Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Diligence is the mother of good fortune.


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


One of the problems with which a declarer at no-trump is faced is when to win, and when duck, as well as which entry in the opponent’s hand to knock out. Today’s deal embodies this sort of problem.

Here you play three no-trump on the lead of the spade jack. You must duck this, to protect yourself against a possible 6-2 spade split, when West has only one ace, and you misguess which one it is. At trick two comes a spade to the ace. What next?

The play that works against most normal breaks is to cross to hand with the club ace and to lead a low diamond out of your hand. If West takes the ace, declarer has nine tricks in the form of four diamonds. When West ducks the diamond ace, the diamond queen wins in dummy and declarer shifts his attention to hearts, taking three tricks in hearts and clubs, two spades and one diamond, for nine tricks.

If East can win the first diamond and clear the spades, declarer will go down. But when West has overcalled on a relatively weak suit you would normally assume that he needs to have a reasonable hand. This makes him favorite to have both the red aces, since there are essentially no other significant high cards missing.

Had you led a diamond from dummy to the king and ace at trick three, West would have cleared spades, and one way or another West would have regained the lead to cash out his spades.

This hand is a dead minimum for an invitational jump to two spades, but your excellent intermediates and side-four card suit offer a lot of playing strength. The call does not guarantee a fifth card in spades, so while you may technically be sub-minimum in high cards, you are certainly within range because of your spot cards and shape.


♠ Q J 10 9 3
 8 5
 A 10 8 7
♣ J 4
South West North East
  1 ♣ Dbl. 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


David WarheitMay 4th, 2016 at 12:10 pm

You say that S “must duck” the opening lead, in case W “has only one ace”. Well, if W only has the HA, S is going down whether he ducks or not. If W only has the DA, then he makes the contract whether he ducks or not, although having used the CA, the play goes on and on, whereas if he wins the SK at trick one, everything is very simple. So, in short, it does no good to duck the opening lead, although it’s hard to see that it would ultimately cost anything either. I am assuming D to be 3-2, but I believe that if W has singleton DA and E the HA it also doesn’t matter. So my only criticism is the use of the word “must”. Either way, S makes his contract if W has both red aces and D are 3-2, just that things are simpler if he doesn’t duck.

bobby wolffMay 4th, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Hi David,

Although, as usual, you are correct in what you say about this specific hand, but the principle of ducking in this situation is one usually worth applying and, in effect, like eating chicken soup when one is “under the weather”, will not hurt.

As you will likely agree, the early learning in bridge often consists of a series of technical plays, not always necessary and some, at special times, even dangerous to make and possible losing strategies, but nevertheless and for overall learning experiences, worth considering.

Such, of course, is the goal of the column, although bridge being the game it is, complete with exceptions to the rule, make it mandatory that the willing student fully understands not only the proper technique, but and above all, the reason for it.

However, none of the above should prevent you from continuing to add your always worthwhile comments. By doing so, and assuming a conscientious and wise reader, you, at the very least, do not impede his understanding, but rather just add to emphasizing corollary points in the play, whether or not they are applicable on that hand.

bobby wolffMay 4th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Hi again David,

And what about if West held the QJ10973 in spades and only the heart ace, but not the diamond ace and, of course, decided to be deceptive on lead.

Sometimes must, after all, will reap the harvest.

David WarheitMay 4th, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Believe it or not, the thought that W led a false SJ (denying the Q) occurred to me, but it is one thing to lie in the play and another in both the play and the bidding. So if W chose to overall, vulnerable, with a 5-card suit headed by the J, surely he has both red aces, or if he had the hand you suggest why oh why did he only bid 1S? Surely he would have bid 2S, or just possibly passed. Note that on the actual hand, 1SX is down 2 (-500) and on the hand you suggest 2SX is also down 2, yet seemingly NS have no way to make W pay, despite S opening the bidding and N also having an opening bid.

bobby wolffMay 4th, 2016 at 11:58 pm

Hi David,

I meant only to refer to the column’s use of must, usually meaning the right technique, which you thought was uncalled for and perhaps it sort of was, except for the unlikely exceptions noted.

BTW, many good partnerships do not play preemptive jump overcalls when they are vulnerable, yet there is, as almost always, an advantage to make some bid, if possible, so 1 spade would likely be the choice of most when holding a decent 6 card suit and only one side ace, at least in my judgment.

Sure, it would be unlikely for even a deceptive demon to false card with the jack, while holding the queen in sequence, but stranger things have happened, particularly when a good team is behind in the later stages of a match.

Of course, the idea is doing something different than one’s counterpart at the other table, and
though it is hard to predict, that particular play, whatever it is (bid, play or opening lead)
sometimes may become a bell ringer.

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