Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block.

W. S. Gilbert

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


**Invitational, five-plus spades


In today’s deal from the finals of the US trials Paul Soloway declared three no-trump at one of the critical tables. A diamond was led, and when East won the club ace he returned a diamond, letting through 10 tricks.

In the other room (on the auction shown) David Berkowitz followed an invitational sequence facing a mini no-trump, and Larry Cohen drove to game. He had eight quick tricks on a diamond lead, but the clubs had to produce a ninth. He correctly won the opening lead and attacked clubs at once. Even if the club ace was on his right there was always the hope that the defense would not know what to do next. When Eric Rodwell took the club ace, all he knew was that his partner had a singleton club, so he was able to reconstruct that declarer had the club king-jack and diamond queen.

Since the likelihood was that he had a second top diamond, there was no room for declarer to have the heart ace, so his shifting to the heart jack gave the defense two chances. At the table, Cohen ducked the jack, so it was easy for East to continue hearts and cash out the suit. But had the trick gone to the heart queen and ace, Jeff Meckstroth would have returned a high heart from a remaining holding of three small, and a low heart from a remaining holding of 10xx.

If a high heart had come back, Rodwell would have reverted to diamonds and hoped for better luck there.

I can offer two approaches here, depending on whether you play two over one as game forcing or not. If you do, this hand is a minimum (though some would say sub-minimum) for a jump to three spades, which simply shows a semi-solid or better spade suit. I’d take that action because of the club fit. If two clubs is not forcing to game, simply rebid two spades.


♠ A K Q J 4 2
 7 6 3
♣ Q 4 3
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♣ 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


jim2July 16th, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Not cashing the spade suit pretty clearly announces that one is building the ninth trick, and in what suit.

Declarer often does better by making the defenders make discarding decisions early. Here, East would have to pitch three times before seeing a non-spade from either other player. Maybe the key suit for the defense is hearts (as in the column) but maybe declarer holds a small club doubleton, and there may be others.

Even if East pitches three clubs, the first pitch from the other hands would likely both be diamonds, and now East must pitch a fourth card, and then a 5th, but we can see East must keep all three hearts in this six card ending.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Hi Jim2,

I certainly agree to your overall premise of, by not running the obvious spade suit in dummy, South by playing clubs immediately puts pressure on his opponents to, upon winning the club ace choosing the right red suit to defeat the contract.

Note also that if West not East possessed the club ace and if the heart honors (A&K) were divided with West having no more than 3 (considering the opening lead fairly likely) the contract is safe, Upon running the spades South would no doubt throw 2 diamonds and a club, but since West knows who has the diamond ace he could (should make it obvious to his partner that a heart shift is called for) and furthermore West (and for that matter East) will know that if South has the club ace it only is a question of overtricks.

However, your strategy is certainly valid and therefore worth discussing, but on this specific layout and after the opening lead, it is possible that West has a diamond holding, A106542, A108542 or A10852 which if so, West, by having a chance to discard diamonds, would then be denying that possibility.

However, when West shows up with one club, and since South has denied a 4+ card major South then must have 4+ diamonds so only the A10852 held by West will represent a chance to defeat 3NT as viewed by a world class East.

Yes, as you know, playing high-level bridge is not recommended for players who only want to enjoy it, not to become world beaters.

jim2July 16th, 2015 at 3:28 pm

I would note that “West shows up with one club” cannot possibly occur until after East has made 5 discards.

In addition, West will have three opportunities to fatally pitch a heart during the run of the spade suit.

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Hi Jim2,

With the configuration of the spade suit, East having only 1, will give him a chance to immediately signal the ace of clubs before West has to decide what to discard. But even if East didn’t or couldn’t make that signal, West will immediately recognize that if declarer has the club ace, it is only a question of overtricks, therefore realistically forcing West to assume that East has that card. At the completion of trick one West will be in possession of that truth, although certainly not for East until his partner begins to throw away diamonds.

However your premise about running a long suit early is usually excellent strategy to result in more defensive mistakes.

jim2July 16th, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Accurate also is the view that forcing the defense to guess before getting a chance to signal with discards is often the better line.

On this hand, I am just not sure which is better and felt the “running the long suit” line deserved some discussion.

