Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Promise the earth to counter shine
Whatever makes heaven’s forehead fine.

Richard Crashaw

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


Today‚Äôs deal features several rather subtle points in the play. The auction to three no-trump was straightforward enough, but the final contract was a very unattractive one. The risk of the defenders cashing four hearts and a spade was a high one — and as it turned out, the spade blockage generated other additional problems.

After West led the heart jack East cashed the queen, king and ace, on which West had the opportunity to signal suit preference. By following up the line, with the four then nine, he was strongly suggesting no spade honor. Since East could infer that declarer rated to have his precise distribution, he thoughtfully shifted to a club. When declarer saw what might happen if he played a spade at once (East would win and play a second club to leave the spades blocked), he found an unlikely resource by leading the diamond 10 to his king. Then he played the spade king. East won and continued with his plan by returning a second club. Declarer ran all the clubs, pitching his spade queen, and came down to a three-card ending with the doubleton spade jack and a small diamond in dummy, and the heart eight and the diamond K-9 in hand. East could keep his diamonds but West (forced to keep the doubleton spade 10 and the master heart) had to pitch his last diamond.

Now declarer led out the spade jack to pitch his heart, then finessed the diamond nine for his contract.

It looks best to me to double here rather than overcall in diamonds. That way you get hearts into the picture, and although your diamond suit is respectable, it is not quite good enough for a two-level overcall — especially when you have such a desirable alternative available. If partner picks clubs, let him play there.


♠ K Q
 8 7 5 3
 A K 9 6 4
♣ 7 6
South West North East

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


jim2April 13th, 2013 at 11:31 am

Did someone actually find the column line at the table?

If so, I would like to offer him/her my congratulations.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, of course, and his name is South, a bridge veteran who usually is granted his time in the sun for brilliance, but occasionally suffers from overlooking a better line of play.

Bob Hamman, when asked which direction he prefers to sit usually offers (with a laugh), “South, for column purposes”.

This hand was played (and defended) spectacularly, but breaking it down from both the declarer and the defender’s viewpoint, every play, made by both sides, was called for.

Such can be the fortune for every talented player who comes along, if he is able to take the time to feel the bridge logic available on some very intriguing, somewhat original positions. YOU could be one of them. allowing you to offer yourself congratulations, but albeit silently.

jim2April 13th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

You reply reminded me of an article I read long ago in Bridge World entitled, “North of Master Solvers.”

Patrick CheuApril 13th, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Hi Bobby, your help would be much appreciated on this final hand from last night which cost us first place.We are the only pair in slam,six diamonds on this cards:North-KQJ73 AKQ A73 K9 and South:A82 J102 KJ10986 10.Bidding went North2C(22/23 or game going)-3D(I was a passed hand,and decide to show ace and king positive,normally I would have waited with 2D),North3S,South4S,North4NT(RKCB),South5C(1/4),West:Doubles,North6D.West leads the 9H.What is the best line,play for diamonds 2-2 or3-1?If you do play for diamonds to be 3-1,is it always right to play for East to hold three diamonds?Pard was adamant that as West shows a likely long club suit on the double,that I must play for East to hold Qxx,3-1 break.Regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuApril 13th, 2013 at 4:31 pm

BWTA,double by South and over 2C by North,bids 2D if given the chance,a sort of conversion bid showing hearts and diamonds 4-5/6.Just a thought.Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieApril 13th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Hi Patrick, Bobby,

On the hand you quote, I think the obvious line after a heart lead is DA, D the King and then try to dump the C10 on the 4th spade if diamonds aren’t 4-0 the wrong way. This works against all the 2-2 breaks, half the 4-0 cases, 3-1 with a stiff DQ and any other 3-1 breaks where the hand with 3 diamonds has 3 or more spades, or even messes up.

