Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, May 4th, 2015

‘Danger!’ said the old cob. ‘Danger! I welcome danger and adventure. Danger is my middle name.’

E. B. White

N North
None ♠ Q 8 6
 Q J 2
 A J 8 6
♣ K J 9
West East
♠ J 9 5
 K 7 3
 Q 2
♣ A 10 8 6 5
♠ 10 4 3 2
 10 8 5 4
 7 5 4
♣ Q 3
♠ A K 7
 A 9 6
 K 10 9 3
♣ 7 4 2
South West North East
    1 Pass
3 NT All pass    


Today’s deal embodies a very simple principle, but it is worth emphasizing that there are many hands where declarer knows that one of his opponents is the danger hand, and one is the safe hand. In such instances one wants to try to keep the danger hand off lead, and it may even be worthwhile to sacrifice a few percentage points in the play so as to ensure that you achieve your target.

Here West leads a club against three no-trump. East takes dummy’s jack with the queen, then returns the suit, and West clears the clubs. Now declarer has just seven top tricks. He can finesse diamonds either way, and of course since East has short clubs and West long clubs, you would expect East to have the diamond queen. But the percentages are quite close, and if you play East for the diamond queen and you are wrong, you are immediately sunk. A better approach is to play the diamond king and then plan to run the diamond 10. Of course, as the cards lie, this approach is immediately successful. But had the diamond finesse lost, you would have been able to fall back on the heart finesse, giving yourself another 50-50 chance in addition to the first finesse.

This general approach of taking your chances in order, rather than putting all your eggs in one basket, is called an echelon play. My experience is generally that the two chances are better than one.

With your heart suit an unattractive one to lead from, the choice is whether to lead trumps or play for club ruffs. The opponents are known to be in a 5-3 or 4-4 fit (since partner’s double guarantees at least three spades), so leading a trump might mangle partner’s holding. And the possibility of club ruffs looks as good as any way to set up tricks for your side, so I would lead the club jack.


♠ 10 3
 A 10 8 6 5
 J 10 6 4
♣ J 5
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1 ♠
2 2 ♠ 3 3 ♠
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 WarheitMay 18th, 2015 at 10:39 am

E has 11 unknown cards and W has 8. The D finesse through E is thus 11/19 or 58% as is the H finesse. The recommended line of play is thus 42% + 58% of 58% for a total of just over 75%, which is a whole lot better than 58%.

There was another way to make the contract: play the CK on the opening lead, then take the H finesse, followed by the D finesse through W. This works because the C suit becomes blocked. In fact, you make an overtrick. I am pretty sure this isn’t as good a line of play as the one recommended, even at duplicate, but what do you think?

jim2May 18th, 2015 at 11:08 am

David Warheit —

The column line also catered to West having led from AQ10xx and AQxxx.

bobby wolffMay 18th, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Hi David & Jim2,

Between the discussion in the column, the follow-up by Jim2 and the addition of AQxx and even (AQxxxx) to the equation, the overall result appears to be a landslide in favor of playing the jack at trick one. My guess is that playing the nine will work out better in the long run, than would playing the king, but curses, I may be wrong.

Like the journey on the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City by the 4 Caballeros, there are poisoned flowers and wicked witches to deal with, and the potentially highly talented but inexperienced up and coming bridge players need to be able to cope and then conquer fears, when tempted to play results, instead of realistic percentages, along the way.

That’s the story of, that’s the glory of, our non-pareil game.

jim2May 18th, 2015 at 12:33 pm

On 9 versus jack, if the 9 loses to the queen, one has gained nothing over the jack losing to the queen. However, should the jack win (East holding 10x), then declarer can hardly fail at the contract.

Only if West led from a holding missing the ace does the play of the 9 seem to matter (East holding Ax, mostly).

Bill CubleyMay 18th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Just wondering. Does the lead indicate the A-Q of clubs are split? Easy to see rising with the king leaves East a problem. Unblock the doubleton queen and give away another club trick or hope partner has all the offside cards and can clear clubs.

As usual, I am probably wrong but willing to learn.

bobby wolffMay 18th, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Hi Jim2 & Bill,

Yes, another way of describing the advantage of playing the nine from dummy is that if it either wins (unlikely) or drives the ace (more likely) usually on a holding of the Q10 by the opening leader, that hand is history with a very likely sure make for declarer.

Not to say that the nine is the correct play, but surely the one to give instant gratification. The only fly in that ointment is the havoc a clever 3rd seat defender might have if he wins the nine with the ace, still holding the queen in order to convince an unwary declarer to, of course, finesse the jack the next time that suit is led.

Bill, No, the lead doesn’t indicate anything about the location of the opening led suit high cards, therefore transferring that guess to declarer. All he can do is go with the percentages and my suspicion, without doing the exact math involved is that the jack is best, with the nine a fairly close 2nd choice, with then the play of the king only a third choice.

Of course, yes, the king with this layout is the play which causes the most consternation, but this is what bridge often does, lesser percentage actions sometimes work out best.

BTW, it hurts and certainly doesn’t help to unblock the queen under a possible king played from dummy since all it does is give the declarer another trick, with nothing whatsoever to be gained.