Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Education is…hanging around until you've caught on.

Robert Frost

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


In today's auction you are defending against an expert, and aggressive, declarer. Dummy comes down with a satisfyingly weak hand, although the presence of two aces as its assets argues strongly that declarer must have a very powerful black two-suiter. You lead the heart king: this goes to the ace, eight, and five. Declarer now plays a spade to his jack. Plan the defense.

It looks normal to win the spade, and try to cash a heart, reasoning that no harm can come if declarer ruffs the trick. True enough, but from your partner’s signal to the first trick (yes the eight ‘looks’ big but it must be his smallest from three) declarer surely has a singleton heart, so his exuberant bidding is probably based on a two-suiter with 11-cards in the black-suits. If you win the spade king he will probably go back to dummy later with the diamond ace and finesse in clubs. If you duck the spade (smoothly, of course), he will surely use up his entry to retake the finesse he ‘knows’ is working!

If declarer’s clubs are solid there is nothing you can do, and there is surely no way declarer’s spades can be so weak that he has two losers if you take his jack with your king. Your partner rates to have one of the spade nine or 10, or possibly both. But he can hardly have better trumps, or declarer would have tackled the spades differently.

It is rare that I feel very strongly about taking a different action when vulnerable to when non-vulnerable. This hand is one such example, though; when non-vulnerable, I would open one heart despite the low controls, but if vulnerable in second seat this looks like a maximum weak-two bid to me. In any other seat I might open one heart.


♠ K 7
 K Q J 7 6 3
 Q 9 5
♣ 7 2
South West North East
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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2February 6th, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I confess that dummy’s club spots might have convinced me to play that suit first.

ClarksburgFebruary 6th, 2015 at 1:06 pm

In the BWTA item, is opening it a weak two, VUL, specifically in second seat only, because Partner will then know it is a max. i.e. a one-shot best description of the hand ?

bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Hi Jim2,

You suggest a challenging subject, which black suit to lead first.

Obviously, the nine of spades in dummy would relegate this hand to not being worth discussing, but since that “key” card is not available and if it is the king of spades (third) onside but the club queen not, then the spade suit needs to be started first.

However, on the way to the forum, it was time for a great defensive play, (not an extremely difficult play to make), but demanding courage in case of some overlook.

The problem on defense is that these hands are controlled tempo wise by the declarer, often preventing the defense from settling in and becoming dynamic.

This is the perfect illustrative situation, where if West after leading, totally becomes enmeshed in the defense and completely concentrates on the task at hand. If so, and in order to defeat the hand (allowing the specific bidding to recreate declarers likely holding) or almost, then thinks fast enough, the duck of the spade king becomes automatic (even with only a doubleton) since it is dollars to doughnuts that the declarer will then attempt to use the other obvious entry to dummy (an ace) to repeat that finesse.

Declarer could play as slow as he needs to, but not so the defense, requiring West to become very quick-witted.

Two important bridge related talents are required: 1. Rapid analysis of declarer’s likely (hoped-for) hand and 2. Proper execution of a fast spade duck.

IMO, some number of very talented top players or, in other words, very experienced players can and would make that play, but the key word is confidence in backing one’s judgment at the risk of possibly doing something awful, a factor which would eliminate most of who I think are capable, but not able emotionally to carry through with what he or she suspects, but dares not attempt for fear of being a goat.

If I am right, then it is sad, and this hand would be one I would use in a very advanced bridge class to determine the good from the very good. However, all the testing in the world will not emulate the ducking of the spade queen in a World Championship venue with all that pressure present.

The two keys again: Concentration and then execution.

I am aware of your statement regarding the club spots (in other words the leading to the ten of clubs and then upon failing having both the club nine and the red ace to still allow 2 spade finesses). It might be worth having a computer simulation, but then figuring in a possible devastating duck of the spade king (especially only a Kx) makes those percentages very difficult to obtain. Remember then it would be necessary for West to know enough (mostly by the specific bidding sequence) to visualize declarer’s possible entire hand and if so, how does a mathematician go about doing that except by estimating probabilities.

bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

This question, while as natural to you as the sun coming up in the East, is not nearly as important to me since I do not think in terms of the advantages of opening or not opening 1 heart or instead 2 hearts in 2nd seat and adding in the vulnerability to my decision.