If there are better lines I know our host will find them, but that dbl of clubs could be based on CAQJxx or similar so they are unlikely to split very much one way – with 7 or more, someone might have stuck a bid in, not just a dbl. I’ll happiily bow to saner opinion, though.



jim2April 13th, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I drafted a post but just deleted it because it pretty much duplicated Iain’s comments. With ten clubs missing, even a 6-4 split would not shift the diamond odds much. Curiously, the fewer clubs missing, the more the odds shift.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

I vaguely remember the Bridge World article about “North of Master Solvers”, but not enough to tell if it was referring to South being the declarer in almost all bridge column hands. I would trust your recollection much more than mine and although I do have a decent collection of old Bridge Worlds (never out of date) I do not presently have the time to research them.

Patrick CheuApril 13th, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Hi Iain and Jim2, rightly or wrongly,I adopted Iain’s line and went-1,I spent a sleepless night digesting all other comments pertaining how I should have played the diamond suit ranging from spade to ace and JD from hand and play the ace if LHO plays low and finesse other way,but LHO is good enough to not cover even with Qx.But thanks guys,you have temporarily,alleviated the pain in my head.:0) Wonder how our host will play the hand,in view of West:1065 954 7 AQ8742 and East:94 8763 Q42 J653.Never thought a bridge hand can cause such anguish after all these years..of playing.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Hi Patrick,

While answering your first comment about the guess of where the sometimes elusive queen happens to be, more than just the double, sometimes a reason to so double would have to do with who is going to be declarer. If the doubler was also going to be the opening leader it sometimes would appear strange to hear such a noise, but on this hand either spades, with North the declarer or diamonds with South the declarer, are both very much in the picture.

So, cancel out my first statement as being unhelpful, but on other hands it may be a psychological or a “less room in the doubler’s hand” for that necessary trump, or whatever suit, guess.

Here, there appears to be as little to no information given, (also mentioned by Iain and Jim2) making the diamond queen only detectable by her perfume. so let us hope that “the please, no fragrance” request at certain bridge tournaments will not start to adversely effect otherwise excellent queen guessers. But as Al Davis, as owner of the Oakland Raiders used to say, “Just win, baby”.

Your 2nd comment about converting partner’s response of 2 clubs to 2 diamonds is all tied into whether that partnership’s plays or not that equal level conversion (not going a level higher) shows a better hand, but rather only a bid which strongly prefers, in this case diamonds to clubs, and doesn’t have to go to a higher level to so suggest. The BWTA hand did not suggest equal level conversion was being played, hence an awkward pass of 2 clubs is suggested.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Hi Iain,

Certainly without a club lead your line, against Patrick’s 6 diamond contract, is, as you say, to play the AK of diamonds and hope, if the queen does not drop, that the opponent with the long diamond also holds 3 spades (not percentage, but certainly possible). However while playing that slam, the opening lead will normally be a club whether or not the hand with the ace is on lead or not. Playing with spades as trump the declarer will be able, after drawing trump, to get a little more evidence regarding distribution than would a slam in diamonds.

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Hi Patrick,

We are all sorry for the anguish you suffered, but like it or not, bridge is a jealous mistress and wants to be a factor in your life.

Your sleepless night should just indicate to you to play bridge very soon (get back on the horse) and play lights out, which magically will restore your happy and at least, until the next queen or jack, opening lead, or declarer’s play hand that you misguess, keep you that way.

jim2April 13th, 2013 at 8:04 pm

The Bridge World article “North of Masters Solvers” (or something like that) related an account by an observer that followed his noting that another kibitzer always followed the bidding intently, but clearly lost interest once play began.

The kibitzer somehow seemed familiar, so he approached him and introduced himself. The other identified himself as “North of Masters Solvers,” and their conversation went on most humorously from there.

So, “North” never played a hand ….

bobbywolffApril 13th, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for the memory “jog”.

It is very possible that psychiatrists could enlist many patients from people who very much enjoy kibitzing, which may indicate that the person doing that, loves certain parts of the game, such as only the bidding, but either gets bored with the art or intensity of the play and only enjoys the communication always present when two partners (especially good ones) attempt to bond through bidding hands in important tournaments.

Don’t take me seriously, as it is only a hypothesis with absolutely no background knowledge.

