Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, February 20th, 2015

Nothing encourages creativity like the chance to fall flat on one's face.

James D. Finley

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

*Second negative


Put yourself in East's shoes here, and cover up the South and West cards to make the problem a fair one. South shows his clubs, then rebids three no-trump when his partner indicates that he has fewer than five HCP. Against this game West leads the heart 10 and declarer takes the trick with the king. Next he plays the ace, king and another club. East takes his club jack while his partner discards two hearts, up the line. How should the defense go from here?

West’s original lead of the heart 10 was ambiguous, but his decision to discard two cards from the suit suggests, perhaps, that he has led from a four-card suit. With five hearts he would surely have pitched a discouraging card from one of the other two suits – and that in turn might indicate he has minor honors in both the other suits. And what of West’s original pattern?

As it is a safe assumption that West would probably have led from a five-card suit on a blind auction of this sort, his discards perhaps suggest that he began with three four-card suits. On this logic, cashing the spade ace is the indicated play, giving the defenders four tricks in the suit and five winners, before declarer can take his nine tricks.

One other possibility for the defense is that East might learn more by ducking the club 10. Now declarer has to come back to hand and reveal more about his hand.

The value call here is to bid three spades, showing a preemptive not a limit raise. If the vulnerability discourages you from that action then you might bid just two spades. Incidentally, with limit raise values you should either double one no-trump or bid two no-trumps, which is an artificial call, guaranteeing support. You cannot want to invite in no-trump – you would surely double them instead.


♠ J 8 3 2
 9 8 6 2
 Q 10 5 2
♣ Q
South West North East
Pass 1♠ 1 NT

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


leonMarch 6th, 2015 at 10:53 am

Hi Bobby,

Nice discards from west. East should be able to work it out.

One point of attention:
“One other possibility for the defense is that East might learn more by ducking the club 10. Now declarer has to come back to hand and reveal more about his hand.”

This works less well when south (in addition to his high cards on the actual hand) also has the diamond queen…


Bobby WolffMarch 6th, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Hi Leon,

“Nice discards from west. East should be able to work it out”.

Well said, although is there a possibility that East had only Jx in hearts, where even only one heart discard by West might be disastrous? However, possibly with Jx (and no mention is made of whether East contributed the four or the seven to trick one) East may have considered dropping the jack at trick one, since partner was no doubt, showing at least the nine.

Also, might the defense, particularly East reason that spades would be the last suit to lead, if for no other reason than trying to prevent South’s presumed guarded king to score up perhaps the game going trick.

However, as is commonplace in high-level defense in bridge, as the play materializes what declarer does or does not do (along with partner’s restricted help and, of course, the just completed bidding) is, and should be, the primary evidence used in formulating the defensive plan.

The above, together with your sly (or not so) reference to the possession of the diamond queen only adds to East’s knowledge, before the crucial defensive decision needs to be made. Yes, usually it may wait a trick or two, but, while at the bridge table, does a telltale duck appear from above informing you, the on the spot defender, that now is the moment?

Probably not unless a time machine has taken you back many years to be a contestant on Groucho Marx’s famous TV quiz show, “You Bet Your Life”.

Yes, when a great bridge hand (with choices in the bidding for NS and the defense for EW) challenge, bridge intelligence will often emerge usually involving detective work and of course, numeracy to either be solved or sadly to just be a fleck in the history of just another critical mistake in judgment made.

If bridge is to be taught to very bright beginning students, this hand would be a good one to ask a 3rd seat defender what his thoughts should be and when. The answer would certainly include at trick three when West shows out of clubs then emphasizing West’s choice of opening lead and then his specific discard of the deuce of hearts at trick three. Also, what if West had chosen the deuce of diamonds as his original lead (a choice which would be made by some). In most cases that lead, while not basically changing the defensive struggle, might result in even more telltale information later to be given and analyzed intelligently by East (only four diamonds held by West and now a singleton club).

In the discussion of this hand the very bright (and numerate) beginner should light up with the concrete knowledge available through only sheer bridge logic, which could result in a student who, while learning bridge, would also be telling the world, along with himself, just how capable he would be in many lines of work which require this special type of reasoning and therefore deduction.

But instead, Horn Lake in Mississippi together with the ACBL BOD, concentrates on giving more master points to below 40% games in order to keep everyone they can, tied to a game that early results tend to suggest that they might not belong in the first place.

Go FISH! Instead, while going about keeping lesser talented players different ways, they should be guaranteeing that bridge will be taught where many youngsters will not only survive, but rather learn to develop their young minds quickly, painlessly and, above all, passionately to much higher plateaus.

Thank you Leon for opening the door so, at the very least, these discussions at least reach the table.