Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 8th, 2014

It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where,
Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither or why.

John Masefield

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

*Transfer to hearts


The time to pause and plan the play of the hand is when the opening lead is made. This was something South omitted to do, on this hand from a club match-pointed pairs duplicate, and he paid the penalty.

After North had transferred to hearts and offered the choice of games, there was a case for South to convert to four hearts, because of the blockage in hearts, but the decision to pass was not unreasonable.

West led the spade 10 and South, hardly pausing to take stock of dummy’s assets, made the knee-jerk reaction of rising with dummy’s queen. On this trick East intelligently played low. He saw that even if West had led away from the ace, North was always likely to come to a spade trick. However, if South had the ace, by withholding the king, East could deny declarer a later entry to dummy.

Declarer continued by cashing his heart ace and king, and when the queen failed to drop, played a diamond to dummy’s king to lead the heart jack. After East had taken the queen, dummy held two winning hearts, but lacked an entry to access them.

See the difference if South plays low from dummy on the initial spade lead. He wins with the ace in hand, cashes his two top hearts then, as before, enters dummy in diamonds to knock out the heart queen. But now declarer can force an entry to dummy in spades to cash the established hearts.

One normally tries to lead trumps against an auction of this sort. But here your partner rates to be overruffing dummy, and leading hearts might restrict his opportunity to do that. It feels right to lead clubs rather than diamonds, though it wouldn't surprise me if a diamond worked better.


♠ A J 5 3
 10 8 7
 J 2
♣ 10 8 6 5
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1♠
Pass 1 NT Pass 2
All 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 ClimieDecember 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hi Bobby,

I recall a very similar hand where the bidding started 1C – 1H – 2N (17-18), a spade was led with a similar layout, and declarer went up with the SQ at trick 1. He returned to hand with a diamond and played a herat from xx to dummy’s AQJ10x, so I ducked witgh Kxxx, he returned to hand, repeated the finesse so I was able to kill dummy stone dead. Even at pairs, such plays are misguided.

On the column hand, the play will only work if the HQ is dropping or if East carelessly goes in with the KIng. Even an attempt to escape by dumping the SA on dummy’s heart Jack won’t work if the defence are awake. South has 10 easy tricks by taking the SA, 11 if the HQ drops, but where would the 12th come from? Perhaps an unlikely squeeze if the same hand held CKQJ and 4 diamonds, but he’s still got to duck a trick somewhere and this might allow the defence to attack a relevant entry.

This strikes me as a hand where pairs scoring causes players to lose their way. Normal safety plays may be precluded but running the spade round to the Ace is more of an extra chamce. In similar vein, suppose (after 2N – 3N) declarer had Qxx opposite dummy’s AKxxx in clubs, with no outside entry. Ducking a club might be sensible at teams, if only 4 tricks were needed, but there is an extra 14% chance here – Play the CQ first then small towards the AK, ducking if LHO shows out. The seemingly obvious line of C to A, C back to Queen will work or fail most of the time, but misses a legitimate extra chance when the suit is 1-4.



Iain ClimieDecember 22nd, 2014 at 11:02 am

Hi again,

Also, can I ask for some advice from a recent teams game. Pard opens 1C at adverse and RHO jumps in with 3H (nuisance). You hold SJxx HAx DKJ9xxxx C10. To bid (or double), or not to bid, that is the question, and clearly this could get very expensive either way if you sell out or put your side’s necks on the block at the wrong time. I’d be very interested in hearing your (almost certainly) much better judgement than mine.


bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 11:27 am

Hi Iain,

By going out on the road and know not where, nor whether or why, your post is right on point of what makes all forms of bridge, such a great game.

Here, even at matchpoint duplicate, it becomes necessary to not rise with a spade honor in dummy if one wants to preserve the crucial entry to dummy to land his NT game.

And how about the necessity for East to not cover a spade honor at trick one, if, in fact, declarer mistakenly plays one?

What about learning about third hand high instead of the better understanding of what this hand is all about and how to foil declarer’s plan? Sure, some critical bridge logic applies, without which we will fail as defenders, but the challenge involved is certainly worth the effort.

A bridge mind is a terrible thing to waste, since the numerate logic required, trumps all the short cut explanations, which vary between right and wrong and focuses on the special language of cards which can be acquired, even when one starts at ground zero.

More difficult? sure, but impossible?, not at all and always very satisfying to succeed.

