Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 4th, 2015

The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.

Agnes De Mille

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

*Cuebid agreeing spades


This was my favorite deal from the Birmingham Nationals, when New York expert Mel Colchamiro cornered me on my way to the elevator and gave me a beautiful hand. Beware; it’s far harder than it looks, even though it is far from complicated.

Without going into too many details as to the auction — we would not want to embarrass any guilty parties — consider the play in six spades. Best defense is obviously to lead two rounds of clubs, but your generous opponents play a top club and shift to diamonds. Obviously they believe you might bid a slam off two aces; it is up to you to punish them for such an insult.

The natural thing to do is to cash the spade ace and the heart king. Then you lead the spade 10 from hand. If West discards, you need the heart queen to fall. If West follows, you must guess immediately whether trumps are splitting or whether hearts behave. That looks pretty good, but it is far from best.

The winning line is to overtake the heart king with the ace at trick three and ruff a heart high. If that suit splits or if the heart queen is bare, you have no problem in drawing trump, ending in dummy. If hearts do not behave, you need 2-2 spades — it’s as simple as that. On this occasion hearts split and spades did not — so if you play spades first, you had better guess very well!

You could tempt me into perpetrating an unusual no-trump if non-vulnerable, because my secondary honors in both minors encourage action. Vulnerable, I would pass, intending to stay silent unless the auction times out to let me back in conveniently. I like to keep my two-suited bids up to strength, and this one doesn’t quite qualify for immediate action.


♠ 6
 Q 10
 K J 9 5 3
♣ K J 6 5 3
South West North East
  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 WarheitJuly 18th, 2015 at 9:16 am

“If H do not behave, you need 2-2 S–it’s as simple as that”. Not so simple. If E turns out to have HQxx, S should then cash a high S and if E plays either the 8 or 9, finesse the S7, ruff a H high, SJ, and claim. Of course, this would lose if E had S98, but the rule of restricted choice and the fact that E has 3H & W only 1 make it a pretty heavy favorite when E plays either the 8 or 9 on the first S.

Iain ClimieJuly 18th, 2015 at 10:30 am

Hi David,

I’m probably being picky (or slow) here, but how has the play gone? Heart to K at T3, possibly then SA and see what happens; or, was it HA at T3 potentially dropping the H10 singleton with West, then HJ off table ruffing high when east follows and getting the bad news. Then play a high spade and we’re into your line.

This also works when hearts are 2-2 all along, of course.



bobby wolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 10:48 am

Hi David,

Yes you are right-on, regarding the possible twist in the heart suit with East being dealt Qxx. Then the declarer must cash the heart king, (NOT OVERTAKE) and then proceed to guess the spade layout.

To add to the mystery, what if declarer’s spade holding in dummy is J73 opposite AKQ1084 in hand with West holding 962 and East the singleton 5. Then could South pull off the gambit of cashing an honor in both hearts and spades and then leading the 4 to the dummy and finessing the 7, ruffing a heart high and still having an entry to the long hearts with the jack of trumps?

Sure he could, unless West is wide awake, and if so, he would rise with the 9 on the second lead of spades thereby preventing declarer from completing his gambit only because South does not have a low enough spade left to enter the dummy and, at the same time, draw West’s last fang.

I’ve seen this entry denying coup pulled off several times in my long bridge life, and each time it was, nothing short of a breath taking thrill filled both the table and all the kibitzers.

One may ask the enabling factor for that glorious gem. Just like huge price differential sometimes occurs in real estate and the professional answer usually verifies, “location, location, location”, the corresponding bridge retort would be, “concentration, concentration, concentration”.

bobby wolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 11:08 am

Hi Iain,

Yes, thanks for clarifying any ambiguity which may have arisen.

Just like any team sport, there is safety in numbers, both in the play and then following, the commentary.

Ranking way up there in thrills for me, is our composite chronicling of what I consider the definite mind sport of bridge with thrills in our game the equal of Hank Aaron’s Babe Ruth beating home run (#715), and Willie May’s over the shoulder incredible basket catch in deep center field during the World Series.

All of the above is at stake in hoping to perpetuate our game forever by, at least in the Western Hemisphere, of getting bridge into our primary and secondary public school system.

bobby wolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 11:17 am

Hi David & Iain,

And those numbers include my wife Judy, who is now sleeping peaceably (now 4:15 AM in LV) who I am not going to wake up to correct the gremlin attack on the above.

jim2July 18th, 2015 at 12:02 pm

The column text:

“Best defense is obviously to lead two rounds of clubs, but your generous opponents play a top club and shift to diamonds.”

I am not so sure as to their generosity, since the two top clubs defense appears to force declarer into a winning line. That is, declarer can either hope both majors break 2 – 2, or simply use all dummy’s trumps for ruffs and need only hearts to be 2 – 2 (or short hearts holder be void in trump).


– top club
– club ruff
– KH
– club ruff
– AD
– D ruff
– AH pitching last diamond
– draw trump

bobby wolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Hi Jim2,

You are forever the realist.

As declarer and after the ace of clubs lead, most players no matter their specific ability, would hope for no club continuation, although East should signal for it.

From a reality standpoint and while very much into the emotion of battle all competitive players do not want to be restricted to just hoping for very favorable splits as the only (or almost) way to skin that cat.

Thus the reporting often attempts to go into that declarer’s mind and vocalize his thoughts.

You, more than anyone ever, should appreciate the forlorn hope of even 3-1 breaks, safe against them or, of course 2-2 (fiendishly optimistic) when necessary as your destiny will always be 4-0 or maybe when more harmful 0-4.

Do not worry. Since you are, of course, the poster boy for TOCM TM, your plight is with and in everyone’s heart (or for that matter, clubs, diamonds and spades, not to mention NT).

jim2July 18th, 2015 at 1:10 pm

All true!

This hand, though, demonstrates the situation very well. If I were declarer, I might make it after two club leads because I would have no realistic choices as to my line of play.

After the column defense, however, I would always go down because the cards would be free to move about to make any choice I might make the wrong one.

Mircea1July 19th, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

How would you play this hand at the table?

bobby wolffJuly 19th, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Although I do not consider myself as one who always tries to follow strict percentage lines I think on this one (since little else but measuring best percentage) I probably would. However I think I have had success in measuring whether to let the whole hand ride on taking a finesse or playing for a drop, I agree with Terence Reese about his Restricted choice principle so that I would overtake the king of hearts and ruff one and then (after 3-1 with no queen) finesse in spades gambling that East does not have the 98 doubleton, if and when that situation develops.

However the other choices offer almost the same chance and no one should be ashamed unless he just instead, just goes off the rails.