Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Protection is not a principle, but an expedient.

Benjamin Disraeli

North North
Neither ♠ A Q
 K Q 10
 J 6 4 2
♣ 7 6 4 2
West East
♠ 10 8 7 6 4
 J 8 6 2
♣ J 10 9 5
♠ J 9 2
 9 7 4
 Q 10 9 3
♣ Q 8 3
♠ K 5 3
 A 5 3
 A K 8 7 5
♣ A K
South West North East
1♣ Pass
1 Pass 2 Pass
4 NT Pass 5 Pass
5* Pass 6 Pass
6 NT All pass    

*Asking for the trump queen


Declaring six no-trump, South appreciated that he needed four diamond tricks for his slam to succeed, but he failed to apply the right safety play.

Against the slam West kicked off with the club jack, and South could count only 10 top tricks, but with the diamond suit likely to produce the requisite extra two. On winning the club lead in hand perforce, declarer continued with the diamond ace and was brought up short when West showed out — the slam went down the drain.

As South bewailed his bad luck, North poured gasoline on the fire by asking South if he held the diamond eight. When South admitted to that card, North replied that the contract was cold.

South was still mystified, so North went on to explain that declarer’s only problem would come if East held all four missing diamonds. The right line was to enter dummy and lead a low diamond toward the South hand, covering whichever card East elected to play. If East played the three, declarer would insert the eight. Should East play the nine, South would cover. If West showed out, South could now lead back toward the jack. East would win, but declarer would capture the return, re-enter dummy, and finesse against the 10.

If it is East who shows out on the first round, declarer could rise with the king and continue by leading toward the jack, simply surrendering one trick to the queen.

With your side holding the balance of high cards, I can see an argument for a trump lead to try to kill ruffs in dummy, or for leading the diamond queen to get our side's tricks going. However there is no real reason to jeopardize our potential trump trick or to get overactive, and a club lead looks reasonably safe. I'd lead the jack because of the presence of the eight.


♠ A 9 8 4
 Q 3
 Q 5
♣ J 10 8 4 2
South West North East
1 1
Dbl. 2 Pass 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


Iain ClimieOctober 15th, 2013 at 10:29 am

Hi Bobby,

A small diamond to the Jack works equally as the cards lie but the column line is still better as it picks up singleton queen. Even safety plays shouldn’t neglect extra chances and, at pairs, it gives east a chance to err by splitting his high cards.



jim2October 15th, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I believe small to the jack always wins.

As you noted, though, it does give up the OT when the Q is singleton.

Bobby WolffOctober 15th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

This discussion has reminded me of a truly great article, written in one of the superior bridge magazines many years ago, perhaps either the American Bridge World or the English Bridge Magazine, with the title appropriately named, “The Good and the Very Good” in which it mentioned the above suit combinations and others equally thrilling.

For the up and coming best players on the horizon, the first hurdle is recognizing the need for the potential solution and then finding it. The first part is perhaps 75%+ and the second part will magically appear even with the next East holding Q1098, if the other distribution lends itself to being stripped and furthermore the ace can be played earlier and, of course, while playing in Alice in Wonderland, the declarer may suspect such a devilish split (Note also the right play can easily pick up West having Q1098 also). Either 6 of that suit or 6 NT can be the final contract.

Being able to pick up a combination like that with only one loser does not start a would be super expert on his way, but soon after his journey begins, he needs to be able to intuitively recognize how to do it, or else he will likely never succeed to the top.

Thanks for your memory jog and the discussion about the possible overtrick merely confirms that to both of you it is intuitive, even though the defense does not possess the eight which could be the difference in the proper way to execute the safety play.

jim2October 15th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Safety plays are critical to those like moi who suffer from the ravages of ToCM ™

Bobby WolffOctober 15th, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Hi Jim2,

It is hideous enough for you to have to continually endure the ravages of ToCM, but when safety plays, like the character from Al Capp’s Lil Abner, (name forgotten) who always had a black cloud following him, bridge writers have to assume when you are involved that poor breaks are destined, not rare, changing the discussion radically.

Luckily for you that your bridge friends both love and care for you, making it all worthwhile.

David WarheitOctober 15th, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Joe Btfsplk, may his soul rest in peace.

jim2October 15th, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I always got him confused with that Superman semi-villain who could only be gotten rid of by tricking him into saying his name backwards.

Bob HerremanOctober 16th, 2013 at 11:35 am

sorry, this discussion i a surrealistic to me.
What is ToCM ?

jim2October 16th, 2013 at 12:30 pm


All my fault!


The Theory of Card Migration.

It is a term I coined many years ago with my partners to explain why so many things did not work at the bridge table.

The classic example is the 2-way finesse.

Just like Schrodinger’s Cat is both dead and alive until one looks in the box, the missing honor is in both hands until one actually takes the finesse. At that decisive moment, however, the card “migrates” to the wrong hand. Similarly, suits are poised to break the wrong way, etc.

To me (a math-physics-nuclear guy), it appeared the best explanation for all my observed “events.”

IIRC, Mike Lawrence felt somewhat the same way in the bidding. I believe he once wrote/said ~ “Don’t play me for any specific card, because I won’t have it.”

So, when bidding with him, if one were faced with a choice of contracts that all depend on specific card(s) in his hand (specific stopper for 3N, trump Q, etc), he will never have the card one decides to assume he had.

Bobby WolffOctober 16th, 2013 at 1:52 pm

To all involved, including just viewers,

Thanks to Iain for his consistent and all inclusive high-level bridge advice.

Thanks to Bob for bringing up the danger of “insider talk”.

Thanks to Jim2 for carefully and completely explaining it, quoting Mike Lawrence’s sage advice, even if sometimes he takes a somewhat pessimistic, but reasonable outlook.

Thanks to David for his incredible memory, especially remembering that special name.

Apologies from me for allowing gaffes to happen on site, causing viewers to be unnecessarily confused.

jim2October 16th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I might note that should one google

“Theory of Card Migration” (with quotation marks)

then one gets related links, including to the first time I explained it in response to a reader’s Q.