Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, March 24th, 2014

If it's the thought that counts, why are there fingers?

A. A. Milne

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


In today's deal from last year's Saint Louis Nationals, consider East's problem defending four spades. Your partner leads the diamond king, and when it holds, he continues with the jack. Declarer wins and draws trump in three rounds, partner following as you pitch encouraging hearts, then ruffs the third diamond to hand.

At this point South exits with a low heart. Your partner puts up the queen and plays a second heart to you, declarer following again. You have reached a five-card ending with dummy holding a trump and four clubs, while you have two hearts and three clubs.

At the table, East exited with a low club. Declarer’s jack held, and now South’s only concern was if one defender had all the remaining three clubs. Whatever he did, he couldn’t go wrong.

In this ending, a slightly more thoughtful player would have exited with the club queen, protecting against the possibility that his partner had jack-third or jack-doubleton of clubs left. Now declarer would have a losing option as to which hand to win the club shift in.

However, a defender who paused to count would know that declarer rated to hold precisely 5-2-2-4 distribution — and if not, he would have a third heart. Either way, continuing with a third heart wouldn’t help him at all, since a ruff-sluff would give him an irrelevant discard. If West had the club jack, this beats the contract by force; if not, declarer is on a club guess.

I'm not enthusiastic about leading a diamond — your RHO rates to have a decent holding, if not necessarily length in that suit. Though your spades are better, leading a heart offers a better chance to set the game, since you may subsequently be able to get in with the spade ace if a heart lead sets up the suit for you.


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


Iain ClimieApril 7th, 2014 at 9:59 am

Hi Bobby,

A minor point on the description of the hand as actually played. After a club back has been taken by the Jack, south only has to worry about east having the remaining 3C if he has naughtily opened 2H on 1534 shape (or has 14 cards!). Less flippantly, west might have led a singleton club at some point or raised hearts further if east only had 5.



Bobby WolffApril 7th, 2014 at 10:56 am

Hi Iain,

You are right on the first point, but correct on the second.

In other words you are right-on, but since that talk was only about being gifted with a club shift by the defense (which you aptly alluded to), rather than a much tougher ruff and sluff offered, which did not give the show away, in turn and made the declarer earn his game rather than be presented with it.

From the declarer’s view his percentage of made contracts goes up geometrically when he finds ways to not have to sometimes flip coins to guess where a key card lies (which BTW is often the queen) but even worse for the defense if partner possesses the jack which erases a sure set scheduled to happen.

Iain ClimieApril 7th, 2014 at 11:53 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for that and the hand is also good for bridge teachers who need to explain to intermediate players that ruff and discards are not always a mortal sin. Exceptions are one of the game’s great pleasures.


Herreman BobApril 16th, 2014 at 2:30 pm

On the other hand,
suspicious when my dear opponents give me a ruff and sluff…