Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 11th, 2014

You write with ease to show your breeding,
But easy writing’s curst hard reading.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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


In the round robin of the U.S. trials to select the international squad to go to Bali for the 2013 Bermuda Bowl, the following declarer-play problem came up. It was not accurately solved by any of the participants who were confronted with it.

Say you reach four hearts and receive the lead of the heart nine. It looks best to win the trick in dummy and start to eliminate the club suit by leading a low one from the board, which is won by East’s 10. East now exits with the diamond jack. Since the contract is only in jeopardy if diamonds do not break, it looks simple enough to win the diamond ace, trump a club, and lead the heart queen to the ace.

Declarer should then continue to prepare for the endplay he might need if diamonds do not cooperate. Best is to play the spade six from hand, and duck when West plays his seven. West is allowed to hold the trick and exits with the diamond queen, bringing the bad break to light. Declarer wins his king, plays a spade to the ace, crosses to dummy with another heart, and plays the spade jack, discarding a diamond from hand.

Poor East must win the trick and now has no choice but to lead a black suit. That gives declarer a ruff and sluff, which can be trumped in dummy as declarer discards his last diamond loser — making four!

Your diamond length argues for a pass here. Your partner could have raised hearts with three if he was worried about diamonds. Therefore, you should assume that if you play hearts, you rate to be in at best a 5-2 fit, with diamond ruffs threatening you. Your partner hasn't guaranteed club length, but you should assume staying low in one no-trump is likely to be a sensible option.


♠ J 5 4
 K Q 10 6 2
 K 5 3 2
♣ 3
South West North East
1♣ 1
1 Pass 1 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 25th, 2014 at 9:30 am

I think I have this right. If W leads anything but a spade at trick 1, the play goes essentially as you describe. If he leads a spade, however, the opponents can now lead spades three times before you manage to eliminate clubs. But another endplay pops up. S must win the opening spade lead, draw trump, and lead a club. If the opponents don’t immediately play 2 more rounds of spades, the play reverts to the line you describe. If they do play 2 more rounds of spades, however, S ruffs, ruffs his club and ducks a diamond, making 4H unless W has QJ!08 fourth or fifth of diamonds (in which case he surely would have led a D at trick 1).

Patrick CheuJanuary 25th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Hi Bobby,guess not many declarer found the ducking 6S play from hand,as the KQ of spades being in East,and not split honours this works,allowing the JS in dummy to play the star role on a non spade lead,for two discards later.As neither defender held the 9D,ie Q1097 or QJ97 opp singleton J or 10,declarer seems to have a clear ride..what actually happened at the tables?

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I believe you do have it right (certainly no surprise to me). While the 4-1 diamond break is a curse for declarer, the fact, as pointed out, that East has the singleton jack allows the hand to be made, especially when the defense must get rid of their curse early (having to lead spades early because East has the KQ, thus being able to be thrown in with it to concede a ruff and sluff).

A two edged sword, featuring a bad diamond break for declarer, but a very good placement in spades, plus a non-strategic diamond jack (for the defense), tends to make fair game on this hand which allows both sides to strut their talent with the declaring side winning this battle.

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hi Patrick,

I do not know what happened at the individual tables, but if I had to guess, it would be a random, many faceted defense always (or almost) against the contract of 4 hearts, but with some aggressive EW’s getting into the bidding and competing to 4 spades, certainly usually goiing set (with a club ruff) or perhaps worse, since it is possible that EW would lose control of the hand with repeated heart leads (and a possible trump misguess, but not likely rendering their sides club tricks not as valuable as they seem).

If my life, or more importantly, yours, was at stake, my prediction, even in a high level tournament there would be a majority of down 1’s in 4 hearts compared to any other results, such as +420 NS.

What does that prediction indicate? Nothing strange, except the spade play is exotic causing the winning line not to be attempted even though the average player would be much better than average. However, my judgment is certainly not always correct making my forecast problematical at best.