Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 16th, 2015

Philosophy is perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backward. But then one forgets the other clause – that it must be lived forward.

Soren Kierkegaard

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


One of the most interesting bridge sites on the Internet is A few weeks ago, one of the contributors posted a deal, and compared it to a play made by Zia. The latter deal had been reported in an earlier New York Times column, which was no longer accessible. But an indefatigable reader reconstructed the hand, and I thought it so entertaining that it was worth exposure to a wider audience. Here it is – from 25 years ago. Just look at the North and South hands please, to give yourself the full enjoyment of the deal.

Zia played three no-trump on a low heart lead to the ace, with East returning the heart six. Plan the play, assuming hearts are 4-3.

Zia won the heart king and took the diamond finesse – which held, as one might expect against good players whether the king was onside or not. At this point it would be simple to cross back to hand with the spade queen and repeat the diamond finesse; but if that lost, the defenders would win and cash out hearts. Now you would need spades to break to make your game. Alternatively, if you play ace then queen of diamonds, West ducks, and you will need to pick the position very precisely to come close to making your contract. Seeing this, Zia led the diamond queen from dummy before cashing the ace.

If West ducked this, declarer would simply go after spades. If West took this trick, declarer’s communications to hand in spades to cash out the diamonds could not be attacked.

When this deal came up in The Common Game, best for the defense was a diamond, but at the table I would have led a spade rather than a heart. Leading from ace-fourth, especially into a strong hand, is rarely successful and all too often gives up a trick unnecessarily, so it is a council of desperation. The spade lead, by contrast, is far more appealing and you have a side-entry if you can set up the suit.


♠ K 7 5 4
 A 8 5 4
 J 7 6 5
♣ 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 NT
Pass 3 NT All 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


David WarheitNovember 30th, 2015 at 10:18 am

Another line of play that works is: win the second H, finesse D, and then play CA followed by C5, winning 3S, 1H, 3D (with a repeat D finesse) and 2C. Or S might duck the 2nd H. How do you rank these 2 lines of play with Zia’s?

jim2November 30th, 2015 at 1:29 pm

The column line does not need the diamond finesse to win; yours does.

jim2November 30th, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I did wonder why Zia did not hold up and win the third heart.

Might that hold-up help on some layouts where one or both major suits break badly? I played at it until my head began to hurt and gave up, convinced that any probability gain would have been purty small.

Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Hi David & Jim2,

Yes, David, your line of play with your perfunctory
trick counting easily and surely, numbers the “magic” number, 9.

However, that is the very reason it is carefully mentioned within the body of the column, that against good players the first diamond will usually win whether the king is onside or off.

Such is the story of, the glory of, high-level bridge and, in turn, makes the playing of it both challenging and to say the least, very thought provoking.

Your casual mention of the nine?? tricks available reminded me of one of OJ’s high-priced lawyers when he casually questioned in reference to the “glove”, “If it don’t fit you must acquit.”

Pretty clever, you bridge lawyer, you!

Thanks for either directly or indirectly, as you so often do, go to the heart (or maybe I should say diamond) of the problem.

Also I can also hear Zia now thanking you, too.

Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Hi Jim2,

As often seems to happen, our posts (your second one) crossed in cyberspace.

Before my head also begins to hurt, let me just say that the only card combination where ducking the 2nd heart “might” help is when West was leading from 3 small and East had AQxx, but if so was certainly worth doing it.

Thinking I know Zia’s style better than most, he trades successfully, on making relatively fast decisions, often causing the opponents to lose their aplomb (at least to me, not unethical).