Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Some evils admit of consolations, but there are no comforters for dyspepsia and the toothache.

Henry Lytton Bulwer

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

*Fit jump in support of diamonds


At the Dyspeptics Club, the regular rubber players are of vastly different temperaments. South and West are both congenital optimists, laboring under the delusion that they are experts. South believes it isn’t that he holds great cards; he just makes the most of what he has. West believes that if he ever picked up an opening bid he could move mountains.

By contrast, North and East are better players but confirmed pessimists, each convinced that if only they could find partners worthy of them, the world would be their oyster.

Today’s deal was a case in point. West led out the three top spades against four hearts. Declarer ruffed, then cashed the heart king and ace. Now the contract could no longer be made. Declarer had to lose a trump and a club for down one.

South might have concluded that he was unlikely to be able to make the hand if trumps were 5-0; but if trumps were 3-2, the hand was a pianola. So he should have concentrated on negotiating a 4-1 break. Ten tricks are available whenever trumps are 4-1, as long as declarer cashes the ace and queen of trumps first.

If everyone follows, South can draw trumps and run diamonds. If either player shows out, as East does here, South can play on diamonds. West can ruff in and play a fourth round of spades, but declarer simply throws a club from dummy and ruffs in hand. A trump to dummy’s ace sees South emerge with five trump tricks, four diamonds and a club.

This should be a takeout double, not a penalty double. (Your heart length alone should argue for that, even if you don’t have any firm agreements here.) I wouldn’t want to introduce a spade suit this weak, so I’d repeat the diamonds. After all, 100 honors should count for something.


♠ J 6 5
 K 5 4
 A Q J 10 4
♣ Q 10
South West North East
1 Dbl. Pass 1
Pass Pass Dbl. 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


David WarheitDecember 20th, 2018 at 9:48 am

Surely S cashed the HA then the HK, rather than K then A. If S does, as you say, cash HK first, then when he leads a H from dummy all he needs to do is play H10 no matter what E plays (unless he plays HJ). Worst case: E shows out, W wins HJ, but what can he do? Making 4H.

Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Hi David,

Yes, your line is a better one, not only to preserve the usual overtrick when East would normally follow with a heart at trick 3, but also to achieve what this hand is all about, the safest way to score up the heart game against unlikely bad breaks.

Obviously, in an effort to safeguard the contract we chose a less effective way to accomplish it (possibly equivalent to death at matchpoints). A pox on us for not seeing your superior handling and, of course, much congratulations to you for not only so doing, but to also alert a casual reader just what can happen to bridge players as well as bridge writers, when expressing the major point, to go another step further and no doubt, improve the technique when doing so.

As usual, thank you for serving the role of bridge conscience to the errant teacher, as well, of course, directly to the appreciative student.

A bridge aficionado could kindly label this hand as an example of practical, but flawed technique, being made perfect.

ginnyDecember 20th, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Hi Guys,

I am lost. Something seems amiss here. To me, the point of the hand was to maintain a high trump in dummy for a late entry and to pull a late trump round.

The column line preserves the overtrick if available. Ruff spade third round, then AQ of hearts. If all follow, then pull last trump, finish the hand: 5H, 5D and a club. If anyone shows out on the second heart, start diamonds. Defense ruffs the third diamond (if possible) and plays a club or spade. If a club, take the ace, pull trump, ending on the board and finish the hand. If a spade, ruff in hand, trump to the board and finish the hand.

If a heart to the king first, then a low trump, this protects the contract, but loses the OT on most heart combinations. If 2 high rounds of trump are played (and trump do not split as here) and the King is one of them, then declarer can be locked out of dummy by ruffing the third diamond.

Iain ClimieDecember 20th, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Hi Ginny, Bobby,

I think David was picking up on the column description of how the top hearts were played rather than necessarily proposing a different line. If declarer fouls up by playing a heart to the King on the first round of trumps, then he can redeem himself by playing the H10 on the 2nd round to cope with 4-1 break either way and gets an unexpected bonus when East has HJxxx.

All the very best for the festive season to everyone. As a lovely Irish comedian (Dave Allen) used to say, “Good night, and may your God go with you.”



Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Hi Ginny,

Your line is what we thought when we wrote the column, but David’s line, low first to the king of hearts in dummy and then back, allows declarer (when and if East shows out to play low from hand and still have the 3rd heart in dummy to ruff the 4th spade from West. Then back to the ace of clubs (safer than a diamond, draw trumps and claim). However if East follows then a high heart with declarer now being in control since he can handle 4 hearts with East and still get the overtrick.

Both lines are as safe as can be (assuming no 5-0 heart break) but David’s line would produce an overtrick if East, not West, had the 4 hearts.

However, you were in excellent company, ours, but you, like us, need to pay homage to David for outsmarting us.

Thanks for writing, although now we have good company, you, for feeling a bit of chagrin.

Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Hi again Ginny,

And when I said East following with a high heart, I should have said any heart (proves only East can have 4 hearts which then can be easily handled with a diamond to dummy and then a proven finesse).

Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2018 at 5:17 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for beating me to the rescue (crossed in the mail) and using far fewer words to describe David’s accurate best line.

Same holiday wishes to you and all and can just barely hear two very young kids bragging, “My God can beat up your God”.

TedDecember 20th, 2018 at 8:01 pm

David’s line secures the contract when you’ve screwed up and played the trump K first and picks up an overtrick when E has 4 hearts to the J, but looses the overtrick when W has the J doubleton or tripleton.

Bobby WolffDecember 20th, 2018 at 10:35 pm

Hi Ted,

You are correct about everything except when East has four to the jack in hearts.

Yes South will win an honor in hearts at trick 5, but then when discovering East had started this hand with Jxxx in hearts, will merely lead a diamond to dummy (it is extremely unlikely for East to have been dealt a void in diamonds) and then take a proven heart finesse to score up the contract +1.

TedDecember 21st, 2018 at 1:12 am

Hi Bobby,

If, following David’s line the heart K was played first and then the 10 is finessed, you can now draw all the remaining trump with the AQ if E started with 4 to the J before touching the diamonds. I agree with Ginny that the column line will get the overtrick a higher percentage of the time.

Bobby WolffDecember 21st, 2018 at 5:39 am

Hi Ted,

Without delving too deeply into the subject of overtricks, the main object of the original game of bridge is making what one partnership bids, rather than too much worry about extras.

While this hand offers a good opportunity to keep control, by the declarer, of the trump suit, it also becomes interesting as to how to play the hand at matchpoints where overtricks become important.

Overall, David offers the best line and by a significant margin making it an excellent learning experience, if you go over it slowly while comparing the various lines of play discussed.

Take your time and also consider that West not East figures to have the length in hearts (if in fact they do not break evenly, 3-2) simply because of the bidding (West bid spades and no doubt has at least 5 of them).

However, I will strongly suggest that you take over from here, keeping in mind David’s relatively easy line of play to follow, thus allowing him to have touched all bases in his description.

Good luck!

Bobby WolffDecember 21st, 2018 at 5:41 am

Hi again Ted,

I should have said that East, not West figures to have the length in hearts if they do not break 3-2. Yes, it is late and I am getting a wee bit weary, so please excuse my significant gaffe which I have now corrected.

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