Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, May 30th, 2016

The road to resolution lies by doubt;
The next way home’s the farthest way about.

Francis Quarles

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


There is certainly a case for South driving his hand to game when his partner produces a free raise of spades. But these days the mantra to support with support has taken hold to such a degree that South might do better to take the slightly cautious approach and ask North whether he has a hand or a foot. North will normally commit to game with either a maximum, in context, or a fitting hand for the majors.

The defenders lead and continue clubs against four spades. South ruffs, and can afford to surrender one trump in addition to the inevitable loss of one club and one heart. South cannot protect himself against a hostile trump break, since he will be forced to ruff clubs at the second trick, and again when he gives up a heart trick. Hence South must look for the best line on the assumption that trumps break 3-2.

Best is to ruff the second club, drive out the heart ace, ruff another club, and then draw two rounds of trump with the ace and king. Now, ignoring the trump queen, declarer runs his heart and diamond winners. West may take his high trump when he pleases, but South has the rest.

Note that at trick six South must not lead to the spade king and take the trump finesse. If he did, he would lose to the queen, and back would come another club. South would have to ruff with his trump ace, and this would set up West’s spade nine as the setting trick.

You have two enticing sequences to lead from. Should you pick one of them, or lead partner’s suit, or even trump? All four options make sense, but I can’t see how there is any rush to lead spades. I can, however see how it might be necessary to go after either red suit at once. I’ll trust partner’s overcall though, and lead hearts; I’ve been wrong before, but rarely through lack of discipline.


♠ Q J 9 4
 J 6 3
 Q J 10
♣ J 6 4
South West North East
  1 1 Dbl.
2 Pass Pass 3 ♣
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


David WarheitJune 13th, 2016 at 10:42 am

After ruffing the second C, S should first play SKA and then play H. S needs S to be 3-2. If they are, this line is 100%. The suggested line has a very high probability of success, but not 100%.

On another front, suppose S ruffs the second C and leads a S to the K and W plays the Q. How should S continue? Answer: play another S to the A, then play H. The defense can win the HA and force S to ruff C a second time, but now E is out of C, so S will only lose a trump, making his contract. Note that it would do S no good to pick up E’s presumed 10963 of S, since he will be forced to ruff a second C, plus if he does adopt that line, think of W’s joy in seeing S take that line when he (W) had played the Q from Q9 or Q10 doubleton.

jim2June 13th, 2016 at 11:25 am

Along the lines of what David Warheit posted, what would vulnerable West do after South’s non-vulnerable 1S opening holding:


Iain ClimieJune 13th, 2016 at 11:42 am

Hi Bobby, David,

I wondered (before David’s post) about cashing the SA as an extra chance against singleton Q with West. If it appears, South can cash DKQ and lead a heart to the Q then cash DA shedding a heart and play another heart. Can he then scramble enough tricks on cross-ruff lines (ruffing a heart high if necessary) to cope with East’s presumed 4 trumps? If / when East ruffs a diamond high, South would then be able to dump his last heart although perhaps he needs to ruff dummy’s Dx before playing the 2nd heart.

Any thoughts here, although obviously David’s point about the SQ as a false card still applies.



bobby wolffJune 13th, 2016 at 11:51 am

Hi David & Jim2,

Yes, David as he often has done, suggested an improvement to our suggested column line and Jim2 has supplied the hand which corroborates David’s valid point.

Sure, most experienced players would bid the same 2 clubs with Jim2’s example hand, but then the contract would fail with a third heart lead from West, when in, with the second round lead of hearts since East would ruff it with the short defensive trump holding, therein creating the setting trick with the eventual trump queen securing the setting trick.

bobby wolffJune 13th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes Iain, you are on the right track with West, ostensibly showing a singleton spade queen, and, if so, what to do as declarer about coping with that normally (at least on this hand) deadly trump break.

I think that you have hit, or at least in the ballpark, the solution to succeeding on this hand, but rather than go through all those machinations, call attention to (at least what I think) guessing the likelihood of what the exact distribution is, if you’ll excuse the expression, on the table.

If West would have had the singleton (any, but on this case, the queen) he would then have a 1-4-3-5 hand which most all decent players would opt to double first (holding 4 of the other major and shortness in the opponent’s suit).

So the worthwhile truth to be learned is, while contemplating best lines of play, let the distribution fit the hand, in determining what to expect during the play. Temper that, if possible, by knowing the player (in this case, LHO) and then proceed accordingly.

Applying that “X” factor and we arrive at what a top level player does on every hand he is so involved. Surprisingly, once a player acquires both that talent, and the strong discipline which goes with, you will have, at the very least, someone who is capable of competing at the very top level of bridge.

Finally, that knowledge, if I am correct in my assumptions, may then realize what to work on.

It is not possible for perhaps a large percentage of even the bridge lovers of this world to put those qualities together, but if the exception presents itself, IMO it would be indeed sad for him or her (up to now usually him, but why so, puzzles me) not to partake of this glorious pastime, wherein infinite satisfaction is the result.

Perhaps the above doesn’t completely answer your query, but in order to do, would be the job for “Deep Finesse” or one of its fellow companies, the computer thinking available for instantly computing that answer to theoretical percentage bridge problems (I do not have access to one).

slarJune 13th, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Doesn’t DW’s line run the risk of losing control and going down a lot? In the column line it looks like you’re down 1 on a 4-1 break. In DW’s line, I think you’re down 3 or 4 because the defense can pull trump and cash clubs. Given the minute extra chance of the DW line prevailing, I think I’d go with the column line in any form of scoring.

P.S. I think I’ll borrow the phrase “a hand or a foot”! I usually say “a pulse”.

Iain ClimieJune 13th, 2016 at 6:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the detailed discussion although West could be 1336 although East’s ace would be unblocked or played at T2. There is some scope for deception, although not after 3 rounds of clubs.


bobby wolffJune 13th, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Hi Slar,

Even though I haven’t checked out your pronouncements I will just assume that they are true and with few, if any, what ifs.

We, as only bridge players, likely represent complex alter egos, and as such emphasize a wide spectrum of competitive “feelings”.

Some goal enthusiasts concentrate only on the factor of “winning”, e.g. in bridge making the contract. Others like casino gambling, their owners are opposite to that goal and only are tuned in to “far out” expectancy, catering to the law of averages.

Therefore in truth, both sides are right, however we can now say, without much fear of contradiction, in IMPs the greater goal is fulfilling games and slams, while in “matchpoints”, overtricks sometimes take on enormous proportions.

Yet, in analysis, the espouser usually slants his opinion to what he prefers, but in the case of lawyering, since his fee is often dependent on the result, he needs to say whatever he can to positively influence his client’s case, therefore the need to exaggerate (euphemism for lying). That, in turn makes for lack of credibility and when that segues to bridge learning, the student is often misled into a view which his personality might reject.

All the above is only an attempt by me to explain that in bridge, the rule seems to be, “what is truth for the goose is not necessarily truth for the gander”, and add that to the intellectuality attached to our game, yes “Houston, there is a problem”, but one we can all take in stride.