Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 19th, 2013

And from the day that's over
No flashes of delight I can recover.

Siegfried Sassoon

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


One thing about rubber bridge is that you frequently have to make up in the play for what you drop in the auction. In the following deal six clubs appears to be far better than six no-trump despite the bad trump split. South can ruff a diamond and leave himself with many chances, but some ambiguity about whether four clubs was Gerber or showing a club fit led to the 4-4 fit being missed. A forcing three-club call by North at her third turn would perhaps have been wiser.

Still, six no-trump offered some fascinating play. On the lead of the spade 10 South won in dummy and cashed four rounds of clubs, on which East parted with two diamonds, echoing in the suit, and a low heart. Since she would surely have pitched a spade from three small, South cashed out the spades via the finesse, and that persuaded West to discard a small heart and a small diamond.

Reasoning that West would surely have led a heart without the ace, she was likely to hold that card. So declarer, going for the grandstand finish (on the grounds that anyone can take a finesse!), cashed the diamond ace and king to strip West of her exit cards. Then, instead of taking a simple finesse for the heart jack, he led a heart to the queen. West won the ace, but in the two-card ending she was endplayed, forced to lead away from the heart jack around to South’s 10, and the contract came home.

Given your spade length, partner surely doesn't have four spades. So he has at least four diamonds. Given that, you want to raise diamonds to keep the opponents out of their presumed fit in clubs or hearts, so bid three diamonds as a pre-emptive raise, not a limit raise. With the latter hand-type, you would start with a cuebid.


♠ J 8 6 5
 9 8 5
 Q J 8 5 4
♣ 9
South West North East
1 1♠

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


Patrick CheuFebruary 2nd, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Hi Bobby, if the hand was played in six clubs,and west leads a club, after diamond ruff and upon discovering bad trump break and heart to king,now is it just a question of guessing to play for spades 33 or 42,pending on how west plays his ten and four in spades?Here a rubber bridge expert may know his opponents better.Regards-Patrick.

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 12:15 am

Hi Patrick,

Methinks you would probably be a good detective and by so being, that talent transfers quite well to the bridge table.

A good defender, while playing against an inexperienced declarer may play the 10 4 of spades holding originally the J104, When equals play against each other the tactics are varied, and it is usually a 50-50 proposition who wins. BTW, to lead the 10 of spades from 10x is not recommended since it can chop up holdings in partner’s hand when he holds any of the top 4 honors in that suit, including, of course, A9xx.

Yes, it is always a good idea to know your opponent’s bridge habits, even if you have not been socially introduced.

David WarheitFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 5:08 am

Question: suppose you are in 6 clubs against an opening lead of a trump. You draw trump, finding they are 3-2, then you play 3 rounds of diamonds, ruffing the third, both opponents following, then you cash ace-king of spades west dropping either the jack or the ten. What do you do now? Your choices are a) finesse the nine of spades, or b) cash the queen of spades and if the suit isn’t 3-3, play hearts, hoping east has the jack. Would your choice be influenced by which opponent had the 3 clubs?

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 7:07 am

Hi David,

Yours is the type of question, world class players often pose each other and the answer will depend on how much the declarer trusts his judgment. From a percentage viewpoint line (b) is clearly better since it figures out to be about 50% (heart jack right with a little bit extra for certain rare holdings plus the spades breaking 3-3 about 36% and adding 1/2 of that to 50 comes out about 2 chances out of 3 as opposed to a spade finesse), which BTW includes Reese’s restricted choice since a player (West playing the jack or ten the second round is less likely to have the other one).

However the spade finesse is still markedly less than 67% making (b) clearly the percentage play, but I’ve played with and against players who would take line (a) if their intuitive feelings were that West had started with honor and one spade.

Percentages are just that, only percentages, but talent is also just that, players who have the ability to judge, usually by the table action (specific lead) no J from J10x, and other subtle breaks in tempo which even against the best players in the world are still able to feel what is ultimately the winning play. Another factor could be, that West led a trump (from either 2 or 3 little which sometimes chops up partner’s queen, a disadvantage in playing key card Blackwood which, depending on the bidding might have guaranteed the queen), so that is a subtle clue to take the spade finesse since West chose the trump rather than the jack of spades, probably wrongly thought to be fairly safe, but sometimes is not.

The next question is what to do, if West (a theoretically great player) leads the 10 of spades against the club slam. Believe me you, it is not in any way a moral certainty or even close, that his partner has the crucial knave.

The only certain thing to be learned is the fascination and exciting mind battles which come from playing our game at a high level.

However, in the end, let the winner explain, not me, as I am only a bridge writer, at least on this hand.