Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

I am not a pessimist; to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.

Roberto Rossellini

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



Plan the play in a team game if you declare three no-trump on the lead of the club six.

The only danger to your contract is if the clubs are 5-2. If the suit is 4-3, you should be able to survive almost any misguess. But if clubs are 5-2, there is a chance that you may lose four club tricks and the diamond ace. If you put in the club jack at the first trick, then, if East wins the trick with a doubleton queen or ace, he can simply return the suit. Now, whenever West has the diamond ace, he will get in and cash out his five winners.

Much better is to go up with the club king at trick one. Now, if East has the doubleton club queen, the defenders’ club holding is completely blocked, and declarer can set up the diamonds in comfort. But as the cards lie today, with East holding the doubleton club ace, this play would not succeed. East would capture the club king with the ace and set up the suit for his partner, so long as West overtakes the club nine on the second round.

The only way to be certain of avoiding that fate is to play low from dummy at trick one. Play it through and see for yourself. East can win the first club cheaply but cannot continue the suit effectively, and declarer has time to set up the diamonds.

In this auction it is not clear that three spades would be forcing — although maybe it should be, since with a limit raise you might have shown it at your first turn. Regardless, with no great slam potential facing a hand that cannot bid over three clubs, you might as well simply drive to four spades by bidding it directly.


♠ A K 5
 Q J 3
 K J 9 8 2
♣ 7 3
South West North East
1♠ 2♣
2 3♣ 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


David WarheitOctober 29th, 2013 at 12:31 pm

If the opening lead had been a heart, declarer should rise with the ace and play diamonds. If he plays low, he could go down if east has the HK & CQ & west the DA and CA. Isn’t bridge a fascinating game, having to do something completely different at trick one, depending on the lead?

jim2October 29th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

David –

ToCM ™ – if I rose with AH at Trick 1, West would have KH and AD while East would have AQ and more clubs.

Bobby WolffOctober 29th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Hi David,

No doubt, the type of dangers that you foresee in bridge, with this hand as a prime example, certainly help to make bridge the fascinating game you claim.

Even on this hand, if we rise with the ace of hearts and the heart king and diamond ace are with West and both the ace and queen of clubs are with East (plus at least a 3rd one), a club switch by West when first in with the diamond ace may cause defeat.

Probably the factors the declarer has to weigh are:

1. Of course, the possible location of the key cards.

2. The likelihood of East, after looking at the dummy, divining out a club switch with A108x or some winning defensive combination of the club spots and, of course no diamond ace instead of a significantly better heart holding with the opening leader. With only the queen of clubs he would need the diamond ace (or a miss guess by the declarer as to where that card is located) and for the opening leader to have the club ace as well as the number of clubs and/or the right club spots between the defensive hands, a possible holding, but still being difficult to rely on that specific defensive holding.

3. The dizzying array of choices sometimes slows the play down to a petty pace, causing both unrest and impatience to those who often do not either appreciate it, nor, of course, understand it.

All the above, certainly describes in SPADES (to use that phrase) how judgment in both card location, and, if so, deciding on whether the defense can possibly rely on those exact positions rather than more mundane choices to choose that defense, making that combination one to be feared.

For the record, while all the above is certainly part of our wonderful game, through the years I didn’t waste much time, while declaring a hand, figuring out the unlikely awful combinations which awaited, simply because while doing so, it sometimes lionized very good opponents to read my mind as to what I was thinking about and thus be more likely to choose an award winning defense.

Bobby WolffOctober 29th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hi Jim2,

More simultaneous writing which causes me to come behind you since my comments are usually longer and often more boring.

Yours are short and therefore very sweet and leave just a little to the imagination, to my mind, as stated very recently by me on another hand which only suggests that both of us sometimes vary our explanations.

I really appreciate that both you and David, as well as many of the other regulars, certainly including Iain, do care.

David WarheitOctober 29th, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Jim 2: playing the HA at trick 1 fails only if 6 different things are wrong: the 5 you mention and that clubs don’t block. Playing a low H at trick 1 fails if E has the HK, if E then returns a club, and if either clubs lie a certain way or declarer misguesses how they lie (it may then matter which opponent has the DA). So I’m sticking with playing the HA, although you’re right: it’s not a sure thing.

jim2October 29th, 2013 at 8:22 pm

David –

I did say “AQ and more clubs.” I could counter with the inferences that West’s failure to lead a club increases the chance of East having them, which shifts probabilities. In fact, there are a lot of math inferences in this hand with alternatives, but I do not want to make my head hurt. If I were declarer, I would consider the opening lead heart spot in my decision.

Speaking of spots, I realized that I forgot in my original comment to point out the column’s clever club spots. For example, declarer can play low (as the column recommended) with complete confidence only because declarer’s 7C can beat the 6C led!