Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Neither the believer nor the atheist is completely satisfied with appearances.

Andre Malraux

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


Today's problem was encountered by a declarer in the American trials for the World Championships in Bali.

Declarer was playing against an expert and aggressive pair. In three no-trump, on the lead of the heart nine, dummy’s jack lost to the king. Back came a second heart, won in dummy, and South then led a club to the king, which held. What next?

Declarer led the diamond nine to the ace, then finessed in diamonds, discovering that his Right-Hand Opponent had started with four diamonds to the Q-10 when his Left-Hand Opponent threw away a spade. What now?

Declarer went after spades, but East won his ace and cleared the hearts, while West still held the club ace as an entry — down one. The defenders were Denny Clerkin (West) and his brother Jerry. The key to the defense was that when declarer led a club to the king at trick three, Denny ducked without a flicker in a successful attempt to preserve his entry.

It is easy to be wise after the event, but it was probably right for declarer to continue playing on clubs at trick five, unless South deemed West incapable of ducking an ace. If West wins the club ace at his second turn and clears hearts, declarer will go after spades. But if East can win the club ace and then clears hearts, declarer should play on diamonds. East probably does not have two aces and a king, or he would have opened the bidding.

The old-fashioned textbooks (which I read, and in some cases wrote!) used to advocate passing over minor-suit openings unless you had perfect shape or extra values. Take that advice with a pinch of salt. Specifically, facing an unpassed partner, there is no great risk in doubling one club when your values are in the side-suits. Switch the hearts and clubs, and I would pass rather than double.


♠ J 6 3
 A Q J
 A 8 7 2
♣ 10 7 2
South West North East

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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 22nd, 2014 at 10:18 am

Hi Bobby,

An extra point here is that a good defender in the east seat with CAxx or similar might jump in with the ace and clear the hearts in case partner has CKxx or similar, or the SA. If declarer assumed east had messed up, east will take the result in return for the insult!



bobby wolffJanuary 22nd, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Hi Iain,

Right on the button!

Unless declarer determined that it is East rather than West, who has the heart length, your judgment prevails, since the short heart length (or whatever suit will eventually be the main source of defensive tricks) the hand with the heart length will be constantly trying to preserve his eventual entry to the setting trick.

And if the above does not satisfy Malraux’s on point quote, excellent defensive players like the Clerkin brothers, will always, and in perfect tempo, attempt to deceive declarer as to the location of key entries.

Perhaps that ability is one of the more underrated talents of the experienced winning player and, as I constantly try and convince readers, means as least as much as one who has superior technique in bidding, declarer play and defense.

For sure, maybe, arguable, definitely, but overlooked, constantly.

In any event it, in this case, resulted in downing a game which could have been made. Shall we say that the Clerks are not bridge jerks.

Iain ClimieJanuary 22nd, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Many thanks for the kind comment but I’m now off to try this in real time rather than with the benefit of hindsight. I remember a classic backhanded compliment many years ago about a new player at Coventry BC – “Is he any good?”. “Not sure yet, but he talks a good game.” Your record speaks for itself, but we lesser mortals often have a chasm to bridge between our hopes and our scorecards!


bobby wolffJanuary 22nd, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Hi Iain,

Someone intelligen once said, “life is what you make it” and to that I would like to add, self-respect is greatly undervalued but ones who have it, are truly blessed, more than scalps on the wall are ever worth.

Patrick cheuJanuary 22nd, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi Bobby,someone once said the bidding is all important as regards getting to the right contract..we did not.Your comment on the following hand would be much appreciated.Pairs All nv.East opens 3H.South bids 4S,West pass North pass(after long thought),pass out.4S+3.North sJ876 hA92 dK3 cK1096 East s5 hKQJ10543 d8 c8432 South sAK10943 hvoid dA954 cAQ5 West sQ2 h876 dQJ10762 cJ7.South did not double 3H cos the heart void,pard(north) thinks 4s bid could be just eight spades and not much else..hence did not cue.I held the South hand,is double the clear choice?Regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffJanuary 23rd, 2014 at 4:34 am

Hi Patrick,

No, double is not a clear choice, but it has much to recommend it. I’d rate double 100 with 4 spades about 90, unless my partner had a habit of standing for TO doubles, and if so, I’d choose your choice of 4 spades. However over 4 spades, your partner is clearly worth a bid and I would pick 5 hearts, After that 6 spades would definitely be bid with some chance of bidding the cold grand slam. For example, if partner bid 5 hearts I would raise him to 6 hearts suggesting a grand slam and then the guesswork beings. The problem with choosing anything but 5 hearts looks like a possible 2nd suit and thus possibly confusing.

Whenever the opponents open the bidding with a fairly high preempt such as 3 hearts, all that bidding room is gone and most high level contracts are only guessed, based on the partnership tendencies which often vary from time to time.

I must say though that after I chose 4 spades and partner then bid 5 hearts I may just shoot it out in 7 spades which on a rainy day will go set when the preemptors partner has all three spades.

Bridge is a difficult game to start with, but when the language of it becomes restricted, it even gets tougher.

However, not getting to at least a small slam shows poor judgment and you have a right to blame partner for that. Jumping to 4 spades does not show chopped liver and should be respected.

Patrick cheuJanuary 23rd, 2014 at 7:38 am

Hi Bobby,Thanks for your invaluable insight and witty comment which I will always treasure,and your motto of bidding for glory has certainly been noted from previous.Bridge has so much to offer.Sincere thanks again~ Patrick.