Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 10th, 2019

Honey, I just forgot to duck.

Jack Dempsey

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


The next deal from Larry Cohen’s new book, “Tricks of the Trade,” discusses how defenders can make life difficult for declarer by not rushing to take their high cards. Of course, anyone can duck a winner, but the key is to do it at the right time. Sometimes your plan is to distract declarer or persuade him to relax under the impression that a card is well-placed for him.

Obviously, these “blind” ducks, even when achieved smoothly, are riskier when you are ducking a high card from declarer’s hand than those where you can see all the key values in dummy. In exchange, though, they are usually more effective than their counterparts, because declarer will be less likely to believe your capability to make such a play. Watch the effect of a blind duck from the final of the 2000 Open Teams in Maastricht.

South, declarer at three no-trump, won the opening heart lead in hand and crossed to the club ace to play a diamond to his queen, which held. He crossed back to the other high club to take another diamond finesse, but it lost. Italy’s Lorenzo Lauria, West, had earlier made the good play of smoothly ducking his diamond king at his first chance to take it.

Once in with the diamond king, Lauria cleared hearts and defeated the contract by later regaining the lead in clubs and cashing out. If the first diamond finesse had lost, declarer would surely have tried the club finesse at a later stage in the deal and made his contract.

Facing a 15-17 no-trump opening, you know your side has the majority of high cards, so you should not sell out to three diamonds. By doubling here, you suggest that your side has the lion’s share of high cards, allowing your partner to decide whether he wants to bid on in spades or defend.


♠ K J 7 4 3
 Q 10 2
 10 9 2
♣ 10 9
South West North East
    1 NT Pass
2 Pass 2 ♠ Pass
Pass 3 Pass 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


Iain ClimieMay 24th, 2019 at 9:34 am

Hi Bobby,

I thought today’s quote was from Ronald Reagan after he got shot and injured but I can see that Jack Dempsey would be appropriate too, although landing a blow on him was probably harder.

Good defence today but I suspect West can reasonably assume that a good declarer would not be playing on a suit like AQx(x) at an early stage in such a committal manner, especially as the club finesse is clearly possible; if West had Cxxx the situation is less clear.

The counterargument is that declarer trying to steal an early 9th trick might lead from (say) xxx in dummy to KJx in hand and put the King up knowing that RHO will surely play small and LHO may well duck unless holding AQ.



David WarheitMay 24th, 2019 at 9:36 am

If S regards the D finesse as a sure thing after winning the Q, then he has no reason to refuse the C finesse on the second lead of C. If the C finesse wins, he is looking at overtricks, and even if it loses, he still has 3C, 2H & 1S and repeating the successful D finesse gives him 9 tricks. But if W is lurking with the DK, we see why the C finesse is necessary.

By the way, S should play DJ, not DQ on first play of D. This makes it much harder for W to duck the K.

bobbywolffMay 24th, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, today’s quote could have been from Ronald Reagan since, although ducking is certainly less plausible against a gunshot than a haymaker, he was blessed with the sense of humor to say so, especially and only since he thankfully lived to tell about it.

However Jack Dempsey in his heavyweight fight with Gene Tunney (even before my time, which means very long ago) though favored (likely because of his personality rather than his acumen), did lose the fight, just as Tunney’s opponents, always did.

No doubt Lauria made a courageous duck when he didn’t win his diamond king the first round, and survived with a superlative result.

Yes, your analogy while holding the KJx to lead a low one to the king first for the contract making trick is a good strategy to sometimes make what may be thought to help bring home an unlikely contract. However try it sometimes at trick 2 while playing a touch and go 6NT contract holding Kx in hand opposite 2 small in dummy. Obviously, one may go down a few, instead of just one, but what fun and more important, psychological leverage against one’s LHO (maybe for a lifetime) if he decides to duck with the ace (because of your very early play and yes, for you wise guys, when not holding the queen with it). I can only recommend such a play if one has nerves of steel and/or feels a compelling rush to have a thrill, but, after all, as James Bond (but, of course, Ian Fleming) tried to prove, “One only lives once” or did he suggest “twice”.

bobbywolffMay 24th, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Hi David,

Of course, you are right as usual, but though I would guess that most keen bridge minds, while concentrating on securing one’s contract, might relax one’s thought and fall for the lesser play as did today’s declarer when, as you reminded us, did not also finesse the club.

