Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

There is no great genius without some touch of madness.


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

*Texas transfer to hearts


Today’s deal is a defensive problem. Cover up the West and South hands and look at it from East’s point of view at trick one. The composer envisaged a position where partner had the trump ace, not the club ace, amongst his assets, and ingeniously suggested encouraging spades at the first trick. His expectation was that partner would continue with the king and a third spade. Then when declarer wins and plays a heart, partner would win his ace and continue with a fourth spade, to promote the heart queen into the setting trick.

As the player who posed the problem admitted, of course, this defense wouldn’t have worked so well if the club and heart aces were switched – as in the diagram. Partner would have scratched his head and asked why East had just directed him to present declarer with his contract on a plate when he would appear to have had no chance to succeed on a passive defense.

But East’s justification was that even in that situation four hearts would have been makeable, if declarer plays West for the diamond queen. Even if West exits with a heart at trick two, declarer draws trump ending in dummy, and leads a club to the queen, king and ace. He ruffs the club return and runs the trump, coming down to a singleton spade in hand, and squeezes West down to the bare spade ace, to keep his diamond queen guarded. Then South cashes the diamond king and endplays West with a spade to lead diamonds into his tenace.

This doesn’t feel quite good enough a hand to jump to four hearts facing a nonvulnerable weak jump overcall. One should play the call of two no-trump as a relay here, just as one does facing a weak-two bid. But another reasonable approach, if you decide to go to game, is to cuebid three diamonds then offer a choice of game with a bid of three no-trump. Partner can then choose which contract to play.


♠ Q 8 5
 J 9
 A J 6 2
♣ A K 7 5
South West North East
  1 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


Shantanu RastogiSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

If West keeps 2 Diamonds and 2 Spades should South play for finesse or drop ? West has to keep 2 Diamonds to keep South in guess even if he doesnt hold Queen as discarding all Diamonds would give away contract. West has already shown 12 HCP (8 in spades and 4 in clubs) so east could hold Diamond Queen along with the other 4 HCP. Only inference in favour of drop is that West is likely to be 4144 so with 4 cards in Diamonds likely to hold Queen. Is this inference valid ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2September 2nd, 2015 at 1:55 pm

I’ve drafted and deleted several posts on this hand that said much the same!

BTW, when West is put in with the AS, isn’t the Board’s last spade now the master spade with the KD an entry? So, West must always come down to two spades and two diamonds, or a spade, two diamonds, and a club.

bobby wolffSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Hi Shantanu & Jim2,

While my greeting to you two, at least in melody and rhythm, has reminded me of the long ago political cry of one our of earliest POTUS, vote for Tippacanu and Tyler too, (William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) and John Tyler (1790-1862) for the 9th US Presidency, the recommended play surrounds itself with where high level play and defense now stands, simply card reading by both sides and in which hand they are.

At least to me, while the caliber of play world wide, particularly in Europe and China, (likely because of the wonderful bridge educational opportunities there) has grown mightily in the last 20+ years, the now differences appears to be the experiences gleaned by partners who constantly play together year long as opposed to less and only sometimes (such as the USA) together with, at least to me, the ability to psychologically guess where the key cards are by tempo breaks and other table action.

While bridge ethics demands no false reads based on phony unnecessary physical breaks, neither is any bridge player required to give “tells” to their worthy opponents by behaving along “giveaway” tempo and timing lines.

Obviously on this hand West, while possessing all the contract making or defeating cards, should discard passively but in tempo in discarding down to his unguarded queen of diamonds, but do so in such an order, if possible to deceive a likely world class declarer. East, too, needs to keep his diamonds in order to go along with the legal ruse of trying to ethically deceive the declarer.

To justify today’s quote, nothing more than name, rank, and serial number needs to be given the clever enemy and according to the Raven, “nothing more” in this serious battle of wits.

At my not so tender age, and remembering back, these mind battles are, at least to me, my favorite exercise in extolling bridge for the greatest mind game it undoubtedly is IMO, by concentrating on competitive hands, both wins and losses, which is so central to the ability to win rather than lose, when playing talents, as they truly are, close to equal.

Wen TaoSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff, Shantanu, and Jim2,
I enjoyed your elegant and stimulating discussion. I am thinking an alternative play that requires no tough decision for the declarer. Perhaps, I am missing something here. The play goes: win the heart return with the Jack at trick 2; cash the diamond king and ace followed by a diamond ruff with the heart king; lead a low heart from the table and win with the heart ace; lead the diamond jack and pitch the club jack from the table; West wins with the diamond queen but end played and can choose his own poison. If this were the case, West should congratulate his partner for trying to defeat the contrast; perhaps next board goes as East predicted.
Wen Tao

bobby wolffSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Hi Wen,

Your solution is nothing short of breathtaking as long as West not East has the ace of clubs. However if East not West has the ace of clubs the contract could always be legitimately defeated and when West does not switch to clubs at trick two that will be telltale evidence that West is in possession of that card.

Welcome to the not so exclusive club of beat the bridge columnist and consider yourself a deserving and superior analyst.

Wen TaoSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff, Shantanu, and Jim2,
I did miss something in my last post. I focused too much on switching club ace with heart ace. However, as Shantanu pointed out, West has shown majority of HCP so East is more favorable to hold club ace and maybe club Queen as well. This, the original play indicated by East is a better line.
Wen Tao

Wen TaoSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,
I sent my last post before reading your most recent post. Thank you very much for your kind words and comments. I enjoy reading your columns almost everyday for the past several years.
Best regards,
Wen Tao

Iain ClimieSeptember 2nd, 2015 at 10:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Assume for a moment that east plays a normal low spade at T1. Would you switch to a heart knowing east could have HQxx or a diamond hoping he had DJ and the switch wouldn’t hurt. I have a horrible feeling I’d have let this through at T2.

Thanks also for the helpful reply yesterday – a Eureka moment in terms of insight.



bobby wolffSeptember 3rd, 2015 at 12:18 am

Hi Iain,

Since this was just a posed problem, not a real hand, in order for there to be a reason to use this hand at all requires getting past the point you ask. Yes, I agree that declarer could easily have the AJ doubleton heart making it a clear percentage play not to finesse (since the singleton queen, in this case offside, makes playing for the drop clearly the percentage play). Of course declarer has room for both the queen of hearts and the jack of diamonds, but of course, also the possibility of both the king and queen of clubs which again confirms what you feel, giving away partner;s heart holding should be the greatest fear.

No one, who has grown to love our game, has ever (to my knowledge) actually thought the decisions which are constantly made in the bidding, on opening lead and with both declarer’s play and effective defense are easy
to solve.

Sometimes, when in possession of even a real hand we may take editorial license to make a problem out of a situation which was done differently at the table.

Sue us, Sue us, shoot arrows through us, but what is a bridge writer to do? At least we do not slant news items like some journalists we know in order to prove a point, but at the same time, hiding and then distorting an important truth.

Also thanks for the very kind words about yesterday’s hand. With the sensational cast of characters who respond at our site, with, of course, you one of the main actors, it becomes a slam dunk for us at this end to give as much as we have to give, since it always is so well accepted and apparently sincerely appreciated.