Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, October 6th, 2018

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.

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


In today’s contract of three no-trump, declarer has only seven top winners outside the majors, but unless the defense can get either spades or diamonds going very fast, South will be able to establish the hearts for the two extra tricks he needs.

When the spade 10 is led, South plays low from dummy and can take the first trick and go after hearts at once. But if he wins the spade and crosses to a club in dummy to play a heart toward his hand, East will fly up with the ace and clear spades. West will be in position to cash out three spades when he gets in with the heart king, and there is nothing declarer can do about it. Cashing the clubs will not succeed as long as West pitches one diamond and one heart.

So what can declarer do about this possible scenario? The solution is rather unintuitive, but it is both elegant and logical. Simply duck the first spade (a play that would be easy to find if South had king-third of spades rather than his actual holding). West will probably continue spades, but declarer can win and drive out a heart honor. If West wins, he has no re-entry; if East wins, he has no spade left to lead.

The question of whether to duck the opening lead in a suit where you have two stoppers is not an easy one. Typically, the play is sensible when there are two high cards that need to be driven out, with no second danger suit.

Since your partner has guaranteed six clubs on this auction (which wouldn’t be absolutely guaranteed over a one-spade response, by the way), you can see you have a good chance of running nine quick tricks facing little more than six clubs to the ace-queen and the diamond ace. Rather than risk missing game, I would simply bid three no-trump now without consulting my partner.


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


bobbywolffOctober 20th, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Hi everyone,

Yes I know that, if East indeed held K632 in spades and ducked the first spade after West decided to lead the 10 of spades from 1098, that the defense would then come to five tricks, where otherwise they would only have taken three or four, but before too much chagrin takes place, your partnership should at least try and sign them up to play in the team games for upcoming tournaments.

That is unless they include Superman and his X-Ray vision or in fact gleaned a horrible reputation as “seriously tainted and highly suspect players” for either board copping or worse, illegal signal giving”.

“Ain’t we got fun”?

MattOctober 20th, 2018 at 4:01 pm

I stared at this hand forever, and failed to see the “simplistic” play of ducking the 10 of spades. It never even occurred to me. Great hand.
Another great hand is on page 25 of the 1970 August Bridge World. Mr. Wolff gives his partner a gorgeous trump promotion with the 9 of hearts. Poetry in motion.

bobbywolffOctober 21st, 2018 at 9:22 am

Hi Matt,

Do not feel alone when you so honestly proclaim not seeing the “winning” play of ducking the initial spade lead in both hands. Obviously to do so, is ultra counter intuitive, making such a startling play the result of either experience with that overall card combination or, before committing to take it, together with seeing the danger of a combination of split defensive heart honors together with East not grabbing the king of spades immediately (and spades 5-2) jostling you, the declarer, into acting on the ray of light which all of a sudden, and out of the blue, became necessary.

Such is life in the fast lane, while learning high-level bridge and missing that play, However there is never a case to stay discouraged, but rather only a small glitch to how you may handle that combination the next time, but also and most importantly, to play slowly at trick one before acting hastily.

Finally, thanks for calling attention to what happened over 48 years ago. I knew that in my past since I have played so many bridge hands, that surely I did the right thing on one of them.

And, obviously that was the time. But seriously, thanks much for going out of your way to make me feel good and look at the prospect for you in recognizing a gorgeous trump promotion, which, at least to me, is not much different from what happened to you on today’s AOB hand. Ever onward, EVER UPWARD!