Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 7th, 2013

Pessimism, when you get used to it, is just as agreeable as optimism.

Arnold Bennett

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

*Zero or three of the five key cards


Here, you reach a slam after the opponents pre-empt, warning you of bad breaks to come. North's four-club call was a cuebid, agreeing spades, since having opened one no-trump, he would never go past three no-trump without a fit for you. That encourages you to follow the simple route to six spades.

On the lead of the heart two to the ace, you can be entirely sure that hearts are splitting 7-1. That is good news if you plan to construct an endplay, since West has no communications to his partner’s hand. After winning the heart ace, you draw trump, throwing a heart from the table. Now can you do better than taking the simple club finesse?

Yes, you can; start by playing a diamond to the queen. Then lead a low club from the table and cover East’s card with the nine. Here West wins with the 10 and plays back a second diamond. You now take the diamond ace and king, then play the spade 10, throwing the last heart from dummy. This reduces everyone to three cards, and East is squeezed; he cannot keep both the hearts and clubs guarded.

Instead of relying on the club finesse — a 50 percent chance — you followed a line of play that would win whenever West had either the club 10 or club queen. By testing diamonds and spades and getting an inferential count of hearts, you would always be sure how many clubs East started with, and thus whether a finesse was necessary in the three-card ending.

It must surely be the best percentage action to lead a club, assuming you should be able to set partner's suit up at the cost of no more than two tempos. And you should lead low here — do not lead top or middle from three cards in a situation like this, in order to help partner work out the count. He should have a shrewd idea on the honor location in clubs when dummy comes down.


♠ A J 8
 4 2
 Q J 9 6 2
♣ 10 7 3
South West North East
3♣ 3 NT
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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 21st, 2013 at 9:23 am

In the other table, south wins the opening lead, draws trump and leads a diamond to the queen, same as at the first table. East has pitched 3 hearts. South now cashes the diamond king and then the ace East pitches a fourth heart and–now what? If he pitches another heart, south leads a heart and gets a free club finesse. If he pitches a club, south leads a club to the nine, losing to the ten, but clubs now run. If east had 2 diamonds, then clubs are 3-3. If he had 3 diamonds, he had only 2 clubs, so king of clubs and club finesse works. If he had 4 diamonds, he had only one club, so king of clubs reveals that the club finesse works. Same result with the same condition that west have either the ten or queen of clubs.

Iain ClimieJanuary 21st, 2013 at 10:49 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

What if West doesn’t play another diamond (in the column line) but a club back after winning the C10? Doesn’t this wreck the squeeze by taking out the CA?


Iain Climie

Iain ClimieJanuary 21st, 2013 at 11:13 am

No, my brain is in reverse on monday morning – it just runs round to the CK. Sorry!

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Hi David,

Your play would usually work, but since you need to pitch a low diamond from dummy on your 4th spade your communication becomes less than perfect since you are not able to lead king and a diamond at the time you suggest, leaving yourself susceptible to certain unfortunate club holdings which would make you have to guess the final ending, depending on how many diamonds East may hold.

Perhaps I missed something in the timing, but if so, please let me know. I do know that if East had something like Q10 doubleton club, he is likely to defeat you, since the count will not be able to be rectified for the ultimate squeeze I suggest, not necessarily a fatal blow in itself, but instead still leading to a most difficult final guess.

Thanks for your brain teasers, which though, while always signalling thought work ahead, still are bridge educational tools which stimulate thinking.

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Hi Iain,

You are definitely forgiven since between you and David, my confidence in giving accurate column descriptions is always tested.

David WarheitJanuary 21st, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Since you invited me, here goes: you don’t pitch a diamond on the 4th spade, you pitch a heart, just as your declarer did. After running diamonds, if east comes down to only one heart, he gets thrown in with it to give you a free club finesse. If he comes down to 2 herts, finesse the club nine. West wins the ten and either returns a diamond, squeezing his partner between clubs and hearts, or he returns a club which you win with the king and cash the last spade, executing the same squeeze. My line of play, although quite different from yours, produces exactly the same result provided the same condition exists, namely west has either the club ten or queen (or both).

Bill CubleyJanuary 21st, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I liked the quote. As another aspect to it, we usually accept our partners on how well we play together. Politics, religion, sex, epmloment, etc are ignored.

A woman at work used to aske me if I was aplying bridge with my wife. Always told her I was playing with Betty. Finally she asks if I am playing with Betty. Had to tell her Betty stood me up for a gay guy.

As for the hand, you could play for the club ten to be doubleyon and play ace then the jack form dummy, smothering the ten and promting the nine. But what do I know, I can’t even kibitz well. 😉

jim2January 21st, 2013 at 6:57 pm

“… you followed a line of play that would win whenever West had either the club 10 or club queen.”

