ace, that player can continue with the diamond queen, but declarer ducks again. Then he ruffs the diamond continuation and, after drawing trump, discards dummy’s two spades on his diamond ace and club king.

Best defense after the diamond king holds is to switch to a spade to the king and ace. Declarer draws trump with the jack and queen of hearts, and plays another diamond. East must split his honors so declarer wins the ace and gives up a diamond to East’s queen, establishing a trick for his seven. If West did not find the spade switch earlier, declarer is now home. If West did switch to a spade at trick two, East can play another spade now, but declarer should guess this correctly by running it to dummy’s nine.

Decisions of this sort can cause ulcers Is partner cuebidding or is he showing long diamonds? Fortunately, today the answer is simple; with a good hand partner has an unambiguous cuebid of two hearts (a suit he had the opportunity to bid at his first turn). So two diamonds should be natural and you should pass.


♠ Q 8 4 2
 9 2
 K 8
♣ A Q J 10 6
South West North East
1 Pass 1
Dbl. 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


Iain ClimieDecember 20th, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

A maddening hand for East I if only he could get the lead early on, he could lead the S10 through – a classic example of a surround play. Yet even if west somehow manages to lead a trump, it isn’t going to happen. East’s diamond pips just aren’t good enough – there may be a lesson in there.



jim2December 20th, 2012 at 1:45 pm

How would you play the hand if West continues with the deuce, trey, or five spot of diamonds at trick two?

bobbywolffDecember 20th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, it is a maddening hand for East. While I wouldn’t call the surrounding play of the 10 of spades classic, since the lower spot card with East is the 7 not the 8, the 10 is still the correct play since West now needs the 8 to go with his hoped for queen, but nevertheless the imagination required rises, but help from partner is definitely needed.

Bridge is now and has always been (at least during my almost record lifetime involved) a game of taking advantage of what transpires and less than perfect defense (double dummy) is often the rule rather than the exception. Sure a trump lead is best, but as you well describe, “it isn’t going to happen”.

Normally East would be happy to be directing a diamond lead, since his partner has the king rather than the ace (which, to lead, would normally cost a trick), but something happened on the way to the forum (probably described as also having the 8, with declarer possessing the 9 and 7).

Aesthetically the bridge gods may always be conjuring up ways where the skill of card combinations are emphasized, allowing that numeracy required to be game enabling. In any event no one (to my knowledge) has ever complained that the challenge of bridge performance is too rare and therefore restricted.

Thanks for your always pertinent thoughts.

bobbywolffDecember 20th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

Answering your direct question, “under an assumed name” since, to my eyes, it is now not going to make.

However, to further at least try, I would go to the dummy in trumps and lead a club up and when East doesn’t rise with the ace (likely since he doesn’t have it) possibly duck hoping West will win cheaply, but might think his partner had the king and, if holding only a singleton trump, might play another club (it doesn’t hurt to dream, but sometimes dreams come true). In the absence of it happening, I would probably have to play East for both the king and queen of spades.

Your question is good, but my answer does not help much.

Ted BartunekDecember 20th, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

On the bidding, without prior discussion with partner, I would have assumed 3D to be Staymen rather than a transfer (likewise 2H – 2NT – P – 3H).

Is there a default understanding on these sequences, and what would you recommend?

Many thanks,


jim2December 20th, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Expanding your reply line of play (small diamond led at Trick #2) a bit, maybe South could draw a second round of trump before ducking the club.

West’s forced spade return lets the hand make if either defender has both spade honors.

bobbywolffDecember 20th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Hi Ted,

I agree with your interpretation that 3 diamonds should be Stayman (basically asking for a 4 card major) rather than a transfer. I must add that many partnerships have incorporated transfers into competitive sequences which didn’t exist just a few years ago, but as far as I am concerned the jury has not ruled on whether that change is for the good or not, just that it is being done.

Modern changes are OK to be discussed, but before changing both the pros and cons need to be discussed and quite frankly, some of the partnerships involved may not be experienced enough to lead changes without the sure evidence that the changes are beneficial.

On the surface, I think it more important to checkback for 4 card majors than to attempt to suggest that this hand needs to be played from the strong hand side (in my view, not necessarily a clear advantage).

Comfort, or ease of memory, is NEVER a good reason for compromising bridge advantage, although casual players (and old folks, like me) may think otherwise. In this case, I am strong in my objection to this concept, but will wait to hear any so-called major practical objections to my point of view.

At least I know I have one person on my side, to go to battle with.

bobbywolffDecember 20th, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Whether the opponent’s trumps need to be completely drawn is up for grabs on this hand, since the play of the hand (King of diamonds followed by a very small diamond, instead of the 8) has turned our objective into a hope (prayer) for a grievous mistake by them and a principle to consider is the less they know about the hand the more likely we are to win the lottery.

Perhaps West, particularly if he only had one trump, will wonder why the trumps were not drawn which may contribute to a gift from heaven. I am not trying to make excuses, only intending to throw up a denser smoke screen. Also, from a practical standpoint we know that the weak 2 diamond bidder had only 5 to the QJ and no ace of clubs, making it possible he does have both the KQ of spades. One thing it precludes is that West should not have both high spades to go with his ace of clubs and king of diamonds, leaving East with a too skimpy WTB. Assuming then, that the spade honors are split, we are probably doomed, but at this point we still have hope that the defense will come to our rescue. It is possible that the more plays West sees, the less likely he is to do something dumb, like lead a low club back.

And please remember, my first response was, at trick two, when West continued with a smallish diamond was to play this hand under an assumed name.

Sometimes gibberish begets gibberish.

jim2December 20th, 2012 at 8:59 pm

IMHO, the hand was always about a hope/prayer since it turned on the hope that West began with the 8D when the 2, 3, and 5 were equally likely and, in fact, West could well have held NONE of them (the singleton KD) and exited safely with a trump at Trick #2.

Forcing the spade return, though, adds the chance that West must lead HS (and South can Bath Coup) to the chance that East began with both spade honors (and South leads up to the J5 later). That boosts the chances up to respectable!

The only chance in the actual layout (with the single change of a different xD for West’s 8) appears to be a squeeze against East. It would appear to require an early spade finesse as well as different club duck and a very passive pair of defenders:

– KD ducked
– xD – 10D – JD – AD
– 9C – 10C – xC – xC
– xH – QH – xH – xH
– 3S – xS – JS – QS
– xH – JH – xD – xH
– run Hs

East gets squeezed.

bobbywolffDecember 20th, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, you are quite right in assessing the ending, except when the jack of spades is finessed, losing to an honor, be prepared, for a spade back as fast as one can could occur, which would put paid to that line of play.

Yes, some opponents are not up to that kind of defense, e.g. if the declarer leads spades I will refrain from doing so, but that only proves that bridge, probably like tennis and golf, is played at so many different levels that it is especially difficult to predict what will happen.

All true and probably not even worth mentioning, but, at least on this hand, the discussion had reached, what do I do to give myself some sort of chance against mediocre competition and there is no doubt that you have come up with the winning answer and one which might just get it done.

I fully admit (“your father can beat up my father”) that my possible solution was much more fantasy than likely, but was based on causing relatively worthy competition to not having a sure fire play to breaking up a possible squeeze which was occurring right in front of his nose.