Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

To meet death one needs no letters of introduction.

Leo Tolstoy

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


There is a big difference between needing tricks from a suit, in which case you grab what you can get, and trying to avoid losing too many tricks in that suit.

Against three no-trump West led the spade five, and although when East played the king declarer has two sure tricks in the suit, this gives him only seven winners. In order to get home he needs to set up his diamond suit, which should produce three tricks once the ace and king have been knocked out. Three diamonds, two clubs and three heart tricks are eight, so only one trick is needed from the spade suit.

What South needs to guard against is the spade suit producing three tricks for the defense. If spades break 4-3, all is well, but if they break 5-2, declarer must exhaust East’s spades before he wins the first diamond honor, and West will surely do his best to arrange that he does. (If East has both diamond honors, there is no problem; if West has both, there is no hope. But if they divide, then taking insurance at the cost of a trick ensures the contract.)

Therefore declarer must duck the spade king and win the spade return, so that when East is in with the diamond ace, he has no further spade to play, and the spade 10 in dummy acts as a guard against the run of the suit when West gets in. Now the defense can only come to two spade and two diamond tricks.

Although you cannot be sure that your spade king is pulling its full weight, you certainly have enough to look for game here. The issue is whether to bid four hearts or simply raise to three hearts. (It surely cannot be right to consider no-trump here.) I believe your heart spots entitle you to bid game.


♠ K 9
 10 9 7 3
 A 7 3
♣ J 8 4 2
South West North East
1♣ 1 1♠
2 Pass 2 2♠

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


Iain ClimieMarch 6th, 2013 at 11:24 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

To what extent is declarer’s play here driven by the SK at T1? If East has just SKQ (unlikely on the lead) then winning T1 works better although ducking is still ok if east has at least one diamond honour. Yet would your advice to declarer differ if the SQ appeared at T1?

If spades are 5-2 but with honours switched, then the duck is correct as before. Could West have found a good lead from S853 or S753 though? Now ducking can be disastrous as a spade back at T2 leaves East with SK9 sitting over dummy’s 106 and there are 3S and 2D losers unless East has both DAK. Now the 4-3 spade split is the problem – any thoughts here?


Iain Climie

Ps Your column is getting addictive; I must blog a bit less and let others have a go.

bobbywolffMarch 6th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hi Iain,

Because of the nature of this hand, particularly the opening lead, there is much grist for this mill.

At least from my judgment, the lead looks like a regular 4th highest, certainly from an honor, the queen, when East plays the monarch at trick one.

Although it is counter intuitive to not win the first spade for declarer, the old saw, pertaining to trick one for declarer, is still “More contracts are lost at trick one than any other time, by either careless or incomplete thinking by the person in charge”. Even the rulebook takes this fact to heart by stating that the defender is allowed to think about the hand in general at trick one, even though his play is somewhat obvious and although, I believe, it is not specifically mentioned, it goes along to expect declarer to also take his time at this juncture.

Without repeating what is emphasized in the column, all will be lost if declarer does not find this not often play, of, at least almost sacrificing a spade trick in order to destroy the defensive timing (with ordinary diamond splits of the two major honors) by ducking the first trick (brought about by the concentration of intermediate spades, confirmed to the declarer by the rule of 11) in the openers hand.

The above, of course, represents the chess element in our multi varied wonderful game, wherein correct overall analysis is required, similar to the tempo of moves in chess which sometimes, and often in sudden unexpected times, becomes critical.

The upshot is that, yes, the necessary nine tricks are available to a brilliant declarer, but not without not playing by rote, but instead, thinking it through and ducking at trick one.

Your comment about KQ9x with East, not to mention your accurate suggestion of xxx being chosen by West, (however East would probably play the queen, in order not to mislead his partner), in West’s hand together with split diamond honors bodes wrong for declarer to duck, but such is life in the trenches.

Please believe me, when I suggest that the best declarers (in this great big worldwide bridge game) have an intuitive sense at the table which leads them along the yellow brick road, on their way to their destination.

Again I am a firm believer that the answer lies in the sky somewhere, but one thing always remains certain, “Let the winner explain why, the right play on that hand is what it happens to be, rather than advice (or excuses) from ones who did the wrong thing”.