The above means that declarer would later finesse West for the QC if East inserted the 10C.

I think Declarer can prevail in many more cases when East inserts the 10C. All that is necessary is a small tweak to the column line. Specifically, declarer pitches a diamond on the fourth spade (instead of a heart) and then cashes two diamonds ending in dummy (instead of one diamond).

Now, declarer plays a club as before. If West wins the 10C, play transposes to the column line. That is, declarer pitches a heart from dummy and wins the KD in hand, then play continues precisely as in the column.

The proposed line gains, however, if East inserts the 10C. In the column hand (giving East the Q1087 of clubs), for example, declarer can win the KC and cash the KD:

——S –
——H 84
——D –
——C AJ

West ——– East
S – ———-S –
H – ———-H KQ
D J108 —–D –
C 4 ———-C Q8

——S 10
——H 7
——D –
——C 93

Declarer next cashes the 10S and pitches a heart from dummy, and West cannot escape either the established heart endplay or making the clubs known to be 1-1.

The difference stems from the fact that West must keep two hearts as long as dummy does while declarer has not lost a trick and the AC remains in dummy (and East either does not have a fourth diamond or declarer retains a trump).

This line gains over the column line when East is either 1-7-1-4 or 1-7-2-3 and has both club honors. (Thus, when East shows out on second diamond, declarer knows the hand is cold no matter where the 10C is.)

Declarer would still have a guess at Trick 11 only if East inserted the 10C and then followed to all three diamonds.

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Hi David,

With your line of play (discarding a heart instead of a diamond from dummy on your 4th spade), now when you lead the king of diamonds East follows and then on your diamond continuation to dummy, East discards a club, not a heart, forcing you to now lead a club from dummy to which East contributes the 10. Obviously you have to win the club, knowing East has only 1 left but with also 2 hearts. You now have to guess what to do in clubs, play for East to have started with Q10x or only 10xx.

Against most players, other very good players, like yourself would probably guess right most of the time, but against other top players you would have a 50-50 guess since he also knows your hand (and has for several tricks) even more so than you know his.

Your move.

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, the quote is good since it reeks from the truth.

On this hand, yes, one can guess the hand well and make it, but the problem is in deciding the best way to give oneself the most likely chance of success.

David WarheitJanuary 21st, 2013 at 8:17 pm

My move: I have already stated it: both your line and mine assume west has one club honor. If east has exactly queen-ten doubleton, both lines fail unless declarer guesses NOT to follow either line.

bobbywolffJanuary 21st, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Hi Jim2,

It appears to me that you are on target right through your closing line. Having said that, there is little more to discuss except enjoy the process (which is sometimes, including this one, too tedious for me).

To be noted however, is both the thought process and the execution of rising with the 10 of clubs from only 10xx for an observant East player assuming that he had exactly 2 diamonds and knowing that his LHO, aka the declarer, was counting.

Dave Memphis MOJOJanuary 21st, 2013 at 10:56 pm

My diagram is missing the 6 of hearts and East only has 12 cards.

bobbywolffJanuary 22nd, 2013 at 1:23 am

Hi Dave,

East has the 6 of hearts and also the 5 which happens to be on the next line.

jim2January 22nd, 2013 at 3:30 am

If East can manage that and still pitch a heart at Trick 11, then I guess declarer will indeed have a guess similar to that in the column. The column declarer could then be thankful that East was 1-7-1-4 and the possibility did not arise.

jim2January 22nd, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I know it’s a day late, but I’d like to summarize.

The column line won when West had the 10C and, when East had the 10C and inserted it, declarer was forced to rely on finessing West for the QC (or dropping it doubleton offside).

The line I proposed allows declarer to succeed every time the column line did. In addition, the new line wins when the distribution is as in the actual column (East 1-7-1-4) even when West started with neither the Q or 10C. The new line has the additional advantage in that declarer can choose to play either defender for the QC at the end. That is, at Trick 11, if East began with the QC, East will have been squeezed into baring the QC or establishing a endplay by keeping only one heart honor at Trick 11.

bobbywolffJanuary 22nd, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, your summary is indeed important, particularly since, for no other reason, than you invested so much of your time in both your effort and your conclusions.

I am ready to accept what you say, (for obvious reasons pertaining to the column’s credibility), by not carefully checking into what you write about your line verses the column line (squeeze end play, of course, when East shows up with 1-7-1-4).

I continue to appreciate your accuracy, thoroughness, dedication and educational support to our game and hope you never get bored enough to stay silent.