Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, June 29th, 2018

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.

Don Marquis

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


It is no longer the case that a free raise by North to two spades in competition should guarantee extra values. One occasionally passes minimum raises with three bad trumps and defense against the opponents’ suit; but here, the fourth trump is more than enough for the raise.

Now East has the values to drive to four hearts, after which, at this vulnerability and with little defense against hearts, South should consider the save in four spades, hoping to escape for two or three down. West might pass, but his prospects of a good penalty from four spades are so much better than his prospects of making five hearts that some might double. When West passes, East has an easy double.

Holding trump control, it seems clear to West that he should lead his singleton diamond, and East wins the trick cheaply. Of course, East cannot be sure whether the lead was a singleton or not, and he should next play the heart king. When West does not overtake to lead a diamond, but discourages by playing a low heart, he confirms that the diamond lead was a singleton.

But now comes the crux of the deal: East’s next play should not be to play the ace and another diamond, but instead he should lead a low diamond so that West gets his ruff while East’s tenace in diamonds is preserved over dummy. After taking the ruff, West cashes the spade ace and exits in hearts, and the defenders still have two tricks to come for a penalty of 500.

Although you have an opening bid of sorts, this feels like a hand on which to go low, not high. You have no fit for partner and no real stopper in the opponents’ suit, so I would counsel a call of one no-trump rather than looking higher in no-trump or advancing with a cuebid. This hand just doesn’t seem worthy of a real invitation to game.


♠ 3 2
 K Q 6
 A Q J 7
♣ 10 5 4 2
South West North East
  1 ♣ 1 ♠ Pass

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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 WarheitJuly 13th, 2018 at 9:36 am

If W is allowed to play 4H, N will lead the S10, and although W can now make 11 tricks (finesse N for the DK to get rid of the losing spade and then, after drawing trumps, one lead of C, playing N for J doubleton), it seems much more likely that W will actually go down, playing S for DK. How would you have played 4H as W?

bobbywolffJuly 13th, 2018 at 4:08 pm

Hi David,

Funny you should ask. My usual ritual is, after getting up in the early morning, today though not as early, my first priority (at least concerning the AOB column) is to re-read today’s hand attempting to spot what I consider corollary, but worthwhile points of interest, often not mentioned in the normal text.

Therefore you can now guess what jumped out at me, the declarer play, should NS decide to defend 4 hearts (doubled?) instead of taking the push to 4 spaces.

In an attempt to not cut short a complete analysis (often impractical during a normal matchpoint game at the club, because of time considerations, probably a necessary evil, a crucial factor, of course, depends on whether EW got doubled or not. Simply because, by a large measure, seems to be the road to a windfall result lies on adopting the winning line of a straight diamond finesse through North, then after drawing tump (winding in dummy) discard the losing spade and following up playing South for what he should now have, either the AK doubleton club or the alternative AKx. Yes. the fall of the nine of clubs, after a club is led from dummy and South rises with an honor (to which he is marked with both high clubs), but a good player sitting North will always falsecard the nine from J9x.

However the significant clue of South showing with a singleton heart, now should preclude him from being either 6-4 in spades and clubs or even 5-5 since surely with either would choose to bid 4 spades.

However by taking the straight diamond finesse and losing (certainly far more likely than 50%, perhaps 75%+) would mean a likely down 2 tricks , worth the chance, if not doubled, but, at the very least, questionable, if so.

As always, your queries, in addition to being super sophisticated, strike at the very heart of the highest level game, where constant numeracy prevails.

Thanks for bringing up this discussion, so that all of us can catch a significant glimse of what separates proper experiences to ponder, with no holds withheld.

TedJuly 13th, 2018 at 7:09 pm

Hi Bobby,

If South is likely to have the DK, take the ruffing finesse pitching a Spade. If it wins, you simply need to not lose 4 Club tricks. If it loses, you will almost certainly go down 1 if North started with a doubleton Club, since North should realize that is where South’s points have to be. If South has the doubleton, you should still be safe.

Not critical to this line, but if you bought the contract for 4H undoubled I would expect hearts are likely 2-2.

bobbywolffJuly 14th, 2018 at 12:10 am

Hi Ted,

In determining which opponent is more likely to have the king of diamonds, methinks the best way to judge is to consider while playing 4 hearts from the West position and, from the opening lead it looks like South has the KQ of spades leaving 3 key cards unaccounted for: the ace and king of clubs and the king of diamonds. It is dollars to doughnuts that South will have 2 of those and North only 1 with only small adjustments for the habits of those players, in our case, unknown. FWIW, since the diamond distribution will be difficult to impossible to fathom, either defender could have the doubleton club since North’s showing out on the 2nd heart more or less balances the distribution knowing South will have at least 5 spades.

