Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything… at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything.

Dan Millman

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


Today’s deal comes from the winners of the Brighton Senior pairs, which included one of my journalistic contacts, Brian Senior.

As Brian admitted, he had been lucky here. Firstly, the North-South methods meant that Senior could get in a spade overcall to attract the most threatening opening lead, and secondly, declarer’s technique was found wanting. In three no-trump declarer won the spade lead in dummy to play a club to the jack and ace and Geoff Wolfarth as West cleared the spades. When declarer lost the heart finesse Senior had spades to cash for down one; down one represented 75 percent of the matchpoints for East-West.

After the spade overcall, declarer must attack East’s potential late entry first. If East has the club ace as well as the heart king, the contract appears to be doomed unless declarer can manufacture an endplay, but on the actual layout it can be made by knocking out the heart king before the spades have been established. As you plan to play on both hearts and clubs eventually, arrange to take the heart finesse before playing on clubs. That means winning the first spade with the king as before, but then crossing to hand with the diamond ace to run the heart jack.

This approach makes the contract on the actual lie of the cards, while if the heart king and club ace were switched, declarer would score two heart tricks without losing the lead. He could then play on clubs, and succeed whenever that suit divides evenly.

This may seem fairly basic to my readers, but it is worth reiterating: 5-3-3-2 represents a balanced hand pattern, whether the long suit is a major or minor. Unless the honors are remarkably skewed, it works better to open hands in the 15-16 range with a five-card major one no-trump, not with the suit. With 17, upgrade the hand, if you like, to treat it as 18-19. So here open one no-trump, not one heart.


♠ K 7
 A Q 7 6 4
 K 7 3
♣ K 8 6
South West North East

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 9:25 am

Hi Bobby,

Declarer might still have prevailed except for West’s spade 9 (assuming he didn’t lead it at T1). After the CA has won and another spade comes back, South cashes clubs, 2 top diamonds ending in hand and throws East in with a spade to lead a heart at the end, making 2S, 2D, 3C and 2H. If West takes the 3rd spade though, he can cash a diamond and play a heart through.

If South plays as suggested with West holding the HK, the HJ will get covered. Now South may be able to lead twice towards the CQJ coping with East holding CAx, although unravelling the clubs may then be tricky. Also, is there any case for ducking the first spade? The hand seems fairly routine at first but has numerous nuances.



David WarheitFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 10:41 am

The original declarer should have made his contract, even after losing the second trick to W’s CA. He then ducks the second S, wins the 3rd, crosses to the CK and finesses the D10 (or plays DAK and another, but the finesse is better). He now has 3C, 3D, 1H and 2S. He must play this way since he knows that E has exactly 5 S and must have the HK to justify his overcall (since W has already shown up with the CA).

You mention that if E has HK & CA, S can only prevail with an endplay (obviously on E). The only endplay I can see is for S to play C, taking care not to play dummy’s K. Even this attempted endplay will not work if E ducks the first 2 C, but if E does so, S plays on H and makes his contract.

So it seems that playing C at trick 2 has a better chance of success than the line you recommend, since while both lines should succeed on the actual lie of the card, your line must fail if E has HK & CA.

jim2February 2nd, 2016 at 12:56 pm

As David Warheit said, when I read this two weeks ago, I thought Brian Senior got trebly lucky. That is, he got in his overcall, declarer went after clubs first, and then played on the wrong red suit.

Sadly, this diminishes the original play point of the column. However, it introduces an extra nuance that David might have missed. Using his line, West will win the JD and likely get out with a heart. Declarer will eschew the finesse to play diamonds, but the fall of the 8D means declarer now has a losing option to finesse West for both honors (knowing that West is more likely to have diamond length).

bobby wolffFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Hi Iain & David,

First Iain, Your comment about the nine of spades can be directly on target and is perhaps a possible answer for recovering once declarer immediately starts on clubs. It also may refer to why declarer should not duck the first spade, hoping for East to either have all the major spade spots or carelessly neglect his partnership from West being able to win the third spade with even his eight instead of the, in this case, the dealt nine.

Next David, you make an excellent bridge lawyer presentation, one a relatively sound bridge playing jury might buy. However, the reason he wouldn’t pass muster, (at least IMO) is why should clubs be 3-3 and diamonds 4-2 instead of the other way around and also even if clubs are 3-3, West may hold both diamond honors (granted not percentage, but fairly close, particularly so when clubs are 3-3. For what it is worth I probably would choose on this bidding East to have precisely Ax, but that is only a relatively random bridge guess, being only slightly educated.

