Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 7th, 2019

With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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


To mark the first full week of the New Year, I’m going to try an experiment. In all the deals this week, declarer will be faced with an eight-card trump fit missing the king. But the individual facts and circumstances will produce different conclusions as to the best play for declarer.

Beginners are taught that the way to play a suit in which you have the ace, queen and jack is to finesse. So when you look at the North and South hands in today’s deal, you might assume that you are supposed to finesse against the king by leading the queen. But that would be a grave mistake!

With no side-suit losers in your slam, your goal is to hold your trump losers to one; the absence of the 10 and nine from your hand and dummy’s means that no matter who has the king, at least one loser is inevitable. You must therefore find the safest line to avoid losing two trump tricks.

If trumps are 3-2, your task is easy. But what if they are 4-1? You will see that no matter which four trumps East has, if they include the king, the contract is hopeless. But what if it is West with length? Running the queen or jack will not be a success.

Instead, cash the ace, then lead up to the queen-jack. If trumps break, you are home, and if trumps break 4-1 onside, then come back to hand in spades and lead a heart toward dummy’s remaining honor. The defense will be helpless.

Your controls and shape give you just enough to drive to game with a call of two hearts. This suggests a minimum of 5-4 distribution and a hand of this strength, leaving open all possible strains for game and slam. You won’t always be able to make game here, but you should be in one.


♠ A 3
 A 6 5 4
 K 9
♣ A K J 7 4
South West North East
1 ♣ Pass 1 Pass

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Suppose, however, that W’s opening lead had been a club, and he appeared to have no particular problem with his opening lead. Now there is a real danger that W has Hxxx Cx and E HKx Cxxx, making the suggested line a failure but leading the HQ a success. Do you think you might be persuaded to shift gears under this set of facts?

Iain ClimieJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 3:47 pm

Hi David,

I ran into a position like that the other week and could see no reason for West leading a club on the auction unless she had a singleton. So I finessed (albeit with a better trump holding of SQJ9xx in dummy opposite Axx in hand to avoid any risk of playing A small and walking into a ruff if RHO held Kx and LHO had a stiff club. She’d led a small club from K KQJ9x J10xx xxx against 6S. So much for thinking things through!



A V Ramana RaoJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff , David & lain
Perhaps N S should be playing in 6 clubs in which case the theme of column line for bringing in three heart tricks would be instructive ( which would also circumvent David’s question.)


bobbywolffJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 4:53 pm

bobbywolffJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Although it took some trauma to merely get a peek at this hand, together, both David and Iain, whether that was their aim or not, symbolized, at least to my way of thinking how circumstances change, based strictly on table feel.

Since clubs were first bid, but not supported, it still is somewhat unusual to choose a passive lead vs. a small slam, so that when a good player (always, at least from the point of discussing high-level bridge) chooses to commit a bridge act (here, an opening lead) that fact should play a significant part of helping declarer determine how to figure that in the percentages, therefore how to go about it.

My conclusion would be to follow both David’s and Iain’s lines of play (in their similar but not identical situations) one making apple sauce out of apples (David), and then poor Iain, making hemlock out of harmless as an antidote.

At least to me, the above is what high level bridge is mostly about and becomes an incredible factor with winning and losing.

In no way is it the only determination but to not take clear cut evidence into consideration is not the answer. However, experience, not necessarily technical knowledge, becomes the most underrated factor in separating winners from too often losers.

Just a word to the wise of what an unbelievably great game it is, that we attempt to play.

Of course, these talked about ploys come in all shapes and sizes, some easily identifiable (David’s) and others operating under the cloak of darkness (Iain’s).

My guess (opinion) is that both of them played the hand in the right way, but Dame Fortune won again in Iain’s case, a very cruel blow.

Bobby WolffJanuary 22nd, 2019 at 5:23 pm


No doubt you are right, but since this NS partnership must have been playing that it takes four to raise partner’s major, and so rather than worry about partner having opened with a three card club suit, just barreled into a heart slam.

Besides which, how can we enjoy good play, unless occasionally we arrive at less than the optimum contract so just consider that the game is matchpoints where bidding and making 6 hearts is worth more than is twelve tricks in the lowly club suit.

However, nothing I can say can dispute the truth to which you are committed.