Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

All seemed well pleased, all seemed but were not all.

John Milton

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


When today’s deal came up in a local duplicate I led a spade to the first trick against three notrump. My opponent put in the jack and captured the queen with the king. Then he led a club to the king and ace. My partner won the trick and returned a spade. Declarer ducked the second spade, so I cleared the suit, but declarer ran his clubs and diamonds, and I claimed the last two tricks with the heart ace and a spade winner. Declarer claimed that he was a little unlucky not to make overtricks, with the heart ace offside and the spade queen poorly placed, and I had to bite my tongue to refrain commenting further. Who do you think earned my displeasure on the deal?

It was hard, though perhaps not impossible for my partner to have ducked the first club. Then, even if he ducks the second club as well, declarer will surely finish with no more than eight tricks, because he has no entry to his hand any more.

And that brings me to my second point of the deal. At trick one declarer had nine top winners: two spades, four diamonds and three clubs. But he has only one sure entry to the clubs, in the form of the spade king. To protect that entry, South must rise with the spade ace at trick one and play the club king from dummy at once. This way nothing will stop him taking at least nine tricks.

It might be right to pass and hope to beat this contract. But that seems unnecessarily defeatist. I would double again, hoping that even if partner is weak, we might still find him with as little as five cards in diamonds or spades (or even in hearts!) in which case we might well come home with a partscore.


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

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


jim2August 12th, 2015 at 12:26 pm

The specified conditions were MPs, so I must confess that playing the AS on the first trick seems wrong to me on this hand.

First, the contract looks to be normal, so overtricks are very important. Thus, since the opening lead appears to be from length, giving up on the finesse entirely loses to over half the layouts.

Second, if some pairs are playing old fashioned NTs, then North may be playing this at one or more tables, so I may need an OT just to draw even with them.

Third, why did not declarer cash out the diamonds before touching clubs? Look at the likely scenarios if West must find two pitches and then must follow to two or three rounds of clubs before West leads a second spade.

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Hi Jim2,

Barrister, you have pled your case almost to perfection. Every condition (especially matchpoints) and order of declarer play (the play of the jack of spades at trick one and maybe diamonds before clubs) was suggested with the idea of greasing the path for duplicate’s life blood of overtricks. Even the verbal throwback to 15 or 16-18 hcp opening 1NT’s emphasized a likelihood of North being more favorably placed declaring 3NT at other tables.

However and changing the tone to double play combinations such as Tinker to Evers to Chance first in long ago baseball lore of finding the queen of spades in the wrong hand and after playing diamonds first showing a mammoth 10 hcps in that suit alone, possibly alerting a wide awake East to his partner’s holding the ace of hearts may just be enabling enough to convince East to duck the king of clubs, grab the next one and revert back to spades, therefore pouring (not merely raining) on declarer’s greedy parade.

And, ladies and gentlemen of this jury please consider that the esteemed lawyer on the other side is none other than Jim TOCM TM 2, a victim of that now well known bridge player’s disease of already knowing what would have happened to him if he was the declarer so why not then happening to the client to whom he is representing (automatically contagious) leaving no doubt that this family well knew represented by this declarer that he MUST then rise with the ace of spades insuring his nine tricks, matchpoints or not.

Your witness.

Not to now be spoken rhetoric which leads to so many nothing less than HORRIBLE first often TD director and then biased committee decisions which deflects the gullible committee members into terrible jurisprudence without them ever realizing it. Jim2, it is not enough to just be right on in your presentation, one has to be magic enough to overcome what clever but devious and clout worthy opponents can throw at either bought off or intimidated TDs and bridge committee members. FIE ON THEM!

In actuality the cashing of the diamonds first may be more enabling to East than not since West may be able to discard insignificant clubs.

A.V.Ramana RaoAugust 12th, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
I was just wondering about the following line
Suppose declarer elects to play low spade from dummy at first trick- reserving the option for spade finesse later & He captures East’s Nine with K and plays club to K and East has to duck lest declarer has nine tricks. Now declarer can prevail ( As the cards lay) by playing a heart from dummy and inserting J. West can win with Q but if he returns a spade, declarer climbs up with Dummy’s A and plays a second heart. West can win but now the spades are blocked enabling declarer to win nine tricks & if East unblocked S Q on A, declarer has easy time. However the above is double dummy analysis & risks going down if West is dealt with Q of spades. So I feel – Play J of Spades in the first trick in pairs and rise with A if it is a duplicate event.
PS: I really liked your response to Jim 2 . I mean the Rhetoric

jim2August 12th, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Actually, at the table at MPs, I would have played low on the opening lead just as AVRR said, with the expectation of maybe trying that finesse later for an OT. Then I would have led to KC and, if it held, cash out the Ds before leading the 10C to my QC.

