Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above.
Those that I fight I do not hate.
Those that I guard I do not love.

W.B. Yeats

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


At the Dyspeptics Club the players always prefer to attribute a poor result to fate rather than to their own incompetence.

In today’s deal, after going down in his spade game, South claimed that there was nothing he could have done to improve his result. He had not chosen the right partner who would substantiate that claim.

As North said, against four spades West had been faced with an awkward lead. If he had chosen a heart and East had switched to diamonds at either the second or third trick, North admitted that he would have been forced to agree with South’s comment, but in practice West had chosen the diamond five for his opening salvo.

Declarer won East’s king with his ace, drew trump, and finessed in clubs. Everything was wrong — the club finesse lost, West was put in with the diamond queen, and now when he returned a heart, there was no winning guess available to declarer, who had to go one off whatever he did.

Yes, South was unlucky — all the missing high cards were badly placed for him — but can you see a much better line of play that would practically have guaranteed his contract? Try letting East’s diamond king win the first trick.

This gives up a second (but irrelevant) natural winner in diamonds, but the point is that West is now kept out of the lead and can never make the punishing heart switch. After this play, declarer would have made 10 tricks painlessly.

At your partner's previous turn, two no-trump would not have been forcing. But how much does your partner have in the way of extras? This is unclear in Standard American. I'd expect him to hold about a strong no-trump. With more, he would have cue-bid first. So it seems that you do not have enough extras to raise to four no-trump, quantitative. Give me the diamond queen instead of the jack, and I would bid on.


♠ K Q 4
 K 5
 J 9 7
♣ A 9 8 7 3
South West North East
1 1♠
2♣ Pass 3 NT 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 ClimieNovember 26th, 2013 at 11:23 am

Hi Bobby,

The WB Yeats quote is from “An Irish Airman foresees his death” – very beautiful if gloomy and set in World War 1. The play hand today raises an interesting point.

There are 5 spade tricks, 4 or 5 club tricks and a diamond available, so declarer has to concentrate solely on not losing 4 ior more tricks, and all his thoughts should be based on coping with adverse distributions. In similar vein, there are hands where the key problem is ensuring that enough tricks are developed, at least before the defence set up theirs. The worst sort of hand is one where declarer is in(say) 4S, has only a couple of obvious losers but doesn’t have that many winners and has to establish some more. It is all too easy to mix strategies there e.g. should the hand be cross-ruffed, a side suit be set up and how many rounds of trumps (if any) should be drawn and when. Too many options often lead to muddled play and disaster.

Can you give any guidelines for such hands, bearing in mind that players do not have time to analyse all eventualities?



jim2November 26th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

If South rebids 2N, North probably raises to 3N. West would likely lead hearts, and declarer would painlessly score ten tricks. Even if West finds a diamond lead or East the shift, declarer can hardly fail.

Iain ClimieNovember 26th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

If West leads H7 (2nd from poor suit) , East wins T1, realises South has HJ and switches to a diamond. Now South has only 7 tricks (8 with a heart) and is going off when he takes the club finesse, I think.



bobby wolffNovember 26th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Hi Guys (Iain and Jim2),

Possibly the major challenge in bridge is the constant changing requirements in adjusting one’s thinking to the task at hand, both, of course, by the declarer and the defense.

The hand today represents this dilemma just as WB Yeats great thought, philosophizes his plight while fighting fellow aviators he does not know in order to protect his countrymen, who are also strangers.

We can all see that this hand can be defeated by proper defense after a heart lead, but since the opening lead is blind, a diamond lead with a deft duck (like the Affleck one, although daft would also be an accurate description if substituted for deft).

The declarer has a duty to himself, his partner and perhaps his teammates to study the hand globally instead of just what is happening on the one play, and by so doing, will realize what to do in order to win 10 tricks in 4 spades.

As for time considerations, concentration should be first on what might happen if and when the eventual club finesse loses and if there is a way, by avoidance (keeping the danger hand off lead) of securing the contract.

Presto, magic there is a way, especially since the extra diamond trick gleaned by winning the first diamond with the ace is like Confederate money (American Civil War) which became totally worthless, as contrasted to what a relatively simple avoidance play will bring.

My advice is to restrict one’s thinking time to making the contract, rather than to create extra tricks, which can fairly easily be determined to be valueless.

Bridge discipline in the form of achieving the goal, making the contract, instead of worrying about sometimes making overtricks (not true in this case), but while doing so, endangering the contract. I believe I have said before that duplicate bridge (matchpoints), while very exciting, is definitely a bastardized version of the real game of rubber bridge or IMPs.

Thank both of you for creating this discussion, beginning with an Irish poet and ending with worthwhile bridge talk.

jim2November 26th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Iain Climie –

If the defenders won the QH, switched to a diamond, then played that I held the AD precisely doubleton, then I’m sitting with too tough a crowd, or one suspiciously insightful since East knows that the KC is a sure entry for the hearts. For example, make West’s hearts be headed by the knave and South’s diamond doubleton the AQ.

bobby wolffNovember 26th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Hi Jim2,

South did raise North’s original response of 2 clubs to 3, so that if South did not possess, in his probable 2 card holding either AK or AQ then while holding the king of clubs can test the diamonds before he commits by leading his two remaining hearts.

Also Iain mentioned that West probably should lead the 7 of hearts denying strength, raising a question of whether West would lead the 7 from 107xxxx (6 of them) or, of course, still lead the 7 from J7xxx.

Conclusion is that I think a diamond switch is probably right, even though South should falsecard the 8 from J8x in hearts, possibly making it hard to judge and maybe convincing East that he might have J8 doubleton heart and the AQx in diamonds which is the only holding East must do the right thing at trick 2 or bear the responsibility of allowing a no play game to score.

Also, of course, it depends on how the bidding goes to reach the hypothetical 3NT. There are ifs and ands, but I would not say that it is in any way impossible, or for that matter unlikely for East to gather in the queen of hearts at trick one (declarer’s study or lack thereof, at trick one, might also be a telltale give away as to him having 3 hearts to the jack rather than just 2 or maybe even 4) and switch to a diamond.

This hand is a constant reminder to me that more than technique, judgment in all the big three (declarer’s play, partnership defense and partnership bidding) is significantly more a factor than the sheer technical ability of the players. Obviously a player has to pass the requirement of being a seasoned expert, but then the emphasis, at least to me, switches to his superior judgment together with his experience of playing against world class players leaving only his ability to play at his best under the greatest pressure to decide whether he (or she) should be included among the world’s best, both living and dead.

BTW I am not, nor claim to be, the foremost fortune teller of exactly what it takes to meet the above requirements and others will have their own opinions, so take your choice and believe what you think best.

Iain ClimieNovember 26th, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Hi Jim2 and Bobby,

A further thought shooting my own idea in the foot. If South reads West as having led from 107xx(x) or similar, putting the HK up at T1 in 3NT is a guarantee of more hearts from East. Just as long as West hasn’t tried something odd from Q107x(x) or similar!

Such play probably works better if West leads the 8 from 98xx(x) and South has J10x in hand opposite Kx in dummy; even if West has AQ98, this doesn’t cost and could work well.