Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Eternity was in that moment.

William Congreve

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


Here is a neat declarer play by Barnet Shenkin's from a Pairs game where he shrugged off the nasty splits to bring home his four-spade contract.

West led the diamond king to Shenkin’s ace — and, yes, as the cards lie, it might have been better to duck this trick). Shenkin then played the spade king at trick two to East’s ace. The diamond jack came next, followed by a third round of the suit, ruffed by Shenkin, who got the bad news in trumps when he cashed the spade queen. Undaunted, he continued with a heart to dummy’s king (it would not have profited West to ruff) and a club to his jack. Shenkin then cashed the club ace and played a spade to dummy’s nine. East was already starting to feel the pressure. He pitched one club and one heart, but was really under the gun when Shenkin cashed the spade jack.

A heart discard was out of the question, so he had to let go a club. Shenkin then exited with the club queen, putting East on play with the king in the two-card ending with the heart Q-10 left, obliged to lead into dummy’s tenace. Contract made; but have you noticed the defensive slip? East should win his spade ace and return the heart 10 — suit preference — to let West ruff. Now a diamond to the jack allows the defenders to take a second ruff and set the hand. That is why ducking the first trick was essential.

The raise to two spades is a constructive game-try, not obstructive. Accordingly, it suggests around 16-17 high cards with four trump. Your balanced shape and apparently unattractive club holding probably argues that pass would be best. However, you are on the cusp of action (if the club queen were the diamond queen, you would be worth a try of three diamonds.)


♠ J 9 8 5
 K J 5
 7 5 2
♣ Q 7 6
South West North East
1♣ Dbl. Pass
1♠ 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


Shantanu RastogiJanuary 5th, 2013 at 12:18 pm

East has only 4 clubs. If he discards two as mentioned in the column there are no clubs left. On two spades (Q and 9) he must have discarded two hearts instead of a club and a heart. Then only the end play works else dummy’s club Queen scores.

bobbywolffJanuary 5th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Yes, you are quite correct about East’s discards, and your eagle eye, while reading the text (and keeping up with the description) has caused some confusion about what cards East had left, after the 4th round of spades, ending in dummy, had been played.

Since, as you pointed out, East had to keep the king of clubs (to top the dummy’s queen) so earlier he had discarded a heart, instead of a club.

My apology to you for the confusion, and thanks for the correction. Unfortunately, my proof reading did not alert me at the time of this error.

In a somewhat unusual manner, perhaps my gaffe only proves how difficult some hands are, from declarer’s viewpoint, to be able to count the defender’s hands and arrive at the winning ending, in order to effect the game going end play. Congratulations to Barnett for not falling victim to miscounting the hand.

Jeff SJanuary 5th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Hi Bobby,

A very difficult hand! It took me a long time to work out how to make it if West had trumped in and returned a fourth diamond (since you have to trump on the board, not in hand).

East did suffer a lapse not noticing that his partner was almost surely void in hearts, but my question is how many players would work out that the first trick should be ducked? I can see not being particularly happy at the prospect of East leading a club through, but I think it requires more imagination that I possess to realize the danger of East leading twice.

Without criticizing declarer who played beautifully after East left the door open, do you think most experts would have worked out to duck that first trick? If so, would the logic have been seeing the danger or that it should be ducked on the general principle that if it makes any difference at all, it is more likely to help than hurt our cause?

Thank you as always for your always stimulating and entertaining column.

Iain ClimieJanuary 5th, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

The BWTA raises some interesting points. In theory the initial 1S response could be based on practically no high cards but 4 or 5 spades, so South might think he has quite a good hand despite the CQ. When East passes and West doesn’t rebid, can North reasonably infer south has a few values and not a blizzard, then bid on this basis? Also, can South asssume that North has drawn this inference, or is there a danger of reading too much into partner’s possible thought processes? Is there a Jim2 head hurts moment imminent?


Iain Climie

Bill CubleyJanuary 5th, 2013 at 9:53 pm


I got to play online with Barnet once. Good thing this is a play hand asBarnet usually bids slowly. I was luicky, he had a golf game that day and I acutally played slower than Barnet did. He played at what most of us call normal speed that day.

Tough game as we never did agree on methods other than “standard<" with Mathe/their big clib, reverse Drury, forcing NT, and Jordan 2NT/takeout double. And we won! He plays very well

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 6:40 am

Hi Jeff S.

Rather than probe deeply to your request, let me just say that more often than one thinks, especially against good defenders, it is right to duck the first trick, if for no other reason than to make the defensive communication less available.

Rarely will one lose (relying on the bidding or lack of it to be aware of at least the possibility of unusual distributions) and situations similar to this one are often camouflaged early in the play until suit breaks are better known.

Your next to last paragraph hinted at the main theme. The course in bridge school would smack of limiting the defender’s communication with some attention to creating the proper tempo for a positive trick gaining end situation.

Feel confident that you are not alone in not being able to know exactly why it is better most times to duck, but soon afterward it may jump at you.

Thanks for your kind words about the column.

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 6:51 am

Hi Iain,

Not really head hurts here. However, for the TO doubler to raise a minimum level response in a suit requires about an ace more than a normal TO double and, of course 4+ trump. With better hands there are many options, 1. cue bid and pass another minimum response, 2. an immediate jump in responder’s suit, 3. a cue bid and then either a further raise or then bidding a new suit, which in itself is another 1 round force.

Remember many, many years ago an original cue bid of the opponent’s suit was GF and the equivalent of an opening strong 2 bid. Today we have better uses for that cue bid, leaving the handling of the really good hand to modern style.

Your comment about tendencies when the opponents withdraw from competing after opening the bidding should not be taken too seriously since different opponents have different views on further competition.

Better to just bid what you can see and hear and leave the imagination to the card gods.

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 6:57 am

Hi Bill,

Yes, Barnett can sometimes be somewhat slow, but always very thoughtful and an excellent all around player as well as an extremely ethical one.

You are exhibiting good judgment by playing in games where he is at the table. System? who needs one for online bridge? Only kidding, but discussing some subjects does, like Jim2, makes my head hurt just at the thought.

jim2January 6th, 2013 at 2:24 pm