I would have done so because I would know that TOCM ™ had already almost surely dealt me a poor board by playing it from South, having the QS and heart honors likely all offside, and a spade lead. Thus, I would have had very few MPs to lose and the spade blockage would have given me a perfect chance to prevail in despite the layout.

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2015 at 4:08 pm


First, thanks for the kind words.

We are very fortunate to have a talented and humorous group who understand high-level bridge and are all able to laugh about both themselves and how sometimes the Dame Fortune of bridge treats all of us.

Your summary is right-on and, of course, mentioning the unpredictable location of the spade queen says it all. Also for truth-in-advertising purposes you meant DUPLICATE event to mean IMPs.

It is indeed a bridge highlight in my life to have met you and most everyone else who have contributed mightily to making our site user friendly. I hope this opportunity continues forever or even longer.

Good bridge luck to you and may you always guess the elusive spade queen, wherever that lady may be located.

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Pretty clever, these bridge lawyers.

No doubt after starting out by ducking the first spade and then following through by East, after, of course inserting the nine of spades at trick one would then win the second club led from dummy and lead a heart, but you at the ready, knowing both major suit queens to be offside would then, after losing to the heart queen rise with the spade ace to gain the proper tempo (by blocking the spade suit) to score up the necessary nine tricks for perhaps an average on this board.

A word to the wise, why don’t you write a bridge book for other TOCM TM victims? Never to win a bridge tournament but perhaps to make a couple of hundred $’s with book sales.

But beware, I understand the ACBL judiciary committee is about to file a lawsuit against TOCM TM victims claiming they are the recipients of unauthorized information because of their special disease. Since I am not afflicted, as of yet, I applaud the legal action, since I am indeed jealous of their discriminatory knowledge.

jim2August 12th, 2015 at 5:46 pm

I have feared just such legal action against moi for having exposed the situation!

I may have to write that book just to pay my attorney fees … 🙂

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

Not to worry.

And to counter the old bromide. “He who defends himself, has a fool for a client” has exaggerated that status, since you would
certainly manage an excellent case, if you so
chose yourself.

That is, unless you could not afford, even with book revenue, to pay yourself the fees you would charge. Also to be a poster boy for TOCM TM or even to contract it accidentally, think of the how to books you could write on how to make a contract against any defense or distribution, or similar to a long ago popular book entitled “Sure Tricks” which did exactly that, but always had many fewer tricks than 13, usually around 7 or so and fewer.

Does anyone still possess a copy of it?

Joe1August 13th, 2015 at 2:06 am

As a (mostly) rubber bridge player, I sometimes get tripped up by strategies designed for a different scoring system. For a rubber player, the column’s line is best, take the sure game. Overtricks rarely make or break one in the end. I was given a golf comparison (by the way, most of life’s lessons can be translated into golf analogies; the same may hold true for bridge, but I am not that far along the learning curve). Rubber play is like match play in golf, your opponent is your opponent, don’t worry too much about other tables, don’t bid 5 major too often, settle for makeabe game. In golf match play, if you win the hole by 1 or 2 strokes, same result, win and move on to next one. Take a risk, only if you have to (opponent is on the green in 2, you are lying 2 and have 200 yards over water to get there, in match play go for it, in stroke play lay up) . In rubber bridge, take the safety play if it assures the contract, or in this case, win the SA.

bobby wolffAugust 13th, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Hi Joe1,

Thanks for your time and effort in accurately my opinion, discussing bridge and golf analogies.

No doubt my bias in bridge is rating the original game, Rubber Bridge, far ahead of Matchpoint duplicate in what I would call, realistic bridge strategy.

However matchpoiints is still exciting, even though, 1. it is just too difficult a game. and 2. being so, emphasizes luck to much too high an extent.

Golf is also a great game demanding much athletic talent, but sharing with bridge the underrated mind competitions which, at least to me, are to die for.