Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

It is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan

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

*Transfer to hearts


Less than sparkling defense allowed declarer's game to roll home in today's deal.

When North heard his partner open one no-trump, he transferred into hearts, then rebid two no-trump. South was certainly accepting the game-try with his super-maximum – but in which strain? True, he held three-card heart support, but his hearts could not have been weaker. Accordingly, he elected to bid the no-trump game.

West led the spade three to the 10, four and a deceptive queen from declarer, who led a diamond to the 10 and continued with the heart queen. West took his king and confidently played a second round of spades. Dummy’s jack held, and declarer drove out the heart ace for 10 tricks.

Where did the defense go wrong? When East did not have the wherewithal to cover dummy’s card at trick one, he should have followed with the nine — top of a doubleton to give count to his partner. West would read this as such and not as a “come-on” signal, since East could not beat dummy’s relatively insignificant spot-card. Knowing that his partner had at most two spades confirms that declarer must have at least three; therefore, a spade continuation could only help declarer.

After a club switch by West and a club continuation, declarer must duck two rounds. But now if East has remained on lead, a spade through declarer sets up a defensive trick in that suit before South can knock out West’s second heart honor. The defenders reach five tricks before declarer can take nine.

The simplest route to get into the auction is to bid one no-trump, showing a good strong no-trump. You could double if you want to play safe, but the easiest way to get your values across is the direct overcall. These days, as responses to opening bids get lighter and lighter, your side might easily be cold for game.


♠ A Q 8
 4 3 2
 A Q J 5
♣ A 7 3
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1

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 28th, 2014 at 9:49 am

Hi Bobby,

On today’s play hand would you have bid 3N or 4H? True, the trumps are poor but there could be a major weakness in clubs from South’s viewpoint while the aces perhaps suggest a suit contract. If 4H is the contract, what would you lead s west and are the defence likely to find the club switch in time?



Michael J. SicilianoJanuary 28th, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Looks to me that game today is strictly under declarer control. Takes spade lead and leads heart to begin to set up that suit. When West wins, what can he lead? Clubs, but dummy ducks twice and takes the third with his ace. Back to hearts and west is in again, but what to lead to keep declarer out? Declarer takes 10 tricks — 2S, 3H, 4D, and 1C

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Hi Michael,

I think the problem is that east takes an early club, declarer having to duck, and then plays a spade back after the 2nd duck and possibly the first. Now the defence have too many tricks.



jim2January 28th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

One interesting alternative on this particular layout is to win the QS and cash four rounds of diamonds. Yes, it potentially kills the Board, but will West really be able to pitch two spades?

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Jim2,

Double dummy, west dumps a heart and the club queen then takes the HA and leads the. C8 to east who plays a spade through if left on lead. If they do that, I’m holding my cards up.


jim2January 28th, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Iain –

Agreed! Though simply pitching two spades looks easier.

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Hi Iain,

I probably would lead a spade against 4 hearts and therefore they would soon be scoring it up. At least to me, it is fallacious to lead passively against most game contracts, though on this hand it would be right.

Also I would pass 3 NT, instead of converting to 4 hearts, and be wrong again. The answer to both the above problems almost always (90+%) has to do with the specific matchups of the suits and these two defensive hands match up well against NT but not so much against 4 hearts except against a spade lead.

That is why John Brown, a well known and respected British bridge writer once said (in the 1940’s) that if an otherwise mediocre player always led the right suit against game or higher contracts he would never lose a World Bridge championship.

Interesting remark, and even after all these years, I believe him.

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Hi Michael,

Against 3 NT and a spade lead, after East signals a doubleton spade and South necessarily goes after hearts East then wins and switches to clubs, but since EW knows that only West has the spade length, after East wins the first club (declarer has to duck) East then switches back to spades, since East has the killing heart entry and down goes the ship with only 8 tricks before EW get 6 (3 spade, 2 hearts and 1 club) unless declarer cashes out his 8 tricks first.

It does East no good to establish his clubs, since he has no entry to cash them, unlike West, who will be in with hearts to do terminal spade damage.

bobby wolffJanuary 28th, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Hi Jim2, Iain and Michael,

Once declarer wins the 10 (or queen) of spades at trick 1 and runs off 4 diamond tricks West should know that 13 HCP’s are accounted for so that South cannot hold both the AK of clubs making the defense vulnerable to a club attack (depending slightly on length of suits).

Nothing left to say except my most important message: Our great game is all about problem solving (as well as mental discipline, legal partnership communication with bidding and defense, numeric logic, and intense concentration) making it PERFECT (well almost) for teaching in our early schools. China and much of Europe are doing just that and why North America does not, lies only in the fault of our current chief bridge administrators not working long and hard in convincing our department of education why not.

Sure it would take long hours and hard work to do it, but without doing so, we will fall further behind other more adventurous and creative nations in teaching our youngsters to think rather than just loaf along with teaching other much less practical enterprises.

Teaching bridge in other countries, particularly in Europe where they have been doing it for double digit years has produced rave notices in those countries. Why we have not responded, I cannot understand?

Iain ClimieJanuary 28th, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Hi Bobby,

You may wish to read Michael Foley’s “The age of absurdity” about resistance to learning topics which take thought. Or maybe not – it could be dispiriting!