Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Luck has a way of evaporating when you lean on it.

Brandon Mull

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


Against today's slam, with little to go on, West did not find the killing spade lead, but declarer failed to exploit his good fortune.

Declarer won the lead of the club 10 in hand and decided to play on diamonds. He cashed the ace and followed with the two to dummy’s queen, which was allowed to hold. West had intelligently followed with the nine, then the four, to try to create the impression of a bad break in the suit, while East had contributed the five then the 10.

Now South had to decide whether to play for an even break in diamonds or to rely on the spade finesse. Eventually he came to hand and finessed in spades. This line would have succeeded had the diamonds been 4-2 with West having the length, since East would not have had a diamond to lead. Even as it was, East had to play a diamond on winning the spade king. But he did so, and the defense took their two tricks.

Undoubtedly, though, the best line is to lead a low diamond from hand at trick two, not the ace. If West wins with the king, there is no need for a spade finesse. If East wins with the king, he cannot put you to an immediate guess, and there is time to test the diamonds for an even break before falling back on the spades. Finally, if the diamond queen is allowed to win, playing on spades guarantees 12 tricks.

The likely final contract rates to be three no-trump or four spades. (Slam is almost out of the picture once partner cannot do more at his second turn.) But there is no need to rush — cue-bid three diamonds, planning to bid no-trump at your next turn and let partner have a say in the final contract.


♠ 9 7 5
 A K 10 9
 A 2
♣ A K Q J
South West North East
2 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 2♠ 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


AviMarch 26th, 2014 at 10:15 am


Since you addressed how to play a slam, what would you suggest with the following:
Dummy has – xxx, QJTxxx, K8x, Ax
You have – x, A, AJ9xxxx, QJ87
Playing 6d, and receiving the KQ spade lead. (QT diamond with LHO).
My obvious line is promoting the H. but do you go for a ruffing finnesse (50%) or 3-3 break with the additional percentage of dropping Kx (i think this comes to ~52%).
Is there a better line?
BTW – the Kc is onside, so at least that’s not a problem

jim2March 26th, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I am not Our Host but — if I read your words correctly — LHO has showed up with KQS QD and KC for 10 HCP (and maybe the AS, depending on lead convention)

Did LHO have a fair chance to get in the bidding? For example, if LHO dealt and has shown 10 HCP so far, then LHO would seem very, very unlikely to also have the KH.

OTOH, if, say, North dealt and opened 2H and South responded 3D playing RONF, then West could still easily hold the KH.

AviMarch 26th, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Hi Jim2
I thought it better to leave the club finnesse for later, since if H break 3-3 (or Kx), there is no need for it.
I only mentioned the K club is onside, because once it isn’t and H don’t break, the slam is unmake-able.
The lead is KQ, denying the A, so my question is how to proceed from trick 3.

AviMarch 26th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

There was no interference throughout the bidding, so there are no clues to the point distribution.

Bobby WolffMarch 26th, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Hi Avi,

Your hand is indeed a provocative one, which involves various aspects of our game, particularly fairly high-level, and believe it or not, also ethics in the form of propriety. Since I have no strong beliefs I will leave it up to the readers to render their opinions and together we may be able to reach a consensus.

As all of us know, some very good players are also quite quick witted, the late and great Oswald Jacoby comes to mind, and often this talent can sometimes greatly help a declarer who benefits immediately (his fast wit) upon dummy coming down and thus being immediately acquainted with his 26 assets.

It would have taken Ozzie about 2 nano seconds to ruff the second spade and have the queen of clubs on the table, for West to either quickly play or to stumble before ducking, therefore giving away the location of the king of clubs, allowing the slam to make since the Q10 of diamonds was in a convenient place for declarer by being with West and, of course, only doubleton.

Ozzie was the absolute master of declarer fast play which I will leave it up to others to decide whether that speed involves bridge ethics or not. Believe me, since I’ve played for so many years, that initial advantage is a considerable one and although it may be a questionable one, nothing, to my knowledge, has ever been officially decided about it, therefore leading me to assume that it is not unethical.

As to pure percentage, I think that cashing the ace of hearts and then leading the ace of diamonds (giving up on all three adverse diamonds being with East) and playing on the king of hearts to be with East (declarer can also handle a 5-1 break, having the extra club entry). The specific calculation of first leading a low diamond to the king to guard against being able to pick up the diamonds without loss may result in being slightly superior (although it will certainly include, in some cases, the club finesse needing to be onside), but, since it will be a close choice, I will gladly let others decide that issue.

Thanks Avi, for first presenting (including the necessary particulars, not always done accurately by others, allowing us all to think about an interesting bridge hand, which, in turn opens the door for peripheral subjects which, at least some of the readers, will deem worthwhile.

jim2March 26th, 2014 at 7:32 pm

I do not think I would be up to making the hand if East had all three diamonds as the timing problems look nasty. Our Host might be able to, but it would be beyond me, especially at the table.

On the heart suit lines you (Avi) mentioned, I confess I remain a bit confused on the probabilities you mentioned. The 8D allows some choices that affect the math. That is, declarer can play AD-AH-KD-H ruff before committing to a final line. Thus, all 4-2’s with Kx are covered in all lines. Declarer can now lead to 8D and advance the QH and:

– East plays KH from 3-3, WIN
– East shows out, LOSE
– East follows small CHOICE

Looking at this situation more closely, there are 64 ways 6 cards can be distributed. At this point in the hand, all the 6-0, and 5-1’s have been ruled out, and so have the 4-2’s with Kx and the 3-3 with Kxx onside. Thus the only ones left when East follows small to the third round are:

– Kxx — xxx

versus precisely

– xx — Kxxx

– 10 cases with Kxx offside (20 cases of 3-3: half ruled out when East follows small to third lead)
– 10 cases with Kxxx onside (30 cases of 4-2: 10 of those are Kx and so ruled out, other 20 split equally)

Thus the math appears about equal for both lines (with either line being better than 50% due to the AH and ruff letting all K and Kx holdings win). That is, the hand goes down only with (1) 6-0 [2 cases], (2) Kxxxx-x offside [5 cases], (3) 4-2 offside [10 cases], or (4) misguess [10 cases] for a total of 27 failures — thus succeeding in 37 of 64 cases, or 58%.

The probability is likely slightly higher than 58%, because declarer can manage a (very) few club layouts when West is revealed early to have five hearts to the king.

At the table, I would finesse. Not only would East likely have one extra idle card, but also the failed finesse would be down one while a failed drop would almost certainly be down more.