Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Pride is a tricky, glorious, double-edged feeling.

Adrienne Rich

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


This hand was reported as a missed opportunity rather than as a play actually found, suggesting it was too difficult to find at the table, though these things are often easier on paper than in real life. When this hand occurred in the Blue Ribbon pairs a few years ago, East's weak two-spade bid provoked his opponents into overbidding to game.

In the typical auction shown here, South’s three-club bid showed values (without them he would have bid two no-trump), and NorthSouth then drove to three no-trump. South ducked the lead of the spade 10 and won the next spade. His natural play was to finesse the club queen, lay down the ace, and play a third round of clubs, achieving his aim of setting up the clubs without letting East get the lead.

However, at the end of trick two, West could perhaps have foreseen the location of all the high cards. What would have happened if West had contributed the club 10 on the first round of the suit?

Declarer knows that he is safe if this is a true card from the K-J-10; but what if West has K-10 doubleton — in that case, playing clubs from the top would let East win the third round of clubs and cash his spades. Therefore, South may well decide to duck the second club, to keep East off lead. Of course, if South makes this play, East wins the club jack, and can cash out for one down.

It is surely right to bid here; the question is what to bid. A call of two diamonds, planning to back in with two spades over two hearts, is quite reasonable, but it does leave the opponents more room than a direct call of two spades. For that reason, and fr its lead-directing value, I prefer to bid the major.


♠ K Q J 4 3
 10 3
 10 9 6 4
♣ J 6
South West North East
1 1 NT

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


jim2July 30th, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Perhaps the missed opportunity is less than as reported.

If West turns out to have two clubs to go with the two known spades, declarer will still prevail if West has any four hearts including the king (as was the case here).

Declarer cashes the AC, learns East has the master club, comes to hand with the AD, takes the heart finesse, cashes the AH, and concedes the first of two hearts. West would have only red cards remaining, and declarer would still have the diamond marriage in dummy. Thus, declarer cannot be prevented from winning the fifth heart.

One spade + three hearts + three diamonds + two clubs = nine tricks. The defense gets one spade + two hearts + one club at the end = four tricks.

Thus, I think West can take some measure of consolation from the fact that the missed misdirection should probably fail, as declarer can finish testing the clubs and still have time to turn attention to hearts with a fair expectation of success should clubs be revealed to be 2-3.

bobby wolffJuly 30th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Hi Jim2,

Good sleuthing and thus analyzing.

And since West has more room in his hand for hearts, eight opposed to five, he would be more likely to have the king than would East, the danger hand. From a bidding point of view, it would be close to a toss-up, since either could hold that monarch.

However, there is still another consideration and that is negative for your play. If West had only Kxx in hearts (diamonds then being 6-2) declarer, because of short entries to his hand (only the ace of diamonds) would not be able to guard against West jettisoning the king (at the right moment) under the ace.

So, at the death, the odds would probably be very close as to the proper play with the losing club play (on this hand) perhaps 50%, assuming West is good enough for such a clever falsecard, and your line the reciprocal 50%. Of course when one considers TOCM tm, what’s the use of even thinking, don’t go figure!

Al BeamJuly 30th, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Hey Mr. Wolff,
I’m a newbie to your blog, but longtime reader to your newspaper column 🙂 Question about today’s paper column/hand … being the impatient sort not wanting to wait a couple weeks before comments on today’s hand shows up on the blog 🙁 …

Re: 7/30/14-A column:
I’m curious what the rationale is to prefer a 3-S response over 2-H to South’s open of 1-S ? With only 9 HCP, isn’t that more in line with single raise of bit suit? Wouldn’t you want to show the hearts first then come back and support declarer’s suit ? Seeing all four hands, it’s apparent the best outcome is 6-S, but in getting there without seeing all hands I’m not following the logic in the initial double raise. The subsequent move to Gerber and ending in 6-S looks logical to me … but if initial responder bids 2-H, would declarer come back with 2-S or 2-NT ? … followed by responder 3-S … then perhaps Gerber to 6-S ? Thanks for any insights … and thanks for writing the daily column!