Thanks, Iain, for breaking it down and for discussing similar card combinations where the same thought process applies.

bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Hi Iain,

As often happens, our comments crossed in cyberspace but certainly, no harm, no foul.

While I will not get a lot of company with my choice, I think it too dangerous to not bid 3NT.

After all, bridge being a numerate percentage game, isn’t it more likely of the three others at the table, that the opening bidder is more likely to have the ace of diamonds than either of the other two. Oh yes, true that diamonds need to then also come in for hopefully seven tricks, but how could we possibly arrive at 3NT unless someone wearing our colors, bids it?

Danger is a two way street meaning missing the only game contract (as it well might be here) is just as important a loss as going down with a thud might also be, when things turn sour.

Also keep in mind that the bidding (after our 3NT gamble) is not over yet and sometimes either the opponents help us out or partner magically will turn up with a 2nd heart stop or surprise us with a solid club suit.

Never forget that our beautiful and mostly fulfilling game is not close to a perfect science and sometimes chances need to be taken, otherwise be prepared to be left with only, what might have been.

BTW, good luck. It is easy for me to be bold, when nothing terrible will happen, at least on paper, but you bring up a subject which will always be present in every form of competitive bridge (from novice to best) and needs to be thoroughly discussed.

Bridge is often a wonderful bond between partners, especially at a very high-level of play where good judgment and a stiff dose of compassion (when fortune turns wrong) go hand in hand.

Iain ClimieDecember 22nd, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the advice, although I’m not sure what happens next – LHO has a hand with SQ10xxx HKQxx DA CKJx (his partner had very little to the point of H J10 to 7 and zilch – even little old ladies bid like manicacs now) whereas mine had AKxx None 10x AQ9xxxxx. I don’t know if LHO would pass (and take the plaus score), bid 4H or even double but 5D has some play (they can punch dummy) while I tried double of 3H at the table, despite being short of a spade – predictably this went wrong, then right, then horrendously wrong again!

LHO bid 4H, pard bid 4S, RHO and I passed and LHO unbelievably bid 5H with his trump stack – just wait for me to hit it. Pard had a total brainstorm (his admission) and bid 6C in front of me (5S I could have understood).

Obviously I should have had 4S for the double, and I toyed with 3N but talked myself out of it. LHO’s best shot is clearly pass, when we probably go for a small fortune in 3N but undoubled.

Funnily enough, you bid 3N on both awkward hands I mentioned this week where I chose double (and regretted it) – I suspect that the auction would have gone X by LHO, 4C from partner and it would be difficult to bid 4D now. The bloodshed in 6C X was horrific (unsuitable for readers of a nervous disposition) while 5D is a possible make, but very tricky.

A nice safe 300 was probably available off 5H X but there you go. It was a fairly informal teams event and the two of us were playing Santa early!

Thanks for the advice,


jim2December 22nd, 2014 at 2:10 pm

On Iain’s hand, I do not think I could bring myself either to double 3H or bid 3N.

On the column hand, I confess that I would have bid 4H — fearing six small in dummy — and made at least 10 tricks w/o much sweat on this deal.

bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Hi Iain,

You have a delightful habit, similar to Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” of singing praise for others, mostly Yul Brenner, the King of Siam, with “Getting to Know You”.

You site obvious factual hands, never self-aggrandizing, which instead are exciting, human interest bridge adventures combining many features of our beloved game which contributes to what seems to be always best and brightest.

The possible over used phrase of “the more things change, the more things stay the same” is particularly applicable in your descriptions.

The only thing of likely little value I could contribute is, my experience seems to indicate, and I could be entirely wrong, that sometimes entering early (with an overbid) rather than marking time with a pass, often begets all four players into attempted positive action, resulting in who knows what, thereby on the next round of bidding allowing judgment as to what to do next, go to the better and more talented partnership and, whatever is reality, not fiction, just thinking positive, is a very necessary ingredient for success.

“Starting to feel free and easy, getting to like you and hoping you to like me”. “Isn’t it funny, suddenly I’m bright and breezy”

Whatever, if West does not bid 4 hearts, North with his 4-0-2-7 good hand (but great potential for clubs) might just jump to 5 clubs (or even 6) proving on this hand I should have just passed or if not, been civilized, with only a 4 diamond effort which might get our worthy opponents to save even in 6 hearts (over 6 diamonds) being not vulnerable and West both liking his offensive potential, but not so his defense (transfer East’s queen of diamonds to North for his ten).

And with your reference to Santa, very happy holidays, and from Judy, to you and your family together with peace, health and happiness.