Patrick CheuApril 13th, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Hi Bobby,my very sincere thanks for your kind words and your invaluable help.Now where is that saddle…;0) Very Best Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieApril 13th, 2013 at 10:21 pm

A final thought on the lead directional double of 5C. If you’re going to ask for a club lead, shouldn’t you be taking your own advice if you wind up on lead?

The column play hand was brilliant though, and a lesson not to throw in the towel – shades of the Star Trek spoof film “Galaxy Quest” and the advice to Never give up, Never surrender!


David desJardinsApril 14th, 2013 at 2:34 am

Iain, if West leads the club ace then declarer might well take the diamond finesse. So perhaps West was thinking deeper by not leading the suit he called for.

Patrick CheuApril 14th, 2013 at 8:02 am

Hi David and Iain, in the distant past,was there some sort of saying that if one was looking for the missing queen and there was no clue or much of a clue,one should play for that card to be opposite the missing ace?!Maybe I am dreaming:0)

Iain ClimieApril 14th, 2013 at 9:22 am

Thanks David, although I think the elements of bluff and double-bluff could result in a severe headache. One point here is that Patrick and Partner are known to have a double fit, so there is a real risk of the CA not making a trick if not cashed at T1. There is sometimes an assumption that a declarer leading an Ace which won’t run away against a slam may have an ulterior motive e.g. Qxx in trumps, or he could be double-bluffing if he thinks partner has that. So what exactly should be read into the opening heart 9 lead? I suppose we can assume that the leader doesn’t have CQJ10xx(x)(x) or similar, so it rather looks like CA, but could the opening leader now be trying to disguise DQx in his hand? I wonder how long the opening lead took to appear.

On Patrick’s comment, I also recall one approach was that (if all else failed) play for the Q to lie over the Jack – probably based on imperfect shuffles at rubber bridge where the Queen might well have covered the Jack on a previous hand. No longer applicable with computer generated hands, of course, but it might occasionally pay off at rubber bridge or in one club where I play where hands are still dealt manually.

bobbywolffApril 14th, 2013 at 12:58 pm

To David, Patrick and Iain,

All of you are now entering the topsy-turvy world of the real bridge expert, while playing against peers.

The poker influence (mind games, tendencies, and non stereotypical thinking) usually win the day when these mammoths collide. Perhaps that was David’s point, but even if so, I do not think that this alone, becomes justification for playing the opening leader for Qxx in diamonds or perhaps for the deeper inferential ruse of having only a singleton diamond.

However, Iain’s important caution of losing the ace of clubs, if one doesn’t cash it (in either his own hand or his partners) certainly enters the thought process and in SPADES (but, in reality on this hand in clubs). Iain’s continued comment as to imperfect shuffles with dealt hands, was originally Barry Crane’s (thought of by many as the greatest match point player ever) contention, but reality will probably discount such a long shot advantage (why should, even in brief shuffling, suggest the queen lying over the jack, since who knows how the suspect trick in the last hand played before the shuffle was picked up by the winner?). Patrick’s comment on split tricks in the two defensive hands is a new one to me, but would probably, upon further analysis, deny any kind of real technical reason for it to be true, especially so since a club lead (with or without the ace is probably called for since it was impossible for the opening leader to hold a high heart).

Since all scientific reasons have serious flaws, we are back to a combination of only the poker element of psychology (tempo of the club lead instead of just the leading of clubs) and the particular mental matchup of the opening leader verses the declarer. The result will be determined by the declarer and Bob Hamman probably had the right idea, since when he suspected that his worthy opponent was better versed in poker than he was, and he was declarer on the key hand, he just did one thing or the other, ignoring any attempt at feelings, or attempting to figure out the reason for single, double or triple crosses.

We are attacking a subject which has no proper ending, only either joy or frustration for one side or the other. Since it is technically correct with diamonds trump to lead the Ace from the short hand in case of the suit being 4-0, do that and then probably play for them to be 2-2 become of more room left in the hand behind the long diamonds. In other words, against great players do not try and exert magic, just play the simple percentages, small may they be.

The really good news in the solution just recommended, is that it should enable Patrick to have a better night sleep tonight since the above recommendation is what he did.