Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 12th, 2018

So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.

Christopher Reeve

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


Great Britain’s last victory in the European Championships was in 1991, in Killarney, Ireland. These days, Britain counts as four separate constituent countries, meaning it no longer competes as a single entity. This hand is from that 1991 event, reported by one of the Spanish players on the losing end of the swing.

North’s exuberant jump to slam saw the Spanish West select not the killing diamond, but the spade three, which ran to the eight. Declarer was not yet out of the woods, of course. Assuming the diamond finesse would lose, he needed three discards for his diamond losers, and the spades would only provide two.

If East held both heart honors, the contract would be hopeless. Since East likely held the ace rather than the queen, South decided to play on the assumption that this was a singleton.

The winning line is to ruff the club loser in dummy at trick two and follow up with the spade jack to the king, before taking the trump finesse. When East scores his ace, he has no exit card — he will be forced to open up diamonds or concede a ruff-sluff.

At the table, declarer eliminated three rounds of spades before taking the heart finesse. East missed his chance, though. He had to ruff in with his bare ace and exit with a club to give a ruff-and-discard. Declarer must ruff in dummy, since one discard from the board is not enough. But now he has no way to return to hand to take the trump finesse!

It may not be very scientific, but I’d jump to three no-trump at once, expecting my RHO not to have full values for his opening bid. Your partner’s redouble suggests club tolerance and maximum values, so your chances of having nine tricks to run are pretty good.


♠ 6 2
 K 9 2
♣ A K 9 8 6 5 3
South West North East
  Pass Pass 1
2 ♣ Dbl. Rdbl. 2

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 ClimieJuly 26th, 2018 at 11:20 am

HI Bobby,

And I thought my overcalls were dodgy! I don’t suppose you know who was South do you? Yesterday I flagged concerns about hands with too many options; a friend highlighted the following hand his partner played last night in 6H:

Q9x (dummy)


The opening lead was the D5 through dummy’s first bid suit (it started 1S – 2D – 2H – 3C (FSF) etc. Any ideas on the best single dummy line? As I said (and you showed yesterday), too many options do not make for good results without very clear thinking.



Iain ClimieJuly 26th, 2018 at 11:49 am

Also, this is the lead problem you mentioned the other day.

bobbywolffJuly 26th, 2018 at 11:59 am

Hi Iain,

While it depends a bit on who the opponents are, but assuming they are experienced veterans of playing against tough opposition, I (for simplicity thought and to, as Jim2 often says, to keep my head from hurting, will duck the first diamond, since it will be a loser if it is a singleton (but why should it be on that auction and I believe it is at least 50-50 West will have the queen). However if East shoots back a club I will win it and hope for decent splits (3-2 hearts and 4-3 diamonds with small additional chances). However without a club back which if so, is a little bold by an East who has the king, however if those defenders are good enough to test me they will likely succeed.

It costs no more to make bold early decisions (ducking the diamond) and go set than to wait to later and wish you hadn’t been so wimpy.

However, I will accept the mathematical judgment from a qualified player that I was way off with my play at trick one, only telling him as a justified excuse, that I am just too old to have my head keep hurting.

However, in reality, I will be significantly chagrined, but do not want to admit it.

However thanks for submitting an excellent problem, of course after assuming my play is a winning one.

Otherwise, I will join the infamous “me too” movement here across the pond to cry out about the bridge abuse piled upon me, but unlike others in that different complaining group, fully admit to not being a virgin, eg., in going set.

Iain ClimieJuly 26th, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Your line worked at T1 as the D gets the 8 and 10 but there is still work to do. If you cash HAQ or KA, for example West shows out.



bobbywolffJuly 26th, 2018 at 1:29 pm

Hi Iain,

Next then after ace of hearts and one to the king with West now showing out. Probably cash the ace of spades then, a club finesse, with, of course depending on its success, likely after playing the king of spades first (however, being at the table may help judgment, likely cashing the king of spade, especially if the club finesse wins) then a spade ruff, hoping for no 5-2 spade break with West pretty well marked for long diamonds, likely not that long in spades. If all goes well up to that point then switch to high diamonds forcing East to likely ruff the second good diamond (West having five of them). It then may play itself the rest of the way, however if the club finesse loses earlier the idea would be to cash the queen of clubs and then the good diamonds. The key decision is “guessing” whether or not to cash declarer’s king of spades first before ruffing one and then later cashing the queen of clubs, again playing for East to have (at least) three clubs before leading the high diamonds.

Of course, being at the table after declarer has scored the 10 of diamonds, may create another “feeling” that diamonds are not 5-2 but rather 4-3 or even 3-4 (West to East) in order to decide which black suit tricks to cash before leading the high diamonds. Of course that 4-1 heart break causes all these sensitive situations, as well as the club finesse working.

However if the club finesse works I will most definitely expect to make the hand since it will be very easy to guess then the order of cards necessary to insure a success.

However, I have also been known to whistle when I walk past a cemetery, but I do think the above paragraph is all clear, but if I’m wrong, please keep it a secret, but still chance it, by return post right here.

Bill CubleyJuly 26th, 2018 at 1:29 pm


I do bid slams as in this auction. However, I seldom have this much complexity in making the hand. And I often let partner declare so there are few complaints in my bidding.

I would be in Atlanta but somehow Anne expects me to help celebrate her birthday today. Real bridge couples take their honeymoon at a tournament as did the Martels. 😉

Iain ClimieJuly 26th, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think you get there as RHO holds QJx 108xx 8x 107xx. The interesting point would be if you’ve cashed 1 top spade and East decides to dump a spade honour on the winning diamond, but then you can switch tack and run the spades as long as you read him / her for 3 spades and not Jx / Qx.

I also sympathise with Bill as such auctions often unnerve both opponents while partner gets used to them! Possibly better at teams though; do it at pairs (particularly on the last hand of the set) and your unnerved opposition may mess up the next hand or two when you want them to play well (unless it is certain specific opponents, of course).



bobbywolffJuly 26th, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Hi Bill,

No doubt, both bridge and love are entwined.

Whether it was Ulie Closerson or Ely Culbertson, at least in the distant past they both preached the same treatment of rated X, one over one is the right way to play, forcing or not.

bobbywolffJuly 26th, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Hi Iain,

QJx in spades was one of the extra opportunities for victory I imagined, just in case East swoops up the opening lead with his queen of diamonds for me to still score up the slam in order to avoid having to take the club finesse.

However there is considerably less pressure in the post-mortem mode or in a general discussion, like here, than there is at the table. And, like always, let the winner explain, whether the offense or the defense,
to allow the victor to enjoy the spoils.

Bruce karlsonJuly 26th, 2018 at 8:20 pm

An annoying lead question: holding

Bidding was the simplest: 1NT (15-17) on my right passed out.

bobbywolffJuly 26th, 2018 at 9:33 pm

Hi Bruce,

At least IMO, it is not close with leading a spade an overwhelming choice. Not to say that the end result will turn out right, but only to say that this blind choice, with often very little help from the bidding, makes it the clear percentage to follow.

Perhaps one of the most underrated suggestions in bridge is that to lead 5 card suits against NT, particularly against NT games, is an overwhelming choice as against only 4 card ones. However against NT slams that rule does not fly.

Even though with your question, you were only defending a seven trick contract, but, at least to me, nothing rivals a conventional spade lead.

Bruce KarlsonJuly 26th, 2018 at 10:39 pm

Thanks…best if I remember that I am not Zia or Bobby and make the percentage lead.

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