Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, October 9th, 2014

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first.

Blaise Pascal

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


At one table in a team game West elected to lead a low diamond against three no-trump. East's eight forced the jack, and declarer now guessed to play on spades by leading low to the nine. East won the trick to return a diamond, and declarer took the trick, then ran off the spades while discarding a diamond and a heart from hand as East pitched a club. When he led a heart from dummy toward his hand, East ducked. Declarer took his heart jack and ace and his diamond winner, and East was then thrown in with a heart to give declarer his ninth trick in clubs.

Since no lead appeared to give the defenders a sure set, East was philosophical about the whole thing. However, when they came to score up, his teammates announced ‘Lose 13 IMPs’.

When East wondered whether the swing had been the result of a superior choice of opening lead, South confirmed that West had led a fourth highest spade three. South had put in the nine -and East had ducked! Declarer led a heart to his jack, then played ace and another heart, and East won his queen to shift to the diamond nine. South went up with the ace, cleared the hearts, then took the next diamond with the king and cashed his long heart. East nonchalantly discarded his small spade, so can you really blame declarer for playing a spade to the jack now?

East won his queen, and played yet another diamond, and the defenders had six tricks.

The jump to four clubs suggests a very strong hand with spade fit and a singleton club. It looks natural to bid four spades — but just think how much better your trumps are than they might be. With nothing to cue-bid, maybe the best way to get the nature of your hand across is by jumping to five spades. Such jumps typically either show really bad trumps, or as here, very good trumps but nothing else to show.


♠ A K J 9
 8 5
 7 2
♣ J 9 7 6 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1♠ Pass 4♣ 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


Howard Bigot-JohnsonOctober 23rd, 2014 at 1:17 pm

HBJ : Hello there ….and congratulations on your recent birthday.
As for the hand I remember being in a similar contract and so being handed 3 diamonds on the lead , I would have opted to play the King of clubs at trick two clubs ( finessing the 10 late later ) , using my 2 spades in dummy as entries.
On the above layout, it seems that I will make 3D, 3C, 2S and possibly 2 hearts , especially if opponents switch to them. Opponents can only make for certain 2C and 1H.
Is this a good line of play or are there far better ones to secure 9 certain tricks. If clubs behave badly , I still have the spade finesse in reserve.

bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2014 at 5:17 pm


Thanks for the well wishes and the congratulations on my age, except for the stark realization that the future of my cherished card game is in such jeopardy in my beloved country because of the up to now, absence of the teaching of bridge in our primary and secondary schools.

You have voiced an interesting line of play, involving establishing the club suit for 3 tricks and having enough entries to scurry for nine tricks.

My off the cuff answer is not. The reason being that the club spots in dummy accompanying the jack are just not good enough. True, with the combination present in this hand it is possible to be guessed correctly, but the practicality suggests it needs to be and then add the possible (likely) distribution to not allow even a correct guess to succeed. While I cannot prove my above opinion, some bridge mathematician, (maybe you) might disagree, but nevertheless my opinion is that it will not.

However your suggestion, at the very least, will entice some believers and would be excellent grist for discussion about mathematical probabilities in life applicable to solving problems in bridge and many other enterprises.

As always, thanks for original ideas, without which all of us, especially bridge lovers, may not choose to exercise our competent minds to solving problems, therefore shying away to what all of us (well, almost) have been blessed.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonOctober 23rd, 2014 at 8:08 pm

HBJ : Tx for your comments but going back to the clubs line of play…….all declarer needs is the clubs with West to be AQx (defender obliging ), AQ10, Q10X or 10xx which makes the odds fairly reasonable.
West can’t find a really safe exit if put in twice ? Isn’t it better to let defenders open up spades or hearts.

Iain ClimieOctober 23rd, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Hi Bobby, HBJ,

One point in favour of playing on clubs is that the lead of the King may be ducked by a defender (especially West) with Axx. Has east in room 1 worked out he should have found the spade duck when declarer played to the 9? It does seem likely lard has the 10 or declarer would have run it or deceptively played to the SJ.

20-20 hindsight saves the day again? Sadly not, or I’d have been more successful.



bobby wolffOctober 23rd, 2014 at 9:21 pm


Thanks for your on point reply.

However there are other fish to fry.

1. When playing against random inexperienced players, a good declarer will count on tells, both in the earlier signalling, if applicable, and table action (hesitations and other telltale bodily actions) tends to take a normal 50% guess up into the 80% area, assuming the cards lie in a certain way which can be guessed.

2. When playing against good players, not to mention very good, that 80% falls to 50 and even further below when those very good players create false reads learned and practiced to almost perfection.

3. To make matters even more difficult, a player has to experience it himself, to understand the mindset of just how good expert players can be when it comes to table deception. NOT UNETHICAL but just strictly business.

4. Your examples, while definitely descriptive, do require guesses, making even those choices no better than 50-50, plus of course some of those combinations, impossible to overcome.

5. Regarding your last paragraph, yes it is almost always better to force the defense to open up new vistas for success (making them, not you, to play 1st and 3rd and you to be sitting in the cat bird’s seat of 2nd and 4th), but when it is the top player’s choice, they will choose, since by then the defenders will likely have a sure knowledge of what will be the best defense to keep their opponent from succeeding.

6. Top level competition is always concerned with mostly double dummy (same as seeing all four hands exposed) declarer’s play and defense once the 3rd, 4th or (very late) 5th trick arrives with as few tells given up to then as, one may wish for.

Am I giving too much credit to good players?

My answer is, if anything, I am rendering conservative judgment, and if anything, understating it.

However, so as to be clearly understood, I am not just talking about good players at the club, probably not the best players in any particular city, or even the state, but rather the three to four hundred best players in the world soon to number in the thousands on the way to hundreds of thousands when the school exposure to bridge in the world’s curriculum comes into play in the next ten+ years or so.

As it is now, the USA will be lucky to have as many as 1% of those numbers, unless our bridge playing community, driven by either the ACBLs or the USBFs energy and dedication to do the work and then the due diligence.

Iain ClimieOctober 23rd, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Sorry, for lard read pard in my post, even if the latter has been a fat head. I know it could be corrected but let’s leave it as is.


Bobby WolffOctober 24th, 2014 at 12:08 am

Hi Iain,

No doubt, since you have always called a spade a spade, you suggest ducking the issue, with that issue being a spade duck.

However our medical authorities probably would recommend a fat head to a fat body, therefore lessening the bridge crime you suggest.

It never hurts to be positive, especially to bridge errors, since any one of us may be wearing the dunce cap with every bid and play we might make.

Yes, 20-20 hindsight, foresight and/or eyesight
is always the goal, and the beauty of bridge is that the story of the last tournament can always be adjusted to fit the audience.