My reason is simply that it is so close (I actually prefer 1 heart in either 1st or 2d seat, but a WTB in 3rd or 4th all for just normal reasons of not a likely game opposite a passed partner). Another way of explaining my reasoning is to suggest not to sweat the small stuff and save one’s concentration for what is likely to make a difference.

In no way am I downplaying your exactness. I’ve played with a number of world class players who are as exacting as you are trying to be, it is just that I am not one of them.

Both the BWTA discussion and your to the point comment are respected by me, but I would be somewhat hypocritical if I answered with a stronger opinion or to a greater degree, since I do not feel one.

Iain ClimieFebruary 6th, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Hi Jim2, Bobby,

It is a fair idea, unless TOCM gave West CQxxx and east SKxx if you played the Clubs first. In less silly mode, perhaps West (who expects the SA to be on his right from the bidding) needs to think during the auction about circumstances where ducking the spade lead might be right – South, as our host said, has a massive black 2 suiter and dummy shows that there needs to be a hole in clubs to have a chance. Unfortunately, declarer will just call for the HA and play a spade to the Q (or J, the Q may be better) at high speed when a pause or twitch could be disastrous.

So, is the right time to think about the defence earlier in the bidding? Yes, with hindsight but can I ask Bobby how often he’s found such cases occur? Perhaps a player with J9xx in trumps with the opponents in 6 (but probably a 4-4 fit) should be preparing to play the 9 if he sees K10xx sitting over him, but to have thought it might be necessary earlier.



jim2February 7th, 2015 at 12:48 am

I presumed that West’s overcall (more likely six since missing ace) reduced the Qxxx clubs chances.

On the club play specifics, I would lead the 9C and — once East played — only then decide if playing the J/10 was better than letting it ride.

bobby wolffFebruary 7th, 2015 at 5:53 am

Hi Iain & Jim2,

On this site, when one sometimes hijacks, as I, probably too often seem to, both the substance and the melody of the problem of the day he (or she) better produce something of value or else save it for some other time like never.

Yes, no doubt, the beginning of any one hand in an important tournament (TBD by the player himself) comes alive when the hand is first peeked. Similar to thousands of years ago when the hunter, usually the male, went searching for food, he needed to concentrate on that dangerous task from the get-go or else run a greater risk of not returning intact.

So it is in high-level bridge when, at least for those glorious moments in time, intense concentration (including all legal options of gleaning it) is the order of the day and all time lags, quick movements, facial contortions of those worthy opponents are recorded indelibly by the functional brain which in real life has a much greater utility than first thought by many of us.

In other words, roll up one’s sleeves and arrive in the trenches. By so doing, a player begins to maximize his performance to only making an average of perhaps 15 errors a session instead of the normal 80+ or infinity- made while playing informally.

When the music starts, (bidding) all four players are transported to probably something akin to space travel, weightlessness or so it might seem. Never relax for even a moment, which may seem like an impossible and uncomfortable task (maybe who needs it), but without it, and being a hunter instead, one might as well call in funeral arrangements.

Not much more needs to be said, meaning I hope the portrait has been painted for what should be the rules of combat.

It is much easier for a very experienced player to choose the best bid available than it is to listen carefully to the tune of the opponents. For the numerate players, a necessity at this level, one’s own partnership bidding is really not very difficult (been there, done that), but floating with the opponents as they struggle to get to the right contract is much more revealing than any inexperienced player could begin to imagine.

If I have now sold you the bridge (please excuse) you may begin to “feel” why it can be a relatively easy play to duck with the Kx of spades in today’s hand when and if declarer opts for that line. Without the foreplay (again please excuse) it becomes almost impossible without the herky-jerky tempo, letting the cat out of the bag.

Hopefully, although I am keeping my distance from the topic of which is the better declarer play, I’ll let you & Jim2 wrestle with that. That type of problem can be discussed and some resolution decided. However this other “stuff”, at least I think, may create the necessary habits for all of us to put our cards on the table and begin to understand the incredible beauty of the game we play.

As SJ Simon’s Futile Willy may have said, “Table Up”.