Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Truth is stranger than fiction but not so popular.


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

*Hearts and a minor


Today’s deal from the Gold Coast teams in Brisbane last February embodies a basic principle of declarer play. If you want to ruff things, don’t play trump. Only play trump if you have a side-suit on which to dispose of the losers you might otherwise need to ruff.

At the table Arjun De Livera opened two hearts as South, showing hearts and a minor, and was raised to game. At doubledummy West must lead a low trump, won in dummy. East must split his diamond honors on the first round of the suit, then when declarer goes to dummy with a spade to play diamonds again, East must steel himself to duck. That lets West in to play two more rounds of trump to kill the second diamond ruff.

At the table, though, West wasn’t psychic and led a top spade. De Livera should have remembered the rules, but he played a round of trump himself. After one round of hearts, he realized his mistake and switched to diamonds. When East quite understandably rose with the diamond ace, the defense was over, so long as declarer reverted to the recommended plan of ruffing losers in dummy.

The simple winning line is to take the spade return and ruff a diamond in dummy, then ruff a spade back to hand to ruff the last diamond. That is 10 tricks; four hearts in hand, two ruffs in dummy and four plain winners.

For the record, declarer in the other room also played trump at trick two after an initial spade lead. Perhaps it is a harder hand than it looks. Or maybe not…

The choice from between a diamond, heart and spade is not an easy one. While you know partner has at least three spades, leading from a broken suit like this could easily cost a trick. Despite the fact that RHO has bid the suit, I think the heart jack is more likely to establish tricks for your side – after all, partner almost surely has four hearts, since he doesn’t have four spades.


♠ A 7 4 3
 J 10 2
 Q J 4
♣ 10 5 3
South West North East
Pass 1 Dbl. 1
1 ♠ Pass Pass 1 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 7th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Hi Bobby,

On the play hand, if East reads South for Hearts and diamonds after a small trump lead, and defends as suggested, playing the DQ then ducking the second round, West is still there and may helpfully show count with the D9, especially if East is Scots! Having said that, if a trump is lead initially and taken on table, might South duck the DQ hoping to ruff out the DA in 3 rounds? Whether East could manage to play the DA on neither of the first two diamonds, and the defence could unravel sufficiently to get West in after one round of trumps is tricky though.

On the lead hand, though, what can be read into West passing after South’s 1S bid? Is there any case at all for a club on the basis that partner might be 3-4-2-4 or even 3-3-2-5 although the latter is rather far-fetched? I would suggest that a diamond could be discounted, though, as partner won’t have more than 2 unless he likes doubling on 3-4-3-3 12 counts or similar.



bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Hi Iain,
Your overall synopsis of both the thought and the play basically, as usual, covers the waterfront.
However declarer ducking the queen of diamonds, may allow East to switch to a club eventually denying any real chance at scoring up the ten tricks required.
Either of us trying as we may, trying as we might, the opening lead is almost a random out and out guess, sometimes requiring not only the length in partner's suit, but also the specific cards in it.
However your reasoning concerning likely distributions is sophisticated and therefore certainly worthy of thought.
And of course, the general principle of a partnership having to play 1st and 3rd when leading as opposed to 2nd and 4th when the defense does, all too often enter into the possible usual success of an extra trick instead of the negative denial.
Do not expect much from these often occurring playing situations which constantly occur, with the good news then resulting, of not continually being disappointed.

RyanMarch 7th, 2016 at 5:17 pm

On the main hand, bidding, let’s say S passes instead of making the weak opening. I would see N bid 1C, E maybe bids 1D, S bids 1H, and W might double whether E was silent or not.

I don’t see a way that N-S get to 4H unless E-W push them there. Am I being pessimistic about this bidding?

bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Hi Ryan,
Thanks for your pertinent question.
Yes, if South, not playing that special convention does pass, it will be followed by pass from West, and likely (if playing a normal USA style) North would open 1 club with a sound 1 diamond overcall by East. South would follow almost every standard system by then responding 1 heart followed usually by the original passed hand West with 1NT. North, although minimum, should certainly offer a 2 heart raise, followed by a pass from East and now the experience of South (if he had learned wisely) should now jump to 4 hearts.
Why, with only 8 hcp's might an enthusiastic student of the game ask? Simply because of West's having chirped 1NT he likely will have the ace of hearts, leaving partner's raise with no doubt 4 trumps. That, together with diamonds to be trumped and holding the king rather than the QJ. All good sophisticated reasoning and that is what I would bid with absolutely no consideration for merely inviting instead of going whole hog.
However, if West was listening he should now lead a low heart, certainly the best defense and then arriving at the point mentioned while reading the column.
Charlie Goren advocated usually needing 26 points and at least an 8 card fit to be in good position to make a major suit game, but that is taking into consideration that on average 3 to 5 hcps are usually waste paper. However all 8 of these hcps with South are critical and should be known as such. Also the 4 diamonds together with the 5 hearts (instead of only 4) are very valuable so go all in with the bidding.
Who knows whether West is good enough to lead a trump, but those questions need to be answered at the table and, if so, the result then would also be up for grabs. However, that has nothing to do with the experienced 4 heart bid everyone has to understand, otherwise the ceiling on that would be expert, sitting South would have to be significantly lowered.
All in a day's work, if one takes a liking to the great game we all love to play.

RyanMarch 7th, 2016 at 8:23 pm

Thanks Bobby. I always get a little nervous when partner opens bidding in the third seat. I could see the exact same bidding taking place with the heart J and 6 swapped, but this fear is something I will need to work on.

bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Hi Ryan,

You can see, with the exchange of North’s Jack of hearts for the 6 the exact bidding taking place,

While you can, I cannot, since with only 4 hearts to the 10 and opposite a passed partner, I would pass my partner’s 1 heart in a New York minute and never look back. Yes if the opponents then competed I would then bid 2 hearts, if sufficient, but nothing more. Sometimes the difference between that jack and not is none to miniscule, but other times it is a whole trick and sometimes more when the hand becomes complicated.

In other words when partner, after opening the bidding then freely raises I would expect nothing less than the hand he held. However, that doesn;t mean that you will even get to game or, if not even make your part score, but, of course, a player’s evaluation of hands is possibly, his most cherished asset as far as scoring well.

And now you know, at least I think you do.