Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I don't look to jump over seven-foot bars; I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.

Warren Buffett

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


We are taught in our cradles that "Second Hand Plays Low" and "Third Hand Plays High," but all rules are made to be broken. Today's deal demonstrates a situation that arises quite frequently where it is right for 'Second Hand to Play High'. It might have been better for North to raise two no-trump to three, given his balanced hand and honors in all the outside suits. However, then South would not have been put to the test in four hearts.

West led the diamond eight, and declarer correctly deduced that both the ace and jack would be with East. The reflex action would have been to play low on the diamond, but our South decided to make life difficult for East by rising with dummy’s queen. In with the ace, East had to decide what suit to switch to. In the event, he chose a trump, saving declarer a guess that he would probably have got wrong. West won his heart king and, for want of anything better to do, continued with a second trump to the queen and ace.

All declarer now needed was to find the spade queen, but again he gave the opponents every chance to find it for him. He drew the last trump, West discarding a diamond, and exited with king and another diamond. With little to guide him, East was in the hot seat yet again, and this time he chose to exit with a spade, ending declarer’s problems.

The conundrum this deal presents if you are not playing Drury is an almost insoluble one. Do you jump to three hearts and find yourself too high for no reason, or raise to two hearts and miss a game? Fifty years ago Doug Drury suggested that a two-club response by a passed hand shows fit and a maximum pass. What you lose in the ability to bid clubs, you gain in much more accurate passed-hand bidding.


♠ A 7 4
 J 8 7
 Q 10 4
♣ A 9 8 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 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 WarheitJune 10th, 2013 at 9:21 am

You say that the “reflex action” would be to play low on the opening diamond lead, but that would be the one card it would be wrong to play. By playing either honor, diamonds become a poison suit, i.e. who ever leads it loses a trick for his side. You are right, of course, in pointing out that the queen is the best play, because now east must find a switch, and two of the three other suits are themselves poison to the defense. Also, I think that there is a clue as to the location of the spade queen. Had west not held it, there was a good chance he would have led a spade at trick one; therefore it looks like west is at least a slight favorite to hold the queen.

Iain ClimieJune 10th, 2013 at 10:12 am

Hi Bobby,

Did west try to help east out here? He could have played his remaining diamonds upwards to suggest a preference for clubs when he followed to the Kx of diamonds later. Alternatively he could throw the D2 or even the S2 on the third heart to help east out – both could be used to suggest a club switch.



Iain ClimieJune 10th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hi David,

Frozen suit is often used but I think I
prefer your term – much more graphic.


Bobby WolffJune 10th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hi David and Iain

David, your analysis is indeed, as usual, accurate and to the point. Once declarer sees the hand, while, of course, looking at his 26 assets he definitely would prefer EW breaking suits for him, having to play 1st and 3rd to the suit, instead of the catbird’s 2nd and 4th.

For those lesser experienced players looking on, the immediate above fact is arguably the most important single factor in the play of the hand, especially ones where the suits involved are similar to here, mostly advantaged by the other side originally leading them.

I opine that the declarers holding of the seven of diamonds, with West (because of his leading the nine) more likely to hold the eight also would and thus rather than lead a club while staring at the eight and the ten in dummy, might continue diamonds enabling declarer to put his seven to good use and save a diamond loser.

However, like most decisions in bridge, the nine lead may not have the eight or, possibly worse, might only be from a doubleton, allowing the defense to score up the setting trick via a diamond ruff. Therefore the queen at trick one is probably the best counter to that possibility, although certainly not foolproof.

Regarding your description of suit combinations as poison instead of the more common term, in high-level bridge of frozen, both terms imply danger, yours the end result of either side next leading that suit, and the more common term emphasizing the nature of the problem. Both of them are on point, and chosen by the writer like one decides between chocolate and vanilla in ordering his ice cream.

Iain, your suggestion of helping partner on defense is, also as usual, a very good point in general defense, but on this devilish hand, would East really relish a club lead from partner with perhaps Qx, especially if West’s diamond holding included the 7 to go with his probable 8.

A possible lesson to be learned here might be just enforcing the advantage declarer will likely have by looking at all 26 of his assets, instead of the poor defense’s lesser position of looking at 13 of his and 13 of the opponents (dummy), but having to guess others.

At least to me, East was only hoping that his partner had the 10 of spades to go with his queen or king instead of the queen 10 small of clubs.

In some respects this hand was sort of ho-hum, but by delving deeper it only proves how difficult and subject to guesses, defense often gets.

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Bobby WolffJune 10th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Hi again David & Iain,

Sorry, I should have referred to the CLUB holding in dummy as the eight and the nine, but my thinking got crossed between diamonds and clubs.

I apologize for the confusion caused.

David WarheitJune 10th, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Iain: I knew there was a standard term for what I called a poison suit, but I just couldn’t think of it. Here in California we have lots of poison, but we never freeze. Thanks again!

Iain ClimieJune 10th, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Hi David, I envy you – there was an overnight frost in Suffolk in Southern England last week! Bang goes the soft fruit again.