Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 21th, 2014

To rush would be a crime,
‘Cause nice and easy does it every time.

Marilyn & Alan Bergman and Lew Spence

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


Instant gratification is all very well, but at the bridge table you will generally find that "Make haste slowly" is a far better approach. I have often found that a suit splitting 3-3 at the start of a deal rates to split no worse than 3-3 at the end of it. Conversely, when you delay playing on a suit, you often find out far more about the opponents' hands — and opponents occasionally discard from a critical holding before they become aware of declarer's distribution.

Let’s look at today’s contract of six no-trump. The novice will play on clubs immediately, and depending on whether he guesses the suit accurately or not, he will end up with either 11 or 12 tricks. But there is no need for making a blind guess.

When the spade jack is led against six no-trump, declarer should win the queen and lead a low heart from the board. East wins the heart king and returns a spade. After cashing the spade and diamond winners, declarer takes the heart ace, and discovers that West began with a singleton heart. , He also began with five spades and three diamonds. The count in each of these suits is absolutely guaranteed since one defender or the other has shown out on each of these suits.

At this point West is known to have four clubs, so declarer cashes the club king and queen and can then finesse with complete confidence against West’s jack.

An argument could be made for a two-no-trump opening here (partner as a passed hand is unlikely to raise you to an umakeable slam). As against that, opening one diamond and jumping to two no-trump shows the best feature of your hand. Additionally, it is far from clear that the hand will play better your way up. (Imagine partner with queen-third of either clubs or hearts in three no-trump.)


♠ K Q 5
 A 6
 K Q J 4
♣ A 9 7 2
South West North East
Pass 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 WarheitFebruary 4th, 2014 at 9:15 am

Today’s theme is: rectifying the count. South actually has 2 other chances to make his contract, each without having to guess anything: 1) somebody has KQ doubleton of H. Okay, not very likely (about 3%), but possible. 2) somebody gets squeezed between H & C. All this accomplished by the simple act of ducking a H at trick 2.

David WarheitFebruary 4th, 2014 at 9:17 am

I just thought of a third chance: when S leads a H from dummy at trick 2, E might go up with the K from K fourth, meaning W’s Q will now drop under the A.

Iain ClimieFebruary 4th, 2014 at 9:53 am

Hi Folks,

Add in east holding HQ10 alone and the extra chances keep building, at least if east ducks. “If we clutch at enough straws we can build a raft!” It may still sink, of course.


Iain ClimieFebruary 4th, 2014 at 10:37 am

Also, as west might have a singleton HK or Q, would the first heart come from hand? A cunning west could play the HK from KQ10, though, so this could cause declarer to fail with clubs 3-3 all along.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Yes, between the two of you, (to use an old phrase) the “waterfront is covered”, meaning in this case, instead, the bridge front.

While East might not (and usually should not) rise with the king of hearts from king fourth in the suit when a low heart is led from dummy he, if also holding 4 clubs, will get squeezed later in the hand, since only he will be able to guard both of the round suits and therefore get squeezed at the death of the hand. It would also happen to West if he held four to an honor (the K or Q) or both in hearts and 4 clubs, making David’s name of “rectifying the count” very applicable on this hand.

Iain’s admonition to be wary of West dropping an honor in hearts if declarer leads the ace first also directly applies and subjects declarer to an extra risk, although it could be the right play if, indeed West had a singleton honor and 4+ clubs to the J10 therefore rendering this hand squeeze proof. However that particular combination is very anti-percentage compared to the much better chance of ducking a heart completely, even if first led from hand and having West play an honor (thanks, Iain).

In order to keep getting in commercials as to getting bridge into our (USA) public school system, look how this hand, after being fully discussed and analyzed would give youngsters, probably, at least in a few cases from only 6 or 7 years up in age, a much better understanding of the logic of numeracy and how it can be applied to other situations, bridge or just life.

Although, while I am certainly not a mathematician, the thinking involved would seem to contribute to the abstract thinking of a would be engineer or architect. And all that positive learning could be accomplished while playing an intriguing and competitive game which encompasses so much pleasure, the least of which is certainly not the special ethics demanded.

Again, thanks to you two (and, of course, other regular commentators) for your continued important contributions to other important descriptions which are not directly mentioned in the individual column.

Iain ClimieFebruary 4th, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Hi Bobby,

Funnily enough I had a maths, statistics and economics academic background but strayed into engineering late in 1979, liked it and stayed. Questions like “what has to go right to make this work” and “how can things go horribly wrong” are relevant to work and play.


bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for the accurate analogy.

At one time, many years ago, the ACBL did a survey trying to correlate specific occupations with bridge success.

I believe, but am not sure, that lawyers finished #1 with more bridge scalps on the wall.

However, at least to me, this type of study is flawed because more often than not, although a breadwinner winds up in some field, it has a great chance (not just a good one) of not being the field which best fits his talent, and therefore if my judgment is close to correct, all it means is that our educational system may not be spending enough time directing our younger generations into doing what they do best.

My opinion would choose your favorite, engineering, because of the problem solving (which you emphasize) to win 1st overall. However the cleverness which lawyers need to use to win their case (especially when they go in as underdogs) should probably not be underrated.

To be kidding (but perhaps on the square) I may think criminal minds would rate highly since intimidation along with not too much respect for the laws does help significantly in achieving.

ClarksburgFebruary 4th, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Lawyers, by nature, are probably more likely to have their feet on the ground i.e. card-sense, reading the opponents, playing poker etc. The more cerebral-conceptual thinkers are somewhat more likely to have their head in the clouds, and occasionally fail to see or overlook the obvious.
Speaking of poker…those youngsters who might be candidates for Bridge may be strongly attracted to poker these days…fashionable and lucrative. Too bad, but so true!

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I agree with your analysis about what qualities it takes to be good at bridge and what type of personalities are not dealt as good a hand.

Yes, poker playing is an attractive alternative to learning bridge, especially since bridge is and has never been an exciting gambling game, since it is slower moving with the action, but getting bridge in the schools will change all that, and, not unlike you, once you got deeper into high-level bridge thinking, and became privy to others with the same thoughts, it would sweep you away with its challenge.

At least on the surface, a bridge tournament tests skill much more so than does poker, since at least IMO, the skill element in poker is not really analytical but rather the psychological aptitude of being one or more steps ahead of your opponent(s). In bridge it is a numerical test with a strong dose of intelligent analysis and in cases of breaking ties, the psychological edge becomes critical.

jim2February 4th, 2014 at 10:08 pm

The Rueful Rabbit always wins ….