Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.

David Hume

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


Almost every bridge player has a decent chance to score their aces and kings when they get the chance. But what distinguishes the better bridge player from his counterpart is the ability to score his small cards at the right time.

For example consider today’s deal, where after East-West have competed in spades, South has to make 12 tricks in diamonds. On winning the lead of the spade king with the ace, declarer should eliminate trumps, to make sure the defenders do not score a trump promotion by a ruff or overruff.

So play a middle trump to dummy’s king, followed by the two of trumps to your ace. Next comes ace and another heart to West’s king, marking the suit as no worse than 4-2.

After ruffing the spade continuation with a middle trump, the heart suit needs two entries to establish a long card and another to enjoy the long heart. As you have kept the precious three of trumps in hand, and the four in dummy, you have one entry to the North hand in the trump suit and two in clubs. 12 tricks made!

For the record, if you switch the club king and 10, you can still make six diamonds after the spade lead. But you have to be VERY careful. At trick two you must lead the low heart from hand. Then you can ruff the spade return, unblock the heart ace, draw two rounds of trumps ending in dummy, and go about establishing hearts as before.

Just because you rate to be outgunned doesn't mean you shouldn't overcall. But when your partner doesn't open in third chair, a good case can be made for passing when you really do not want to direct your partner to a heart lead if your RHO finishes up in spades. You are quite likely to be on lead against no-trump, so you don't have to tell yourself what to lead.


♠ 9 4
 J 7 6 3 2
 K 4 2
♣ A K 6
South West North East
Pass 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMarch 17th, 2015 at 10:23 am

I don’t understand W’s bid of 2S. It seems to be too strong to be weak and too weak to be strong. Also, why doesn’t E ever say anything? If he bids 4S over N’s 3H, I think it now becomes very difficult for NS to wind up in 6D, other than somebody, probably S, taking a huge gamble. And then there’s the interesting fact that EW can (will) make 8 tricks in S, for an excellent save. The only caveat is the assessment that S might not be the brightest star in the galaxy, so let him fumble away. Note that even if W only makes 7 tricks in S, 6S is a good save.

Bobby WolffMarch 17th, 2015 at 11:16 am

Hi David,

First and foremost let me compliment you for a combination of an accurate analysis on tricks to be taken, together with valid questions on why a player either did bid or didn’t, assuming, of course that good to very good players are directly involved.

Second, let me attempt to answer, at least what I think are the closest answers to what usually happens at tables which feature the type of players actually involved, a notch or two above average, and also relatively experienced, but still with limitations and a way to go to even begin to think of what is often called world class.

Also please understand that what I consider world class is a significantly higher standard than most would guess.

1. West’s 2 spade bid is, at least to me, what a vulnerable weak type preempt is thought to be by most, a decent suit (KJxxxx would not be even a remote consideration, wherein it would instead be typical for a NV preempt)

2. Where you and I know the value of continuing the preempt holding East’s defensive Yarborough, others, not being as sure as I seem to be of what their partner should have, just, in the interest of safety, and not being well enough schooled in the necessity of creating bidding roadblocks, merely retreat to becoming non factors and thus just pass. Breaking it down further, those players would tend to think that -1100 just cannot be good even if their opponents are cold for a small slam (and sometimes even a grand), showing a serious flaw of lack of imagination (which is, at least IMO, more prevalent than thought).

If one wants even more details I think that erroneous judgment simply comes from lack of the understanding of numeracy and how it constantly applies, and with many varieties, in our so-called expert game.

However, I think the most important fact I can possibly now generate is to directly say, If 4 spades is now bid by East (immediately over North’s 3 hearts), it would be no less than bridge criminal, (at least in my bridge judgment) for South to now not bid 5 diamonds. Sure, he is taking a chance, but like I just described my agreement with your wonder of how can East not bid 4 spades (or possibly even higher), South holding a seven card suit, a more plus then minus outside distribution of a singleton spade Ace and Ace one in partners suit (instead of the opposite in those two key suits) it is just MUCH TOO DANGEROUS not to venture it.

If so, I think North with his AKx in a key side suit (clubs) and the precious King of diamonds with 2 more as a bonus, should certainly raise to 6.

All the above is cut and dried to me. Sure I go set sometimes (possibly often) but all the things going for aggressive bidding are present including sometimes opponents taking phantom saves in their suit as a final step in my partnership’s favor.

3. Sometimes the opponents aggressive save tactics help sink their ship, by suggesting the way the suits are going to be distributed with this being a good case in point.

4. None of the above is to be construed that anything you suggested is incorrect or non-percentage. It is only to discuss the other side of the coin of when IMO bidding is mandatory, but according to some bridge authors is just too daring. Bridge itself is far from being a near perfect science, but instead caters to players who have a natural bent for understanding how a fit in the weak partnership hands, also often is met with the same fit with their opponents (the strong side) hands, allowing the LOTT (law of total tricks) to work its magic with mammoth proportions.

Mircea1March 17th, 2015 at 11:23 am

Hi David,

IMHO West’s hand is better described by a 2S bid. Despite its 12 count, it is in reality of lesser value. It has no aces and only quacks in two suits. Its main feature is the excellent 6-card suit. Kaplan-Rubens online hand evaluator gives it only 11.65 hcp. Further, I think that the only time East can enter the battle is after North’s 4D, but a sacrifice of 6S is far from obvious by either defenders. Of course, I could be wrong, but I am almost obsessed by doing proper hand evaluation. As always, I’m currios about Bobby’s opinion.

