Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 16th, 2015

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.

Logan Pearsall Smith

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


Today's deal exemplifies the idea that reading bridge books will improve your technique so as to benefit your performance at the table. Some elements of technique that are really too hard to work out the first time you meet them. See if you agree!

Defending three no-trump you lead the heart three, to the queen, king and ace. Declarer crosses to dummy with the diamond ace, and finesses a diamond to the jack and your queen. You take the heart jack, which collects the two and nine. Over to you.

Declarer has tried to persuade you that he had only two hearts originally, and that your partner started life with five hearts. However, East’s play of the heart two at his second turn should be giving you standard remaining count, thereby suggesting that at the time he made the play of the two your partner had only three hearts left, and thus that it is declarer who has the heart eight.

It looks necessary to take three tricks quickly to set the hand, and your best bet is to find partner with the spade king. So shift to spades now; but that in itself will not suffice; you must shift to the spade jack to surround dummy’s spade queen. Now, whatever declarer does, he has to go down.

Just to clarify: If your partner had started life with K-8-7-5-2 of hearts left he should play the eight or seven at his second turn, and give you the count.

Dummy rates to be pretty strong, since West doesn't seem to have that many hearts. Since your partner didn't overcall, you could make a good case for underleading the club ace to the first trick. Much depends on your partner's ability to take a joke, though. If he is the sort of person who has never underled an ace and doesn't expect you to do that, maybe lead a low spade or start with the club ace.


♠ J 5 4
 K 8 3
 9 6 5
♣ A 9 6 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 3
Pass 4 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMarch 2nd, 2015 at 9:09 am

If S plays the H10 at trick one, I would think he should cash DAK & when the Q fails to appear, he should try C. This line of play works, but do you think it the best line (assuming you have correctly guessed H)?

Mircea1March 2nd, 2015 at 10:22 am

Hi Bobby,

I’m seriously considering adopting Smith Echo – one of the (very few) conventions highly rated by you here. If playing it, should East drop the smallest diamond at trick 2 showing lack of interest in the suit first led? If yes, than what does he signal on the play of JH, still remaining count or suit preference (for spades)?

Finally, and sorry to be a pest, do you recommend Reverse Smith to Standard?

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2015 at 11:55 am

Hi David,

Your to the point question will only receive a subjective answer, mainly because it requires one.

The chance for the clubs to come in for 5 tricks are no better than 18% (the location of the queen (50%) + the unlikelihood of a 3-3 break (36%). When comparing that to the diamond finesse being on with either a 67% chance of a 3-2 break or a singleton Q or 10 with West we are then only left with deciding whether the defense will know enough to not try and run the hearts, but instead switch to spades and have the layout in that suit to capitalize on taking at least the first three.

The latter conundrum was brought on by a more or less 50-50 unfortunate guess in hearts at trick one.

The only decent advice I can offer is that, since the defense is almost always at a disadvantage, it will be unlikely that, with the diamond finesse working and then diamonds run that they will do much more than likely throw their low spades away, keeping their club holding mysterious and hope to be able to run the hearts, if and when they get in.

Obviously the caliber of the opponents needs to be factored in (the declarer can always rely on the club finesse for the game going ninth trick if decided after the diamonds are cashed).

Such are the usual options when the declaring side has bid to 3NT, holding only 24 HCPs and no special sources of quick tricks.

While your line of play definitely ranks up there at least close with the column line, I think the practicality, including judgment of what the opponents are likely to do, and what they did do in practice tilts the choice to what was done.

Summing up and likely not known, nor thought about, so much about choices in the play have to do with what one’s worthy opponents will first see and then think as the play materializes. With that in mind, the holding of the 10 of spades by the declarer (although the jack would make it much clearer) should help sway the declarer in favor of the column line, but another declarer may think differently and then try and back his judgment.

The combination of the above, probably unknown to 99%+ of the world’s bridge players, should make this game a necessity to first learn, then play and use the knowledge gleaned (what competitors will be thinking and why) to help one through life.

