Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 10th, 2013

The unexamined life is not worth living.


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

*Strong, 16-plus


The women's match between Europe and the United States at the IOC Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, a decade ago, saw a win for the European team — a squad from four different countries, by a substantial 68 IMPs.

Sabine Auken, who is a German player living in Denmark, has been one of the world’s best women players for several years. Sitting South, she showed her skill on the diagramed deal from that match. Using a strong club, she and her partner climbed to a slightly optimistic three-no-trump contract.

While a club lead would have defeated the game, West had no reason to know that, and after the normal diamond lead, South had plenty of chances. She captured East’s diamond queen with the ace and finessed the spade jack, losing to the queen.

Although South might not have enjoyed a club shift, East returned the diamond 10, and only when this was permitted to win, did she shift to the club king.

Auken held up the ace for one round, then took another spade finesse. When it held, she continued spades, and West won the king and led a third diamond. Dummy’s king won, and when the winning spade was led from dummy in the three-card ending, East had to throw a heart to keep her master club. Now Auken could play off the ace and king of hearts, certain that the remaining hearts were 2-2.

After transferring to spades, what should you do next? A pessimist would pass, or only invite game – while in my opinion a more accurate if somewhat aggressive valuation of the hand would be to drive to three no-trump and offer partner a choice of games. Consider that even if partner has three bare aces, a king, and two small spades, you are still the favorite to make nine tricks in no-trump.


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


Iain ClimieMay 24th, 2013 at 11:32 am

Hi Bobby,

Could East have set a devilish trap here, at least if not intending to play a club back when in with the SQ? Imagine she ducks the SQ smoothly instead. Declarer plays a heart to the Ace, then another spade, and will surely play the S9 in case west has KQxx (and not losing if east has ducked with Kxx). East wins and plays a diamond (ducked), then a club and South is in trouble now when the spades don’t drop – but she doesn’t know the spade or heart position. As the cards lie South can bash out top hearts, but can’t enjoy the long one.

I suspect she’d hope for S3-3, take the 2nd or 3rd club, play a diamond to the K, cash SA and then take the heart finesse as West has length in spades and diamonds. At single dummy, anyway, I think declarer would fail. Needless to say, I doubt if I’d have even thought of ducking the SQ as east until several hours later, or I would have twitched so much that a drinks waiter behind a bar some yards away could suss me out.

Kind Regards,


jim2May 24th, 2013 at 11:35 am

I think I would have made 3N here, but via a different line. I do not know if mine is better,

I think I might have won the opening lead and taken the spade finesse just as the actual declarer did. However, I would have won the 10D return.

At that point, I would have led a heart from the Board, gone up ace, and finessed the spade again. When that won, I would have played the AS, hoping for a 3-3 break and 9 tricks the easy way, but the king would not have dropped. Presumably East would pitch a club and I would lead a second heart from the Board and face another decision.

With West known to be the danger hand and long in both diamonds and spades, I think I would play high, dropping the Q, play the J, and lead a fourth heart. (10x by West also works, as would 3-3 Q onside)

East would have only clubs remaining, so I would have 2S + 4H + 2D + 1C = 9 tricks.

My line works whenever the spade honors are split (which Auken also needed) when either spades are 3-3 or hearts 3-3 onside, or Qxxx onside or 10xxx onside.

Bobby WolffMay 24th, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Hi Iain and Jim2,

Both of your comments, one on a devilish defense and another on an alternate declarer’s play are both accurate and tantalizing.

To even attempt to compare the various percentages (since if one combination appears, the overall odds change) is especially difficult and, at least as far as I am concerned, is better left to a bridge mathematician with a handy computer.

However, it is worth the important realization that both of your very worthwhile suppositions, both offense and defense, call direct attention to choices in declarer’s play and counter defensive gambits.

