Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

James Joyce

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


As West in today's deal you have wisely resisted the temptation to compete to two spades over two hearts. (It is partner's responsibility to do that with four spades.) It is not uncommon for the one-spade rebid to be based on three spades without a convenient alternative action, because opener is missing a heart stopper for no-trump.

Against two hearts you lead the club 10, and East wins the first trick with the ace. Next he plays the king and jack of clubs, declarer ruffing and West overruffing. What should West do next?

Whenever a defender is giving his partner a ruff, he should do his best to signal suit-preference at the same time. On this occasion East has played his highest club possible at every turn of the first three tricks, so is marked with the spade king. However, if you play a spade now and he wins his king, he may try another club, trying to promote a trump trick. You know that is the wrong defense, since your remaining trumps are small (though if you had begun with queen-jack-third of trumps and no diamond jack, this would indeed be the defenders’ best chance).

To avoid giving your partner the chance to go wrong, play a trump now. When East gets in, the possibility of a trump promotion will have disappeared, so he will know to play a diamond instead. This way, your side scores two tricks in each minor suit, and one in each of the majors.

Without the double it would have been quite clear to bid one spade (even though it is an honorless suit), both for tactical and constructive reasons. After the double it is equally clear to raise to two diamonds, both to make it slightly harder for the opponents to compete, and to establish the right lead for your partner, if your LHO becomes declarer.


♠ 9 8 5 4
 J 5 4
 A J 7 6
♣ 10 5
South West North East
1 Dbl.

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 18th, 2014 at 9:20 am

I would not play a trump at trick 4. Instead, I would return a D. As the cards lie, this also defeats the contract, but if partner has DKQ and no SK, the trump return allows S to make an overtrick! Even if partner’s play guarantees the SK, I believe that this line of play succeeds no matter what, unless declarer has DKQ, in which case nothing works.

LeonFebruary 18th, 2014 at 9:34 am


change a spade and diamond in South/East (giving south 3-6-2-2 distribution with the same high cards). A diamond return would not be optimum then.

Really if partner plays A,K,J he should have the king of spades. Trust your partner!

David WarheitFebruary 18th, 2014 at 9:48 am

Leon: Good point, but suppose S has x, AKQxxxx, Qxx, Qx. Now a diamond return defeats 2H, and again the trump return allows S to make an overtrick, even though partner has the SK as promised.

LeonFebruary 18th, 2014 at 10:49 am

David, maybe with king in spades AND diamonds, partner does something (more) intelligent in clubs?
Like K,A,J?

LeonFebruary 18th, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Furthermore, if declarer has x, AKQxxxx, Qxx, Qx. That would give partner Kxxx, x, Kxx, AKJ9x. He should not defend 2H but should bid 2S.
And if declarer has that holding maybe he should have ruffed high instead of low.

Returning heart in trick 4 seems the right play.

David WarheitFebruary 18th, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Leon: Maybe, but I’m less in favor of your second remark than your first. You see, E doesn’t know who has the DA, but he certainly knows who has the SA, and from his point of view he is still thinking about leading a 4th round of C for a possible uppercut before dealer gets in and draws trump.

David WarheitFebruary 18th, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Leon: not that you are wrong, but I’m even less in favor of your 3d remark than your second. Remember that EW are vulnerable, N has freely bid S and W has not shown a fit or very much strength. Any further bidding by E could easily be disastrous.

bobby wolffFebruary 18th, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Hi David,

Yes, you are right in what you say if partner, indeed has good diamonds instead of the spade king. However, partner has definitely signaled the spade king which, in addition to those good diamonds even just the king and with the good 5 card clubs suit he has already proved (AKJ9x) he would have opened a strong NT (usually 14+-17), therefore by either gauge partner cannot have that holding. Going further, you as West could almost call off partner’s exact distribution and high cards, since his playing of the clubs guarantees the king of spades he will now likely have in addition, either the queen of hearts or the queen of diamonds to complete his suggested minimum (but may have neither), by his inability to either rebid 2 clubs or 1NT (freely over North’s intervention) instead of pass at his 2nd turn.

I guess it is possible for East to psyche having the king of spades, under the theory that the declarer is also privy to the way he, East, has played his clubs, but psyching suit preference signals is a dangerous endeavor and seen very seldom, if ever (I do not remember ever, but one day I, as a defender, may try it).

Nothing above is critical of what you write, but it is only that many players (perhaps 99%) of the general bridge playing population are probably not familiar with the use of suit preference overtones concerning the card led back for the hoped for overruff, but I wanted, by this column, to emphasize their value and, of course, how to defend with them.

bobby wolffFebruary 18th, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hi Leon, (and David),

I am taking these queries one at a time, (and the order received), so please forgive later comments which will sometimes be redundant in the overall summarized full body of what is being said.

Yours (Leon) is an intelligent admonition, but remember West has already basically guaranteed 4 spades by his negative double, therefore putting paid to your proposed suggested distribution.

Delving deeper, both yours and Davids next comments are clarifying ones and more than worth writing. (other readers please note).

At least to me, this hand, although taken singly is somewhat trivial (part score et all) but is what fairly high-level bridge is all about and teaches how accurate legal signalling can often convey necessary information to the defenders, without which, defenders sometimes, and after the hand, pick up their partner’s hand to see what he held in toto.

If these expert plays are made, please believe me, in time (shorter than one may think) no defender will ever have to look at what partner held, since during the play he will have visualized it by his own concentration with how the defense went.

Everyone should try it, give it time to allow the process to be indelibly impressed and then see one’s game rise a full notch and allow the game itself, to become much easier than ever imagined.

With bridge learning being installed in earlier schooling all youngsters will be able to enjoy the numerate, logical, and for other vocations topical learning, which is ever present and shapes pragmatic overall thinking, not necessarily loud music, sexy jiving and other activities designed to please the body but not necessarily, what unfortunately during the last years has been somewhat ignored, the inquiring mind.