Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

If ever I was foxed, it was now.

Samuel Pepys

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


The final contract of four spades was the same at both tables on this deal from match-play. There were problems in the play, however, and the two declarers tried different approaches, with mixed success.

North got the auction underway with one club, East overcalled one heart, and South contented himself with a quiet one spade. When all North could do was rebid one no-trump, however, South jumped to game in spades and everybody passed. West led the heart jack against four spades and you can see South’s problem: there were plenty of winners, but how could he reach them? One declarer tried the heart queen from dummy at trick one. His idea was that after East had won he might well return a heart. Then the club ace could be discarded and the losing diamonds thrown away once clubs were unblocked. But after East took his king, he unsportingly switched to diamonds. Now there was no escape, and the contract failed.

The second declarer played low from dummy at trick one, with the same plan in mind. East followed with the nine and now one can hardly blame West for leading another heart. South pitched his club ace and was home and dry.

Still, since West knew that East held the heart king, he might have asked himself why did his partner play the nine? Surely to show he held an even number of cards in the suit, which could hardly be four. And maybe a clairvoyant East could even have overtaken with his heart king and switched to diamonds. Maybe not…

You have a choice of rebid here; you can either bid one no-trump, or you can repeat your clubs. Normally I’d veer toward rebidding one no-trump with this pattern, but on this occasion your good club spots coupled with the singleton spade suggests the twoclub rebid. Switch the club queen into the diamond suit, and the decision is much closer.


♠ 5
 A Q 3
 8 5 4 3
♣ K Q J 10 5
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 ♠ 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


slarDecember 16th, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Trying to think this through from East’s perspective after seeing HJ, 3:
HJ is singleton: declarer would almost certainly take the ace since giving up the first two tricks is almost certainly not a good plan
HJ is doubleton: declarer would duck to maintain communication. Overtaking would could give up a trick because it would give up a discard, though it isn’t clear that this discard is needed based on how good the clubs are. Attacking diamonds as quickly as possible seems to be paramount.
HJ is JTx: continuing the suit can’t possibly be useful but West doesn’t necessarily know that switching is important

I hope I would be able to work this out at the table.

bobby wolffDecember 16th, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Hi Slar,

The good news is that, if you actually exercise (and at the defensive table) the protocol mentioned in your post, and then rely on your conclusion, I, for one, could not suggest a better regimen.

However, our game can be insidious in easy to overlook evidence bounding about, but, especially with a very clever declarer (almost never experienced at only a medium level bridge conclave, with the proof represented by the two declarers who either ducked the first heart or instead, took the certain to lose finesse). In both actual cases, East should ask himself, why did the declarer do such a thing, particularly so when it is possible the next heart may be ruffed?

Of course, the inevitable question invites either West or East (whoever wins the first trick) to choose what to do next, resulting in the critical decision to be determined by one of the defenders. When, after West’s jack of hearts was allowed to hold and West then continued, it sounds like that even number signal by East is only an excuse given by the non-pressured defender to give count, although those type of specific caveats are seldom discussed beforehand but even if so, are rarely remembered.

Yes, he should, which only means in reality that he either will or he won’t, leaving fate to determine, not self-serving rhetoric.

“Yes, Virginia, bridge can play diabolical tricks on us all”.

And another yes to you Slar, if sitting West you were playing with yourself as partner and had declarer duck your opening lead in dummy.

Caution, do not expect your partner to overtake with his king in order to switch to diamonds. That only happens in very pleasant dreams.

Besides, you Slar would have to be sitting in both positions of your partnership to effect such a result.

slarDecember 16th, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Here is a more likely result, with my bridge doppelganger as my partner:

N: 5
E: [tank]
W: what’s he tanking for?
E: [more tanking]
W: oh crap, he’s really tanking. What am I supposed to do now if I get left on lead?
S: Can we acknowledge a break in tempo?
W: uh huh
E: 9
W: What’s that? Attitude? Count? Suit preference? All 3? Does it even matter? His tanking suggests a switch and I can’t do that unless I’m sure I know what his signal means in which case there is no decision.
S: 7
W: [tank]
E: Uh oh. I should have overtaken.
W: [throws up hands] H10
S: +620
W: I need to get a cup of water
E: I need to use the restroom

Yasser HaiderDecember 16th, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Hi Bobby
Following on from slar’s comments. After the long delay while East figures out what to do, and then plays the 9 of hearts, is it ethical of West to switch to diamonds assuming he works out what it means. Thanks

bobby wolffDecember 16th, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Hi Slar,

You’ve just written the script for a reprise of “My Fair Little Old Lady” a bridge play performed as entertainment at West Coast Regionals perhaps 50 years ago and, if so, this could be the hand which makes it a hit (as in success, not as clobber).

bobby wolffDecember 16th, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Hi Yasser,

Only a subjective answer can I give.

If West can convince the TD that his partnership plays normal count (high even) at trick one, rather than attitude, then switching from continuing a heart could be considered to be perfectly ethical to choose.

Yes, When East plays high he must have six, so West can then guess what the declarer is up to. However we all know that delays on defense often pass unauthorized information to one’s partner making the legal process a very subjective one, often difficult to adjudicate.

It then follows that precedents, when agreed to be the correct decision, should be available for the next committee on a similar subject to allow them to guide their future opinion to establish a consistency with our jurisprudence.

Up to now, I have had extreme difficulty in convincing our legal department to emphasize the importance of precedents in bridge law, mainly because the nature of many bridge conundrums have to do with bridge judgment, including your specific question.

However, in reality, the reputation of the partnership under the microscope tends to become more important than any other factor, making the process very slippery.

Jane ADecember 16th, 2015 at 8:20 pm

I would have opened the BWTA hand one diamond, planning my rebid to be two clubs. My partners and I do this to avoid having to rebid a five card minor, and it has not caused us any hardships. Yes, I know, who wants a diamond lead from partner? No one, but it is what it is. Partner is always going to bid a spade when I hold a junk hand and a stiff baby spade. Never fails. What is the lessor of two evils? We bypass diamonds to bid our majors also, so my partner could easily have some diamonds, maybe even some good ones.

bobby wolffDecember 16th, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Hi Jane A,

While I agree in principle that bidding a 4 card diamond suit ahead of a 5 card club suit is OK, this particular specific holding looks more like 3 diamonds and 6 clubs,

Hence starting one club and then rebidding two clubs or even a minimum 1NT over a one spade response as an alternate to two anything. I confess that while I appreciate your bravado, while I, while after opening one diamond, having my LHO overcall one spade, pass by partner and then a two spade (or even three spade raise, all pass), I wouldn’t feel capable of even gazing at the table while I sweated out my partner’s expected diamond lead.

Pity us very intimidated players who would then have to take the wrath from partner when he leads his unsupported K of diamonds from Kx, making its way around the table to declarer’s ace.