His result should have reminded that declarer that even one extra IMP could influence the final result, but Victor Mollo might then have had the less emotional, and very skillful declarer take the second club finesse and lose to an original doubleton queen when his left hand opponent had ducked the king of diamonds.

All in a day’s work, or in a keen bridge writer’s devious, but ultra clever mind.

Your suggestion of declarer playing the jack of diamonds rather than the queen looks to be right, but in order to be sure, needs to be thoroughly analyzed.

Always a thank you for your consistent right on comments.
not take the second round club finesse.

Patrick CheuMay 24th, 2019 at 10:18 pm

Hi Bobby,Could you please advise us on how we might bid this hand from pairs:Dealer E-NS vul-north A8 AKQ64 JT2 QJ5-south KT632 T985 A8 AK. Our bidding(Acol) went-E pass S 1S W pass N 2H(9+)~E pass S 3H W pass N 4H..passed out. I suggested 3S by North over 3H..but others ventured that South should bid 4H over 3H may only have 3 card support and not forcing..Regards~Patrick.

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2019 at 12:13 am

Hi Patrick,

My opinion does not give much, if any credit, to NS for their lack of effort to get to their best contract.

How about: With EW passing: South 1S, North, 2H, N, 3H (an underbid), N 4C (slam interest) S. 4D, N 4S, S 4NT, N, whatever shows three KCs or 2 Aces, S, 5NT, N, 7H (since holding the queen of hearts and only a doubleton spade rather than Axx this must be the right hand for a grand slajm since the spades figure to be able to be set up and the hearts are so good.

In a good field, even at a non-descript bridge club, bidding only 6 hearts would rate to be below average.

No fun for me to be critical but learning to evaluate is just too important to take lightly.

I realize that a grand slam is not cold, but instead likely over 80% and should be bid.

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2019 at 12:16 am

Hi Patrick,

Sorry for the gaffe since it is South, not North who raises partner’s hearts in the 2nd round of bidding.

Patrick CheuMay 25th, 2019 at 4:14 am

Hi Bobby, Agreed that 1S-2H-3H(underbid)..can North not simply cue bid 3S(King or Ace) here rather than 4C which could be used to show King or Ace of clubs? Or is it that you think 4C is always used here to show general slam interest like last train?

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2019 at 10:31 am

Hi Patrick,

Neither. The trouble with the more natural “cue” bid of 3 spades, is that partner will expect a secondary spade fit (at least three) and only possibly decide to raise to what he thinks is a reasonable game of 4 spades.

If a partnership has discussed a different treatment, eg, once partner raises 2 hearts o 3 the partnership is then committed to a heart contract then, while perfect for this hand, is not so when partner’s hearts are Qxxxx and spades AQx and/or the opener has a relatively strong spade suit AQ10xx or such.

Therefore while partner’s 4 club advance is technically a slam investigation usually containing at least 2nd round control of that bid suit. Here he doesn’t possess that, but since he does have the tops in hearts plus a major honor in spades, he can feel fairly secure that partner will have some control in clubs, due to his missing those major suit honors.

Possibly, not consistent in your eyes, and if so, true, however bridge bidding sometimes gets a bit sticky where decisions, such as slam tries sometime come with problems attached. This hand is a good example and not everyone would then bid 4 clubs with the opening bidder’s hand, but to that I will say simply, “The lesser evil bid” with the right intent, but IMO the clearly best effort on this bidding sequence.

Our great game, though scientific at times, sometimes require battlefield decisions and when bridge titans clash, the ones with the best judgment usually find the winner’s circle.

Perhaps the opening bidder will have: s. AQJxx, h. Jxxx, d. A, c. xxx and somehow after the 4 club bid 6 hearts is then reached.

Terrible, Awful, but who knows, perhaps the opening leader will not want to lead a club into the cue bidder (not holding the AK of clubs) and choose another suit. When you then score it up, do not be embarrassed to look the opponents in the eye and manage a feint smile to show some remorse, although you really don’t feel any at all.

Good luck and keep those bidding problems coming.

Patrick CheuMay 25th, 2019 at 6:51 pm

Hi Bobby,Greatly appreciate all that is said here,I have looked at the bidding in too simplistic terms rather than the bigger picture that you have so rightly pointed out..I can only improve for this.Thanks again for taking the time to help us in our endeavour to be better players and your sense of humour always bring out the smiles in our discussions. Best Regards~Patrick.