Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, April 11th, 2014

In faith and hope the world will disagree,
But all mankind’s concern is charity.

Alexander Pope

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


Today's deal comes from the Arthur Loeb charity game, set up to provide funding for Lennox House in Manhattan by means of a pro-am event. At the table declarer followed the normal enough approach of going after diamonds, leaving herself with one diamond and three hearts to lose.

But how should you play four spades on the lead of the club eight? If the club finesse is wrong, then every other significant card is with West, and you are doomed. You need the club finesse and one diamond honor onside — so you will surely not find the hearts favorably located.

Curiously, you must take the practice finesse in clubs at trick one, then lead a low diamond to your jack. When West wins the trick, he can defeat the contract only by the unlikely shift to the heart king. In practice you will win the likely trump return in hand and cross to dummy’s trump nine to pass the diamond 10. Whether or not East covers, you will be able to win this diamond trick or the next in dummy, then lead the club ace while pitching a heart. Now you ruff the last club, strip off the diamonds if necessary, and exit with a low heart from hand.

With the hearts lying as they do, the defenders cannot unscramble their three winners in the suit. If West flies up with the king and exits in hearts, your queen is good. If West ducks, the heart blockage means West will eventually give you a ruff-sluff, and the heart loser goes away.

On this sort of auction, I would always rather give preference to partner with a call of two clubs than bid one no-trump. In my book, my partner does not have to introduce spades with a 4-3-3-3 pattern; he can instead rebid one no-trump. We might miss the best partscore, but the limiting rebid will help us reach the best game or slam. At pairs, though, I might be tempted to respond one no-trump.


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


Shantanu RastogiApril 25th, 2014 at 10:20 am

Dear Mr Wolff

I dont doubt your analysis but is it not possible for for East to drop Club 10 on Club Q play by South to show interest in hearts when South is rated to have singleton in suit ? Club 2 from East should indicate diamonds and a middle card should be for Spade honour(s). This combined with the fact that South is playing on Diamonds to establish a winner should make a heart shift by West not so difficult. I assume carding by EW show confidence in each other.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffApril 25th, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Hi Shantanu,

You are on target on your defensive suggestion.

It becomes only a question as to how your partner will take your signal, whether it be suit preference (your intention) or count, letting your partner know, with standard count signals (high one) that you have 4 clubs (an even number, rather not 3.

And what if you had QJ of hearts, spade shortness and the Queen of diamonds (for your club raise) what club would you then play for suit preference and in what tempo so that you would remain ethical and not by your slow play give your partner unauthorized information (UI) to which he is not entitled. Partner’s then possible switch to the ace of hearts, allowing declarer to score up his king, might be disastrous.

In no way am I belittling your very good idea of showing suit preference at trick one in order to defeat this hand, but are you sure that a heart lead will help the defense, and if so, that it, as on this hand, is critical since declarer’s full 13 cards are unknown and could be many different varieties. Also, big brother, in the form of declarer, is also watching and perhaps he now, depending on his hand, will know where the ace of hearts is located, which may make his task easier.

The game of bridge is indeed complicated and it is important to add to the conversation your view about showing suit preference, but every hand is different making choices in defense a very difficult procedure.

Good luck and again thanks for your wise comment.

BryanApril 25th, 2014 at 2:07 pm

At the crucial point -(assuming did not get a suit lead signal from pard)

West will know both black suits
1 trick in diamonds just taken
need 3 more red suit
Granted figuring heart king is still tricky, but
how does the likely trump lead get to 3 more tricks? Is it just a give up and move to next hand play?

Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 25th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

HBJ : What a superb highly instructive hand this is.
Here we have what seems to be a doomed contract ,with 3 H and potentially 2 D to lose. But what is worse is the opening club lead reduces declarer’s entries to dummy to just one, namely the 9 of spades.
Therefore , the only line declarer can sensibly take is the one you outlined above. Yet..logically leading a low heart from hand seems suicidal unless you have the vision to see that if West has Ax / Kx you’re home and dry with either the queen making or a ruff and sluff on offer .

