Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?

William Shakespeare

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

*transfer to hearts


Mark Horton has a regular feature in which he features anonymous hands where declarer has not made the most of his assets. He analyzed today’s deal, which came up at the end of a short match in a major team championship.

South reached three no-trump after a 14-16 no-trump and transfer. When West led the club two, the obvious place for declarer to look for a ninth trick was in the heart suit. South opted for simplicity, cashing the heart king and playing a heart to the jack. East won with the queen and returned the diamond queen. Declarer took that with dummy’s ace and cashed the heart ace, but when West discarded a spade, South’s time was up.

It is hard to criticize declarer for choosing the simplest line, but in fact, there was no rush to go after the hearts. Rather than playing on hearts directly, declarer should have cashed three more rounds of clubs, discarding a diamond and a spade from dummy.

On the last club, East must keep all his hearts and will therefore have to come down to one spade or just three diamonds. If he pitches a diamond, then declarer can play on hearts as before, but will now lose no more than two hearts and two diamonds. However, if East pitches a spade instead, his king will now be bare, and declarer can cross to the spade ace before touching hearts, switching horses to set up his ninth winner in spades. In other words, hearts can wait, but spades cannot.

In the context of what you might hold for a balancing double, you do have some extras. Given that you have four trumps, a raise to two spades looks reasonable here. Much may depend on whether your partner is short or long in clubs, but it seems reasonable to bid now.


♠ J 10 7 5
 K 8
 8 5 2
♣ A K Q J
South West North East
  1 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 1 ♠ 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


jim2July 10th, 2019 at 12:08 pm

The North hand will have to discard twice before East discards once.

Which two cards?

Iain ClimieJuly 10th, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

A diamond and a spade as tucked away in the text (penultimate paragraph). I missed this the first time too.

Hi Bobby,

Mark Horton is fine analyst and this line is all very well seeing all 4 hands but how valid at single dummy is it? What if East has (say) KQxx Q10x QJx xxx, for example, and lets a spade go. Ace and another spade lets East switch to a diamond now (ducked), then another diamond and the hand is now off when just playing on hearts would have worked.

To be fair, West might have led a diamond from K9xx here but it would be close compared to a club from 108xx and many would regard the latter as safer. I agree that running off 4 rounds of clubs can’t hurt but I don’t think playing SAx is automatic after that unless East squirms pretty badly. What can be read into West’s opening lead and his failure to choose something else? A small spade lead from West, of course, and there is no story.



bobbywolffbJuly 10th, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

Yes and no doubt, it is not necessarily clear to postpone relying on hearts. However, sometimes we ignore the discomfort we can cause by making one of the two opponents (and sometimes both) experience premature discarding, especially when East may not know for sure, although when declarer cashes the third club he should, that the opening lead has provided the enemy four immediate tricks instead of just three.

As for other psychological indications for declarer to ponder, he might glean, depending on whether playing matchpoints or, as here IMPs, that the opening leader will not be sitting with specifically 3 hearts (with or without the queen) or otherwise his choice would likely be bolder than an initial attempt from 4 small.

Again that type of reasoning is just another likely transparent clue being unable to hide when top players more or less, play against their equals.

That is, assuming an otherwise technical expert, is well versed in our magnificent mind battle to the point of sometimes successfully trusting invading keen opponents bridge brains, rather than close percentage choices.

Agreed, not always the winning result is achieved, but one which, IMO, should oft times get full consideration, before committing.

No one, especially on this site, with all of its talented posters ever claim, that playing good bridge is easy.

bobbywolffJuly 10th, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Hi Jim2 & Iain,

As always, between the two of you, your comments will resonate from Glen to Dell with reason.

And Iain you strike an authentic chord, one which cannot be denied, but in the interest of consideration let me just contribute in general another truth.

Oft times, although usually not specifically known its effect, by (when enabled) cashing good declarer tricks, one of your worthy opponents will be challenged to guess what to discard. By so doing a worthy declarer may glean, (both by the simple act and often by the tempo) the location of key cards as well as sometimes the original entire distribution of both defensive hands. (for all the readers, you cannot have one without the other).

In this case, when declarer falsecards the queen of clubs at trick one and then plays out the ace and the king, East will know the jack will follow next from declarer, but that information will not be helpful to him, but rather likely put pause to his choice of discards.

Add the above to the keen reputation of the EW opponents by the declarer and he should realize that while playing IMPs (the obvious game being played in this contest, and, if not, still the one under discussion, not matchpoints) West would only have gone so passive with his choice of opening lead when never holding exactly three hearts, including or not the queen, since the hand will be breaking well for declarer so daring becomes the defensive order for choosing an opening lead.

IOW, psychology, not straight percentages is the order of the day, at least on this hand, to be assumed by a wary declarer.

Just another trait to learn for all players, young and old, if they are interested in guessing a winning percentage of playing hands and where the high cards and (just as important) distribution, figures to be.

A formidable task, one may think, but and of course, sometimes never accomplished, nor even considered, and still bridge can be great fun. But and until an aspiring player delves into, he will forever, as you two have known for years, remain in neutral while driving.

All the above is just to remind other readers of how to get there from here. No great feat, but one which is ever present when strength plays against strength and might very well apply when playing and defending this hand.

jim2July 10th, 2019 at 3:08 pm

I did miss that. 🙁

I suspect at the table that I would have been reluctant to degrade transportation by cashing out the clubs. Also, it would greatly clarify where my remaining HCPs were which, coupled with discard signals, let each defender deduce the other’s holdings. Instead, I might have won the opening lead with the QC, trying to emanate a holding like KQx(x), crossed to AS, and led small back towards my J107.

My hope would be that East would win with one honor, and feel a club through the closed hand holding was far more appealing than leading into the Board’s diamond tenace (with my own diamond holding still unclarified).

bobbywolffJuly 10th, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

While your suggestion would normally fit a very reasonable overall line of defense, if, in fact EW were leading 4th best (and it appears that they were), then trick one (with East’s lowly six his best effort) and even more so, the competent declarer not bothering to rise with the nine does not bode well for club tricks (or perhaps I should speak of that in the singular, although and of course as soon as declarer continues at trick two, it will quickly become more apparent).

However, and on most hands, the declarer needs to also think it important to do as you say, and like clever generals do during wartime, not give the enemy an advantage he doesn’t have to concede.

However the real culprit is Dame Fortune who didn’t see fit to even deal East the precious jack of clubs.