Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The ruling passion, be it what it will,
The ruling passion conquers reason still.

Alexander Pope

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


Sometimes the easiest-looking hands are the most treacherous. In today's deal declarer assumed that he would have no problem making his no-trump game and took his eye off the ball. Once he had done that, he had endangered his contract and was unable to recover from his first mistake — though he did have a chance to do so.

When West tried to find his partner by leading the heart five, South assuming that the lead was from length, finessed by playing low from dummy. East won his queen and returned the suit, then took the club king and played a third heart. Had hearts not been 5-2, declarer would simply have been able to drive out the spade ace for his nine tricks. However, once the bad heart break came to light, South had to guess whether to take the diamond finesse or play on spades. When he guessed to take the diamond finesse, East won and cashed out for two down. This was probably the wrong play by South. Going after diamonds needs both the finesse and the break, while playing on spades simply needs the ace well-placed.

However, the critical play error came at trick one: Declarer must refrain from finessing in hearts immediately. By winning the ace and crossing to the diamond ace to advance the club jack, nine tricks can be guaranteed. Although, as the cards lie, the contract could be secured by other lines of play, the indicated line is the only one that can never fail.

In situations like this, I tend to lead from my honor sequence for two reasons: It may be the last chance to lead diamonds through dummy, and my partner will never believe I have a holding this good if I don't tell him at once. There will probably be time to get around to hearts later if a diamond doesn't look likely to work.


♠ 10 4
 J 9 3
 Q J 10 6 4
♣ Q 10 6
South West North East
1♣ 1 1♠
2 2♠ 3 3♠
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


pod12@msn.comOctober 7th, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Hi there……Flawed as I am I would have ducked the heart lead ( unperturbed if East won ) . When he returns a heart The question is all down to which black suit I lead next. If I lead spades West wins…. but he can’t return a heart , which means I now have time to give up a club.
Contract making 2H 2D 3S and 2C.
Lets say the hearts are 5-2 with West, he can continue hearts but has no entry to cash the rest.
If at trick 3 East takes the spade Ace, either he has no hearts or if blessed with more he will take out declarer’s last stop. Now of course the finesse of the club is needed, or hearts breaking 4-3.
My first point is this : if hearts break 4-3 then defence can only to cone to 2 heart winners, Spade Ace and the club King.

My second point is this ….surely the contract makes even when hearts break 5-2, providing East doesn’t hold both black honours and the queen of hearts ?

Aaron AaronsOctober 7th, 2013 at 9:48 pm

“South had to guess whether to take the diamond finesse or play on spades.” Even if south did not use the ace of diamonds entry to get to hand for the club finesse, and instead just played ace and another club from dummy to lose to the king, there’s no way, regardless of the diamond distribution, for declarer, without playing spades, to cash, along with the two heart tricks, the third club trick and all four diamonds to come to nine tricks. So there’s no reason whatever to take the diamond finesse rather than playing spades.

Paul BOctober 7th, 2013 at 10:13 pm

pod12: “surely the contract makes even when hearts break 5-2, providing East doesn’t hold both black honours and the queen of hearts”

But why only make under some conditions when you can make under all conditions? Winning the heart ace, diamond to hand, club finesse…
If it loses, RHO cannot safely attack hearts. This gives you the tempo to drive the spade Ace, which brings our minimum tricks to 3 spades, 2 hearts, 2 diamonds, 2 clubs. We may make more if certain things happen, but never go down, even when RHO has SA, DQ, CK and Qxxxx of hearts (and didn’t overcall just to lie in the reeds).

Bobby WolffOctober 7th, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Hi Pod12, Aaron and Paul,

Paul said it all and high level bridge (as well as what all playing levels of bridge should be) is about playing to make one’s contract. Why take any chances, if there is a line of play available to not have to?

In a competitive sense, and beginning at certain upper 1% levels of play, players are usually judged, not especially on their results, but rather upon their technique, judgment, and attention to what is considered necessary to excel.

Of course, matchpoint bridge is sometimes an exception when overtricks take on greater importance, but when either rubber bridge or IMPs are involved, safety in making one’s contract is the overriding consideration.

Yes, the various points mentioned are worth discussing, as long as we all start out with the common denominator of making the contract.

Thanks to all three of you for your interest.

jim2October 7th, 2013 at 10:53 pm

The part I did not understand was the “… advance the club jack … line is the only one that can never fail.”

Specifically, what advantage is there to leading the JC rather than a small club?

One needs three spades, two hearts, two diamonds, and two clubs to get to nine tricks. So, why not:

– AH
– AD
– xC (say to QC)

If this loses, the line transposes to the column line but declarer has at least 10 tricks instead of at least 9.

If this wins, declarer leads a spade towards the closed hand and has at least 9 tricks as before, but with improved chances for 10.

Bobby WolffOctober 7th, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, there is really no practical advantage to lead the club jack, although if it holds we can then lead another and if clubs are 3-3 with the king right we will probably make an extra trick, instead of leading a club to the queen and when it holds switch back to spades and possibly then not have a practical chance (while insuring the contract by not taking a 2nd club finesse) once a spade would lose to declarer’s LHO with another heart through.

However, the title should revolve itself around “Much Ado About Nothing”, or at least, not much.