Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 1st, 2018

When the loo paper gets thicker and the writing paper thinner, it’s always a bad sign at home.

Nancy Mitford

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


The solution to today’s problem may be slightly counterintuitive, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll know it is clearly the best play.

The deal was played a few months ago in the Common Game all around the U.S. When I checked the frequencies, remarkably few players had brought home their game.

At the table I was watching, South declared three no-trump after an auction that strongly suggested that bad breaks could be expected, since East-West had bid to the three-level on a wing and prayer while vulnerable.

West led the heart five to East’s ace. Back came a second heart, which declarer won, discarding a spade from dummy. He led a club to the king and ace, won the next heart, pitching a second spade from dummy, and visibly gulped when diamonds broke 4-0 on him. He tried cashing out the clubs, but East simply threw away his small spade and a heart winner, and declarer could set up — but not reach — his spade winner in hand.

The winning line is to test diamonds at trick three. When the 4-0 break comes to light, South knocks out the club ace, wins the heart return, pitching a diamond from dummy, and then runs the clubs. He comes down to a five-card ending where both he and dummy have three diamonds and two spades and he has lost only two tricks so far.

East must keep three diamonds and one spade winner, so he can keep only one heart. Declarer draws out the spade ace, pitches the diamond loser on East’s heart winner, and has the rest.

While it looks normal to respond two clubs, I have been around off-shape doubles enough to be suspicious of introducing feeble minor suits when I don’t have to. Here, I prefer the call of one no-trump, since when nobody bids the majors, I expect to find partner with both majors and 3-2 in the minors. If West has six running diamonds, he may yet bid the suit again and take me off the hook.


♠ K 7
 K Q 6
 8 5 4 3
♣ 9 8 7 4
South West North East
Pass 1 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 15th, 2018 at 9:16 am

Hi Bobby,

What happens if East reads the heart position and plays the H10 at T1?



David WarheitFebruary 15th, 2018 at 10:34 am

Iain: Win the H, cash DA, getting the bad news, and lead CK. E wins, and if he continues H, follow the column line, and if he leads spades, there’s your ninth trick. So, win the D or club return and lead a S. E must duck, so you win the K and cash 2 more C. There are now 6 tricks left to go. Cash 2 more D and lead a D. You have now won 8 tricks and E must either let you win dummy’s SQ or your H for your ninth trick.

Iain ClimieFebruary 15th, 2018 at 11:39 am

Hi David,

Looks good, thank you.


A V Ramana RaoFebruary 15th, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
Perhaps the first spade discard is not fatal but the second one is. Certainly he should have discarded a diamond on third heart but what is that he wanted to achieve by playing clubs first. Clearly diamond A should have been cashed at trick three . South can overcome even singleton club A with east . South only reduced certain nine tricks to eight by playing on clubs first and discarding two spades from dummy .Or Am I missing something?
PS : regarding yesterday’s post- yes both S J Simon & Victor Mollo are legendary writers. While Simon’s book ” Why you lose at Bridge” is a veritable classic, Mollo’s Books , with his acerbic wit provide for a very instructive and amusing reading .

Bobby WolffFebruary 15th, 2018 at 1:55 pm

Hi Iain & David,

Much thanks for minding the store while I slept.

No doubt Iain’s query might provoke interest, but David’s very clear, astute and complete reply saved the day in NT, instead of spades, to which he then referred for the contract trick.

God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world, my bridge buddies came to my rescue, and no wonder I had especially pleasant dreams.

Bobby WolffFebruary 15th, 2018 at 2:22 pm


First leading a diamond appears to definitely be the right technique on this hand by declarer, but perhaps South was intending to cater to a singleton ace of clubs with West (a possibility but certainly not a likely one, although the 4-0 diamond break did surprise especially with that holding by East. However, since making the contract, rather than an extra overtrick seems overriding, an initial diamond play by declarer seems intuitively correct.

I do generally agree with your overall assessment of both SJ Simon and Victor Mollo. However Simon did write several more books featuring his animated bridge characters, all of which well represented (like Mollo’s) typically flawed, but somewhat lovable and above all consistent for that time and place who often frequented bridge clubs mostly throughout Europe and North America.

IOW, no doubt Victor was spectacular, but no one should ever underestimate SJ, nicknamed Skippy, whose books appeared first, pre WWII.