Wen TaoJuly 16th, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff and Jim2;
I enjoy your comments and discussions on today’s hands. The third possibility would be to go to dummy via a high spade and then lead a small club from the table, pretending to hold club Kxx in declarer’s hand? How many East do you think would fly the club ace and lead a heart? One should also discount any East who play the club ace and then lead a diamond. I usually would play a small club or ace follow by a diamond in case like this unless I found some reasons to do otherwise.
Wen Tao

bobby wolffJuly 16th, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Hi Wen,

Since the game was IMPs and not matchpoints, I think most competent East’s would fly ace and lead a red suit.

When West follows with a club, East then knows that declarer, South, had at least 4 diamonds (because of the Stayman denial of a 4 card major). Also the rule of eleven, assuming West had led 4th best shows that originally declarer had 3 cards higher than the five. If then the opening leader had started with A10852 the diamond 9 return would get the job done, but any different combination would fail.

That possibility would need to be considered as against A10xx in hearts or better and then chosen.

At least to me, East would fly with the ace of clubs if he held it and then decide which red suit to next lead.

No doubt at that point, but not until then, would the guessing begin. Don’t we have fun?

Yes, unless we have trouble recovering from a miss-guess.

Some high-level bridge scholars might suggest that declarer winning the first diamond with the queen instead of the king may suggest that Terence Reese’s restricted choice then took effect, making it unlikely that he had the king, but rather the ace (actual). They might then make the killing heart shift and believe that they did it for the right reason and who could argue?

Thanks for your thoughts and sophisticated analysis.

David WarheitJuly 16th, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Jim2: you say that “E must keep all 3H in this 6-card ending”. No; he can pitch either the J or the K, but he’s gotta hang on to that precious 9. Of course, it helps that W has the H8.

jim2July 16th, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Fair enough.

Joe1July 16th, 2015 at 11:56 pm

This hand when compared to yesterday’s further illustrates for me the delicate balance between 4 of a major versus 3 NT. Today a 9 card fit plays better in NT, yesterday an 8 card fit many preferred the major suit. What’s a novice to do? Today with 4333 S stayed in NT, but N, with a 6 card suit, and a singleton, opposite NT, did not correct to spade game (good choice, as cards are today). Luck or skill?

Lee McGovernJuly 17th, 2015 at 12:28 am

Agreed with Joe1, how do you analyze when to stay in 3NT even when there is a guaranteed solid fit from N perspective?

jim2July 17th, 2015 at 12:31 am

Take your best shot and sometimes you will be right, sometimes it won’t matter, etc. Just hope TOCM ™ does not infect you, as it has me.


On a somewhat more serious note, on the last Board of one CANDU team of four I thought we needed a swing. In a notrump auction, I knew we had a 5-3 spade fit but went for 3N. I had some table feel back in those days (1982?) and LHO seemed entirely too tranquil at the spade fit revelation. Well, 9 were there as long as I disdained the finesse and led to the board’s spade honor instead. 10 were never there. Got the swing and won. Yay! Not a World but one must celebrate what one gets.

Wen TaoJuly 17th, 2015 at 12:42 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,
Thanks very much for your thoughts and well reasoned analyses.
Best regards,

bobby wolffJuly 17th, 2015 at 12:45 am

Hi Joe1,

No one ever has said, or at the very least meant, that judgment in bridge is easy.

Whatever stage you are in, and although being somewhat a rather late entry to the game, and relatively new at it, it does present variety in the form of constant hurdles to consistent success.

Suit contracts have to do with restricting losers via at least a minimum of eight trumps out of 13 altogether held by the declaring side together with side suit establishment, maximizing tricks taken by clever use of card combinations and concentrating on finishing the hand, in the end game, of forcing your worthy opponents into playing 1st and 3rd to tricks to your 2nd and 4th.

With NT and shorter routes to game, 9 tricks instead of 10 or 11, the keys are sources of tricks, timing in the play including playing from the right side of the table in order to guard against immediate disaster, and making sure or at least being aware of attempting to not let your adversaries develop 5 tricks to be taken before you secure the necessary 9.

All the above is just the appetizer to the wonderful tune of consistent success, made up of total concentration, partner responsibility, and attention to detail.

At the beginning, pretend you are on an island with a wonderful partner of your own choosing, attempting to “shock the world” with your gleaned knowledge of the greatest mind game ever invented and never back down from intimidation, unlucky results or even hell or high water. Continue to bounce back with complete resilliance in search of your partnership’s Holy Grail.

Always play the game according to its written and unwritten rules, never being anything but ethical, and treat winning and losing the same way, since being great at bridge will demand losing on so many occasions that may disappoint others, but never your partnership.

And what is more, by doing so, you will become better than you would ever have dreamed or of course, suspected.