Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, July 12th, 2013

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying.

Robert Herrick

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


Most Souths reached three no-trump in this deal, but many missed a simple point in the play, there being a right and a wrong way to maximize the possibilities in hearts.

West led the diamond queen against the no-trump game, and you realize that playing on clubs would be too slow because the defense would almost always come to three tricks in the suit, plus at least two diamonds.

Therefore, you have to go after hearts, and since you have six top winners in spades and diamonds, you need three heart tricks for the contract. The simple finesse of the jack works half the time, but if it fails, you will be doomed in the absence of an unlikely squeeze. Contrast leading a heart to the nine — also a 50 percent chance, since East will hold the 10 half the time. If it loses, one defender or the other will have started with queen-third a third of the time. The combination of the chances gives you a two-thirds chance of success.

One more trap: You cannot afford to duck the opening diamond lead because if the heart finesse fails, there may be five tricks immediately available to the defense via three clubs and one trick in each red suit. So win the opening lead with the diamond king in dummy and finesse the heart nine. The finesse loses to the 10, but with East holding queen-third of hearts, there will be nine tricks for the taking when you regain the lead.

If ever there was an eight-count that cried out for balancing action at the three-level, this is it. You have weak length in a suit that the opponents have bid and raised, and as a result you can confidently expect partner to be short in hearts and (since partner did not bid spades) to have reasonable length in diamonds. For the record, your partner's shape rates to be close to 4-1-3-5.


♠ 10 9
 10 7 6 2
 Q J 10 4 2
♣ A J
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 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


jim2July 26th, 2013 at 11:23 am

What two cards should West discard if South wins the opening lead in hand and cashes four spades?

David WarheitJuly 26th, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Playing on clubs is much better than you state, although your line is still superior. By playing on clubs, south will lose 3 tricks less than half the time, not “almost always”. He loses three tricks only if west has the jack, and even then not so if east either has the AK doubleton or AK third or fourth and rises with the king on the first lead of clubs.

Also, Jim’s line of play, although I believe inferior to yours, might very well work. In fact, double dummy, it cannot fail.

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Probably 2 diamonds, with the 10 the second one, in some ways leaving the defense more flexible.

Probing deeper and understanding that you are trying to determine what actual line of play is better, but being privy to seeing all 52 cards, allows an astute (clever) analyst to opine (or at least throw into the mix) another choice of declarer play.

Since the defensive distribution and high card content is almost infinite (at least from the beginning) there is no doubt that putting pressure on the opponents (more effective against less than great players) has its selling points, to which I am usually a buyer.

However, for column purposes (the business I am in) it is indeed easier and more educational to concentrate on the increased percentage in hearts of an extra possible successful finesse, adding significant improvement to just 50-50.

No doubt, in actual play and against light weight opponents, both their choices and their usual telltale hesitations often giveaway what to do later.

You are certainly at least in the ballpark with your subtle cashing of the spades first, but for educational purposes, while you do not strike out, you do take the first two pitches for called strikes, which is especially a poor place to be if the pitcher is Mariano Rivera.

Thanks for your imagination. In spite of my rambling words, I do admire your intent.

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for your analysis, complete with recommendation. Of course, see my above response to Jim2 if greater clarity by me is desired.

Between you two and other main liners, I have to keep backing away in order not to be thrust into a corner, but the reality you two bring to general bridge analysis makes your comments, at least to me, a MUST read.

Never stop and said by me, in spite of certainly knowing that neither of you, ever will.

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Hi David (again),

Just to pretend that I got the last word, which only happens rarely, but what if East is good enough (and more players who I have played against, certainly qualify) to rise with the king of clubs, holding KJx to, of course return a diamond.

