Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, September 29th, 2016

It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.

O. Henry

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


Some people play South’s two no-trump response shows a balanced 13 to 15 points, with no four-card major, while others would bid three no-trump with this hand. Here when South shows his minimum game-force, North can raise to three notrump without considering any other action.

After a spade lead South can determine that to make game he needs a total of four tricks from the minor suits. Each suit will easily furnish three tricks but no more, so South will need to utilize both suits in some fashion to make his game.

If South follows a straightforward approach, the opponents are likely to win an ace, then knock out the spade queen. They will now be in position to take their second ace and run the spades, defeating the contract.

South must therefore try to steal one trick in clubs or diamonds. He can then switch to the other suit, and make his game by knocking out the second ace.

There is little chance to engineer a swindle in clubs, but the diamonds are a horse of a different color. South should lead the diamond jack at trick two, as though planning a finesse against the queen. Even though South owns the diamond queen, his opponents don’t know this.

As South hopes, West plays low on the diamond jack, since it is far from clear that he wants to stop South from losing a finesse to East’s presumed diamond queen.

Having thus stolen a diamond trick, South can shift his attention to clubs and ensure his nine tricks.

There is no rule against using Stayman on flat hands. But the weaker your major, the less attractive it is. Here a 4-4 or 5-4 heart fit might be right if the diamonds were open; equally, a 4-4 heart fit breaking badly might go down when the no-trump game came home. And Stayman may allow a lead-directing double or reveal declarer’s shape to the defense. So I’d just raise to three no-trump.


♠ K 10 4
 7 6 3 2
 9 6 5
♣ A 8 4
South West North East
  Pass 2 NT 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 ClimieOctober 13th, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Hi Bobby,

Leading the DJ gives the defence a plausible chance to err, which would perhaps be less likely if South led a low diamond towards the K. West would realise that South might well be trying to sneak a ninth trick and could jump in with the ace, although the spade position isn’t that clear to him. If he’d held SJ10xxx and East K9x it might be more obvious.

This raises the question of how to persuade the defence you are trying to steal a trick when you aren’t. Suppose South had DQ109x(x) and dummy K8x with the diamonds masked by an opening 1NT. A small D towards the table might then persuade West to dive in with the Ace if he held it, and the diamonds will almost certainly run. If West is good enough to find such a play, it may well make sense to assume East has the DA and not the DJ. Despite the usual risk of east holding DAJ(x), would it make sense to take a first round finesse of the 8 or am I trying to outwit myself here?



bobbywolffOctober 13th, 2016 at 10:59 pm

Hi Iain,

Both your comments and the bridge problem featured are well worth analysis and discussion.

Let’s try and get an overall feel of the advantages and, of course, the facts:

1. Declarer, as most times, has the tempo advantage in this case, and after a brief pause, throwing the jack of diamonds on the table.

2. However, being realistic, the opening leader while happy that the right defensive suit (spades) has been led, should instantly (being numerate), understand that declarer also has the queen of spades (partner playing the king), but did he begin this hand with two or three?

3. While an initial feeling should indicate only two and thus the AQ doubleton, simply because that if holding three, but not including the 10 (but perhaps even including the ten), the best play could easily be to duck the first spade, often insuring the contract, even against the best defense, and with West originally starting life with five and East with only a doubleton.

3. The above would almost be a sure thing at IMPs (where all good declarer’s are trying to insure the contract and not being overly concerned with overtricks). However at matchpoints, this is not necessarily true, here with South perhaps holding the AQ10. You and others have heard me saying that matchpoints is indeed just too difficult a game to play, since with overtricks so critical, there are just too many reasons for that fact alone to cloud many issues, making only the real game of rubber or IMPs one that allows less luck to determine, not adding all the reasons, back and forth for seeking as many tricks as possible.

4. Therefore a quick witted defender, being on opening lead, should hope for the doubleton AQ to be held by declarer and hop with the ace and follow it with the jack of spades (likely unnecessary, since with only AQx declarer would surely duck the first spade. However the defensive partnership, assuming they are both thinking clearly, will now cause East, on declarer’s jack to drop the 10 on partner’s jack, critically unblocking the suit, thus setting the stage for an eventual set.

5. Please keep in mind that both E & W know that declarer will not have 4 spades originally, because of the strong negative inference of declarer not responding 1 spade rather than 2NT, the first round of bidding.

6. Thus, to me, it becomes an error for West not to jump ace when the diamond jack or likely any diamond is led toward dummy. Always keep in mind that (when the jack is led and 2nd hands flies ace, if necessary, and when partner has the queen, unless that hand only requires one diamond trick for fulfillment he will probably repeat that diamond finesse thinking West had both the A and Q.

6. No doubt my “splaining” (referring to what Desi Arnaz might have said about informing Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame) is much easier than doing so “at the table”, nevertheless it represents what the high level of bridge is all about and why this game and its logic should be in the curriculum in primary and secondary schools in the USA, like it is in much of Europe and all of China.

More can be said, but need not at this time, except for much thanks to you for just raising the subject of what other roosters may be doing in their bridge barnyards.