Al Beam

David WarheitJuly 30th, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Jim2: you talk about “West turns out to have two clubs”. Well, the problem is he can’t know that necessarily. If W makes the falsecard and S bites, our host points out that it is curtains for declarer. If S goes ahead and cashes the CA, as the cards lie he can’t go wrong. In other words, no matter how the clubs lie, once S has successfully finessed the Q, he must after just the one club trick make an irrevocable decision as to how many clubs W has.

bobby wolffJuly 30th, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Hi Al,

Welcome to The Aces site. While my files are not, shall I say readily accessible, I think I remember the hand (to be seen on this site in 2 weeks) so I will give you an off the cuff, but immediate answer.

While the principle object of bidding is to exchange information, sometimes loose lips sink ships. In short if we can get to the best contract, without divulging much information to our worthy opponents, the better the chance for them to err, often with their choice of opening lead.

The single most important factor in bidding is finding a trump fit, and the sooner the better.

Once we do, at least 50% of the overall task, is behind us and together we are more likely to be on target since only the level, not the strain, now needs to be decided.

In other words after the bidding has been opened it usually serves the bidding side’s best interest to show immediate support so that both partners can better visualize their trick taking potential. Of course, the control of suits (aces, kings, voids, and singletons) are also necessary to make sure we are not off two immediate tricks if we eventually contract for a slam. Add the above to a source of tricks between the hands and presto those are all the critical factors we really need to know.

I hope the above will give you an accurate picture of both the accuracy as well as the simplicity expected in bidding to our best contract.

Yes, there are many hands where the trump suit (or NT) is not immediately known to the second or even the third round of bidding, but if possible, it is better to learn what suit will be trump ASAP.

Thanks for writing, continue to enjoy the AOB column and don’t be a stranger to our friendly (most of the time) website.

jim2July 30th, 2014 at 11:38 pm

David Warheit –

Not exactly. Declarer can play the AC and see what cards are played and shift to hearts or play more clubs. In the column hand, West’s little deception would have been exposed on the play of the AC. However, not yet addressed by the column or posters is the dilemma Declarer should actually have had. That is, once West saw East play the JC on the second round, did West play the KC (the card known to be held) and NOT the 10C?

The column’s silence on this point suggests that West may have missed not ONE missed opportunity, but TWO.

That is, the actual declarer would have not known which defender held the missing 10C! Victor Mollo himself could have written Papa into the column hand as playing the 10C on the first lead! Then, when the declarer played the AC, it would actually have removed all doubt!

So, as declarer, if West plays the normal 2C on the first round and then declarer leads the AC, East will follow with the JC in second position, letting West play the KC. So, where is the 10C? Just normal defense would have been enough to present declarer with a dilemma. No Papa-like deceptive play needed!

Thus, West’s calling this a “missed opportunity” hints that perhaps the KC was not played on the second round.

Assuming declarer has this or another club dilemma, declarer can shift to hearts, prevailing whenever West has any four to the king. (or fails to unblock with three to the king, but this could be a tough play with KJx)

BTW, on East holding the KH — East has already been exposed as having opened a 5-card weak two. Holding also good support for the other major would seem a double stretch, so I would discount it. Thus, if Declarer dislikes the club situation, playing on hearts looks quite good.

bobby wolffJuly 31st, 2014 at 4:06 am

Hi Jim2,

West falsecarded the 10 of clubs the first time, appearing to either have K10 doubleton or possibly KJ10, either of which can be handled to easily make the contract, but K10 had to be handled correctly, so after the queen held, then declarer led the low one from dummy, but up came the jack from East and down went the contract. Brilliantly done by West and richly deserving the set.

BTW, there is a rather large top level contingent of players who stretch to open NV WTB’s, especially in a major, and would do so with only 5 and with or without a side king.

