Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 7th, 2016

A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.

Bill Watterson

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


Against four hearts, West leads the spade king. How do you propose to make 10 tricks?

At the table after ruffing the opening spade lead, South played both top trumps at once. Then he crossed to table with the diamond ace to ruff another spade. Next, he played on diamonds, discarding a spade from dummy on the third round of the suit. Alas, East ruffed in, then cashed the queen of trump before playing his last spade. West overtook this with the spade queen and played a fourth round of the suit. Declarer ruffed and could generate an endplay in clubs for down one, but that was hardly a triumph.

The way to avoid this unpleasant outcome was to cash just one high trump from hand before playing on diamonds. After East ruffs the third diamond and presses on with a spade, declarer can ruff and play a fourth round of diamonds, discarding dummy’s last spade. East can do no better than ruff and play a third spade. This is ruffed in dummy and the last trump is drawn with declarer’s king. A low club is discarded from dummy on the last diamond, and declarer has 10 tricks: the trump ace-king, four small trumps – taken separately — three diamonds, and the club ace.

After both opponents follow to the first round of trump, all this plan does is to give the defenders the chance to make up to two trump tricks in addition to one club. So it will also succeed against almost all 3-2 trump breaks as well.

You do not want to sell out to two diamonds, but a double would perhaps suggest club length rather than hearts. I think a simple call of two hearts should show both majors. The auction might be consistent with holding a fifth spade, but you can reasonably assume that you have a safe haven in one major or the other.


♠ 8 7 5 2
 10 7 5 2
 A 2
♣ A 4 2
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1
1 ♠ 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


slarApril 21st, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Sure I can work this out double-dummy but at the table? Not so much. I have some work to do in identifying places where I want to try to withstand a 4-1 trump split. I’m not at a point where I can diagnose this kind of thing in a reasonable amount of time. Plus I play more matchpoints where giving up the overtrick isn’t necessarily a good idea. Now with teams season coming into full bloom it would be a good idea to improve in this area.

bobbywolffApril 21st, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Hi Slar,

First your obvious total honesty is of immense value in bridge learning. Forfeiting ego satisfaction in favor of the greater good of general improvement in whatever the subject is (this case, bridge), perhaps the most important factor in bearding that lion.

The playing of more matchpoints than IMPs will not hinder your progress since you are already aware of that major difference between the two games, which, in turn, while playing matchpoints will always serve as an awakening bugle call, which, if anything, will alert your brain to stay tuned.

The learning of dealing with possible bad breaks is not an easy lesson to overcome. For that, you need to have your bridge mind have at least some numeracy which then, in turn, will usually make your task a bit less difficult.

Will your successful transition be a slam dunk? Not likely, unless you dedicate yourself to achieving it and transcend the poisoned flowers and wicked witches, such as poor bridge advice from others as well as all other minor distractions, which could, and likely will, come your way.

Whatever, if you make your mind to do it, chances are you will, as long as you do not lose patience along the way. And that patience shown will then allow you to learn the most important partnership quality involved, discipline after you have shown your hand in the bidding, then allowing your partner to make the decision, and of course, realizing how important it is for your partner to do the same, after he has appointed you captain.

I’ll be happy to be your sounding board if you present to me bidding sequences to be analyzed and then judged, since then you can report back to whoever your partner is, allowing both of you to bond (at least in bridge).

The idea of teams season coming into bloom strikes a positive chord to me since team bridge, not matchpoints, is the game worth playing, always exhibiting what real bridge is all about, not necessarily its off springs. However one can always cope with matchpoints also, as long as he or she doesn’t allow himself to get spooked.

jim2April 21st, 2016 at 10:50 pm

slar –

I find the key thing in a hand like this is to have seen its like before, at least in principle. Here, the bit to focus on is not giving up trump suit control as cashing both top honors would. Hence, cashing one top is good; cashing both is not because it will allow an opponent to cash a high trump pulling ours.

bobbywolffApril 22nd, 2016 at 9:28 am

Hi Jim2,

You have in one brief paragraph, explained very well, the principle involved with the what to do and what not to, when catering to a possible bad break in trumps.

Of course it involves sometimes losing an undue trick, but when that trick is only an overtrick in a game or small slam it becomes an absolute must to exercise same, in order to save the contract.

However while playing “matchpoints”, sometimes even a world class declarer (and there are fewer of them than most even aficionados are led to believe) will be faced with the realistically “impossible task” of deciding whether to make the right “real bridge play” of doing so or rather to greedily attempt to score up the overtrick when getting a “normal” break of 3-2 with 5 out.

My own personal opinion is that our game cries out to execute the safe way (of course, if possible) to make the contract, but who is qualified to say for sure? I know I am not, along with everyone else faced with such a dilemma, although one may be able to figure the exact percentages and then go forward based on a strict mathematical possibility.

At least to me, playing high level bridge should not have to endure such a thing and just “take” the safety play (your suggested line) and let the bridge devil take the hindmost.

However some like chocolate while others prefer vanilla and definitely while playing “matchpoints”, both flavors need to be considered, even if by doing so, bridge torture, sometimes in the shape of an elephant, enters the room.

However none of the above would prevent me from you being one of my first hires, if my fantasy Nirvana bridge school with me being in charge, could be created in the Western Hemisphere, even if I needed to return to this planet after even many years of exile.

Thank you for taking the time to carefully explain to both Slar and all others who see fit to turn to our site.

jim2April 22nd, 2016 at 11:35 am

Thank you for your kind words!

I did not address the MPs aspects of this hand in my first comment, and it is probably worth another comment foray.

As declarer at MPs, I try to ask myself when the dummy comes down a few standard questions:

– Am I in the field contract (if there is one)?
– Are there alternate contracts whose outcomes may affect my play in MINE?
– Have I gotten a normal/favorable/unfavorable lead?

Here, some tables may be in 4S, doubled or not. My making an OT matters not, but making 4H will allow me out-score any other N-S who set 4S less than +500.

If any N-S should wander into 5D, again my OT matters not, as +420 beats them, while if I go down I will share their bottom score in their inferior contract.

The lead seems normal, so it should not affect my choice of lines.

So, on balance, I would decide that playing as safe as I can for the contract was indicated, especially since the opponents’ spade bids suggested hearts were not breaking. (West’s pre-empt, and East’s sitting for 4H)

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