Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Be calm in arguing; for fierceness makes Error a fault and truth a discourtesy.

George Herbert

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


In today’s deal from a team game you arrive in three notrump, against which West leads the spade seven, East playing the jack. How should you play the contract?

Unless the club ace is doubleton (or singleton), you will score only two club tricks. The defenders will hold up the club ace until the third round, to cut you off from the dummy. You should begin by playing the club queen, overtaking with dummy’s king when West plays the five. As you expected, the defenders will hold up their club ace. What next?

If the club ace is now bare, you can succeed simply by playing another round of clubs. This is somewhat against the odds, (because the four and five have appeared on the first round of the suit – which indicates someone has played a singleton and someone has three clubs) but you do have a better play available.

That chance is to take the heart finesse, which is around a 50-50 shot. At trick three you play a heart to the queen and the finesse wins. You can then continue with a second club to dummy’s eight, ducked again by East to kill that suit. However, since you are in dummy again, you can repeat the heart finesse. Hearts do not break 3-3 but you have nine tricks anyway — two spades, three hearts and two tricks in each of the minor suits.

Nicely done – but let’s hope that the North-South pair of the other team didn’t bid six clubs!

With such a choice of four-card suits to bid, is there a right answer? (Anyone who bid one no-trump will be sent to bed without supper.) Yes, respond one heart here, hoping to find a major-suit fit if there is one. If you bid one diamond, your partner may bypass his own four-card major, expecting you to have bid a major with a hand of less than invitational values.


♠ Q 9 6 2
 K 10 6 2
 J 8 6 2
♣ 4
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♣ 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 WarheitMay 7th, 2015 at 9:40 am

I’m afraid that you have misanalysed this hand. Of course, your line and mine both succeed if someone has the singleton club ace. If not, then the suggested line of play (lead a club to dummy and take the heart finesse) only succeeds if the H finesse is on, which, of course, is 50-50, as you have stated. My alternate line of play is to lead clubs twice ending in dummy, and then, if clubs aren’t 2-2, take the heart finesse. This line works if clubs are 2-2 or if hearts are 3-3 (no matter who has the king) or if E has Kx or singleton K of hearts. This line of play works about 2/3 of the time, vastly superior to the suggested line. On the given lie of the cards, your line of play works and mine doesn’t, but that’s not what we are about.

David WarheitMay 7th, 2015 at 9:58 am

Just redid the math. Since we know that no one holds the singleton A of clubs, the chances remaining as to whether clubs are 3-1 or 2-2 is virtually the same, thus making my line work a bit over 70% of the time.

jim2May 7th, 2015 at 12:53 pm

David Warheit —

Our Host based the column line on having opponents good enough to give count (so that the ace holder would know to hold up):

” … the four and five have appeared on the first round of the suit – which indicates someone has played a singleton and someone has three clubs”

In a relaxed party bridge setting, or among others not likely to give count, you may be right.

Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Hi David,

While I admit to overlooking your very imaginative and impressive 3-3 heart break as a crucial and significant extra advantage with your line of play, what about, as pointed out in the text, when both opponents play their lowest club (true in this case) it looks like (assuming the wily opponents use standard signals, high low to show an even number) the declarer might silently say thank you for that information and switch playing rounded suits at trick three instead of trick four.

Not to say that you are wrong, simply because you are not since West should have played his six (not his five) at trick two (or if East had A64 originally falsecarded his six instead of his four), but sometimes in the heat of battle, even excellent players sometimes carelessly inform the declarer (since he would be in control and could afford that lie) and sadly cause “loose lips to sink ships”.

What’s a fella to do? Believe his opponents or seek the winning line by not trusting the superficial evidence? Both a test of a great bridge detective, neither of which counterbalances your right-on analysis.

Is bridge (especially high-level) a great game or what?

Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

Another crossed in the vast internet event.

Thanks for your support and, in truth reminding me of the very old movie title, “The Three Faces of Eve” starring Joan Woodward (with, I think, an Academy Award winning performance).

Only in bridge, if in relatively loose bridge games where count is rarely given, but the defense then guesses incorrectly and ducks the second club (while holding the ace) when it is possible by doing so to allow a contract to be made which otherwise had no chance but instead makes a Rueful Rabbit, (Victor Mollo) type play which fortunately allows a very good declarer to go wrong, is all part of the scene when happy-go-lucky players (instead of very serious nerds) get together for what they hope is merely a fun social evening.