Forget the learned discipline preached in many books of being careful not to have support for the other major or too many (7) or too few (5), just jack the bidding up and hope that partner has support so he can continue the preempt, putting maximum pressure on opponents. Remember, even when the opponent’s have you for a very large number, they probably will not know for sure (unless one of them has a stack and partner does not get in their way).

Nowadays it would be considered much too dangerous not to open QJ109x(x) and maybe another high card with either 2 or 3 when NV vs. V. since something preemptive will likely be opened at the other table.

Do I agree with those tactics? A grudging yes would be my honest answer.

jim2July 31st, 2014 at 11:52 am

Dear Mr. Wolff –

I understood the “missed opportunity” that West could have executed by playing the 10C on the first round.

Did you, in turn, understand that West could have simply played the KC on the SECOND round to present declarer with a different dilemma?

bobby wolffJuly 31st, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

I thought I understood that if West plays the king of clubs on the 2nd club, declarer will be home with his 9 tricks whatever happens, unless of course, East shows out, which he wouldn’t. Since East could not conceal his jack of clubs, all the high defensive clubs spots (K, J, 10) have all appeared making declarer’s club spots high, and thus either 4 or 5 club tricks, 3 diamond tricks, and 1 heart and 1 club reach at least 9.

When declarer led his first club he needed, West to hold the king, but when West followed with the 10 instead of low, and declarer finessed the queen it certainly appeared that West had either the K10 doubleton or the KJ10, giving declarer a losing option.

He bit, as I am sure I would have and continued with a low club from dummy and the hand blew up for him when West’s ruse paid off in spades (or in clubs). But if West would have followed with the king, all would have been right for declarer since the defense, at this point, had become benign. Obviously if West would have followed low on the first club and then the king on the second, declarer would certainly have played a 3rd club since the odds were highly in favor of West starting with the 3 clubs (vacant spaces) and, at that point the clubs left were all equals.

At the high levels, at least my experience, declarers never even think twice about following through with percentages when defenders play equals (the card they are known to have). Probably that fact is what is bothering us, since I now understand that now switching to hearts is what you are considering, but if that is so, declarer should have led a heart, not a club when in with his ace of spades, back to the ace of diamonds and another heart, in case West plays the king on the second round and go for 4 heart tricks, 3 diamonds, 1 club and 1 spade, but that is not even close (hearts need to be 3-3 with the king onside) to the better percentage play available in clubs.

I miss the right play often, so please tell me what I am missing here.

jim2July 31st, 2014 at 5:13 pm

In my reply to David Warheit, I noted that presumably West played the “normal” 2C on the first club lead. Declarer finessed the QC and then had to lead the AC from the Board. East – in second position – will have had to follow suit with the JC ahead of South and West. West should now follow suit with the KC (the card known to be held) leaving declarer not knowing which defender had the missing master club.

In many layouts, this could have convinced declarer to shift lines and go down.

Thus, West may have had not one one “missed opportunity” but two.

jim2July 31st, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I agree that “vacant spaces” argues for West holding the last of equals, but it also applies to the KH, etc.

Thus, I do not disagree with anything you said. I just wonder if your West remembered to play the KC on the second round.

bobby wolffJuly 31st, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Hi Jim2,

But of course I would expect him to.

And also, probably among the up and coming young potential bridge stars, it will make for some double takes for them to be confronted with automatic false cards among his worthy opponents. It then becomes their job not to fall for them and stick with their original percentage plan to succeed. Sometimes it takes a little time to adjust, perhaps like a major league baseball batter, trying to figure out what a good major league pitcher is going to throw him next.

However that arrival usually only signals that the player (batter) is now in the major leagues
and very little, from now on, will just be handed to him. No doubt a mixed feeling, but one we all strive for.

That is only a small reason I am so pleading for learning bridge to be an elective course in our primary schools. It teaches so many valuable lessons about important strategies we all will encounter along the Yellow Brick Road that symbolizes, at least to me, what life is all about.

Much thanks for your continued unwavering involvement.