Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

I can't play bridge. I don't play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn't seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.

Alice Munro

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


There was an element of Ping-Pong in today's deal, which cropped up in the later stages of a recent U.S. Teams Trials.

South’s two-club bid on the second round was a relay, setting up a forcing sequence. When South emphasized his spades rather than introducing his clubs, the second-best slam was reached. Six spades is not a hopeless spot, but it looks doomed because of the 6-2 heart break.

However, when West led the club jack, declarer won in dummy with the king. He then cashed the spade ace and king before leading a diamond from the dummy. East went in with the ace (perhaps expecting that West would have led a diamond from his actual holding) and declarer ruffed.

Now declarer had 12 tricks; but when he crossed to dummy’s heart king and played the diamond king, he did not yet know that clubs were breaking. So he discarded a club from his hand. Now when his attempt to ruff a heart in dummy was overruffed, he had to go one down.

Do you see where declarer went wrong? It was an error to play the diamond king when he did; he should have played the club ace first. If both opponents follow, he draws the last trump and concedes a club, later crossing to dummy with a club to discard a heart on the diamond king. However, if someone shows out on the club, he plays the heart ace and ruffs a heart before pitching a club on the diamond king.

Although it might be right to pass (your LHO could have a powerhouse and have missed game), the odds favor reopening the bidding. You have a simple choice: One no-trump shows a balanced 12-15 points, not the 15-17 points it would show in direct seat, while double is takeout. I'd go for the first option since I have a heart stopper that I think requires my hand to be declarer whether we end at a suit or no-trump.


♠ K 10 6
 K 9
 K 7 5 3
♣ K 9 6 5
South West North East
1 Pass 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 ClimieJune 4th, 2014 at 10:04 am

Hi Bobby,

The main hand today is an incredible display of how much difference a long suit and the double black suit fit can make. Even without the DK, 6S needs 3-2 clubs, spades not 4-0 the wrong way and hearts to be 5-3, 4-4 or 6-2 the right way round. Yet if north held Kx KJx KJxxx Kxx or even DAJxxx, I wouldn’t want to be in a slam. Points, schmointz – good fits, long suits and key cards are what matter.



jim2June 4th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Column space limitations may have had an impact for this hand.

I think Our Host meant that declarer should have led towards the club ace first (rather than “played the club ace first”). That is, use the heart king as an entry but – instead of cashing the king of diamonds – lead a small club towards the ace.

At this point in the hand, declarer knows that East holds the last trump. If “he played the club ace” then if clubs were 4-1 with East holding the singleton, then East could ruff the ace and declarer would still have a club loser even after a heart ruff.

However, if declarer leads from the board, East can only ruff a club loser, leaving declarer able to ruff his heart loser and score the club ace later. Now, if East declined to ruff, the chances of East also holding just two hearts would be very low, as it would require East to be 3-2-7-1

Iain ClimieJune 4th, 2014 at 11:14 am

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

An extra horrible thought – what if east had 3 hearts and one club but dumped the 3rd heart when a club was led off table. In that case, ruffing the 2rd heart early would work and the suggested column line would fail. What are the 2 lines’ relative chances here? A headache may be imminent!


jim2June 4th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Well, let’s see … OW!

But then … Ouch!


jim2June 4th, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Well, to be fair, Our Host likely factored the QC into the calculations behind his text.

That is, Her Majesty is still out there at this point in the hand.

Given the opening lead, the only reasonable place for our missing monarch in in the East hand. Thus, the bad club split chances are that East started with four (and West’s lead was a singleton).

In such a case, there actually was no club ruff risk. I was just proposing not to let West profit from some over-the-top ploy when declarer could prevent it at no cost (leading from board).

bobby wolffJune 4th, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

Both of you are included in only one post, since your concerns and imagination overlap.

First Jim2, this is a real hand, actually played in a recent USA team trials, and declarer, no doubt, was fearful of the opening lead being a singleton, and since the jack was unlikely from QJ10x, he took an immediate position precaution of winning it with dummy’s honor rather than his own. (trumps could be 2-2).

Iain, your thoughts on double fits, points schmointz, key cards, and 9 card, rather than 8 card trump suits directly influencing the bidding, sum up the disciplined judgment needed, to mightily succeed.

However, even normal waste paper, the king of diamonds, can be valuable, this time as only a decoy which, because of a tempting falled for ruse, became the slam going trick.

Does anyone doubt that Dame Fortune herself is the master of all she deals, and the players are the puppets on her string?

Let the headaches continue since with them (there is always some form of aspirin available), the game itself will flourish, but without, anguish, creating necessary adrenalin, may vanish.

Iain, I, as declarer, would rule out East ever having a singleton small club since I cannot think of a valid reason for West to lead the Jack from QJ10x, but then, yes I have been surprised before, but if certain assumptions are to be categorically denied, bridge just gets too difficult.

Iain ClimieJune 4th, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Interesting, especially as west holding 1S and no more than 3 clubs (he could have J10x) raises the chance of heart shortage with east. If west has 2 black singleton’s then the heart overruff gets likelier still.

bobby wolffJune 4th, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Crossed in cyberspace (CIC, not to be confused with the counter intelligence corps, but rather an occupational hazard which afflicts all of us, but still not as harmful as TOCM tm).

Iain ClimieJune 4th, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Hi Bobby,

Sorry, last post was to Jim2 and crossed. Many thanks for this and I take the point about CJ from QJ10x or similar with 2 minor caveats. The first is a weak or playful LHO and the second is a finger slip, rare but sufficient to cause trappists to utter howls of anguish at the effect!


bobby wolffJune 4th, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Hi Iain,

Noted and even human wolffs (if I may be so bold?), do howl!

Iain ClimieJune 4th, 2014 at 1:44 pm

We can all be victims of Dame Fortune but I think things could be worse. Even ignoring the sociability factor, I much prefer bridge to chess because of the following quote from the Rubaiyat:

‘Tis all a Chequer board of
Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays
Hither and thither moves, and mates,
and slays
And one by one back in the Closet lays’

Kings and Queens fare better at bridge, despite the theatre critic who said of one actor playing King Lear “He played the King as if believing someone was about to play the Ace.”

Please excuse the frivolity, I need some light relief this week!