Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 29th, 2014

I try not to be surprised. Surprise is the public face of a mind that has been closed.

Bernard Beckett

West North
Neither ♠ 5 3
 10 8 6 2
 A 9
♣ 7 5 4 3 2
West East
♠ 10 9
 9 7 5 4
 K 10 8 4
♣ A J 9
♠ 8 6 4
 A K Q J 3
 J 6 2
♣ 8 6
♠ A K Q J 7 2
 Q 7 5 3
♣ K Q 10
South West North East
Pass Pass 1
Dbl. 2* Pass 2
3♠ Pass 4♠ All pass

*High-card heart raise to two hearts


Can you spot the winning defense in this deal from the 0-10,000 MP Swiss at Saint Louis last spring? It looks normal enough — if slightly aggressive — to reach four spades with the North-South cards. All it appears to need is a decent break in trumps, so you would probably want to be in game.

On a heart lead, South ruffed as East deceptively played his king (disguising the position of the minor honors in the suit) and elected to play the club queen. Quite reasonably he assumed that he could always play on diamonds later, and that he might learn something to his advantage if he went after clubs first.

West correctly ducked the first club, then when South persisted with his attack on clubs, won the club king with the ace, East suggesting a doubleton in the process. What should West do now?

At the table West played a diamond and declarer took 11 tricks. But the winning answer (though you might argue that this would be impossible to find at the table) is to play the third club to let partner discard a diamond. Then you must find the Merrimac coup of shifting to the diamond king to remove the entry to the clubs from dummy.

If declarer ducks to preserve his entry, you must play another diamond, and now dummy is dead. By virtue of his diamond discard, your partner can now overruff any attempt to ruff a diamond in dummy. Beautiful, isn’t it?

You should not seriously consider passing here. Partner's reopening double suggests shortage and normal defense, but your weak trumps are not really enough to consider playing for penalties. The same hand with the club queen instead of the two might come closer. Bid two hearts now.


♠ 5 3
 10 8 6 2
 A 9
♣ 7 5 4 3 2
South West North East
1♠ 2♣
Pass Pass Dbl. 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


Michael BeyroutiApril 12th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Not so “impossible to find at the table”… As West, I find it easy to cash the third (master) club. But will my partner find the diamond discard on this? Then, feeling guilty of having established two club tricks in dummy, I also find it easy to play the diamond king. My aim is to force declarer to use the diamond ace entry prematurely while we still have trumps. He wont be able to cash the clubs and discard diamonds from hand. So declarer will take the ace then the diamond queen and will ruff a diamond in dummy… I am feeling guiltier and guiltier… But my partner saves me by overruffing… How did he know he should discard a diamond?! It takes two to tango.
I think life would have been much easier if I had switched to a trump earlier…

Michael BeyroutiApril 12th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
I take it back. If I switch to a trump earlier… declarer will draw trump and play the third club himself if necessary while he still have the diamond ace as the entry to cash the good clubs. So I must switch to the diamond king. But why did I cash the third club first? To allow partner to discard a diamond! Wow, now that’s tough to find and I appreciate more your words “impossible to find at the table”. A very challenging defense problem. Nice! And thanks for a very interesting article, as usual!

Bobby WolffApril 12th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Hi Michael,

This hand is indeed interesting and because I am so hell bent in eventually helping bridge to get taught in our early school system, I often think about how to go about it, usually concerning how textbooks could be written (they already are in many countries in Europe and all of China).

This hand is about perhaps the two most important subjects in declarer and defensive play, counting and suit establishment. When after the bidding is complete (and I agree with all of the bids on both sides, do you?). After the heart leads (seems normal) declarer knows that if he merely leads diamonds, the opponents can and will switch to a trump. He also knows that if the king of diamonds is onside (with East) he will always get home (with normal breaks) by losing only 1 diamond and perhaps 2 clubs, but if it is not on side, something a good declarer will try and provide for, he needs to have a plan B to establish clubs while he still has that precious ace of diamonds as an entry to the eventual good clubs.

Therefore, declarer is wise enough to perhaps succeed if the king of diamonds is with West, but, after South ruffs the opening heart lead and leads and wins the queen of clubs. West can now guess the declarer hand, especially so since the trumps in dummy are small and if possible the defense can succeed if the declarer’s distribution is what it turns out to be, IMO a likely combination.

Without spending too much time reviewing the play West knows that his partner needs to have only 3 diamonds, but be able to discard one in order to be in the catbird suit to over ruff dummy and also have the key jack of diamonds (meaning declarer will not have the queen jack of that suit which will thwart the set by declarer being able to count to ten in tricks).

Again, counting on defense and attempted suit establishment by declarer, but disabled by the sensational use of the Merrimac Coup, a play, dating back to the Spanish American War around the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, which was invented many years ago by an early, no doubt late and great player, which eliminated a key entry by leading an unsupported high card, usually a king to kill an ace as an eventual entry to a set up suit.

Could it be that the teaching of bridge, besides learning numeracy, problem solving, creativity and logic (among other attributes) will also include history?

All of the above are worth pondering, therefore determining, which is so helpful in other worthwhile projects.

When you mention leading a trump earlier, you must mean on opening lead, and to do that is a bit “results playing’ since it would take Mandrake the Magician to know what the entire hand is about before the opening lead, but once the opening lead is made, the dummy is exposed and the declarer goes about his business, the hand, at least to the clever and experienced eye, becomes much more in focus.

No doubt beautiful, no doubt uplifting, no doubt extremely useful and creative thinking by all, but lost in the shuffle if not taught in our schools, something without positive action will simply not happen.

Now that thought is depressing!

Thanks for discussing this hand with me.