Jane AJuly 26th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Holding the north hand, I would blast to three NT after south bids a spade, putting east on the guess for a lead. East may find a diamond lead anyway, but maybe not. Does not seem like using fourth suit forcing here is that necessary, is it, unless it is being used to ask for a diamond stop. if it is, shouldn’t south go to the NT game immediately to end the bidding. Just curious- wwBd? (what would Bobby do)

Also, could declarer consider playing the top two hearts and then a low heart not taking a finesse at all. This time it would work, but what are the percentage plays? Is it still better to take the finesse of the nine?

Thanks, as always.

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Hi Jane A,

If nothing else, you practice practical. While no intelligent bridge enthusiast should question your 2nd round jump to 3NT, at least on paper, 2 diamonds by North would rightside 3NT if partner held either Q10x or AJx and sometimes other combinations.

However what if 9 tricks are always off the top after a diamond lead from East with North as the declarer and with East in possession of the ace.

Of course, with North bidding a 4th suit forcing (2D) South would probably not bid NT without a diamond stop (he is not expected to), but then the defense will be armed with the information given instead, making your NT jump pragmatic.

Regarding your question about playing the hearts, it is indeed better to give yourself two chances rather than just one since the 10 of hearts being in the right hand is approximately the same percentage as the queen being in the right hand, but with this combination and timing of the column line, the declarer will glean an extra opportunity of dropping the queen third with 7 total hearts out, below a 50-50 chance, but not by a whole lot.

jim2July 26th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I doubt I would ever actually start by cashing four spades, as that suit is what I would expect to use for transportation.

Still, if I did that and saw two diamond pitches by the opening leader, I might switch to clubs, losing 1D and 3C.

David WarheitJuly 26th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Just so you don’t get the last word, your suggested line of defense works not only when east has KJx of clubs, but also when he has KJ, AJ or AJx. Also, remember I was only talking about how many club tricks south must lose, not necessarily whether he would make his contract or not. Finally, thanks to your suggestion, I now know that, at least assuming double-dummy defense, Jim’s line of play is very definitely nowhere near as good as yours.

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, you are right in what you say, however, the elephant in the room is being able to read one’s opponents, and IMO that ability is at the top of my list, over the years, which separates the truly best players in the world (sometimes referred to as world class players) from only extremely excellent players in every phase of the game.

Against them, since they are looking at what they have, never overestimate your ability to read what they are doing since in the words of the immortal Nathan Detroit (I think) from Guys and Dolls fame, “If you do you’ll wind up with cider in your eye”, not exactly the G&D theme when that remark is made, but you get my drift.

However, you were careful to use the word “might” which so readily applies, right where you used it, and I applaud and respect you for understanding what I think I also do.

jim2July 26th, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Of course it is not!

Still, I could have written it up as RR simply seeing four spade tricks and taking them before they got away.

Or, the expert pair comes to see what happened at the other table in a team game. They’re expecting a game swing on this board, only to find out that the other (non-expert) declarer had cashed the four spades for a flat board.

jim2July 26th, 2013 at 4:03 pm

(I was replying to David W)

Bobby WolffJuly 26th, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Hi David,

And you successfully deserved winning the last word on the subject.

Even after all these years bridge as a game first, followed very closely by all our fabulous commentators, continue to amaze me.

TedJuly 26th, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Assuming you read diamonds as 5-3 initially, 4 rounds of spades, as Jim2 suggested puts a lot of pressure on West. If he pitches 2 diamonds, cash you second diamond and exit with a diamond.

The defenders are down to clubs and hearts with the lead. You should always get your ninth trick.

Bobby WolffJuly 27th, 2013 at 4:48 am

Hi Ted,

No doubt the pressure of 4 rounds of spades may generate an easy 9th trick, but it all depends on the specific distribution of cards. The one holding of honor-jack-little of clubs with West is the holding which offers the most jeopardy, but who is to say what will work out the best.

At high-level play both defenders will know, possibly verbatim or, if not, very close, what is left in declarer’s hand, so do not expect to be rewarded with indifferent defense.

Having said the above, let the games begin. I would tend not to lead the four rounds of spades mentioned, but I am not prepared to say why, since the possibilities are many.