Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

You gotta have a swine to show you where the truffles are.

Edward Albee

N North
None ♠ 5 4 3
 A J 10 6 4
 5 3 2
♣ Q 2
West East
♠ 10 9 8
 K 7 3
 10 9 7
♣ J 9 7 6
♠ J 7 6
 Q 9 2
 Q J 6 4
♣ K 10 5
♠ A K Q 2
 8 5
 A K 8
♣ A 8 4 3
South West North East
    Pass Pass
2 NT Pass 3 * Pass
3 Pass 3 NT All pass



Today’s deal sees a combination of plays that range between relatively difficult and considerably more challenging. If both defenders can do their part, then they can conjure defensive tricks almost from nowhere.

Against three no-trump West leads the spade 10 and sees East follow with the six, a very hard card to read, since it could easily be the start of an encouraging signal.

West is back in the spotlight when South wins his king and leads a heart to trick two; West must play the heart king to kill the heart suit and prevent South having an easy route to a ninth trick. After all, if South has the heart queen the heart suit is coming in whatever West does.

What can South do now? As the cards lie he must win the trick and probably does best to duck a diamond. Now West has another problem. The easy way to defeat the contract is to shift to clubs, but if he opts for passive defense he should play back a heart, letting East win the queen and exit with the spade jack.

Now even when spades break 3-3 declarer will have no choice but to rely on the club king being onside in order to try to reach dummy. Today his luck will be out.

As an aside, if East does not unblock the spade jack on the second round of the suit, declarer might guess to cash off his diamond winners and endplay East with the spade jack to lead away from the club king. Now that would be embarrassing!

First things first: your partner’s double is not penalty. It shows real extras, typically with three hearts. In context you might have enough to jump to four hearts now, or cuebid three diamonds en route to a game in no-trump or hearts. A more cautious approach would be to bid just three hearts, I suppose.


♠ 5 4 3
 A J 10 6 4
 5 3 2
♣ Q 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Dbl. Pass
1 2 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 WarheitJanuary 10th, 2017 at 9:18 am

S wins the SA and leads a H but W plays the K. S wins the HA and plays DAK. If E hangs on to the QJ, it’s all over. S cashes SKQ and exits with a D. E can cash 2 D and then must lead C (or cash HQ and let S make an overtrick).

Iain ClimieJanuary 10th, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

One horrible possibility presents itself here for the defence. Imagine South has 3 small hearts in a dead flat hand, then views to pass 3N. He leads a heart to the K and Ace then the HJ. Obviously east should take this as the cards lie, but how much credence should be given to the scenario I suggest when ducking would be right? Today, of course, it let’s the contract through.



bobby wolffJanuary 10th, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Yes, you two bridge warriors have set up straw situations certainly worth recognizing to the point of dealing with them, at least with mind recognition and theoretical winning defense.

First with David. East might need his partner’s actual count signals in diamonds in order to discard one of his high diamond honors on declarer’s high diamond plays. As long as East knows West has three of them (again numeracy at work in a top bridge player’s mind) it is then a slam dunk to throw a “trapping high diamond” away being ready in case partner has the ten (his seven, nine, following tends do indicate it, as well, but not the nine seven instead, at least when playing standard count signals).

And with jettisoning the jack of spades, suggested by Iain, again that should be done since East will be privy to West’s play and bridge experience should make East aware of not wanting to be end played while holding the key king of clubs while declarer is attempting to strip the “out cards” from his would and should be, “wary” defenders.

Of course, East and West (or at least one of them) should hold his cards up, since how else could declarer know that the king of clubs is located in the danger hand, thus constructing the play as if he was sure of it.

However, thanks to both of you for encouraging defensive players to be aware of what used to be called bridge “gambits”.

jim2January 10th, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Let’s say declarer knows West is good enough to play the K/Q H as in the column. So, how should the sequence be aligned best?

How about playing off all four spades? What can East pitch? Surely not a small heart (the benefit of playing spades before hearts), and not likely a small club. Only a small diamond looks safe, so let’s assume that.

Next, declarer plays one top diamond. If East pitches a diamond honor, it would create a finesse position. (put the 10D in South’s hand).

NOW, declarer leads a small heart, captures the KH with AH, sees the heart suit is dead, and comes off dummy with a diamond, and endplays East.

jim2January 11th, 2017 at 1:24 am

Note that my sequence basically transposes to the standard line, making the KH play easier (but we “knew” West was good enough anyway) but gains by enhancing endplay chances.

bobby wolffJanuary 11th, 2017 at 2:05 am

Hi Jim2,

This is like one of those long ago movies (I forget the real name) but it was one where the audience can make their own ending to satisfy their curiosity so whether the end play worked or instead the declarer only played for the king of clubs to be onside all the time, we’ll never know, but all optimists will imagine that it turned out well, even the ones who were rooting for the defense.

jim2January 11th, 2017 at 2:53 am

My acronym has taught me the value of discover plays, delays to gather intel, and forcing early defensive discards when those measures do not damage the main line. When those same plays run the risks of giving the defenders intel and letting them give it to each other, I have to assess the trade-offs.

My opponents so often do the worst thing for me by accident anyway, that I generally err in the direction of gathering intel.

bobby wolffJanuary 11th, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt your disease TOCM TM has caused your extreme modesty toward the gathering of intel, before, and if possible, then making the winning critical decision.

Since I can never improve on your accurate analysis I will only suggest next time you declare a hand against a world class partnership (and there are fewer of those than most people think), when you embark on a line which requires a (thought) tiny defensive mistake (such as on the above hand with East not unblocking his high diamonds in order to avoid being end played), you will result in being frustrated since those superior defenders already will rise to their defensive responsibilities since they will already know your (almost) exact hand and your specific intentions. (also if that line is adopted West, not East, will possess the crucial club king).

Even those who are not infected with TOCM TM will have to stumble away, no doubt, mortally wounded.