Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Remember that all tricks are either knavish or childish.

Samuel Johnson

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


Consider this deal as a single-dummy problem from the Summer Nationals at Las Vegas last July. Take the South cards, and cover up the East and West cards, to put yourself in declarer’s position.

After a straightforward auction, you play three no-trump on a friendly heart lead round to the jack. You elect to run the club jack, which holds, then play the club ace and repeat the club finesse. Instead of cashing the fourth club (which might squeeze your own hand) you pass the diamond jack. Finally, a finesse loses. West wins the diamond queen and shifts to the spade seven. You cover the seven with the nine and East plays the 10. Should you win or duck – and what is your overall plan?

At the table, South quite sensibly assumed from the shift to the high spade that West had weak spades and therefore that East had the spade K-10-8, with or without the jack.

So declarer ducked, expecting to leave the defender with the spade king on lead. Of course he played low from hand on East’s spade continuation, sticking with his original view of the lie of the cards. Allen Hawkins, sitting West, playing with Bernie Yomtov, won his spade king to clear the spade suit, and suddenly declarer had eight tricks and no more. Declarer could cross to the heart king to cash his club, but West could pitch a heart, then get in with the diamond ace to cash his long spade.

It feels wrong to sell out on a hand where your side rates to hold the balance of power. While at teams I might elect to defend, hoping that neither side can make much of anything, here I would double at pairs, expecting partner to bid unless he has a penalty pass. Once the opponents have bid and raised a suit, doubles are rarely penalty.


♠ Q 9 6
 K 5
 J 10 7 4
♣ K 10 9 3
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1
1 NT 2 Pass 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


A.V.Ramana RaoAugust 5th, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
Actually after the Club finesse wins , declarer has eight certain tricks. I feel he should run the fourth club and discard a low diamond from hand (considering the problem as single dummy) and play a diamond to K trying to promote just one diamond trick as J & 10 are present in dummy. Meanwhile, what could W discard on the fourth club? Obviously he cannot let Q of diamond go and If it is a heart, then declarer can have four heart tricks and his contract and if it is a spade, the threat in the suit is neutralized. In fact West gets squeezed and not declarer

jim2August 5th, 2015 at 1:08 pm


That’s exactly what I did when I read the column in the local paper two weeks ago. I am still unsure what is best, especially since I think the hand was played at MPs.

jim2August 5th, 2015 at 2:51 pm

I might add that transportation risks should not be ignored. For example, if the KD loses to the AD and the AS gets knocked out, there may be no way to cash the AH if the KH has not already been played.

Bobby WolffAugust 5th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Hi AVRR & Jim2,

Your line is very straightforward and appears best, since it is similar to the column line, except a different diamond is chosen to be finessed, suggesting the good club in dummy not to be cashed early.

Bridge and its choices in defense, being what they are, allowed the declarer to buy the bridge (if you will excuse that description) as to the location of the spade king and it worked again, (excuse me) no less than in SPADES.

Is it any wonder that many feel, as I do, that creating illusions for either declarer or the defense is perhaps, at the higher levels of the game, the deciding talent in the ever fierce mind battles which occur.

The elements necessary are then usually there for the perpetrators (knowing where the key cards remaining, lurk) and then using different specific cards (here a high spot spade from West) to camouflage the clever mission.

As a rule, trust the opening lead to be revealing (no willingness to confuse partner at that point) but later when all four players are better informed as to what is probably left then the opportunity for legal deception jumps front and center to be a factor at the death.

Just one of the great type of mind battles which often occur in our magnificent overall game.

Thanks AVRR and then Jim2 for both commenting and then leading into a general discussion of this ever present mind war, occurring on many more hands than probably imagined.

Perhaps it is similar to prize fighting when both combatants need to be aware that until a round or a hand is finished, neither should claim victory. The only difference between the two is in the result, with each competition having its proud winner and its vanquished loser.

My guess is that it feels more painful to be outsmarted than to be KOed. However, and of course, that opinion comes from a cowardly non-participant in the ring.

Lee McGovernAugust 5th, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Shouldn’t West have bid Landy?

Iain ClimieAugust 5th, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Hi Lee,

Probably not as North doubles to show values and minus 500 is all too likely. Also, west’s high cards aren’t really in the majors.



Bobby WolffAugust 5th, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Hi Lee,

I agree with Iain, however I will go so far as to suggest that to immediately select a major suit takeout (a Landy 2clubs or whatever) is IMO somewhat underrated.

However, the education on this choice is somewhat obscure:

1. If West is playing against an above average pair and South then opens 1NT, the prospects for a good board at matchpoints are not high. First that pair will be a big favorite to reach the right contract and then stroked by a competent declarer, there is often little the defense can do to thwart the result. Sure good defense often pays off, but usually, after the choice of opening lead, the hand often resembles a pianola, playing itself, and particularly so with these conditions.

2. Since most, if not all, of the opponents will go quietly, the result may be quite different and although getting doubled and brutalized (as Iain merely mentions) is possible it is not the norm.

3. The upside is that partner may be able to either compete for a good score (holding at least some length in one major) or, even just get his partner off to the best combined major suit start.

4. However, sometimes the other extreme occurs of making a great declarer out of just a good one, by the tip-off of the bidder having both majors. (possibly staying out of a major suit contract about to divide 4-1 against)

5. Summing up, there are both good and bad things which could happen, but if the defensive partnership will be lucky to average 35% without bidding his upside by bidding then becomes favorable.

All of the above is just to keep in mind, but the concept is worth noting which at least at matchpoints becomes more important.

Thanks to both of you for presenting the problem and an opinion by an experienced veteran to go with.

Joe1August 5th, 2015 at 11:56 pm

Why lead H not S; there is play for 5 on defense with low S.

BWTA N supposedly has at least 4-4 in majors, right?, for double. E bids H so S may be ours. The question is, 2-3 NT or 3-4 S? Will double help clarify, or just bidding 2 S or NT?

Lee McGovernAugust 6th, 2015 at 12:12 am

Thanks Bobby, I appreciate that in-depth and prompt analysis

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 4:27 am

Hi Joe1,

The choice of either a heart or spade lead on today’s column hand is nothing less than a blind guess.

Some prefer leading from a queen and others from a king with me having no real preference.

Certainly, while holding 3 spades and a sound original 1NT response it would indeed be OK to back in with a 2 spade competitive bid. All at the table should strongly suspect that the bidder to have only 3 spades since he didn’t respond them the first time.

To double instead has one important advantage and that is to be able to blame partner when he then has to decide what to do.

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 4:32 am

Hi Lee,

Some learn well by hearing what options are available and, of course, how one should probably think. However to get there from here one has to concentrate and at least, begin to understand the relatively simple logic which flows through bridge.

All bids have to do with being related to the whole auction and not just to the last action.

In any event I sincerely appreciate your kind words and for your participation.