Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 19th, 2016

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.

Edward Thomas

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


Nicola Smith and Pat Davies of the UK won several European and World titles together. When they competed in the Macallan 1996 tournament they finished in the top half of the field, while losing narrowly to the eventual winners, Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell. Had Davies solved her problem as declarer here, they would have won the match comfortably.

Against three no-trump Rodwell obediently led the heart 10, which was covered by the queen, king and ace. Pat Davies then took three diamond winners, and played a spade to the jack and queen, after which a second heart back sealed her fate. In fact after she had won the first trick, there was an unlikely winning line. She could have succeeded had she played back a second heart at once, but this line would not have been a success against an original 6-1 heart break.

However, a significantly better line would have been to cover the heart 10 at trick one, but to duck the heart king. With the defenders’ communications in hearts cut, the best they can do is to shift to clubs. Now your intermediates are strong enough to withstand the attack. You can utilize your two entries to dummy to play a spade to the king and subsequently to repeat the heart finesse.

The following year Davies and Smith finished second in the Macallan (one place ahead of Sabine Auken and Daniela von Arnim), these results perhaps representing two of the best performances by women in an open event in the last 50 years.

Declarer surely rates to be shapely, with a void or all the first round controls as he did not use Blackwood. So the question is whether to go active with a diamond lead, or passive with a spade or club lead. The bad heart break argues for going passive. I think I’d lead a trump, and maybe a deceptive club nine might cause some confusion?


♠ J 9 3
 J 10 6 3
 K J 4
♣ 10 9 4
South West North East
    Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 3 ♣
Pass 4 ♣ Pass 6 ♣
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 ClimieJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 10:58 am

Hi Bobby,

If declarer holds AK8x opposite J7xx in trumps on the lead hand, he might think Christmas is early, covering the C9 with the J and expecting to now pick up Q10x, so I like the idea. Happy New Year to you, Judy and all the contributors.



jim2January 2nd, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Playing a fourth round of diamonds (and maybe even a fifth) could have affected things a lot, depending on what East discarded.

For example, declarer can be reasonably certain that East has the AS and did NOT begin with AQ972 – thus if East discards two spades and follows the 9S, declarer will know the AS has been blanked.

Alternatively, if East pitches three clubs (or even just two, perhaps), new success lines are created.

A V Ramana RaoJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Since east did not bid two hearts, perhaps declarer could have placed East with A of spades and played accordingly as declarer is comfortable with just one spade trick which along with two hearts, five diamonds and one club add up to nine and if east shifts to clubs after taking spade A ( if at all) declarer needs to guess clubs which may not be difficult

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, by leading the 9 from 109x, your suggested around the table holding is the main deceptive reason for doing so. However, sometimes the leader may also be creating a losing option to declarer by concealing his three card length, should that division possibly, but, of course unlikely, come into play.

I do have a lifetime partiality to lead an aggressive diamond from KJx against a small slam, but I am not in a position to claim many successful ventures while so doing, chiefly because I haven’t attempted to keep accurate records (and none are available elsewhere) of what is more likely to succeed.

Health and happiness for you and your family is what Judy and I wish you for 2017.

Jane AJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Happy New Year to all. Although I am brave, I am not opening that east hand. Even with some shape and a singleton, the heart values seem too ragged to me. In fact, the entire hand is ragged, but what do I know. Declarer will likely wind up in three NT anyway but will not have a clue as to where anything lies. JIM2’s TOCM could sink the ship also. I know some partnerships will open almost any hand in third seat. Live or die by the sword, right? I prefer living!

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, everything else being more or less equal it is often best to force the defense to discard, before attempting to guess the location of cards as declarer.

However to simply duck the king of hearts at trick one seems by far to be the correct play and because of the club layout when East switches to a low club, unless declarer makes the wrong choice of hopping with the queen immediately, she will not be in any danger of not making her contract, but, of course, she cannot know that at the time.

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:43 pm


No doubt, your line of play appears substantially the correct percentage line as long as declarer is careful not to rise with the queen of clubs upon East switching to a small club, but it also appears necessary to almost insure two heart tricks by ducking the first heart, otherwise there are club holdings which may cause the contract to go set.

Also a prosperous and healthy New Year to you and yours for 2017.

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Hi Jane A,

The voice of reason, as is expected.

With a natural club lead running to the queen, it appears declarer will have to guess the spades or else not succeed. If instead, South tries to guess hearts instead he will not succeed, unless he gets very lucky.

No wonder you do so well at tournament bridge, caused by having what your bidding indicates. What an apparent strange thing, although you may soon be classified as an endangered species.

David WarheitJanuary 3rd, 2017 at 6:45 am

I believe that E should not play the HK at trick one. It won’t help on this hand, provided declarer leads a S to his K, but just switch the SQ & K, and voila! The basic principle by ducking is to keep partner in the game so that if he wins something, he can continue hearts while E still has SA.

bobby wolffJanuary 3rd, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Hi David,

No doubt and as usual, you suggest an improved defense as you go your ducking way.

It becomes thoughts like these which will enable a best and brightest, but virtual learning player (young or old), to understand the value of high cards and the timing oft times necessary to preserve another in partner’s hand in order to be in the right hand at the right time to sting like a bee.

Of course, if partner had the nine of hearts to go with his ten, East would indeed be chagrined, especially if, because of that play declarer landed his nine tricks, but show me a declarer who would play the queen from dummy at trick one without having the nine in his hand and I’ll show you a great magic act.

That type of reasoning is what makes bridge stand alone in overall logic and therefore execution, allowing our continued beautiful game simply to thrill with its moves and counter moves.

Thanks for your special part in proving it.

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