Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 31st, 2012

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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


Good technique was rewarded on this deal, where the field reached three no-trump on a heart lead.

The auction put West on lead with an easy choice of the heart 10. With the heart suit lying as it does, it is necessary to consider your first move carefully. If the heart suit splits 4-3, it is irrelevant whether you win the first or second round of the suit. But as the cards lie, look at what happens if you take the first heart and drive out the spade ace (it is clearly more attractive to go after spades because of the intermediates in that suit, though playing on clubs might work, as the cards lie).

When East takes the spade ace and returned the heart jack, West overtakes and can clear the suit while retaining the club ace as an entry. Once spades do not behave, you are very short of tricks, and will have to let West in to cash out his hearts.

By contrast, if you duck the first heart and win the second in hand, then drive out the spade ace, East will have no hearts left to lead, and will have to exit passively, letting you drive out the club ace at your leisure.

Ducking trick one makes the difference between an undertrick and an overtrick.

Despite the fact that your partner has bid and rebid hearts, I don't think you have to lead the heart ace here. Your partner could easily be competing on a hand with five hearts and extra side-suit shape, or a weak six-card suit. With a decent alternative in the form of your diamond sequence, I think you should opt for that.


♠ Q 5
 A 4 3
 J 10 8 5 4
♣ 10 4 3
South West North East
1 1♠
2 2♠ 3 3♠
All 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 ClimieJanuary 14th, 2013 at 10:09 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Even if spades break, there are only 8 tricks available if South takes trick 1 and plays on spades. Yet it is quite possible that the CK played at T2 (if south wins T1) would be ducked unthinkingly by the defence when South could switch back to spades only to fall foul of the bad break. None of this detracts from the sound technique of ducking T1 but merely flags a few other possibilities.

Did the defence make life easy for South, though? Unblocking the HJ does rather suggest the hearts are 5-2 or even 6-1 and could tip declarer off to the duck. If east plays the H7 at trick 1, then may south just read the suit as 4-3 and grab T1 to play a spade? Then he goes off even with spades breaking.


Iain Climie

Iain ClimieJanuary 14th, 2013 at 10:45 am

PS Having said all that, these ideas are so much easier seeing all 52 cards, in theory instead of at the table and given that someone else has done all the initial analtsis then kinly written it down. Hindsight gives such a good view, as does standing on a better player’s shoulders.

Patrick CheuJanuary 14th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Hi Bobby n Iain, Did West lead ten of hearts or four of hearts? If ten of hearts is lead, should East play the jack of hearts on it?Best regards-Patrick.

jim2January 14th, 2013 at 4:20 pm

I might note that the column parenthetical (that concludes “playing on clubs might work, as the cards lie.”) is just the tip of the iceberg of a longer explanation.

Absent a miracle in diamonds, declarer will need to play on both black suits to secure the five non-red tricks necessary to add to the top four red cards to get to nine.

Assuming that hearts are 5-2, whether the opening lead is ducked or not, declarer will always fail if the long heart hand has both missing aces, and will always succeed if the short heart hand has both aces.

When the aces are split between the defenders’ hands, the duck also does not matter if the first ace that declarer chooses to drive out is the one held by the defender with the long hearts. On the column hand, for example, if declarer attacks clubs first, West can win and clear hearts but have no entry, or West can duck twice and declarer simply shifts to play on spades while still holding the second heart stop.

The duck seems vital only if the defenders’ aces are split and declarer chooses the wrong black suit to play on first. This probability seems to be 50% (for split aces) times 50% (wrong suit guess) or roughly one chance in four.

(Rigorous analysis would have to reflect that the odds of the long suit holder having both aces would be slightly smaller than 25%, while the probability of East holding both aces would be slightly larger than 25% but rigorous math makes my head hurt so I didn’t do that) 🙂

So, good technique (that catered to slightly less than 25% of the possible layouts) was indeed rewarded on this hand.

bobbywolffJanuary 14th, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Hi Iain, Patrick, and Jim2,

Iain discussed the problem and added his psychological opinions, which all seem to be on point, Patrick asked a specific question, the answer to which is, technically the jack of hearts is the right play at trick one, in order to signal a doubleton (knowing partner to have a solidifying sequence), but at the same time, informing the declarer with identical information, which may, in turn, do the defense more harm than good.