That of course is the third face of the game to go with both strong and weak, but has little bridge educational rationale except for the varied and superior use of entertainment by Mollo.

JeffMay 7th, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Interesting discussion. If the six and four of clubs were switched so that now South sees the four and six appear on the first club, would you switch up and try David’s line?

Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Hi Bridge World,

And now attempting to get an important message to as many in the bridge arena who will read it:

Horn Lake, MS MUST do everything in its power to get bridge into our schools (any and everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, but especially in the USA) instead of just catering to the Senior crowd who play bridge, but sadly too often only a game masquerading under a contest probably more aptly called “High Card Wins”.

In golf, tennis, and all the other five major world sports, soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey all eyes focus on the very best players and we all gaze in wonderment at both the amazing athletic talent shown plus the underrated mind awareness in each of the great competitions named above.

We all (or at least most of the people who do not prefer war, but rather honest competition between nations represented by the wonderful people living there) are enthralled by following those who perform so well — playing the incredibly thought out sports involved in the competition.

Bridge and Chess lead the way in the predominantly ‘mind sports’ which, when analyzed, bring out the best anyone can offer with the talent necessary to excel in any one of those difficult endeavors. Why then settle for only a pastime, but rather concentrate on perpetuating something of immense value.

The terrific publicity citing that bridge has made it into the organized school educational system is nothing short of sensational — as opposed to inwardly thinking of only keeping a dying exercise alive for what turns out to be not worth the time to do so — except possibly for the money garnered from it.

Seek the highest plateau (the great game of bridge as we hope to know it), and that game itself will never let anyone down, being a giant challenge which will last with the ages, if only given a chance.

All of China and much of Europe are in the process of doing just that. Is Horn Lake and our ACBL BOD just going to sit back idly and watch our game die and, rather instead of accepting it on life support, turn it around in the direction it has earned?

The task is there for the taking and how, in good conscience can we not do everything possible to get it done?

ClarksburgMay 7th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Mr. Wolff,
I just added a follow-up question on yesterday’s blog (Wed May 6).

Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Hi Jeff,

A great question and one in which deserves a well thought out answer.

Of course, the quality of the specific opponents is a major issue in so deciding. If playing against Benito Garozzo and the late Giorgio Belladonna I, if able to think of the possible 3-3 heart break, would resort to David’s line, but in the absence of playing against such tough opposition I would trust their club signals (since my experience will suggest that, they would not be able to see my hand and therefore not be aware of how their signals will affect my line of play).

Although no single bridge partnership including G&B, could IMO achieve that impossible and clairvoyant level, it can be said that as a iron cast rule the more a partnership can both give partner the necessary signal, but, at the same time, confuse a worthy declarer, always do it and in this case the player holding the ace of clubs is in control so that he does not need to also signal count, but rather just use but not give unnecessary honest information.

Somewhat vague, but, as far as I am concerned, the best advice I can give and I am impressed with your asking.

Iain ClimieMay 7th, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Hi Bobby,

A stray thought on the club pips. If declarer was slightly stronger (e.g. DQ) or a similar hand but had only two clubs, leading the CQ to the K, taking the H finesse, then leading the C9 gives west a horrible decision if he had CAxx. If South only needs two club tricks, ducking the 2nd club is bad news but where is the C2? Making the guy with the decision play first is a useful tip.

TOCM gives west CAx when south has 2 clubs, of course, but that’s another story!



David WarheitMay 7th, 2015 at 7:16 pm

Jim2, Iain & Bobby: Everyone seems to be focused on what club spot cards were played by EW on the first round of clubs, but very little attention seems to be paid to EW’s problems in figuring out S’s club holding. Suppose E had A65 of clubs S leads the Q to the K and E ducks. Now S leads dummy’s J and what does E do? Hmm, maybe partner had the four deuce or maybe the singleton 4. No way to know, and so E might play the Ace. Math: Bobby’s line is 50%. My line is: hearts 3-3 36%; E has Kx or singleton K of H 9%, EW were trying to fool me and clubs are really 2-2 ?%. E has Axx of clubs but is fooled into winning the second club ?%. I feel confident is saying that ? + ? is greater than 6%, making my line of play the one more likely to succeed.

Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Hi Iain,

Explaining and therefore attempting to educate the reader is probably not done often enough with both bridge teachers and also bridge teaching books.