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Hi Mircea,

Oh my! First David and then you with a very provocative question, most worthy but causing the answer, if given conscientiously, to touch on sensitive issues, particularly at a high level.

Yes, no doubt, Smith Echo can be a wonderful bridge convention but first our bridge administrators must consider the following simple, but indeed loaded question:

Can and will it be play as ethically as is necessary? Today’s hand in which you speak will serve the purpose and help answer your direct query. When for example East would only have one or two small hearts left (after covering the queen at trick one) then every bridge player (or maybe) who has been playing any length of time would know to signal negative with his first diamond (and let’s assume instead that declarer has only started to run his long suit). However, in this hand he did have 4 hearts and if signalling negative is in the air, how about his poor spade spots behind his king. In other words, he might have a problem and what do you know, tempo is broken with the indecision and no kidding, partner is then privy to what should be unauthorized information (UI) especially compared with a prompt low diamond when holding nothing of further interest in hearts (of course, including length).

Enough said and now back to the ranch of discussing what to do on this hand. I think it very close (holding 4 hearts) as opposed to yes, holding the king of spades, but no, my other spade spots are lacking making it difficult to strongly suggest a switch.

If pressed for a definitive answer I would probably conclude the king of spades would be enough to discourage hearts (even with four) since I have no worthwhile heart spot.

The above is not for you to actually take too seriously, since Smith Echo is allowed (strict dual messaging odd and even signals are not in the USA which is well and good since that subject represents a stick of dynamite). Yes I recommend it to you with my blessing since what is apparent in your writing, you love the game itself and would always remain actively ethical even if those around you would, take some liberties which so many players from all around the world, certainly including the USA, do and on a regular basis.

Without the required ethics, bridge is not worth playing, simply because some would automatically make every effort to stay pure, while others would always believe that anything done to win is within the rules of the game and thus proceed off the Yellow Brick Road and through the poisoned flowers (while wearing a mask), hoping to reach the Emerald City proclaiming victory.

There, I have gotten through my boring lecture, but like Johnny Appleseed, we need many of us to rise up and be heard about what some of us think is worth mentioning, if only softly.

leonMarch 2nd, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Hi Bobby,

Very interesting hand. You ‘advertise’ count on the second round of hearts. But what if south didn’t throw the heart nine but rather the heart 8 in the second round?
West would then like to know if east holds K9xx or Kxxx of hearts and the spade king…So encouring signal would have been more usefull in 2nd heart trick!
(in this specific hand king of spades would give south 15 HCP, but maybe NS play 16-18 NT)

Two conclusions:
– the two diamonds of east should say something about east spade/heart holding (reverting to the smith echo question).
– south should inform how EW signal and then throw 8 in trick two (if EW signal count in trick 2) and thrown the 9 when EW signal on/off in trick 2.
But can south inform on the EW-method without giving away that he has a choice in hearts on the 2nd round of hearts…..

jim2March 2nd, 2015 at 1:36 pm

I also thought about David Warheit’s line when I saw this in the paper a couple weeks ago.

Your 18% is right on the club suit behaving in isolation, of course, but the diamond suit chances do complicate the math. I think the Qx chances are something like 27% in isolation (40% of the 68% of 3-2). If that’s right, then the combined chances are something like 40%, once the heart 10 fetches the ace on the first trick (or the heart queen wins).

Should neither minor suit behave, then East would win the club queen and presumably clear hearts. This would leave declarer with no additional chances, as the defense has taken one trick and has 5 more ready to cash, forcing declarer to cash out for down one.

OTOH, if declarer simply took the diamond finesse, losing, then declarer would seem to be better placed. The defense is unlikely to be able to cash four spades (since West’s hearts would seem to be longer or stronger than spades). If the defense cashes three spades and clears hearts, declarer has at least the club finesse for the ninth trick.

That is, declarer would cash diamonds and the club ace, for seven tricks, making it a two card ending:




Declarer knows which defender has/had the good spade (one defender was on lead and did not cash it for the setting trick). If the 10H fetched the KH on the opening lead, then West will hold the JH and only one other card at trick #12. Thus, if West had been dealt four clubs, declarer will have either already squeezed West if dealt the QC, or will know the QC is bare in the East hand at Trick #12.