Any way West slices it, once the king of diamond shows up with South, marking both the ace and king of clubs with South declarer will go to dummy while extracting North’s last fang (his lethal heart) then discarding his losing spade. After then leading a low club from dummy West’s accumulated knowledge will know when he leads a club from dummy, if South smoothly ducks, West should play the queen, being almost sure it will win. If however, South goes up with a big club honor and then leads a spade West will ruff and then needs to decide whether South started with: two or three clubs originally, but not AKJ alone.

He then mentally needs to put himself in South’s position and then to imagine what he would have done (in the bidding) with the several distributions he might have been dealt in order to decide the crucial club distribution (whether to blot out the jack by leading the queen) or the opposite to play for South to have started with AK doubleton and North then Jxx.

From someone who basically memorized all those Autobridge hands you played while still very young, my guess is that your keen bridge mind would have made you a superior bridge player, by the time it took you to only gain the experience of playing against very good players.

In any event, yes you would have needed a mentor and high level bridge mentors were few and far between, back all those years ago.

Ken MooreJuly 14th, 2018 at 1:26 am


Am I missing something or does a 5H “sacrifice” by west make? Assuming a jack of spades lead, once the queen of diamonds holds, the spade loser goes on the ace, ruff a diamond, lead to the KH, ruff the last diamond, lead to the QH , ruff the spade, pull trump, and lead the QC. Does that work?

My eyes are not as good as when I was younger but my mind still works most of the time.

jim2July 14th, 2018 at 2:07 am

Ken Moore –

I am not Our Host, but note that David Warheit began this discussion by noting 11 tricks were possible by taking the “right” views. Your exact line may not yield 11 tricks, however. For one thing, if West ruffs 2 diamonds and a spade and then draws three rounds of trump, West has no more trump. Thus, N-S will also have spades to cash when in with high clubs.

TedJuly 14th, 2018 at 2:29 am

Hi Bobby,

I’m missing something, since it still seems to me that without seeing the hand ahead of time, the ruffing finesse would be the % play. As you mention, South will have two of the three key remaining unknown cards (CA, CK, DK) so I would expect the ruffing finesse to win about 2/3 of the time. Additionally you have the chance that if it loses, North holds 3 Clubs. So I would have expected this line to succeed around. 70+% of the time.

Where did I go wrong?

Many thanks

Ted BartunekJuly 14th, 2018 at 2:46 am

Hi Bobby,

Another consideration is that if South has the DK, you will quite possibly go down 2 since North will then have a high club honor, allowing the defense to potentially get a Club ruff no matter which of them has the doubleton.

bobbywolffJuly 14th, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Hi Ken,

Thanks, Jim2, for giving a practical description of why Ken’s intended line will fail. However the pure answer is no, with three rounds of clubs led initially it will not make, and it will be up to declarer to guess the location of the diamond king to either go down 1, 2 or 3 depending.

However without complication and with the spade lead, yes 11 tricks in hearts can make by simply winning the spade, drawing trump, finessing the diamond king and throwing the losing spade on the ace. Finally then leading a club and either going up with the queen should South duck, or if he rises, then after ruffing the spade exit, guess to “smother” the club jack by leading the queen from hand, holding the only lost tricks to the AK of clubs.

My guess as to the chances for success of that winning line are well below double digits (considerably less than 10%) but when accomplished, however remote, give a winner his due and let him explain, not anyone else.

bobbywolffJuly 14th, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Hi Ted & Ted B.,

Often, the correct answers to bridge questions, are complicated enough, but when two different Teds enter, we need to speak slowly and surely, if, in fact, we intend to keep chugging along.

Yes, Ted, your line of playing South for the diamond queen is more likely to guess the diamond right, but here, when it is anti-percentage (as all of us may tend to agree) and we likely will then go set two tricks losing 1 diamond and 3 club tricks unless declarer draws all the trump first then when and if he miss guesses diamonds he will lose 4 club tricks and go down three tricks (does not have enough trumps left to establish the 4th club).

bobbywolffJuly 14th, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Hi Ted Bartunek,

Yes, you are directly on target with your comment and please forgive me for not fully reading your post before my return post to both of you.

bobbywolffJuly 14th, 2018 at 11:29 pm

Hi both Teds,

I erroneously stated diamond queen rather than, of course, the king, in the second paragraph so, in case anyone became confused, it was because of me. Sorry!

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