Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Bertolt Brecht

S North
None ♠ 9 7 4 3
 10 5
 A J 9 5
♣ A J 3
West East
♠ K 5
 J 9 6 4 2
 K 10 2
♣ 9 5 4
♠ 10 8 6 2
 K Q 3
 7 6 4
♣ 8 6 2
♠ A Q J
 A 8 7
 Q 8 3
♣ K Q 10 7
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 ♠ Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Most partnerships these days use a 15-17 no-trump opening bid rather than 16-18. The logic is that if you open most 12-counts, you do not want your rebid of one no-trump to be 12-15; that is an uncomfortably wide range for exploring game and slam.

In today’s deal, South has a little too much for the no-trump opener, despite his square pattern. Of course, any action South chooses should lead to his declaring a contract of three no-trump on a low heart lead.

The contract may appear to be in jeopardy, but South can prevail by using a maneuver that should be in everyone’s armory: the holdup. He merely delays taking his heart ace, playing small hearts on the first and second tricks and taking his ace on the third round of the suit.

What is the result of this approach? South knows that he will eventually finesse in diamonds into what he imagines will be the safe hand, East, since it is West who appears to have long hearts.

Note that when South leads the diamond queen, if East wins the finesse to shift to a spade, declarer will have to decide whether to take the spade finesse or play for diamonds to behave. Rising with the ace feels right to me.

However, when the diamond queen is covered with the king, as it is today, declarer comes back to hand in clubs and runs the diamond eight. Whether the finesse of the diamond 10 wins or loses, he has nine tricks and does not need the spade finesse.

Had East not bid one heart, you would probably have bid two spades. As it is, should you bid two spades anyway, or is one spade enough? I think it is right to bid two spades, since you would compete to one spade on the same hand without one of the aces — that call really doesn’t show anything more than fourplus spades, though it denies weakness.


♠ 9 7 4 3
 10 5
 A J 9 5
♣ A J 3
South West North East
  1 ♣ Dbl. 1

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMay 15th, 2018 at 10:53 am

Suppose the E-W hands were reversed, and the now W, after carefully listening to the bidding, decided his side’s best chance to defeat the contract is to play his partner for the HJ and an entry somewhere else (or on a really good day the HA), so he leads HK, then HQ then H3. If you were declarer, do you think you should figure this out and play on S, or would you adopt the same line as in the actual hand?

bobbywolffMay 15th, 2018 at 11:25 am

Hi David,

A very to the point question, which, at least to me, determines consistent success or the other extreme, defeat, more than superior talent and/or good bridge technique ever would or, for that matter, could.

Yes, of course, I would switch to finessing spades into what overwhelmingly appears to be the non-danger hand (less than five). Your earlier description would have the king onside doubleton, but should it instead lose and a diamond switch made by West up ace, (even a slow switch, which could easily be a ploy, trying to make himself or herself look like a diamond king possessor), and play for a spade split or 10 doubleton originally.

BTW, your imagination of king of hearts from KQx would be, IMO, a first choice lead (especially at IMPs or rubber bridge) by most all top players, in spite of having 4+ diamonds or, of course, either other suit.

Just to emphasize my feeling (although with no firm guarantee) I love to hold KQx of an unbid suit when opponents arrive at a 3NT contract and that suit has not been bid. Why? I don’t know why, but seemingly a good result is about to happen to my partnership becomes my immediate thought.

It is these types of discussions which I hope bear fruit for those who seek optimism, but I do then feel great remorse for Jim2 and his TOCM TM curse.

A V Ramana RaoMay 15th, 2018 at 11:27 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
As the cards lay, there is no defense for four spades. Irrespective of lead, North South can cash three tricks in each minor and arrange for a heart ruff in long trump hand for tenth trick . Could south have bid it ?

bobbywolffMay 15th, 2018 at 11:49 am


Yes, by George you appear correct since the long spades does not have a 4th heart. However, any partnership which might find a 4 spade final contract, is unlikely to finish many sessions, no matter the opposition, above average, much less in the winner’s circle.

Of course South would have been delighted if partner would have searched out a 5-3 spade contract, to which he would have given a decided preference for spades with his AQJ, but since he didn’t, life goes on in 3NT, to which NS should not be disappointed.

No doubt you are instilled with a cute (but somewhat sadistic) bridge sense of humor, which trades to the sublime and, if you will pardon my description, the ridiculousness of arriving at 4 spades.

However, even a joke can be a learning process with our beautiful game which so often indulges itself with low percentage action being successful and in this test case, rings that bell.

Finally, no telling what the above discussion, at this very moment, is doing to Iain’s devious bridge mind.

Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2018 at 12:26 pm

HI Bobby,

You’re spot on there, as I like playing in 4-3 fits. With one (not very regular) partner we play a version of Landy against 1N and partner tries hard to get me to bid 2D in reply to 3C with 3-2 in the majors so we (i.e. he) can find the 5-2 fit. Regular as clockwork, I hog the contract into my hand whether it is 4-3 or 5-3. Game level is a rather trickier matter, of course.

On the play hand, West should probably hide the H2 trying to give the impression that hearts are 4-4 all along and lulling South into a false sense of security where he thinks he could safely take the spade finesse if he gets the chance, especially at pairs. Now it may look preferable to play Club to dummy, spade finesse, club back to dummy, spade finesse, cash 2C throwing a diamond, the SA in case the suit is 3-3 etc. South shouldn’t, of course but give him rope.



jim2May 15th, 2018 at 12:54 pm


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