My point is that declarer’s chances are better than a pure club finesse at the end, if the first heart play goes well and declarer starts with diamonds.

Also, the late hand knowledge of which defender holds the master heart is only possible if the 10 fetches the KH, and not if the QH holds (as the location of the JH would be unknown). That might seem to make the 10H a better play at trick one.

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Hi Leon,

Thanks for a very cerebral discussion of high-level bridge in general, featuring specific carding and the dynamics of psychology and its bridge ethics.

I learned bridge from my parents when I was 12 and now 70 years later (please do not do the math) it is time to take stock.

My view of the essence of our beautiful game features numeracy and ethical psychology as its two most important and necessary qualities to always put forward.

Of course numeracy in bridge involves the ease of rapid thought while assessing numbers and always counting when either declaring or defending. In short, if winning at high-levels is the goal, one has to count every hand and be able to basically call off everyone’s exact distribution together with important high cards immediately after the hand ends.

However, if one now becomes discouraged after finding out what the other roosters in the barnyard have been doing, don’t despair since a normal brain and IQ, with training and discipline can do it as easily as one learns to ride a bicycle or drive a car.

And before we leave the subject, ethical psychology which our game requires, simply demands players to not mislead their opponents by any untoward physical nor non disclosed critical information withheld from them. However, the opposite is also true, that all players are never expected to be easy readouts of what their gestures might mean. In other words the porridge must not be too hot nor too cold, but in truth only just right (neutral) and any one player or defender who takes inference does so at his own risk and while playing in a high-level game, I suggest never to buy any bridge (if you will excuse the reference) especially if it is offered for free.

Now back to your questions with some answers:

1. Yes, the deuce of diamonds (playing Smith Echo) should say something about East’s spade/heart holding.

2. Yes, South should throw the most confusing card possible as declarer, once he knows what the defender’s signals mean with the intention of making it as difficult as possible for his worthy opponents to get it right.

3. The description and advice given in #2 is as close to impossible to accomplish as is practical, since our brains although far more powerful than most of us allow, still require much more knowledge than a normal (but not already informed) declarer will know at that point in time, when it becomes critical to play.

4. From an ethical standpoint it would (and IMO should) be deemed unseemly for a declarer to pretend he is vitally interested in the above knowledge if he only held, for example the A2 of hearts instead of a combination which lent itself to legally trying to deceive his opponents (like your example pertaining to this hand).

The above can be argued both ways, but my opinion (and for those entire 70 years earlier mentioned) is that all goal oriented possible excellent players need to view bridge as a game which both requires and demands (by its discipline and penalties) compliance to strict rules of proper behavior.

Thanks for your post. It covers more than meets the eye. Not necessarily educating much in the way of very good bridge, but definitely involved with what should be expected in the way of responsibility to the game itself.

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thank you for playing the role of the happy repair man, making everyone involved better placed for understanding everything which has been discussed.

Seriously you should get a job (in which you might become the best ever) of writing manuals
on not only how to do it, but what to expect and why, what could go wrong and how to fix it, if it does, and whatever else one needs to know about making it work.

And best of all, no TOCM tm to rain on your parade.

leonMarch 2nd, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Thx Bobby,

You don’t only write this column everyday, but you also respond to each commenter in a nice and understandable way.

David WarheitMarch 3rd, 2015 at 6:52 am

OK, I’ve done the math on the 2 lines of play, as best I can anyway. The only holdings that matter are if W holds @xx or Qx or xx of D. If he holds Qx, my line is superior and = about 13%. If he holds Qxx my line is superior about 7%. If he holds xx the other line is superior about 20%. Hmm, looks like a virtual tie. But thanks to your comments and those of several others, I think the other line is better because if the D finesse lost, W might not find the correct S shift or possibly S might not be runnable for the opponents, for example W has SJ & E SAK and, of course, the C finesse would then have to work although W wouldn’t have to have specifically CQxx. I’ve been thinking about this problem all day, and I’m completely pooped.