Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 7th, 2017

I know enough of the world now to have almost lost the capacity of being much surprised by anything.

Charles Dickens

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

*splinter in support of hearts


As South in four hearts you can see you have one club and two diamonds losers off the top. Your first instinct might be to go for spade ruffs in dummy, but the problem with re-entries to hand makes this awkward.

Imagine you ruff a spade in dummy, cross to your club winner and ruff a second spade. So far so good; but when you draw trump, the bad break means you will never establish your long club.

Curiously, you can survive a 4-1 trump break, but not a 4-1 club break, when you would simply have four top minor-suit losers. Once you spot this, you may see the winning line of taking your spade ace and ducking a club at trick two. This allows you to be more flexible by retaining club entries to both hands.

If the defenders play on diamonds, you ruff two diamonds in hand, drawing trump with dummy’s excellent spots. If they play on spades, you ruff two spades in dummy, making South the master hand.

Equally, if the defense returns hearts, you win in hand, ruff a spade, return to hand with a trump, and ruff a second spade. That lets you play a club to your hand, draw trump and concede two diamonds at the end for 10 tricks.

The lesson of this hand is that when you have a 4-4 trump fit, you do not have to decide on the master hand immediately. You may need to wait until you have set up your ruffs. Equally, remember to protect your entries to retain trump control.

Your partner should have extra values and something very close to a 5=3=1=4 pattern. My guess as to our side’s best game is four hearts – though it may be more challenging to play than the 4-4 club fit. Regardless, I would raise to four hearts, and let partner retreat to the club game if he doesn’t want to play hearts.


♠ Q
 K J 10 6
 Q 6 4 2
♣ K 7 5 3
South West North East
  Pass 1 ♠ Pass
1 NT Pass 2 ♣ Pass
3 ♣ Pass 3 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 21st, 2017 at 11:32 am

At trick 3, after ducking a club, you say that if opponents return a trump, “win in hand”, ruff a spade, trump to hand, ruff a spade, club to hand, draw trump & claim. I’m afraid that on certain lies of the trump suit, this may not work. Assume E wins the club and returns a trump, which trump do you play from S’s hand? If you play the 7, you will succeed on the given distribution of the opponents’ trumps. If, however, W has the singleton H8, down you go, and if W has 8 fourth of trump, there is nothing you can do to bring home the contract. Also, you don’t discuss what to do if E returns a club at trick 3. On the given hand, the only way you can succeed is to win the ace, ruff a spade in dummy with anything but the 6, then lead the heart 6 and finesse the 7.

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Hi David,

Although I am not now prepared in time to thoroughly check out your assertions, I strongly suspect that you are 100% correct in your varied claims.

As you know, as well or better than I, that declaring a bridge hand, particularly so while playing in a trump suit (instead of the usual simpler NT contracts) there often are different special distributions which, if occurring, and defended correctly, may spell finis (or require an unexpected guess) to even a well planned declarer play.

Therefore such is this hand. However, the main thrust for us, the authors, is to suggest the most likely (or close) chance for success and that seems to require giving up a “soft” club trick early in the hope of a 3-2 break, of course, not knowing at the time of the ugly 4-1 trump break, but finding out that even with that glitch in percentage, success may still be in the cards.

The more obvious learning experience for the less experienced player is that a 4-1 club break instead cannot be overcome, at least to my view, so that the column explanation appears to be the best percentage try available even if it requires additional adventure later on.

All the above is not intended to deny or prevent your ability to add your further analysis of wicked witches and poisoned flowers along the Yellow Brick Road to success, but rather to merely warn a talented and aspiring player what to expect along his journey.

More times than others may expect, space considerations require some hands (usually complicated ones) to skip delving into exceptions which could, if we let it, prevent us from dealing with some layouts.

This hand is one of those, so thank you again for both your exceptional analytical ability and for taking the time to warn all of us of what might happen.

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion and Bobby.

David WarheitJanuary 22nd, 2017 at 8:40 am

My comments were not to question your line of play; I am certain that it is the best line, it’s just that even if clubs are 3-2 and hearts no worse than 4-1, one still may not bring home the bacon.

Some interesting points: switch the 6 & 7 of hearts, and you cannot make the contract if E returns a club at trick 3. Switch the 7 & 8 of hearts, and you cannot fail.

bobby wolffJanuary 22nd, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Hi David,

Yes, of course and as they used to say and you agreed, on the long ago popular TV show, “Laugh-In”, “Very interesting”. Only proving how close some of these contracts, usually suit, seemingly not as much, NT, really are.

The challenge and thus fun usually then emerge later, when they are thoroughly, carefully and thus accurately, analyzed.

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