Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.

Leonardo da Vinci

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

*Short hearts, agreeing spades


Today’s deal shows a type of problem that is often encountered in real life. It is necessary to plan the play right from the start in order to visualize the ending.

As South, when you take advantage of the vulnerability to open one spade, you hear West overcall in hearts. North drives to game showing short hearts, and you wrap up the bidding in game.

When dummy comes down, you can see that you are certainly high enough. West kicks off with the heart king and shifts to the spade jack. You must now plan how to reach 10 tricks. The obvious line to follow is a cross-ruff, but be careful! The key is that you must win the trump shift in hand to ensure that your cross-ruff will not be interrupted by an over-ruff.

Your plan will be to ruff one heart low and two hearts high in dummy, while crossing back to hand with two club ruffs. Specifically, you win the spade ace and ruff a heart low, then cash the club ace and cross-ruff the next four tricks.

After taking seven tricks in a row, declarer can cash the diamond ace and exit from hand with a diamond. In theory, either defender can win the diamond, but in today’s three-card ending, declarer will be able to score both his 10 and eight of trumps in hand for his 10 tricks, no matter what the defenders do.

Note that if West had an original 2-6-2-3 shape with the spade nine and diamond king, he would win the trick with his king, but would only be able to lead hearts or a trump, so declarer would still be safe.

Your right-hand opponent presumably has long clubs — do you have any reason to act again? I see no reason to bid now; you have a minimum hand with reasonable defense in clubs. If your partner cannot compete to two spades, you should not assume that it would be a desirable contract.


♠ K Q 3 2
 Q 10 7 3
♣ A 10 3 2
South West North East
1 ♣ 1 1 Pass
1 ♠ Pass Pass 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 16th, 2019 at 9:14 am

Suppose W shifts to a D at trick 2. How to you continue? Do you win the A or do you duck, and in either case, what next?

jeffsJanuary 16th, 2019 at 3:20 pm


I am a bit rushed here, but can’t you transpose to the column line by winning the AD, leading the AS, going into the cross-ruff and exiting with a diamond? I am probably missing something subtle.

Ken MooreJanuary 16th, 2019 at 3:36 pm


I hope this feedback is useful to you. I understand that you need to appeal to a wide range of skills. This hand, to me, seems to be perfect for everyone from beginners to quite good players (myself, in my humble but correct opinion) to move to the next level. You not only tell what to do but give the thinking on why.

A few times a month, I need to say, “I do not involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. ” – Psalms 131:1. But level of hand is perfect. Thanks.

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2019 at 3:53 pm

Hi David and Jeffs (or is it Jeff S?),

No doubt David’s different defense at trick 2 (double dummy that it may be, mainly because of being lucky enough for partner to have that specific diamond holding), might cause even a competent declarer to go off the rails, but I believe Jeff has the right answer.

Of course, the key to that defense is the unknown at that point, the immediate falling of the jack of spades, an extremely fortunate kill for South.

Kudos to both of you, to David for spotting that importance and to Jeff for his no, never mind. However, how and what declarer may choose could be painfully (for him), different.

And, for anyone, world class or far from it, such a then vexing choice for this declarer, can only be known, if that exact hand reappears in our lifetime and we hear about it, about the same odds each of us have of living for 200 years.

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2019 at 4:16 pm

Hi Ken,

Thanks for both your very kind words and for the confidence you may claim for others to have.

Before a lion can be bearded the brave soul doing it, must first seek it out and then risk everything to accomplish what Rudyard Kipling once famously said in a somewhat similar situation, “And which is more — you’ll be a man, my son!”

Yes, while playing a difficult hand in bridge, and whether at the local duplicate or even the determining hand in a bridge World Championship (while not quite as life threatening, although, and at the time, seeming to be even more important), sometimes allows us to become the best we can be.

We will, of course, not succeed every time or even close, but the opportunity to do so, ranks up there as both challenging and thrilling, two emotions to die for, although and in truth even IMO, failure is a better result than having no chance to experience it.

Thanks for your humble but very thoughtful post, causing me (and no doubt others) to think of you as lovingly provocative.

Ken MooreJanuary 16th, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Rudyard Kipling

Great poem. I either love it or hate it. 🙂

Mircea1January 16th, 2019 at 9:26 pm

What should East signal on the first trick on this board? I don’t think it makes any difference to the final result, I’m only asking as a general principle (opening leader starts with a top honour in his own suit and dummy comes down with a singleton).

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2019 at 10:39 pm

Hi Mircea1,

First and final discussion on your general principle of a potential suit preference signal:

1. It cannot be done.

2. Since it cannot be done (for several reasons, one being an unreadable choice brought on with only a vague difference, between East’s choice ( 6 or 5) subject to random false carding by the declarer, making the attempted process over virtually unreadable.

3. Furthermore a long hesitation (meaning only a break in tempo) will, in itself be (at least according to me) a violation of ethics, since by doing so, partner is now alert to you wanting to tell him something but having significant trouble finding the right card to play.

BTW, since when I began my 1987 term as President of the ACBL, I, like other Presidents (attempted to set a positive tone) and coined the words “Active Ethics” as my theme.

Thus, if sitting East I would (should) go to extremes to not break tempo since by merely doing so, will impart unauthorized information (UI) even though no one, at least IMO, know which one might come closest to doing the trick, by getting through to partner.

Finally, the normal order of preferred signalling might look something like:
1. Attitude, 2. Count, 3 Suit preference
4. What I feel like eating, 5. Everything else.

However, my guess as to what the very top players may think would in this difficult case be suit preference between clubs and diamonds and thus I guess playing the six rather than the five would be the choice. However, the real key would be an unethical too long pause and then the six.

However some top players (perhaps all of them) might scoff at its impossibility and, if so, just give count and let partner guess, (something he would have to do anyway), but if not being threatened by exterior sources (not having the right card available nor having declarer being able to false card) then suit preference would, at least IMO, jump up to #1.

Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus, but when it comes to defending at bridge it is too often, every player for himself.

So, if you are now not thoroughly confused, you are as again Rudyard Kipling beautifully said: (see my reply above to Ken Moore). “You are a better man than I am, Gunga Din”!

Iain ClimieJanuary 16th, 2019 at 10:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

Surely East should play the H5 at T1 as declarer will be ruffing hearts anyway and might get careless. Having said that, I did something similar with C109 alone when dummy had 2 clubs on the basis that I didn’t want to warn declarer of walking into an overruff and a trump promotion and a pedantic partner wasn’t amused – we missed out on some useful IMPS when a contract went 1-off instead of 3-off.



Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2019 at 11:12 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, I need to change my order of preference in legal signalling. Your mischievous misleading of declarer needs to dramatically rise from nowhere on my list to high up there simply because of the vagueness described on the reply to Mircea1 and mostly on the practical utility of gaining an extra trick by deception.

The only significant bone I have to pick with that choice is losing the leverage to win the argument when it is partner, not the declarer, who goes wrong.

However Iain, if it comes to that, is known to have a much stronger hide than I and likely has a stronger punch.