Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, October 17th, 2013

That we who live by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.

Cecil Day-Lewis

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


In today's deal South drove to game by showing his two-suiter, then guessed to rebid four clubs rather than gamble out three no-trump, and was raised to five.

The defenders led two rounds of hearts, then East exited passively with a small diamond. Declarer won in hand cashed two top clubs, then crossed to the spade ace and took the club finesse and claimed the rest when diamonds behaved.

While East was telling his partner that there was nothing he could have done, West was wearily shaking his head in a successful effort to irritate East; can you see why?

There is a defense to five clubs, though it is hard to find. After winning two heart tricks, East can see that the main hope to defeat the contract is by winning a club trick. He should also realize that, given the chance, declarer will lead two rounds of clubs and find out East has the guarded club jack, then cross to dummy, and finesse the jack. To prevent this, East must shift to a spade at trick three and remove declarer’s side-entry to dummy before he finds out about the four-one club split. The bidding indicates the likelihood of South having solid diamonds (and shifting to a spade would not help declarer avoid a diamond loser if he has one).

Even if South were void in spades, and had 100 honors in trumps, it would take an iron nerve (or a peek) to finesse against the jack on the first round.

With three-card support for partner, you should simply raise to four clubs. Even though your partner did not relay with a call of two no-trump, you should play the bid of three clubs as natural and forcing. That being so, you can raise and let partner revert to spades if he sees fit.


♠ A Q 8 4 3 2
 9 4
 9 5
♣ 8 7 2
South West North East
2♠ Pass 3♣ 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


Phillip TaylorOctober 31st, 2013 at 10:05 am

If East leads a spade at trick three declarer has no chance since finessing against the jack on the first round of clubs doesn’t work – West will win his singleton ten!

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Hi Phillip,

And welcome to “The Aces on Bridge” web site.

You are, of course, 100% correct, but the column, in order to be educational, looks on East’s defensive choice at trick 3 (by far the most instructional part of the column, since in effect, it teaches the defense to listen carefully to the opponent’s bidding while defending) in the mode of why the spade shift is obviously the correct play regardless of which singleton club, partner (West) possesses. It happened to be the ten, but even if it was a lower spot card, unless a declarer had Superman’s X-Ray vision (or you or your partner were allowing declarer to see your cards) it would be a “morally sure thing” that South would not take a first round finesse even if partner did not have the ten of clubs.

However, I appreciate your observance of, even if on this hand the declarer had second sight, he could not succeed, once East returned a spade.

Jeff SOctober 31st, 2013 at 5:46 pm

It is astonishing to me that even with South’s powerhouse and no spade losers, there is no realistic way to succeed against any 4-1 trump split. And that the actual 4-1 split shown is the only one that even requires East to find the spade lead at trick 3 (the only one aside from the trivial switching of the J and T). Give E the JTxx and the contract is just as dead, diamond lead or no.

So, bottom line is that with a 4-1 club split, there was no (realistically) make-able game that could be bid. Surprising!

jim2October 31st, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I just know that if I were East and returned a spade at Trick 3, then South would have been dealt:


And declarer would work it out.

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Yes, your philosophical comment causes pause for thought.

First, suppose because of an unusual bidding system, North not South would have become declarer. Then after the ace king of hearts were cashed East might (probably would) have switched to a spade since nothing else would appeal. Therefore a great defensive play would have been made, but perhaps for the wrong reason, except that East more so than West, and after seeing dummy, would realize that the extra trick possibly given, when North turned up with the spade AQ, would matter not.

Also from a HCP standpoint the QJ of hearts were worthless as was the queen of spades and although South’s hand was indeed powerful, with no major suit available as a good trump suit, 11 tricks were necessary for game.

Also at 3NT with North declarer, a low heart lead, would have allowed North to score up 12 tricks in NT, but how can that be bid and by the right declarer.

Is all the conversation in this discussion equal to waste paper or does it help to understand the game we love to play?

I think definitely that this very thinking which you have contributed, helps understand the great variance and special nuances to bridge itself, which emphasizes how tentative it sometimes becomes between being thought of as brilliant or otherwise accused of no better than downright incompetent, instead of a more logical somewhere in between.

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

Oh yes, I was ready for you, but after switching to a spade, not necessarily from the king, while it would in fact give declarer his only chance to guess the clubs, it would still be greatly far fetched for the declarer to do so. And if so, your TOcm would not only migrate the cards, but somehow create clairvoyance in the declarer’s mind. Surely possible, but just too supernatural.

Bobby WolffOctober 31st, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Hi again JIm2,

And what about switching to the 10 of diamonds instead and then allowing declarer to test the clubs and then gain entry with his nine of diamonds to finesse or of course if East leads a low one the first round to just let it ride and then as you say guess the clubs?

I know and have had teammates remind me that on your layout, 5 clubs is always cold so why in the world wouldn’t everyone make it?

jim2October 31st, 2013 at 8:05 pm

That’s why I did not cite it in my reply. That is, it would also require declarer to decide that the only reason I would – with the defense already having book – shift to a spade into the jaws of the Board’s displayed tenace was that I was trying to expend the dummy entry before trump could be tested.

The weather is always unlucky in Armenia. If “my” declarer were not clairvoyant, then he would rabbit out the 10C on the trump lead and stare at it ruefully until West discarded.