My condemnation of your line is in no way but by a small margin and I applaud you for discussing it. But when it comes to likelihood I would prefer the line suggested by Brian Senior.

Often and after a close hand like here is discussed, I have always admired players, and was lucky enough to be playing with partners and generally teammates who obliged which included bringing up nuances which cut into alternate but successful lines (in this case the clubs breaking 3-3) in what appeared to be an effort to think about, but not percentage enough to adopt.

At least to me, this nuance created team respect and help bond a team into being the best it can be, rather than to be directed to just winning a personal argument, even if I may say, the other winning line was indeed the best one. However after all these years, my choice would be to NEVER mention such a hand, if indeed it cost heavily in a loss.

In other words I am suggesting even if an observer (particularly a partner or a teammate) has suggested the best line and indeed it is the only winning line, it becomes a winning tactic either not to mention it, or, at the very least wait until next week or beyond to even bring it up and then only in private.

Consider the above only tips from Miss Bridge Manners on how to both win future bridge tournaments and influence players rather than to, break personal discipline and actively go for the title of best player.

Yes, not basic human nature, especially in this huge competitive world we now live, but a relatively doable adjunct to win as a team more easily.

bobby wolffFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your pertinent comment, while being passed in cyberspace with mine, at the very least, needs some thorough analyzing and as the practicing Inspector General, in this case, would appreciate the three of you (and a 4th or more, if contributing, to be added) to work it out and reach a general consensus.

Here is an excellent chance for all to win an ego contest, and I am shrewd enough to beg off and only thought a loser, but no one will know for sure.

jim2February 2nd, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Dear Host —

Note that I agree with the column-advocated line being best. My first point was that — despite taking an inferior line — Declarer should still have prevailed, depriving Senior of a good column hand. As David said (beating me to it), once the AC shows up in the West hand, it practically takes a death-wish to stake the contract on that heart finesse. Thus, taking a desperation diamond line is the only recourse and — this time — it would have worked.

My second point was that the fall of the 8D would later present declarer with an extra dilemma.

bobby wolffFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, I agree with everything you say.

Second, if need be, I apologize, for concentrating on only the discord which often appears in determining (after examining 100% of the facts, not just the ones good lawyers emphasize in court) rather than the specifics you are referring to regarding your presentation.

Finally, I guess I took exception to the not mentioning (or at least not dwelling) on the necessary 3-3 club break (not by you), when, in fact, I think that the Ax with East, in clubs is about a 55% proposition, with the singleton A about another 10% plus of course some additional percentages for others, thereby reducing the 36% usually expected for 3-3 to perhaps 10%+ less.

No doubt your concentration on establishing 3 diamond tricks instead has much validity and that is why I, somewhat wickedly, asked the three of you to determine what is percentage best since I suspected my view would not be automatically agreed.

I guess you are acquiescing to the column-advocated line, but only after serious consideration. Glad to hear it, but I, as always, will forever appreciate well thought out decisions.

My direction in perhaps exaggerating percentages to favor tendencies in the bidding, when it occurs, is only an opinion, and may not have the validity I assume.

And so it goes, but thanks for your explanation.

David WarheitFebruary 2nd, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Host and Jim2:

I admit that I didn’t think about E having D8 singleton, but now having it called to my attention, I would reject that notion as being very unlikely, since otherwise E has only 6 HCP & only a 5-card suit for his vulnerable overcall.

Jane AFebruary 3rd, 2016 at 12:50 am

Doesn’t four hearts make on any lead? But then, who cares? Is there a way to know that the five two heart fit is the better place to be or not? I am not sure I understand the south hand bidding one NT over the spade over call either. Doesn’t this show a bigger hand than he holds? Just a matter of style I guess and what partnership agreement is.

I would have gone looking for the club ace first also and been surprised to find it in the west hand. Now declarer knows where the heart king is however. Takes any guess work out of the equation.

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2016 at 1:34 am

Hi Jane A,

Yes, apparently 4 hearts is cold. What it proves is that, depending on how the defensive cards are distributed will often determine the result.

Sometimes 5-2 fits play better than does 3NT even with two defensive spade stops, but sometimes they don’t. Trying to find out is what keeps good players coming back for more.

Yes, I agree that South should not bid 1NT, but rather pass the one spade overcall by his RHO. North will then make sure their side gets to game, but which one to be selected will be determined by only them.

Yes, once the club ace is discovered in West’s hand, the king of hearts should be with East and then North can lead a low heart to the jack with a total duck coming back (or rising with the ace).