“and for the strange and wonderful and new, things I’m learning about you, day by day”.

bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, with holding the bare AK of hearts it is somewhat tempting to choose hearts, but still shouldn’t partner, with 6 small, insist on hearts, passing 3 hearts with little outside but with some varied values return to 4 hearts, or better yet just transfer immediately to 4 hearts?

And in regard to Iain’s hand, I will confess to thinking about you when I suggested an exchange of the 10 and queen of diamonds, making 6 diamonds an excellent contract, but knowing that the opening leader would have led a spade against you (probably the queen), not the king of hearts.

Perhaps for Xmas, Santa will find you a miracle cure, but if not, you will have earned a distinctive spot in bridge lore, never to be challenged. Merry, merry!

Bill CubleyDecember 22nd, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Thank you a hand I would have made. 😉

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and to Judy.

Iain ClimieDecember 22nd, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for your kind comments and all the best for the festive season to Judy and yourself, as well as to jim2, Bill, David, Shantanu, Jane and all the other contributors. I have to admit, that last weekend was one of those sessions where I felt like I was in the middle of a bridge minefield, needed to escape but my only assistance was a long handled hammer. Swing hopefully and wait for the loud bang.

Such metaphors are totally tongue-in-cheek, of course, and not to be taken seriously. In more sober vein, I’ve worked with veterans of Iraq and the Afghan conflicts. They help keep matters at the bridge table in very strict perspectve. The Chess organisation FIDE’s motto is “Gens Una Summus” – we are one race or people; I know you feel the same way about the ability of bridge to allow civilised competition between individuals whose governments or leaders are at each other’s throats.

All the very best,


bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Hi Bill,

Right back at you for the joys of the season and from both Judy and me.


Your gift (bonus) for making the right play in today’s hand will be a singleton king of spades with East allowing you to make 11 tricks for what figures to be, a tie for top.

bobby wolffDecember 22nd, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Hi Iain,


Furthermore, if world politics was not so deadly, it could be thought about as almost being amusing.

Just plain respect is the key word, and with it comes a commonality in world bridge where all people, nationalities, religions, color and heritage take back seats to bridge ability.

The result then emphasizes the right thing in determining winners and losers, by both the final result and the proper table ethics in achieving it.

Anything less important, which includes locations, political beliefs, past differences or future conflicts doesn’t even enter the thoughts or actions of any of the other fierce competitors.

We are all just members of the world, yes, representing our individual countries, but competing against each other in order to fairly win the right, at least at that time, to be ranked in order of finish, nothing more, nothing less.

The game is the thing, not some government’s desire to reign supreme.

ClarksburgDecember 22nd, 2014 at 10:06 pm

A philosophical note from one enthusiastic intermediate Club Player:
Every Bridge hand is actually a gift to you and your Partner.
This gift is an opportunity to communicate, co-operate, focus, and do your very best.
If it works out that’s a plus; if it doesn’t, you learn something.
There’s no downside. It’s all as good as it gets!

Iain ClimieDecember 22nd, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Sorry Clarksburg, missed you off the Christmas list! I take it you are definitely a “glass half full” person.


bobby wolffDecember 23rd, 2014 at 12:20 am

Hi C&I,

With the kinds of attitudes both of you have, and add to it the enthusiastic club player friend’s positivity plus many more from our relatively small group and our game will remain in good hands.

I feel true compassion for those who have never experienced the undeniable ups which go with.

I’ll drink a New Year’s toast to all who have.

Jane ADecember 23rd, 2014 at 1:36 am

Thanks Lain. Bridge is such a great way to exercise our brain and have fun at the same time. I think I will drink more than one toast however. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow ?????? And of course, many thanks to Bobby for providing such interesting hands to review and study, and then allowing us to ask him any question we have, no matter how silly. How lucky we are to have him.

My son in law retired from the Air Force this summer after spending 22 years as a pilot. I am grateful to him, and all our military personnel who work so hard to keep us all safe. He spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are so grateful he returned unharmed.

Happy holidays to all.

bobby wolffDecember 23rd, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Hi Jane A,

Much holiday thanks to you for all the love you give to so many.

Your advice about today and tomorrow rings so true and only continues to rise in magnitude with every passing year.

All freedom loving people should salute your son in law and all others who are dedicated to world peace, in whatever way they think appropriate, because without them, this world would have long since, ceased to exist.

Healthy lives, helping others, giving love and just playing bridge, are all good reasons to celebrate. Happy everything to all!