While the word addiction most times refers to something evil or at least not productive, our process, without you coming forth with titillating what ifs, is a world to which I do not cotton, and sadly our enthusiastic and inquisitive bridge group would suffer a great loss.

John Howard GibsonMarch 6th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

HBJ : Yes, declarer always has 2 tricks even if he ducks the king. Therefore the object of the exercise is to maximise your chances of success by severing defenders’ communications.
This hand is indeed an exercise is spotting the danger before it is to late, and not foolishly rushing in where angels fear to tread.
Impetuosity and lazy thinking have always been two weaknesses of mine which I have tried hard to battle against……..and generally lost. And on those rare occasions I have managed to overcome them, I then succumb to the greatest weakness of them all : MAGICAL THINKING
Yours I wish I had read your articles when I first started taking up bridge HBJ

Iain ClimieMarch 6th, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Many thanks for the comments and encouragement, while I thought of a nefarious ploy here by the defence. Suppose East held SKQ9x H10xxx DKx CQJX. While declarer is thinking at T1, east realises that partner has around 4 points and declarer is surely home if he has DAx(x). If partner has DA and SJ then the contract is off unless declarer has something like HKJxxx and possibly even then, so place partner with the DA but play a cunning SK at T1. Declarer ducks and partner, albeit confused, can work out what to do when he takes the DA later.

Perhaps this is contrived and hindsight based but it does flag up the possibility of fooling partner with little risk. In similar vein, being on lead with a 13 count after 1N-3N allows much scope for harmless fun eg leading the lowest card from SAKxxx even if playing 4th highest.

bobbywolffMarch 6th, 2013 at 6:38 pm


Again thanks for your always total support.

When you speak of impetuosity and lazy thinking you merely join a huge percentage of bridge lovers who play basically for fun and the thrills of competing. And when you add in Magical Thinking you merely give insight into your optimistic persona.

Sure, we all wish that we could do anything worthwhile better, merely the normal lament for not spending more time earlier perfecting our skills. However, by doing so, we would have had to ration our time spent on other lifelong achievements which, in turn, depending on need, may not have served our desires as well.

You have a personality to be envied, one which commands respect because of your honest, rather than political, approach to all things. Sure, you effect people and projects, but by so doing, you are adding to, rather than subtracting from the overall subject, whatever it happens to be.

Never, ever change, and rest assured you are respected, even among what you might consider your bitterest enemies. Such is the fate of one who cares and has won his place in the right to be always heard.

bobbywolffMarch 6th, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Hi Iain,

Peculiarly, if the 3rd seat defender on our example hand falsecards the King on the original spade lead and the declarer comes up with the winning line of ducking assuming the column layout, but instead has your possible layout (KQ9x) with partner having 3 small, it will become 100% apparent to the opening leader that either his partner also has the queen or the declarer, holding AQJ has underplayed the king with his jack, not terribly likely.

So, cunning has its rewards, but not usually so immediately apparent. Also your comment about sometimes leading 5th best when looking at most all of the high defensive cards allotted to the defense is usually also a good and certainly legal deception.

What can our discussion group do without your presence?

Patrick CheuMarch 6th, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Hi Bobby and Iain, the rule of 11 and 12 may help with this hand,as regards third and fifth leads,in notrumps,is equally applicable in suit contracts.I enjoy the aforemention discussion by you both and many other fellow contributors,it focuses our brain cells on the relevant themes and complex play in this great game of bridge. So please continue to stir the pot that is simmering…:0) Best regards-Patrick.

bobbywolffMarch 6th, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for the reminder of the difference between a standard 4th best lead (rule of eleven) and 3rd and 5th (rule of 12 for 5th). However sometimes (too often) we have to think somewhat radically from there to a possible top of nothing to MUD (middle, up, down) and the process sometimes becomes somewhat boggling for declarer, more so than a 3rd seat defender, whose holding in the suit plus the bidding and what he sees the dummy to be, basically revealing.

Is it necessary to know the various nuances? Not really, but like eating chicken suit, it cannot hurt.

Thanks for always being upbeat, educational and encouraging.