Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.

Thomas Macaulay

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


Today's deal from a world championships semi-final saw a game swing to England, even though declarer could have improved on his line.

At both tables West led his singleton spade against four hearts. This went to East’s king and both Wests ruffed East’s spade return. Each of them then continued with the club ace, followed by the club queen, and both declarers won and cashed the heart ace, West playing the 10.

Now the paths diverged. The German declarer decided to play West for an original trump holding of 10-7 doubleton, perhaps thinking that he might not have led a singleton with a near certain trump trick. So he attempted to cross to dummy’s spade ace, preparatory to running the heart jack, allowing West to ruff in. Declarer subsequently misguessed diamonds and went two down.

For England Nick Sandqvist cashed both top heart honors immediately. Knowing that West had four major-suit cards compared with East’s eight, he guessed diamonds correctly, and wrapped up his game.

Well done, but can you see how declarer could have turned a guess into a certainty?

After the trump queen fell, declarer should have crossed to the heart jack, cashed the spade ace and ruffed a club. Now he plays his remaining trump. If West holds on to his master club he must come down to two diamonds. At that point, the diamond ace and king will drop the queen, whoever holds it.

I'm not going to pretend that I haven't made my share of dubious overcalls, but one has to draw the line somewhere, and this hand is emphatically the wrong side of the line when it comes to overcalling two diamonds. This is a weak suit, with a very dangerous heart holding if my LHO has short hearts, since the defenders may well be able to ruff away my heart honors. This is a clear pass.


♠ J
 Q 10 7
 Q 9 8 6 4
♣ A Q J 9
South West North East
Pass Pass 1

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


David WarheitDecember 4th, 2014 at 10:22 am

When W leads the SJ it seems almost certain that E has the K, so win the A, cash HAK, & lead a club. W wins the A, cashes the HQ, & exits with the CQ. Win the K & lead a S, E wins the K & exits with a S to declarer’s Q. Declarer now cashes his last 2 H and the same squeeze works since S should realize that W wouldn’t have led the CQ unless he also had the J. Of course, W could have exited with the C9 instead of the Q, but declarer could have had a singleton C & even if he knows he doesn’t (partner’s C2 on the C lead promises an odd number), it just seems too dangerous. And yes, on this line E could have 3 D, but even then W is more likely to have the Q. What do you think? Is this line better than ducking the opening lead?

Bobby WolffDecember 4th, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Hi David,

Your question, indeed your whole line of thought, is provocative and essentially on point, except possibly for a few assumptions.

Unless the opponents are playing “jack denies” which simply guarantees (not legally but enough to act on) that, as you say “almost certain” that the spade king is with East it would not be wise nor percentage to assume that West did not hold the KJ10 and decided to lead that unbid suit. A singleton jack instead, in this situation, is far less likely than the KJ10 holding, (especially so since rising with the ace, when the declarer will now need to have much more luck), such as the club ace being with West, fortune with the heart split, and, of course requiring excellent play at the death.

However, your analysis as to the actual club holding (when West plays the queen, he should then be marked with the jack), is on target, since it can usually be counted on, that the defenders, being only human, cannot see through the cards and, with many possibilities for them to deal with, will very rarely risk defeating a contract, by even considering an inferior play, in the hope of delivering a devastating deception, especially, as is the case here, when the goal is so obscure.

Even with the above layout, as you also explain, the declarer (because of the hand
count) will surely play West not East for the critical diamond lady.

What high level principle, if any, should come from this important discussion? My answer would only suggest that the highest level bridge is dependent on both percentages (opening lead decisions, with South being tested) when I think he made the right choice (which worked out wrong) when he ducked the spade, however then brilliantly counter balanced by his recovering in grand style and did not have to risk the diamond finesse, e.g. losing to the Qx with East, since he more or less stumbled on the more secure way (almost foolproof) of guarding against later disaster.

And don’t forget the unseen (by some) out and out mistake, IMO, of playing an indeed horrible convention of Jack denies which like a few other also losing conventions is tantamount to denuding oneself in front of a wise declarer and do his work for him by giving away the defensive hands, assuming one is not playing with transparent cards.

Finally expert bridge is somewhat like our controversial world of advertizing, whereupon a bridge author can submit a convention which, in fact, has much more disadvantage than gain but with a combination of convincing salesmanship, meeting improper overall analysis by the gullible buyer, will result in buying the bridge (if you will excuse the expression).

Thanks for your always continued thoughtful comments, which provide useful fodder for all of us bridge lovers.

jim2December 4th, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I must confess that I would have played it differently still.

The line I think I’d have taken:

– AS
– AH
– xH towards JH

Bobby WolffDecember 4th, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, and no doubt, the layout would have been:

West East
s. KJ10 s. xxxx
h. 10xx h. Qx
d. xxxxxx d. Q
c. A c. QJ9xxx

or perhaps:

s. J109 s. Kxxx
h. 10xx h. Qx
d. xxxxxx c. Q
c. A c. QJ9xxx

where even though while playing Jack denies you still managed to go set when every suit was lying perfectly (but not on this line of play)

However the opponents (EW), on the second hand given, won the slush award for the best defended hand, overcoming the TOCM TM which both defenders had caught from an affected nameless visitor in honor of their most distinguished annual attendee.

Bobby WolffDecember 4th, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Magically, afterward the next bridge book in Lower Slobbovia was published with a special chapter entitled, Not So Safety Plays Which I Have Encountered.

The condition of result being, by making such an intended play, the declarer lost at least 2+ tricks by so doing.

jim2December 5th, 2014 at 2:13 am

I originally had a longer version of the above line, admitting that the heart holding of xxx – Qx opposite a singleton spade was my likely fate but deemed it redundant. That is, all here would know that would happen. 🙂

Still, I think the line I suggested is superior to those taken at the table, well, if done by someone other than moi.

Bobby WolffDecember 5th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt (and of course by discounting the poison inherent with TOCM TM) your line has much to recommend it and especially your true safety play in hearts (either defender holding Q10xx), but the unseen factor of Jx in spades as the lead instead of only the solitary knave with West being the long heart holder (sometimes starting out only 3-2) is the primary rub.

However, since I have no idea of how to compute the likelihood of the lead being doubleton instead of singleton, I will cheerfully bow to your expert judgment.

However my acquiescence may come with an agenda of wanting an invitation to your favorite slush tournament.