I really must get this lurking spectre of defeatism off my shoulder and believe in the Gods of good fortune and helping hands.

bobby wolffApril 25th, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Hi Bryan,

You make a very good comment about the possible defenses.

But what about hands which feature the declarer holding the ace jack of hearts but no 10 or 9. Declarer did make a somewhat telltale play of not taking an immediate discard on his ace of clubs (assuming partner showed count at trick one) so your suggestion is certainly relevant.

An important caveat to remember is that, while early in the hand and before various distributions are determined, it could be the time to lead the defense to a wrong conclusion e.g. declarer’s hand could turn out to be: s. AKQJ10x h. AJx, d. Jxx, c. x.

Granted, the above hand is only one of many, so that your inquiring mind is instrumental in giving you a chance to eventually really move up the ladder in your bridge prowess, but for everyone who cares about the game, it is as challenging as a game can be, needs to be taught in our primary and secondary schools (in order for it not to fade out in our part of the world) continues to teach problem solving and everyday logic and above all is much fun while playing, and especially when achieving.

Thanks for allowing me the above commercial and our site will be better off to be hearing consistently from the likes of you, but before signing off, what if the game is from the bastardized form of the game, matchpoints?

Do you agree with me that matchpoints, while interesting and often fun is just too difficult a game to not make too many mistakes revolving around the importance of achieving or preventing overtricks, an effort (at least from my perch) which takes away from the game rather than adding to it?

bobby wolffApril 25th, 2014 at 4:06 pm


Yes, from a certain point of view, there is a much smaller difference between degrees of bridge players than is often thought.

The end game in bridge, with there being a material difference between suit play and NT where in suits and with ample trumps in both hand and dummy the declarer has more ways than first imagined to arrange for end plays which eventually make tricks and thus contracts via forced ruffs and sluffs.

With NT it usually involves positioning the defense to be in the wrong hand in order to make maximum use of picking up the necessary honor(s) their adversary needs to win crucial tricks.

All of the above usually features what is called “the end game” so vitally important in top level declarer play. Most wannabe experts are very close to reaching a higher level, but some never do, simply because they do not have the time it takes to succeed.

This site offers many of us, who are dedicated to, at least, give the opportunity to those who are interested in going forward and, just as important, who take the time to devote themselves to giving the effort needed to succeed.

Always thanks for your unbridled enthusiasm to encourage others to love our game as much as you and many of the rest of us, do.

David WarheitApril 25th, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I always write on the top of my convention card: “We always hesitate at Trick One”. This allows both me and my partner fully to understand what’s coming up. Otherwise, as third hand, I would sometimes be placed under too much pressure at trick one. This way, no one can deduce anything from the fact that I have hesitated.

bobby wolffApril 26th, 2014 at 5:15 am

Hi David,

I admire your effort in favor of playing ethically and have played against some very top players who claim they also ALWAYS hesitate at trick one, before making a 3rd seat play.

No doubt, if true and done 100% of the time they collectively have reached a high in overcoming the natural problems which cause this solution. To my eye and among the few who attempt this, I have not seen it done effectively and must say that at least IMO the 3rd seat automatic hesitaters too often fudge, whether intentionally or not so, in favor of their partnership.

In no way am I accusing you of such antics and feel in my heart that your partnerships are probably special and have found a way to slow down the game so that it becomes fairer for all with no prejudice. If my guess is right, all players interested in an improved way of being able to analyze without advantaging either side, have found nirvana within the game itself.

However, I have to see it in action to believe it. If anyone could pull it off, my guess is that you can do it.



David WarheitApril 26th, 2014 at 7:05 am

Thank you for all your kind remarks. Of course, if you want to be slow, it helps to be old, like I am. (Okay, almost as old as you!)