Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats

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

*Weak two in either major


At the 1996 World Championship quarterfinals in Rhodes, Greece, most North-Souths maneuvered themselves into three no-trump by South on a heart lead after West had shown a weak two in hearts.

In one match, South took the heart king and played the club king, and East erred by taking her club ace to play a second heart back. There was really no rush, since declarer was unlikely to have nine sure tricks. Declarer covered the heart six with the nine, and West naturally cashed her heart ace, after which declarer was home free.

At the other table in this match, East correctly ducked the club king. Now declarer crossed to the diamond king and played the club queen. All East had to do was win it and return a club, and the defense would have prevailed. But East played a second heart, and again the defensive communications had been cut.

In both the Open and Women’s series, almost every East besides Irina Levitina of the U.S. failed to duck the first club and continue the suit when declarer played it again. The defense was so blinded by the distraction in hearts that they could not see the simple way to defeat the contract.

Was there anything that declarer could have done about a correct defense? Yes, as Alfredo Versace for Italy demonstrated. Once the club king held the trick, declarer could cut the defensive communications by playing back a top heart himself! The defenders could take only four tricks now, no matter what they did next.

You could settle for a penalty here: If your partner has a singleton diamond and the other three aces, you might expect to take about seven tricks on defense. Or you could look for game in either hearts or no-trump. Since a 4-3 heart fit might be awkward to play, I would start by cue-bidding, then convert a three-spade response to three no-trump, hoping partner could bid on with real extras.


♠ Q 9 4
 K Q 9 5
 Q 10 6 4 2
♣ K
South West North East
  2 Dbl. 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


A.V.Ramana RaoMarch 16th, 2019 at 9:43 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
An instrutive hand for defense but perhaps the Italian’s declarer play is a long shot and caters specifically to east holding both black aces of which there is no guarantee. You may please opine

bobbywolffMarch 16th, 2019 at 10:45 am


Attempting to simplify as we go, it becomes necessary for East to duck the king of clubs since, more than likely if declarer has at least another club (probably much more likely than not and no legal initial signal from partner will determine). Then when (and if) declarer next goes to dummy in diamonds to lead the club queen it becomes obvious to win and lead a club back since the road to 5 defensive tricks is clearly paved.

However, Versace, very much using his keen and experienced always counting mind, had a chance to turn the tables on the defense by timing out the play to prevent West from cashing the would be setting trick before it would be ready for the defense to do so. If declarer could have led a second club from hand, all East could hope to do is win and lead a heart back, hoping partner had at least the Qx in spades (a possibility).

Clearly a case of thrust and counter thrust that yields success, once East uses the numbers involved to his advantage by simply getting a defensive count and finding a way to cause an upcoming set, by superior timing.

Obviously if declarer has a second club, East would then lead a heart back and hope that partner will have the queen of spades (not singleton) which, of course will be the last hope for defensive success.

Finally, since partner did not lead the 10 of hearts (or 9 from some partnerships) makes little difference since, although bidding hearts twice will be disappointing to partner for him not to have the whole remaining heart suit for himself.

Two more factors need to be mentioned. The opening 2 heart holding might not include the ace, likely putting paid to legitimate chances to defeating the hand and the difficulty (relatively impossible) to provide for the best way to hold down the overtrick(s) if, in case that is true, which may cause at matchpoints a slow consideration of how to defend, although, at least on the surface the defense already mentioned would likely be followed even at matchpoints.

In truth matchpoints, because of the above, is just too difficult a game to play very well, because of the sometimes endless possibilities of different timing on defense. However, because of the natural excitement of the game itself, even very good players try and cater to the much more varied guesswork which then may occur.

However, the conclusion almost always obtained by the very best world players, is that the luck generated by the conditions of matchpoints is definitely a minus not a plus, because of the large amount of sheer luck of finding one holding or the other, without benefit of any (or at least enough) evidence.

Iain ClimieMarch 16th, 2019 at 6:30 pm

Hi Bobby,

Alfredo Versace’s line looks very dangerous, as West could have one of the black Aces, but I wonder if EW were playing the “garbage multi” where not only is it a weak 2 but a very, very weak one (e.g. less than 6 points). If so, then the usual concern comes up about giving away information on very weak hands. The urge to be obstructive (and the Multi is often not that effective compared to a weak 2 as the opposition have extra chances to bid, if they’ve done their homework) can misfire badly.



bobbywolffMarch 16th, 2019 at 9:01 pm

Hi Iain,

While I do agree 100% on disadvantages of Multi for just the reason you give, similar to transfers over 1NT which almost always gives the opponents 2 shots at the apple (competing against NT openers) instead of only just one, which to me is the greater evil than generally, but not always, playing the contract from the wrong side.

However on this auction where East is raising hearts on likely just Jx, it looks like he needs both aces since this has become a part score battle and from Versace’s point of view it probably would be surprising for East to not have both missing aces, since almost all of the other face cards have become viewable, NS.

Yes they both look like they should have at least two aces, but scrimping by the preemptor is probably more likely than a live responder.

However, every bridge partnership is different, so an opponent makes his choice and takes his chances.