Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

It was great fun,
But it was just one of those things.

Cole Porter

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


It is always great fun to win tricks as cheaply as possible, but today's deal is one of many examples where we ought to be prepared to sacrifice a quick trick to facilitate our problems with entries.

When you play three no-trump as South on a spade lead from West, the natural play is to put up the queen and drive out the diamond ace. However, if diamonds are 3-1 and East or West can hold up his ace for two rounds, then continues the attack on spades, you have only eight top winners. In essence, you have no realistic chance of a ninth trick unless the opponents’ spades are 4-4.

The point is that you no longer have a diamond left to reach dummy’s goodies. Your chances of being allowed to sneak an entry to dummy before the defense cash out are slim indeed.

Contrast what happens if you refrain from playing a spade honor at trick one from dummy, but instead take your spade ace and clear the diamonds in three rounds. East wins, as before, but cannot set up the spades for the defense without allowing you an entry to dummy via the spade honors, which are still in place there. You would then have nine winners (five diamonds and two tricks in each of the black suits.) East does best to shift to clubs, but you win and overtake the heart jack with the king, to ensure a different route to at least nine tricks one way or another.

Your side surely has only an eight-card heart fit, but your hearts argue for competing to the three-level. A call of three diamonds would suggest this red-suit pattern, but here it is hard to see much advantage in playing in diamonds. With better diamonds and worse hearts, you might feel different, but as it is, you should simply bid three hearts.


♠ Q J 3
 K 10 3
 Q 9 8 7 5 2
♣ 9
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
2 3♣ 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


MirceaDecember 2nd, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

What would you do at teams against good opponents and favorable vulnerability with:

J x x
x x
Q x x x x x
A x

when it goes: Pass on your left, 3S by partner and Double on your right?

Bobby WolffDecember 2nd, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Hi Mircea,

My answer will come under the heading of experience, not technical play, but rather the unpredictability of “card sense”.

I would only raise to 4 spades, likely a feeble attempt to slow up the opponents, but sometimes one can be lucky in catching the right opponent, (even good ones) with a difficult problem and have him not do the right thing.

Also, bridge being what it is, partner’s preempt has taken away significant bidding space from the opponents and together with your 4 spade raise, puts added pressure on your LHO to guess what to do. Especially when playing against ethical opponents (not always that fortunate) it may produce a good result.

Keep in mind that bidding more than 4 spades will likely run a risk of down 4 (of course, doubled) which could be a zero at matchpoints and but only a small loss at IMPs, if all partner can take is 6 spade tricks and a club. Of course, there is always a chance the opponents can make a slam, but if so, they will be more likely to venture it over a higher preempt by you.

Yes, you may push them into a great score for you if they go down, but against good opponents you are less likely to cause them to do desperate things.

Finally, any one hand is strictly a guess, but while doing so, I recommend a down the middle course, not one who shoots for great boards, but too often winds up being disappointed.

ClarksburgDecember 2nd, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Thought the stronger card-play contributors here might be interested in this one (from a recent local club game).
North KJ97 AJ5 AK AQ54
East 6 KQ7 QJ1062 K963
South A852 10942 984 82
West Q1043 863 753 J107
Contract is Four Spades by North; can make Four Spades against any lead.
Endings may scupper either East or West… successful line seeming to depend upon specifics of East’s minor-suit discard on second trump trick.
Is making this one truly expert play, or should any competent Declarer find a way?

jim2December 2nd, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Well, if I get a normal-looking JC lead, I would take two clubs, cash the diamond tops, ruff a club, ruff a diamond, ruff a club (when West pitches), and have seven tricks in before I consider the major suits.

jim2December 2nd, 2014 at 6:21 pm

On a heart lead, assuming East splits and I judge the suit to be 3-3, I would win the AH, and lead the 5H to the 9H while my minor holdings remain intact. Assuming East wins and exits with a diamond, I win and cash the JH. (Alternatively, East would duck the JH, win the 5H, and then exit with a diamond, transposing).

At this point, I have two top spades, two hearts, two top diamonds, and the AC, so I need three tricks. If I can score the master heart, I need only two and if the club finesse works, I need only one more.

One line is to cash the KS, and advance the 9S intending to run it if West follows small. If East then wins, then trump split and I have lines to ten tricks. If West shows out, then there are different lines to ten tricks (pick up trump w/o loss). If West covers the 9S with the 10S, then I win the AS (East shows out) and I try clubs, which also leads to ten tricks.

jim2December 2nd, 2014 at 6:32 pm

A diamond lead is probably toughest. Dummy has no late entry to hearts, so I think I would concentrate on scoring minor ruffs. Win the opening lead, AD, spade to ace, club finesse (whew!), AC, club ruff, diamond ruff, club and West can ruff ahead of board, but has no good exit.

Assume West does ruff with the 10S and leads a heart, I think declarer ends up with two top spades, two hearts, two diamonds and a diamond ruff, two clubs and a club ruff for ten tricks.

If West pitches a heart, declarer scores a second club ruff instead of a second heart, also for ten tricks.

MirceaDecember 2nd, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Thank you for your response, Bobby.

I bid 5S with that hand and pushed the opponents to a makeable 6H. Partner was not very pleased.

