Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because it is an excuse that every man will plead, and no man can tell how to refute him.

John Selden

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


"Eight ever, nine never" reminds us that when we have eight trumps between our two hands, we should finesse for the queen, but when we have nine, we should play for the drop. This is reasonable advice, but there are sometimes good reasons for disobeying it.

At the table declarer in six spades took the straightforward line of cashing the spade ace and king, but when the queen did not drop and the diamond finesse was also wrong, he had to go down. Can you see how he might have done better? Declarer should see that if he can time the play accurately and lose a trick to East at the critical moment, he can insure his contract. With this aim in mind, declarer should start eliminating his hearts and club losers. He should win the heart king, cross to dummy with a club, cash the heart ace, ruff a heart, then go back to a club and ruff the fourth heart.

Now he can cash the club ace, discarding a diamond, and finally the time has come to play trump. Declarer should see that it doesn’t matter if he loses a trump trick to East’s doubleton queen, as East will be endplayed. So declarer should cash the spade king and play a spade to the 10. If it holds, then all his problems are over, but if it loses to East’s queen, then the defender will have to play a diamond into dummy’s tenace or give a ruff and discard.

Partner's double suggests values and the unbid suits. Your choice is unpalatable: a penalty pass without a trump honor, a rebid of the spade suit with only five moderate cards, and a response in a three-card suit if you bid three clubs. Which is least offensive? I do not know, but I'd guess that even if passing is right in theory, a retreat to three clubs works out best in practice.


♠ A J 7 4 2
 8 7 5 3
♣ A 4 3
South West North East
1♠ 2 Dbl. 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 WarheitSeptember 12th, 2013 at 9:13 am

Two very minor points: 1) since S can be reasonably sure that hearts are 4-4, because of W’s opening lead of the H2, he feels he can safely play 4 rounds of hearts before leading trump, & 2) if W shows out on the 2d spade, S wins dummy’s ace & endplays E with the 3d round of trump.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hi David,

Yes, exactly, but in actual practice the only real worry is that West may have only 3 hearts, and so as an extra precaution, (as West should throw the queen of hearts on the 3rd round), although it may not work, is to ruff the 4th heart with the jack of trumps, improving overall chances, but now becoming vulnerable to most 4-0 trump breaks. However, at least to me, it is a small percentage price to pay, in order to effect the beautifully achieved ending.

Also, please notice and on a totally different subject, South’s opening bid would not have been made in old time Roth-Stone days and, by not doing so, although Al would have, at least in theory concocted a bidding sequence to, after passing, still get there, but whether he would or not will never be known and I think we all will agree that the slam is a good one and certainly worth bidding. Also, after opening, and while playing Jacoby forcing trump raises, South eschewed showing his singleton heart, a move I think, is prudent, since it is the king, without which, he would not, of course, have decided to open.

jim2September 12th, 2013 at 11:52 am

I think the column text meant not “cash the spade king and play a spade to the 10” but “cash the spade ace ….” This time it does confuse things a trifle, but it is still readily worked out.

In any case, cannot declarer slightly increase the odds of success by cashing the spade ace earlier? It certainly would reveal any 4-0 break at the earliest moment. In fact, Trick 2 seems reasonable:

– KH
– AS
– KC
– AH
– H ruff
– QC
– H ruff
– AC
– xS to 10S

Jeff SSeptember 12th, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Jim beat me to it, but I had the same question about playing the AS earlier to check for the 4-0 break. Since it is eventually played when the lead is with South anyway, it doesn’t seem to cause any harm to play it earlier.

jim2September 12th, 2013 at 9:53 pm

The one advantage to hanging onto the AS is in case East ruffs in with the trump queen (hearts split 5-3).

What I did not know was which was better, and I might not have mentioned it except that Our Host commented about 4-0 breaks in his reply above.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Hi Jeff and Jim2,

It is either a fault, or at the very least, an idiosyncrasy of mine to not strive for perfection when the many hands we discuss, parade in front of us for inspection.

My emphasis (at least I think) is on concepts
of getting done the main feature of either defense or declarer play (sometimes the bidding) and not worry about unlikely happenings which sometimes occur.

The trouble which arises by the above is when some of you, who are critical accurate analysts, find ways to improve things by pointing out superior percentage plays which are intended to achieve perfection.

In a blog site and especially how it applies to the difficult game of bridge is, since we have thousands of more readers than we have active commentators, most of them only wanting a cursory understanding of how to go about most hands and why, with some percentage of the information remaining with them after discussion, but lesser important concepts (at least to them) merely icing on the cake and as well not said, because of educational overload.

Anyway, I, for one, am proud of all improvements suggested by our senior commentators, but that doesn’t mean I intend to delve as deeply as some of you, into the details.

jim2September 12th, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Hey, Jeff!

I’m not sure, but I think we just got promoted to “senior commentator”!