For example while holding as South the declarer Q10x opposite Kxx in dummy students are taught to lead from hand toward the king, with the idea that if it loses to East’s ace (or even if it wins) it is then, of course, correct to lead back to the 10 (on the theory that it is West, not East in possession of the ace), making the jack the target of the finesse. Of course, if everything is equal, the only real advantage (aside from AJ doubleton originally held by West) from doing that occurs when West has the singleton ace and would have fallen immediately if a low one would have been led from declarer. And even that wouldn’t really matter since eventually if not immediately declarer will then lead a small one from dummy and finesse his ten, making the result the same.

However, the real advantage is simply to tempt West to rise with the ace holding AJ and other or others therefore coaxing him into making a mistake. However, I do not think most bridge books exactly explain it that way, but IMO they should, not as a form of negative advertizing about the difficulty of bridge, but the realism of how the game is played and the rhythm involved for all four players.

In that way the best and brightest students can begin to understand clearer what to do on defense when they first meet up with why a declarer should develop his play around proper technique, which, of course, is giving the opponents a chance to help you out.

Of course with those who are victimized with TOCM they can skip that chapter on declarer play since they soon learn that nothing will be right for them ever, making end plays via throw ins or of course other coups and squeezes, their only successful opportunities.

The optimists will then realize that having that disease will make one a better bridge player, although possibly never winning even one master point to show for it.

jim2May 7th, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Au contraire! Speaking as one of the the leading victims of TOCM ™, it is even MORE important for such as we to know the odds and related aspects of declarer play!

it won’t help us in the play — nothing will! — so our only chance is to win the post mortem.

Joe1May 7th, 2015 at 11:13 pm

What is tocm?

jim2May 7th, 2015 at 11:55 pm


I confess to being guilty.

You can google it in quotes. Or, go to this location to see where it was answered before:

Here is what I wrote there:

I am so embarrassed!

I must confess that “The Theory of Card Migration” is something I created as a bridge version of Murphy’s Law. My partners have patiently endured hearing it from me for many years.

Perhaps the most basic example is the two-way finesse. Whichever way I take it, it will fail. I explain it as the missing card “migrates” to the “wrong” hand. Another explanation is the “Schrodinger’s Cat” approach, wherein the missing honor is not on either hand or is in both right up until one finesses and then it migrates to the wrong hand.

The “Theory” also applies to opening leads or bids which, though they worked or were even triumphs in the columns, would have been disasters for me because I assert that the cards’ layout would have been different (or migrated) if I had made that identical bid or play. Ace leads that an inspired column West did to view the Dummy, for me see only Dummy’s void across from declarer’s KQx, etc.

Joe1May 8th, 2015 at 12:40 am

Thanks, that does seem to happen from time to time, doesn’t it? We need to try to sense the quantum element, as in shroedingers cat, sometimes the intuition is on, sometimes not; bridge at a certain level is more than classic mathematics (though the math certainly is a big draw-adds tremendously, but intuitive players sometimes win. Go figure)

Mircea1May 8th, 2015 at 7:27 am

Hi Bobby,

Is 6C a reasonable contact to bid? If so, what would be the road to it?

Bobby WolffMay 8th, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Hi Mircea,

Yes, 6 clubs is a reasonable contract, basically a 50-50 contract depending on the heart finesse and only as an extra threat, possibly losing with a heart lead and even then upon winning the heart finesse suffering an unlucky ruff when opponents immediately take the first club and give partner an unlikely setting ruff.

However the slam bonus, not achieved with the example hand, makes the gamble worthwhile, but not outstanding or even to possibly even be recommended.

The bidding to 6 possible clubs has no logical intelligent way with today’s bidding methods. Mainly since bidding clubs is now used as mostly artificial by the weak North hand in order to cater to the frequency of using that suit as artificial in order to find major suit fits.

Sometimes, when either feeling daring or perhaps while behind in an IMP match the North hand, over very strong balanced hand bidding by partner may just jump to 6 clubs and take one’s chances. Here it will work, without the dangers inherent in playing NT (club tricks cut off due to lack of entries), but all of this is low frequency, with the bridge language (bidding) not fluid nor expansive enough to encompass more science.

Sorry for the negativity, but in truth we need to call a spade a spade, or should it be a club suit a non club suit, in order to be honest.

bruce karlsonMay 17th, 2015 at 2:18 pm

RE: 6 clubs. I have observed that one of the ways to identify very strong opponents is their ability to find minor suit slams. After all, 3 NT is usually easier; the room will be in 3 NT; difficult to find accurately….