Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; he is always ready to go.

Jean de la Fontaine

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


Today’s hand posed a challenge in both the bidding and the play. Three no-trump is not a bad contract — it needs the opponent’s spades to split 4-4, or for the diamond finesse to win. Of the seven-card fits, four hearts may be an easier game to play, but five diamonds certainly has plenty of chances. At the table, though, the winning play was far from obvious, and declarer missed it completely.

Against the diamond game, West led the spade queen, and declarer felt that his best chance lay in ruffing spades on the table. He won, trumped a spade, came to hand with the heart ace and trumped another spade. Now, stuck in dummy, he cashed the club ace and ruffed a club. He followed with the diamond ace, king and jack, but when West took his queen, he was able to cash the spade jack and lead another spade. That forced declarer and allowed West to score his small trump to defeat the game.

It would not have not helped South to ruff only one spade before starting on trumps; then he would lose two spades and a diamond. But declarer can succeed by the unusual expedient of ducking the opening spade lead, a play cynics would say crops up more often in books than at the table.

Say that West switches to a heart; South wins the ace, ruffs a spade and plays a trump. He has retained complete control and loses only one trick in each of the minors. He emerges with four diamonds, four hearts and two black aces, plus a single spade ruff.

On this auction, calls in the minors should be natural, not an artificial relay. With forcing or even invitational values, you might have redoubled initially. In any event, with this hand I’d be tempted to repeat my spades — this is a suit that looks like it should be trump.


♠ Q J 10 9 2
 10 4
 Q 8 5 3
♣ Q 9
South West North East
  Pass 1 Dbl.
1 ♠ Pass 1 NT 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 WarheitAugust 29th, 2018 at 9:07 am

South doesn’t lose “one trick in each of the minors”. Spades are not a minor. The minors are clubs, diamonds, and of course this comment.

Iain ClimieAugust 29th, 2018 at 11:14 am

Hi David, Bobby,

OK, if we’re into minor or flippant comments, surely the hand was quite easy if South had remembered to apply the right rule at the right time on the right hand. “Aces were meant to take Kings” goes on saying so the duck of the SQ is then obvious (although maybe harder if East puts the SK on).

Many years ago I played with a very studious and capable partner on a one-off partnership in a fairly serious event (England U-26 Teams Trials). He was playing 4S after his LHO had stuck in a Jump overcall in Hearts found himself with Hxx in hand opposite HAxx in dummy. The HK was led and he carefully ducked to disrupt communications. It then went HQ, HA, ruffed. Things had been going badly, and he apologised profusely but then we started to see the funny side. Whatever we touched turned to manure all day. Again, though, the rule would have worked nicely here. It’s just all the exceptions to the rules that do the damage.

Easy game bridge (not) despite Iain McLeod’s book “Bridge is an Easy Game”. Interestingly, given Bobby’s views on the benefits of bridge aiding numeracy, Mr. McLeod was the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (so chief financial politician for the whole country) in the early 1970s as well as a very capable player in the high-stake London clubs of the day.



A V Ramana RaoAugust 29th, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
This is strictly doubledummy( but perhapsnot very far fetched and superior to the actual play adapted) Win the lead , ruff a spade, play K of hearts and a heart back to A in hand and lead third heart. If west ruffs, he needs to return a trump to stop the spade ruff but then his natural trick evaporates. South gets five diamonds , spade A, spade ruff, and club A will be entry for cashing the long heart. And if west returns a spade, dummy ruffs, and cashes long heart to pitch a spade. West can ruff but south gets eleven tricks . And finally if west returns a club after ruffing third heart, south ruffs a club and ruffs spade in dummy and leads long heart pitching spade

And lain: I remember to have read a couple of deals by Iain McLeod wherein his brilliant defense was highlighted and I vaguely remember that he died during a surgery or something like that.Britain lost an Excellent player.

David WarheitAugust 29th, 2018 at 1:22 pm

AV: Double dummy, yes; superior, no. Give W 4 clubs and small doubleton diamond. Now your line fails and the column’s still works.

As long as spades are not worse than 5-3 (virtually guaranteed on the bidding or rather lack of bidding) and diamonds are no worse than 4-2, it seems to me the column’s line always works and yours doesn’t.

A V Ramana RaoAugust 29th, 2018 at 1:53 pm

Hi David
When I meant superior , I clearly mentioned superior to the play adapted and not to the column line.

bobbywolffAugust 29th, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Hi David,

Of course, I meant to say losing a minor trick in the majors, and a major trick in the minors. However life is about learning along life’s pathways so your advice teaches me to be able to differentiate minors from majors a major or, at the very least, a minor lesson.

And thanks for your view (which is also mine) while replying to AVRR.

Which reminds me not to sleep so long, since missing lively bridge discussions for me, should never be in the cards.

bobbywolffAugust 29th, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, a wonderful rule about waiting to take kings with aces, but what would poor robin do, if he was dealt all four aces and, alas, four kings. No doubt give the bird to all his fellow rules followers.

And for all those either unfamiliar non-Americans or either too pure to indulge in vulgarity (camouflaged as slang), please disregard the above.

“If one cannot say something nice about bridge, better say nothing at all”. Yes, everyone may now wish that I had stayed asleep.

bobbywolffAugust 29th, 2018 at 6:21 pm

Hi again Iain,

Yes, when speaking about the financial politician of the exchequer history remembers Lord Morton and his famous Fork Coup in bridge which gave his opponent’s an impossible task in bridge defense, both choices losing.

It seems that Cardinal Morton, Chancellor under King Henry VII, habitually extracted money from wealthy London merchants for the royal treasury. If the merchants lived ostentatiously, they would obviously have enough money to spare for the king. Alternatively, if they lived frugally they would be saving enough to also afford to contribute to the king’s coffers.

In either case they would be impaled on Morton’s Fork.

Hence the famous bridge coup was born.