Suffice it to say that, at least in my experience, the very best players around, tend to choose the correct line, be it offense or defense, usually based on table feel, knowledge of the nuances of the game itself, together with the capabilities of their worthy opponents and, of course, total concentration during the bidding, the chosen opening lead and the play up to that point, where evidence is constantly appearing as to the whole 52 card critical layout.

This, in turn, tends to separate the up and coming player, both offense and defense, from what has become to be known as the ultimate “world class” denomination accolades which only the very best players in the world have justifiably earned by doing it, rather than just talking about it.

Iain ClimieMay 24th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Thanks for this and a stray thought – both declarer’s play at the table and Jim2’s suggested line rely on a minor suit Tclubs for Sabine, diamonds for Jim2) being 5-2. Can this be worked out in either case or is it something which has to be assumed? Clearly Sabine couldn’t duck two clubs as well as the diamond or could she? Similarly, Jim2’s line works well with the D5-2 but not if East has 3D and (say) HQxx or HQxxx but a club less in the latter case.

Any thoughts here (apart from insisting that prospective declarers cover the EW cards!



Iain ClimieMay 24th, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for this and a stray thought – both declarer’s play at the table and Jim2’s suggested line rely on a minor suit Tclubs for Sabine, diamonds for Jim2) being 5-2. Can this be worked out in either case or is it something which has to be assumed? Clearly Sabine couldn’t duck two clubs as well as the diamond or could she? Similarly, Jim2’s line works well with the D5-2 but not if East has 3D and (say) HQxx or HQxxx but a club less in the latter case.

Any thoughts here apart from insisting that prospective declarers cover the EW cards while East considering a duck covers South and West!



jim2May 24th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Iain –

Actually, I think the line Auken actually took at the table also needed diamonds to be 5-2.

If East has a third diamond and leads it after the 10D is allowed to hold, then there is no late entry to the long spades.

Auken certainly could have shifted lines once the KD entry was lost and the KS did not fall doubleton, but that is a different matter.

(BTW, I confess that non-expert-I personally try not to lead from Jxxx against 3N, even preferring top of nothing from three small over that. So, when the 2D was missing, I leaned towards the lead being from Jack-fifth)

Bobby WolffMay 24th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, without trying to figure out the difficult percentages, Jim2’s line definitely needs diamonds to be 5-2 rather than 4-3, which is far from a certainty, especially if upon Jim 2 winning the 2nd diamond West discards up rather than down.

At least to me, I would switch to a club (probably at trick 2, but obviously at trick 3, but would do so by leading the queen, (not the king) so as to not give a count to declarer and eventually to get him to go wrong in the end position in hearts. By leading the queen, it may give declarer an idea of blocking the suit, while hopefully misleading him, waiting for East to drop the king.

BTW, world class defenders would know as West, (usually by the way declarer goes about the hand together with the high cards played up to then) that, his partner East, is falsecarding.

Bobby WolffMay 24th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Hi Iain,

I meant “West” rather than East dropping the king.

Iain ClimieMay 24th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

No worries, given that I sent one post, it hung up, so I saved it for later but then tweaked it. Hand-held technology and I are a bit of a loose cannon.

ClarksburgMay 24th, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Would the Diamond opening lead be the choice of most strong players?
If so, is that because a 5-card suit, i.e. any 5-card suit, is generally best over the long run.
As a beginner / intermediate, particularly on this auction, I’d be thinking that the prospects of developing diamond tricks and having required entry, are quite slim.
Hence I might have taken a shot at finding partner with Clubs.
Any comment / guidance??

Bobby WolffMay 25th, 2013 at 2:53 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Sure, there is room for imagination in the choice of opening leads, however, Damon Runyon, gambler and poet might have said, “Sometimes, in the absence of reason not to, short suits will hit partner, and we will defeat their NT hoot, but the way to bet is to lead from what is in front of your face, your long suit”.

Don’t expect miracles, since the opening leader’s long suit, without conflicting evidence will be the percentage choice.