Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

Delmore Schwartz

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

*Three of the five key-cards including the trump king

**Asking for the trump queen


When South discovered that his side had all the key-cards, his mind turned optimistically for a second to thoughts of a spade grand slam. One of the merits of Key-card Blackwood is that it also allows you to identify the trump queen and specific kings. When North showed the spade queen but denied any kings, South knew he was high enough.

Against the small slam the lead was the club queen to South’s king. The two top spades draw all the trump; now how should you advance?

The 100 percent play is to cash the diamond ace, then cross to hand with the heart king and lead the diamond 10. If West follows low, play the queen. Should it score, declarer is home with an overtrick. If East wins, declarer has three entries to table (in the form of a spade, heart and club) to enable him to set up and enjoy the long diamond.

As the cards lie, though, when West shows out on the second diamond, dummy plays low and East can win the jack. But declarer has plenty of entries to take the ruffing finesse against the diamond king and nine, and eventually discard his club on the established diamond.

Paradoxically, if West had led his singleton diamond, this would have been an extremely easy play to find because the risk of the 5-1 diamond break would have been foremost in declarer’s mind.

You have an easy acceptance of the invitation but no idea which slam is best. The easiest way to get partner to choose between diamonds, spades and no-trump is to bid five no-trump here. This is not a buck-passing nonforcing action. It asks partner to offer his ideas of a suitable slam up the line, and you will then offer yours or pass his suggestion if it meets with your approval.


♠ Q J 9
 A Q
 A Q 8 7 3
♣ A 5 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2 NT Pass 4 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


Jane ADecember 26th, 2012 at 1:43 am

I studied this hand a long time, and it seems like the same result could be accomplished by leading the diamond ten after trumps have been pulled and letting it ride. Why is it better to play the diamond ace, then play towards the ten? Are you hoping to drop a singleton king? That would be great, of course, but seems unlikely. There are plenty of entries to the board.

Looking forward to all the wisdom you can share with us in the new year as this year comes to a close. Wishing you and Judy the best! Thank you so much for taking the time to interact with us.

bobbywolffDecember 26th, 2012 at 2:08 am

Hi Jane,

It is I, who have the pleasure of interacting with people like you and other bridge lovers, which together makes this exercise fun for all.

Finally, the declarer on this hand is in the catbird seat (high up and invulnerable) since, after West follows, (she did not) declarer is a cinch since even if the queen loses to the king, it then cannot be worse than a 4-2 break with enough entries for declarer to set up the 5th diamond, regardless of the possible break.

When West doesn’t follow, as is the case here, then declarer still becomes a cinch by passing the ten and then eventually ruffing out the king and 9 and establishing the 7 for the 12th and slam making trick.

Call it tricks with numbers, numeracy, or whatever you think it should be called, but the end result is worth all the talent necessary in order to effect it properly.

Please continue to add your questions and winning personality to our group of enthusiastic players.

David WarheitDecember 26th, 2012 at 7:04 am

Jane: leading the ten and letting it ride will lose if east has the singleton jack. Cashing the ace and following Mr. Wolff’s line succeeds no matter what. Your line of play is almost 99%, but 100% is better!

bobbywolffDecember 26th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Thank you David for making my attempted explanation much clearer.

I should have mentioned why it was necessary to play the ace first, before then leading to the queen, since that is the question Jane asked.

However, with your monitoring and description, Jane was in good hands with your perfect analysis.

Jane ADecember 26th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Now I see it. We have to look for that specific card that can make or break the contract, this time it is the singleton jack in the wrong hand. I figured there was a reason, just could not quite figure it out.

Thanks, David, and Bobby, of course. Fun game, this bridge.