Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 6th, 2015

If irony was made of strawberries, we’d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone

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


One of the things this column does is to try to give some general rules, but when I am in a more than usually playful mood I try to present the reader with a hand that confounds the general maxims. Today’s deal is a fine example of the paradoxical nature of the game we all love.

Against three no-trump the spade five was led. You can guarantee two spade tricks by playing low, whereas if you go up with the queen and West has led from the jack, you have turned two tricks into one. Nonetheless, if you play low from dummy today you go down on the layout shown. You win the first spade and drive out the diamond ace, but West wins the diamond ace, and ducks a spade, waiting to regain the lead and cash out.

As the lead looks likely to be from five, you may want to cut communications between the opposing hands. If so, playing the spade queen at trick one is certainly a reasonable play, and it turns out to be necessary today. When the queen holds the trick, play on diamonds. West wins, and if he continues the attack on spades, declarer holds up the spade ace until the third round. Then he takes the heart finesse into the safe hand, and can come to three tricks in each red suit and his three black winners.

I admit there are lies of the cards where playing low from dummy at trick one might be critical, but I believe the auction makes the winning line today the best one.

You have exactly the hand you promised at your last turn. Yes, you have a maximum for your bidding – by virtue of the heart jack. That is no reason to bid your hand a second time. You described what you have when you raised hearts. Partner is the captain; respect his authority.


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


Patrick CheuNovember 20th, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Hi Bobby,If the QS holds,declarer is a tempo ahead in play and if wrong West gets to duck the second spade and not declarer…crucial play on trick one,once again ‘Winning Play In Contract Bridge'(Strategy At Trick One)1964,by Fred L.Karpin comes to mind.Thanks for showing us the way. regards~Patrick.

bryanNovember 20th, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Does anything change if East hides the 3 and plays the 8 under the queen?
South might now think there is a chance that West has 6+ spades.
Even so, best still seems to be diamonds then hearts.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Hi Patrick,

No doubt Fred Karpin (I knew him well and he was one of our games biggest and most loyal supporters) was over fifty years ahead of me in reporting the great depths to where our game can take us.

However, I must include you and all others who so consistently post here, with your genuine love for our pastime, which, at least to me, proves beyond belief, how bridge logic, if taken in the right and proper dose, can set minds straight on how to indulge in worthwhile fierce mind competitions. At the same time, we learn to communicate legally and ethically, think for ourselves with original thoughts (today’s hand), better learn as a continual exercise, the importance of numeracy in problem solving and therefore in life, and all without, at least to me, a single negative in the entire process.

You always seem to be right on target in description. If only Reese, Simon, Mollo, Darvas, or Blackwood (to mention only a few) were still alive (and how about Kantar, Lawrence and L. Cohen who are) we would have our very own menagerie for them to write about.

Thanks always for your kind words.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Hi Bryan,

Of course, if West originally had six spades (including the king), as long as the ace of diamonds was knocked out ahead of the losing heart finesse, all routes lead to success.

However, by ducking the spade in dummy, 2 tricks are assured, but in this case, in spite of that, it indeed is correct to gamble on West having the king, not the jack, for if the spades are 5-3 (not 6-2) then to play the queen is necessary.

The above is a great example (at least to me) of the special logic applicable to bridge, which presents specific logic problems with variable correct answers (not the same old, same old).

Bridge does mirror life, which, again, at least to me, sometimes leads to doing one thing one time and then an opposite solution the next (with almost exactly the same facts), each time to fit the surrounding circumstances.

Yes, the above uncovers the elephant always in the bridge room leading to the necessity to understand what the game is all about and why.

Patrick CheuNovember 20th, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Hi Bobby,In yesterday BWTA,South held K10xxx Ax xxx KJx,After N 2N-S ?Agreed that it’s worth slam try,we play 2N(20-21) and 3H trf to 3S,followed by 4S is mild slam try whereas 4 level trf is game only but always 6 carder…therefore is there a case for 2N-3C (5c puppet)-any response(except 3S) -4H or 4S by South to show 5 carder and 11-12 Quantitative,and opener signs off in 4N or cue at 5 level if interested in suit slam?

TedNovember 20th, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

Maybe it’s my matchpoint tendencies rearing their head, but on BWTA, except at unfavorable vulnerability, I’d have bid 3H for several reasons:

1. I know partner did not choose this hand to make one of his ratty one level responses on two Q!
2. Partner knows I will support with 3 cards on many hands and will be reluctant to compete with his poor heart suit.
3. If partner does compete, it will likely be in diamonds. Since in that event, I’ll return to hearts, this would simply give additional information to the opponents.
4. My hearts are good enough that I am less likely to get doubled and more likely to push them to 3S.
5. If I pass and partner doubles (penalty) now what do I do? Bidding immediately saves me that nasty decision.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Hi Patrick,

What you suggest is decent, but somewhat convoluted, of course, with Puppet Stayman a slight complication.

But what about a simple transfer and then 4NT (quantitative). Partner may pass, prefer to 5 spades (flaw in the process since on a rainy day 11 tricks may not appear). If partner accepts, it should be with 5NT unless he has decided on spades, in order to allow for the responder to hold a random 5-4-2-2 hand with the 4 card suit not likely to be hearts. The opener then bids (decent, Q10xx by responder with better from the opener, 4 card suits up the line until either an earlier 4-4 fit occurs and, if not, 6 spades or 6NT becomes the final resting spot.

Not too much to remember as long as one is familiar with what 5NT over 4NT always should mean.

bobby wolffNovember 20th, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Hi Ted,

Since I agree with every word of your convincing (at least to me) argument for bidding 3 hearts I will cast my vote wholeheartedly in your direction.

However, with your one stated caveat of unfavorable vulnerability, but you may even temper that by stating that you would still compete to the three level, unless those opponents were known for close matchpoint doubles at the three level.

You not only got compliance from me, I seem to even feel stronger than you do about it.