One more question from the same event, if you don’t mind:

X x
K Q x
A Q J 10 9 8 x x

As dealer (playing 2/1) I opened 1D, LHO passed and partner bid 1S. What would you bid now over a 3C preempt on your right?

Iain ClimieDecember 2nd, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Hi Jim2, Clarksburg,

It is late now on this side of the Atlantic, so I may be half asleep, but isn’t east on lead vs 4S if north is playing it, while the club finesse is losing. Have some hands been transposed here?



ClarksburgDecember 3rd, 2014 at 12:11 am

Iain, Jim2 and Mr Wolff,
The hands as shown in my posted question are correct, North is Declarer and East is on lead. I had considered transposing them to put Declarer in the South seat, but decided to leave them as they were. Sorry if this caused some misunderstanding and wheel spinning.

jim2December 3rd, 2014 at 2:01 am

Okay, I copied them in an obviously transposed set-up, so my lines do not make sense.

Assuming the QD was led, I would almost certainly go down because the minor ruffs strategy seems to depend on the club finesse instead of the trump one.

Iain ClimieDecember 3rd, 2014 at 9:03 am


Hi I think the assessment is via Deep Finesse and is therefore double dummy – it tends to include cases where (say) a singleton King can be felled offside even though the suit is 4-1 or 5-1. I think declarer has to play fro some sort of elimination, ruffing a diamond early, duck a club, taking the CA on the 2nd roubnd, and run the H10 after 1 round of trumps.

At the table, I’m with Jim2 – take an early club finesse and then almost certainly go off.


ClarksburgDecember 3rd, 2014 at 1:42 pm

My question has been answered, i.e. it is very difficult.
Yes the assessment was via Deep Finesse. There are various routes to making it, depending upon Declarer’s plays at junctures where more than one winning play is available, and upon the Defenders choices of “always-losing” plays and discards.
In one ending, West is leading from SQ H86 with Declarer holding SK HA and CQ (a winner). In another East is on lead from HKx with Declarer holding H AJ. And in yet another, East having discarded a Club, Declarer makes the fourth Club.
Thanks again for contributing.

Bobby WolffDecember 3rd, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Hi Mircea,

First, I am late to the party causing me to try to catch up and I, before delving into Clarksburg’s deep finesse type problem, will attempt to try and answer your bidding problem.

Holding s. xx, h. KQx d. AQJ1098xx c. void and after opening 1 diamond and having it go, pass, 1 spade, 3 clubs around the table would prefer a simple (at least to me) 5 diamond rebid. The choices seem to be, 3, 4, or 5 diamonds and the awkward but what I think clear choice of 5 is only intended to bid where I live, keeping in mind the game we all play (like the three bears and their porridge), not too hot nor too cold.

Competitive is the key word, but non-scientific, difficult to the opponents, practical to describing prospects to partner, and breathlessly, but patiently awaiting developments and always prepared for whatever happens.

Are their choices? Yes, but for now all four players may now become involved and my choice is the first toe to be dipped into the stream.

Nothing more, nothing less and thank you for having the feel and daring to want to talk about the quality which so often determines winners from losers. All of us have experienced both emotions and need to develop our bridge personalities into being as successful as possible. To me, guessing at what level to now bid is indicative of our approach to competition.

All of us should now declare our choice and especially do so with our regular partners. From that beginning, should tell to each other what to expect from us and then try and be as consistent as possible from there.

Sorry for not contributing more, but I hope you (and others listening) to get my gist.

Bobby WolffDecember 3rd, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Hi Clarksburg, Jim2, & Iain,

After the queen of diamonds lead (other choice of the king of hearts solves all problems for declarer), after some, but possibly not enough consideration, would probably cash the other high diamond and then lead a small club toward dummy. I’m assuming North has opened 2NT or some such and has not gotten any “tells” on the location of any of the high cards (e.g. with East having some values and North opening a forcing club, he might chirp something or at least be hesitant before passing).

My reason for the play of a low club from hand is not necessarily giving away an extra club trick, but rather postponing an early decision until a later crunch time. I assume I am playing IMPs but I think I would do the same thing at matchpoints.

Yes, my play is sort of a cat & mouse beginning, but by using that one specific entry of the ace of spades will likely make the contract totally dependent on the club finesse and I prefer not to take such a gigantic view while declaring a close game, especially that early in the hand.

Then, since there are so many variations in the play, I will have no idea of the eventual success or not of the end result. To check out all of them is too much hard work to me, and probably not necessary nor particularly important, in trying to improve one’s play. The reason being is that with different variations of EW hands there are just too many possibilities to consider.

Good luck to all who take the time to do it.

ClarksburgDecember 3rd, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Jim2, Iain and Mr Wolff,
Thanks so much. This hand will presented as the subject for our Club’s pre-game seminar tomorrow. The presenter is perhaps our strongest player as regards card-play. Your comments, along with a few of the successful lines from Deep Finesse, have been passed along to him, and will provide a priceless perspective.
Not that we would ever dream of ever being able to play like that…but it shows how marvellous this game is and can be!!
However, there is a nice practical lesson; if we’re going to bid aggressively, we’d better know how to play!!