Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 15th, 2013

Times go by turns and chances change by course,
From foul to fair, from better hap to worse.

Robert Southwell

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


With 26 high-card points and no substantial trump suit, North-South should reach the no-trump game. South's two-no-trump rebid indicates an 18-19 count, and now North has more than enough to continue to game. He could explore for a 5-3 spade fit, but it looks so much better for South to be declarer here that he might as well simply drive to the no-trump game.

Against this contract West leads the heart queen. Declarer can either win or duck the trick, but when he gains the lead, he should know that success or failure in three no-trump will hinge on the play of the spade suit. What are the options?

Since the club suit provides too remote a chance for extra tricks, declarer must attempt to take four spade tricks, and there are no side entries to dummy. By ducking the first spade trick completely, then leading a spade to the ace when he regains the lead, South will garner the necessary tricks if the spades divide 3-3 or if either opponent holds a doubleton queen. This line of play gives a better chance than any other method of managing the spade suit, since the chance of a 3-3 break or the queen coming down in two rounds is approximately 50 percent. By finessing first and then cashing the ace and king, you would hold yourself to at most three spade tricks unless the suit breaks 3-3, and that happens only one third of the time.

When our side has bid hearts and theirs spades, it makes sense to me for your partner's call of four clubs to show hearts and clubs — in order to help with the decision over the almost inevitable call of four spades. On this occasion, your clubs are good but your trumps feeble, and you have soft cards in the other two suits, thus no idea what to do. When you don't know what to do, pass and let partner decide.


♠ Q 8
 8 6 2
 Q 10 8 6
♣ K J 8 4
South West North East
1 1♠
2 3♠ 4♣ 4♠

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 WarheitNovember 29th, 2013 at 9:21 am

There is another way to play spades: duck the first spade and then finesse the jack. This gains over the suggested line if W holds Q fourth but loses if E has Q doubleton or third. I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but your line is superior to this line for sure.

jim2November 29th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

‘Tis the season for Holiday … math!

Declarer can duck a spade and then either try a finesse or play from the top. Which is better? And by how much?

There are 64 ways the hand’s all-important spade suit can be laid out.

6-0 — 2 ways
5-1 — 12 ways
4-2 — 30 ways
3-3 — 20 ways

Declarer needs 4 tricks, so no 6-0 (2 cases) or 5-1 (12 cases) distribution will succeed. This leaves 50 cases to be examined.

When the queen is onside doubleton (5 cases) or tripleton (10 cases), both lines succeed as the queen shows up on the second lead and the suit runs. When the queen is off-side fourth (10 cases), no line succeeds.

That leaves 25 more cases to consider:

– queen off-side tripleton (10 cases),
– queen offside doubleton (5 cases), and
– queen on-side fourth (10 cases).

The play-from-top line succeeds in the first two of those layouts (15 cases), while the finesse line succeeds in the other layout (10 cases).

Total play-from-top probability is then 30/64 = 47% while the finesse line is 25/64 = 39%.

Warm-up math exercises done — ready to face all the myriad discounts of Black Friday!

Bill CubleyNovember 29th, 2013 at 5:11 pm

“When you don’t know what to do…” sums up my game quite well.

bobby wolffNovember 29th, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Hi Jim 2,

I hope you do not apply to be the mathematician working on Iran’s Manhattan Project.

bobby wolffNovember 29th, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Hi Bill,

Simple, just confidently pretend.

It often works, but to know for sure you need to consult with Jim2.