Bobby WolffMarch 17th, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Hi Mircea1,

The subject of hand evaluation is a difficult and sometimes treacherous undertaking.

While I respect good players attempted method of rating hands, I think the process, at best, is materially flawed. The initial evaluation, particularly as to distributional points, is just a random guess, which tends to change with almost every bid, and often even with random passes.

By the 2nd, third or further rounds of bidding, evaluation then takes on a much firmer meaning, but sometimes by then it is too late, but even when it isn’t, the 26 card mesh of the hand in control (sometimes no partnership is really in charge, but usually then the poker element in bidding, bluff and counter, usually determines the good or bad result) becomes much more accurate, especially when an opponent has entered the bidding, almost always helping their opponent(s) to better judge what to do.

Nothing above should discourage major changes, since during the early rounds of bidding, it becomes commonplace to fiercely try and either buy the contract or at least push the opponents higher than they want to go.

All of the above is the heart and soul of our game, with the technical part of expert declarer’s play and defense, the sometimes random opening lead, and the detective work of piecing together where the cards are located and the specific distribution of the opponents assets, the key factor in a well played, defended and bid hand.

At least to me, the initial valuation of what to do early is to say it gently, relatively unimportant and usually easily righted.

However any aspiring partnership MUST develop the bidding discipline to not get in each others way when captaincy has made one partner or the other the supreme commander for that hand (often defined as the partner of a limit bidder whether or not that limit bid has been a preempt or not).

I hope the above does not appear too confusing to apply, since in effect and IMO it is the key to the bidding universe for success.

angelo romanoMarch 17th, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Hi Bobby,
you say “if you switch the club king and 10 … you have to be VERY careful. At trick two you must lead the low heart from hand”.
So if you play the A first, on the given hand W has to drop the Heart K over the Ace to let E in on the next heart, so promoting the D Q, isn’t it ? Can it be done at the table?

Bobby WolffMarch 17th, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Hi Angelo,

Yes, definitely it could and should be done, but what if the hearts were located so that the magnificent jettison did not even have to be done, but it was dealt that way instead?

It should be up to declarer to protect himself, rather than leave it up to that fickle lady luck.

slarMarch 17th, 2015 at 5:55 pm

I was thinking the same thing. I think I would have struggled with this at the table. With East failing to muster a single bid with four pieces (no matter how weak), I would have a hard time believing that he had that many. I would be more inclined to believe that the opponents fell in love with their hands and miscalculated. I would have grabbed the HK and attempted to cash another spade which would have given away the contract. Even if I identified the possibility for a promotion, I would not have believed I could give my partner the lead.

I decided to come up with a scenario where jettisoning the HK would be wrong. Once scenario (maintaining the same distribution) is giving S the HAQ but that only gives up an overtrick. What if South had xx/AQ/AJTxxx/AKx? In that case you’d like to think that East’s signal on the first trick would reveal the situation but even there I would expect partner’s even count signal to show 2 not 4. Good partnership bidding is the first line of defense.

Bill CubleyMarch 17th, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Bobby and Judy,

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Guess I will wait 2 weeks to see an Irish declarer or hand from an Irish Tournament.

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2015 at 12:42 am

Hi Slar & Angelo too,

As intelligent people who take up bridge, but instead of having to go through early routines, are thrown in with so-called high level players who have been there, done that you need to live in this moment afforded you.

As no doubt Sherlock Holmes would have originally explained to Watson and then through his author, Arthur Conan Doyle, to everyone within earshot, the dog who does not bark is just as loud as the one who does.

For example when declarer has the AQ of a suit and a sure loser besides (imagine a 2nd spade after the king of spades knocks out his ace) why in the world would declarer lead the ace queen of spades or with three originally attempt to set up a suit which in almost all cases spell finis to him from the start?

The answer is that he would not! Hence from West’s position he will then be sure that East, not South has the heart lady. Also declarer will not have the AQx in hearts otherwise he probably would not give up on some very favorable heart combination allowing him to have no losers in that suit.

Such is automatic high level reasoning which will continue to serve you during your whole bridge careers. From that type of starting point you will feel the glory which is this game you are going to grow to love, even if you do not already.

Enough said for now, but I encourage both of you to keep your eyes and ears open and soon you will be on the other side of these bridge promotions with everything to say positive about what we all love to do.

Good luck for now. You are both going to really enjoy your ride to as close to the top as your stamina, intense interest, curiosity and work ethic can take you.

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2015 at 12:45 am

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the holiday greetings and happy trails to you for your Irish vacation. Take a couple of unnecessary finesses for me, but if you do, I will try to arrange for both of them to work.

Best from both Judy and me!!

slarMarch 18th, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Yep, got it. If South has AQ and another loser, surely he would try to strip the other suits and try for an endplay or squeeze. Now to see if I can find that play at the table.

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Hi Slar,

The discard of the king of hearts and other inferential plays will come in time, after a firm foundation of what the game requires is thoroughly understood.

No doubt bridge itself is a difficult game to ever play well and no one, to my knowledge, ever even begins to expect to play it without error, even only a single session (26 hands). Victory often seeks out the pair or team who makes the fewest errors and boasts the most consistent play. To think of perfection is only dreaming of the highest order.

AlexeyMarch 18th, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Hi all!
In this deal S may play HA(HK) and H8(to E): H9 from E declarer ruff DA(!) and finesse DJ (DQ – DK). Now H7 to D9(!) and D8.