Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!

William Shakespeare

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


Consider just the North and South hands today. You are declaring three no-trump, West leads the spade jack, and dummy's king wins the trick. How do you plan to make nine tricks?

You should call for the club five from dummy at trick two, intending to play the nine from hand. This is a plan that succeeds against all 3-2 club breaks as well as 4-1 divisions so long as the singleton is either the ace or the jack — and may do even better if the defenders slip. Suppose the full deal is as shown in the diagram.

When the club five is led at trick two East can do no better than play the club jack and return a spade. A second club is led to dummy’s king and East is fixed. The best he can do is to take his club ace and shift to a heart, holding declarer to nine tricks.

There are two traps to avoid. The first is coming to hand with a diamond to run the club eight. East will win the club jack and exit with a heart on the above lay-out. In this variation, West would win and shift to his remaining diamond, and the contract would collapse around your ears. The second trap to avoid is that you must not lead the club king at trick two. On this layout, East allows the king to hold, and you would never be able to establish any more tricks in the club suit.

Dummy rates to be close to entryless. Which of the four suit-leads will give declarer a finesse he cannot take for himself? This is very close, but I'll go with the diamond lead because of the slim chance that repeated diamond leads might promote my heart 10 into an additional trump trick.


♠ Q 7 4 3
 10 5
 Q 2
♣ Q 9 6 5 2
South West North East
1 Dbl.
1♠ Pass 2 2
All 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


jim2June 16th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

The column line is clearly the best at rubber or IMPs.

If East does not play a heart through when in with clubs, how would declarer proceed at the end?

That is, suppose East plays back a third spade. Dummy has already had to pitch one red card and now must discard another. At rubber/IMPs, this is a non-issue, but perhaps not at MPs. The simplest approach would seem be to throw hearts from the board, go over with the AD, run the clubs, and then come down to two red king doubletons in hand before deciding what to do at the end.

The MP play question might be more important if when one led the xC from the Board at Trick 2, the trick was won by WEST’s JC. It might be even more relevant when the second club was ALSO won by West to play a third spade.

Similarly, suppose at MPs West wins the first club lead with the JC but then shows out on the second club lead?

In both above cases, declarer would face the dilemma of what to do because “inferior” technique by the field has been revealed to almost guarantee an over-trick or two. It may be that superior technique must, like virtue, be its own reward, but declarer may choose to try for an over-trick to regain level with the field.

So, at MPs, what should declarer do when the opponents’ club holdings are revealed during the play to be disastrously friendly (e.g., J — Axxx)?

Bobby WolffJune 16th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Hi Jim2,

Obviously your analysis is right on and in most cases there is no escape.

In truth, while playing matchpoints the column line should never be attempted, since duplicate philosophy is based on frequency of gain rather than amount of gain, and with overtricks just as important as the safety of making the contract, caution needs to be disregarded.

Because of the above, the playing of matchpoints needs to always cater to what that game is all about, and although, at least to me, takes away much from the skill necessary to succeed at IMPs and rubber bridge, and therefore makes the game more difficult to play, but aesthetically, at least IMO, introduces more minus than plus.

The above also then contradicts your truth about virtue might have to be its own reward, since declarer should not have started out by leading a low club away from dummy, only because he is playing matchpoints and needs to usually, including this hand, be ultra aggressive.

However, in direct answer to your hypothesis is, yes, after discovering the singleton jack of clubs onside, every gamble needs to be taken to at least attempt to get back to at least close to average on the hand once the safety play line was started since this hand appears to be a slam dunk to be played at 3NT at almost every other table.

Iain ClimieJune 16th, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Hi Bobby, Jim2,

The rather twisted nature of pairs was shown up in. Hand I played last Weds. I found myself with a diamond side suit of KJ8x in hand opposite A10xxx in dummy when playing in 5H dbld bid over 4S but at adverse vulnerability in a competitive auction featuring Michaels.

I’d lost the first 2 club tricks, then ruffed the 3rd club in hand and drawn trumps which were 2-2 (dummy had 0-5-5-3 opposite my 3-4-4-2, trumps being solid). We’d got xxx opposite void in spades (so no trump tricks in defence) and both followed to the DA. On a small D from table, the remaining small D appeared so +850 is available if you get it right. Instinct said take the finesse, given the bidding. I played for the drop as 4S goes off if D are 2-2 when we need to make 5H. If D are 3-1 (they were) then -200 beats all the -420s in 4S since not all the field play Michaels and I reckoned few would have taken the push to 5H anyway. One off was 80 percent although making would have been a top. If 4S had been failing, though, -200 would have been 10-15 percent at best.

Pairs really is odd; if playing for money or IMPs I would have taken the finesse.

Declarer; xxx Kxxx KJ8x Cxx
Dummy: None AQJxx A10xxx CJxx

Bidding (my lho dealer):
1S 2S (Michaels) 3S 4H (pushy?)
4S 5H (very pushy!) P P
X all pass

I do seem to see a number of cases where the Michaels user gets a bit over-excited and bids one more. At adverse, we play it as a fair hand but was he putting my neck on the block here?



Bobby WolffJune 17th, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Hi Iain,

Your good guess in diamonds is what I mean by this kind of judgment and your reasons for doing it were top drawer, and why I say often that the difference between players who are toward the top of the ladder does not really depend on their technical superiority in percentages, but rather their poker ability of sensing what the distributions are and then capitalizing on guessing the location of key cards for the right bridge reason (as you succeeded here).

Of course, at the very top of the ladder, a world class player has both qualities, but if I was asked which is more important I would take shrewd over numerate.

Congratulations over “guessing” the location of the elusive wealthy diamond queen.

It is difficult to have rigid rules regarding using the Michaels cue bid, and if asked, I would suggest a flexible use of Michaels, where with the right distribution 5-5 or greater, yes, use Michaels and then bid again if it is warranted. The reason being is that partner will let his distribution decide whether to venture into the bidding and Michaels, more than takeout doubles, do a better job to entice partner to bid when he has major suit length in at least one suit.