Jim2 did a detailed comprehensive accurate synopsis of this bridge analysis from the womb to the tomb.

The only thing I could possibly add of some (but questionable) value is that sometimes against some relatively naive defenders, laying down the king of clubs may get the ace to duck, simply because the defender suspects the declarer wants him to take the first round.

Please do not try the king of clubs first since the spades offer by far the best chance (any 3-3 or 4-2 break plus the singleton 9 if 5-1) in spite of even 4 spade tricks not being enough to get to 9, although the running of the spades may create discarding problems for the defense, leaving the heart duck at trick 1, a far superior, not to mention often necessary move and on this hand.

Thanks to all three of you for your participation.

Alex AlonJanuary 15th, 2013 at 8:36 am

It is quite common for players to use the “rule of 7” and duck the opening lead when they hold only the Ace, but most will disregard the rule of 7 when holding both the Ace and the King in the suit. I found that unless there is a good reason for taking the trick asap, using the rule of 7 with both A+k is doing only good most of the time.

bobbywolffJanuary 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Alex,

Although I have not heard of the “rule of 7”, I assume that it applies when 7 of the opponent’s best suit (probably) is led against 3NT and declarer has 2 certain stoppers, but no more. That then leads to, when declarer needs to knock out 2 cards (2 aces are the best example, but sometimes finesses into one hand or the other become significant also) it becomes best to duck the first lead of their suit, in order to increase declarer’s chances to succeed when either being off 2 aces or certain finesses into different hands become necessary, because the defensive holdings are 5-2 rather than 4-3 (both adding to 7).

For those of you out there who like rules to follow, instead of just using bridge logic instead of those rules, Alex (or a source of his), has unearthed an appropriate name for it to be remembered.

Summing up, that specific rule may critically help certain players, while just applying what can be figured out at the table, may instead be the answer for the rest.

Thanks for voicing (or actually writing up) a valuable named declarer’s play gambit for all to consider.

AviJanuary 16th, 2013 at 9:10 am

Hi Bobby
The rule Alex was referring to, is a simple arithmetic rule to know how many times to duck the lead.
It simply says to add the number of cards held by dummy and declarer, and subtract that number from 7.
In the column example, that would result in one duck.
similarly, if dummy had xx opposite Axx, one would need to duck twice.
This is obviously to thwart a 5-2 break (5-3 in the 2nd example)

bobbywolffJanuary 16th, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Hi Avi,

Thanks for the educational opportunity.

Without throwing any stones at what I have just learned (and although I have not yet thought it through), I appreciate learning devices which are indeed taught, to make it easier to remember which, in turn, allows to many bridge enthusiasts, making the right play in bridge more often.

However, let me now invent the rule of 70 and 80. When one reaches either of those tender, but advanced ages, if one cannot figure the reason for whichever holding requires winning or ducking (often depending on which hand becomes the danger hand and consequently the eventual avoidance target) and then proceeding to a possible winning solution (if there is one), then executing it to best advantage he or she, at whatever age, should look for another game with greener pastures for pleasure in the future.

While undoubtedly true that the above ending is much more difficult for some rather than others, it is also true that in order to arrive at a competent player level at any age, at least some natural bridge knowledge (often explained as numeracy) is necessary.

Without the above, all players may still enjoy the game, and also continue to improve, but they should then be satisfied to stay on the Yellow Brick road and give up on ever finding the Emerald City.

I do sincerely appreciate your explanatory comment.

Jeff HJanuary 17th, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Your rule of 70 amd 80 reminds me of the late Dave Treadwell’s rule of 160. If the total of your opponent’s ages is 160 or more, don’t underestimimate them.

bobbywolffJanuary 17th, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Hi Jeff,

Bridge appears to be a mental enigma.

The older a good bridge player gets, the experience gleaned probably helps his (or her) performance more than in any competition I’ve ever heard, but, of course, sometimes at those ages, arteries harden and mental capacity goes swiftly downhill.

One of those unusual subject creatures must rush to enjoy the sometimes all too brief period wherein the interim between those two above factors happen and learn to cherish those moments.

But isn’t the above, good advice for all to practice in every worthwhile life exercise while living, loving, and making the most out of all of those moments, regardless of age?

Dave’s advice is definitely worth following!