Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 20th, 2014

To pull the chestnuts out of the fire with the cat's paw.


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


In today's deal West led the spade seven against three no-trump, to the queen and ace. Declarer next played a heart to dummy's jack, then the heart 10, East following with the seven and the three to show count, both ducked by West. Declarer next led a heart to his queen, East discarding the spade two. Plan the rest of the defense as West, after winning the heart ace.

In real life West woodenly returned a second spade, and declarer soon claimed his contract. West should have seen that declarer certainly had a second spade trick coming, but more importantly, East would not have pitched a spade if continuing the suit was the way to beat the contract. East’s spade discard here might carry suit-preference clues to his partner, so the low spade ought to suggest values in clubs. Even so, it is quite difficult to see the best way to generate the necessary three tricks from clubs.

West needs to find declarer with ace-doubleton in clubs, but he needs to be careful in case declarer has A-J or A-10. To cater for that eventuality, West must switch to the club nine. This will go to the queen and declarer’s ace. The best declarer can do now is cash the winning heart and play on diamonds. However, West will win the fourth round and continue with the club king and another club. With East’s 10-7 poised over dummy’s 8-6, declarer must lose two more club tricks, and go one down.

If you were facing an opening bid in first or second seat, you might keep the auction open with a tactical response of one no-trump (though being vulnerable might hold you back). But facing a third-in-hand opening, where you have already heard each opponent pass at his first turn, there is a good case for being more ready to pass here. The opposition is far less likely to be about to bid game now.


♠ 8
 J 10 5
 Q 8 7 3 2
♣ 8 6 5 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 1♠ 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


Erik-Jan KrijgsmanApril 3rd, 2014 at 10:17 am

It seems to be declarer can counter by ducking the club queen. Then declarer can safely knock out the spade queen (after testing diamonds), because the defenders cannot untangle their club tricks, whether west plays the club king under the ace or not.

This play seems also indicated to me, since the only danger to the contract is east being 6214, and with KQxxxx xx x KQTx he probably would have opened something else, especially at this vulnerability (1S, 3S or even 4S).

Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 3rd, 2014 at 11:07 am

HBJ : As declarer ( please tell me if I’m wrong ) I would try to sneak through a heart trick before immediately working on diamonds , in that the 10 x of hearts in dummy still guaranntees an entry to cash the fifth diamond should the suit break 4-1.
So what would West do now when put in at trick 6 with the diamond jack ?
If he tackles clubs now by leading the nine , the defence succeeds . But will he ?
A spade continuation ( most likely ) will allow declarer to (a) make 3 spade tricks to go with his 4D 1H and 1C or (b) if East ducks then declarer is home with 2S, 4D, 2H and 1C to make the contract.
Is it better to start on hearts or not ?

Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 3rd, 2014 at 11:15 am

HBJ :Well Erik-Jan…..surely by if Declarer ducks the queen of clubs, then a club return brings down the ace.
Then when West gets in with a diamond , his return of the club 3 places partner’s 10-7 over dummy’s 8-6. Contract down. Clubs can’t get tangled up if the 9 is initially led by West.

Iain ClimieApril 3rd, 2014 at 11:43 am

Hi HBJ, folks – true enough provided west unblocks. It should be obvious, but haven’t we all had days where we push the door marked PULL?


Bobby WolffApril 3rd, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Hi Erik-Jan, HBJ and Iain,

West’s play of the 9 of clubs (especially if made without much time or fanfare), may lead declarer to fear the hand Erik-Jan suspects East does not have since the 9 often represents the top of nothing. Also might West be making a really poor play of the 9 from K109x, but not realizing it as such, so early in the play.

Also HBJ, perhaps with your line, declarer needs to lead the queen, not a sneaky nine or eight, since otherwise the heart entry to dummy can be denied since the hearts will be blocked.

All the above is worth discussing, but from declarer’s point of view (and before he gets notice of the bad diamond break) he might not vision the necessity of ducking the first club when it goes 9 by West and queen by East.

Add to the above that from the defense viewpoint both the ace and king of diamonds may not be held by declarer will only make the thoughtful nine of clubs from West even a more spectacular unblock.

Again this hand only illustrates the concentration needed to compete against one’s peers, this hand featuring card combinations which need to be unblocked.

The end result is that no one is really right nor wrong, just a learning exercise in what bridge genius can accomplish. Some of us, certainly including me, Iain, would not even mind walking up the down staircase if the end result would be solving a very difficult problem. Push, pull, click, click. Alistair Sim!

TedApril 3rd, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Hi Erik-Jan,

I like your club duck, seems reasonable once you see East’s discards on the hearts. However, if East continues with a second club and West does not unblock the King, you cannot test diamonds before making the spade play. If you do, East can win the spade, put West on lead with a club and now West locks declarer in dummy with the Jack of diamonds.

Iain ClimieApril 3rd, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

Lovely reference to Alistair Sim – my favourite role of his was probably in “Laughter in Paradise”, one of many film in the 50s which are still worth a look. My all time favourite from that era is probably “Kind hearts and coronets” with large numbers of roles for Alec Guinness and a wonderfully morbid sense of humour.


Bobby WolffApril 4th, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Hi Iain,

British actors have quite a record for brilliance. Alex Guiness probably was the most prolific and certainly among the best ever (The Man in the White Suit was beautifully conceived and very thought provoking), although a predecessor, James Mason, might be regarded as fierce competition to him, particularly by people in my (ugh) age bracket.