Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

If all men count with you, but none too much.

Rudyard Kipling

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


Today’s deal comes from a recent national tournament played at many tables, where the key to the defense was how to signal properly in order to find the best way to defeat three spades. The defenders were playing standard signals and third-and-lowest leads (wherein the defenders lead low from three or five cards and top of a doubleton, or third-highest from four cards). These methods tend to help the defenders get a count from the lead, whereas fourth-highest and second from a bad suit may help with the attitude of the opening leader.

Against three spades, West led the heart king; this went to the five, three and nine. Using upside-down count, when West next led a low heart to East’s ace, declarer playing the two, there was some ambiguity as to whether East had begun with A-10-2 or A-2. But third-and-fifth leads should come to the rescue!

After winning the heart ace, East shifted to the club six, to declarer’s three, the jack and the ace. East then took the diamond king with the ace and continued with the club five.

When West won his king, he could be sure East didn’t have only two clubs, because South had so far already shown seven spades, two hearts, two clubs and one diamond. The spot-card lead in clubs let West be sure his partner had four clubs; therefore, declarer had only two clubs. Thus, he could try to cash the heart queen, with confidence that this was his only chance to defeat the contract.

First things first: Don’t jump to three no-trump unless you have absolutely no faith in your partner’s declarer play! That said, with game-forcing values and a weak major, I see no reason not to bid one diamond here. You may or may not introduce your hearts over a one no-trump rebid from your partner, depending on whether North would bypass a major with a balanced hand at his second turn.


♠ K 7
 J 8 7 5
 K Q 7 4
♣ A 10 4
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass

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Bob LiptonJuly 16th, 2019 at 1:16 pm

East dare not overtake the opening Heart lead, lest south have only a doubleton. Nonetheless, he erred by returning a low club. South might have the club jack. If he wishes to cash a club and possibly get the third heart, he should switch to the club Queen. It is true that, with the Jack, South can deny an entry into West’s hand by holding up for one round. However, with the hand as constituted, West can overtake the Queen and thus make sure he can always get in and even if south has the Jack….. well, errors occur at the highest level of bridge too. Always give the opponents a chance to get it wrong.


bobbywolffJuly 16th, 2019 at 3:51 pm

Hi Bob,

While all you say is true, the only different approach I will suggest is to confirm what I would estimate 90+% of bridge players the world over are so victimized . Our game is one of the toughest ever to virtually guess, especially on defense, what the other two hands contain to which the players are gazing.

By that I mean, again especially early in the defense, where the key cards are, making consistent perfect or even keen analysis very difficult to almost impossible, but a better adjective would always be guess, rather than know (keeping in mind, such as this hand, that when West leads the king of hearts he will also, very likely, have the queen).

Therefore the task of learning to defend many (most) hands becomes herculean and even the best players ever, make many errors, eg better described as judgment, but in reality far fewer than their contemporaries and almost never when almost certainties (probabilities), help decide.

Proclaiming the above doesn’t necessarily sit well with all humans. Most have what they think is more pride than that and do not like to consider themselves error prone in most anything. However, if one wants a ride in the up elevator in bridge he (or she) needs to get used to that reality or IMO seek out another easier competition to compete or instead, to ward off frustration of any kind and stay aloof,

Moving forward I would say that on the evidence up to trick four that South with his vulnerable three spade opening (normally seven) plus his likely having another heart, with West’s 3 being led, (declarer offering the deuce) leaves room in his hand for only three other cards (that is why numeracy is such an important attribute to develop for mankind since it is useful (in some manner or way) almost every day in one way or another in a normal person’s life.

All that means is that a club back from East is close to a 100% requirement before declarer likely drives out East’s ace of diamonds to throw away his losing club (if he was dealt two clubs and one diamond instead of the other way around). That is, unless the defense doggedly pursues the right defense, after considering the alternatives.

Believe it or not the above hand is actually not any more valuable than some other deal, but for the above concept it serves as an asset to pursue and understand.

All else involved is nothing more than commonplace, but this discussion if read and understood by others will hopefully become routine reasoning, but made possible by the detective work always up and running with many bridge hands, making our game IMHO clearly the best overall excercize for a combination of judgment in what to do, with the honest knowledge of how it is obtained.

Thanks for putting up with my long winded discussion and being a poster child for helping others so inclined to get interested in what could be a wonderful experience, lasting a lifetime.

bobbywolffJuly 16th, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Hi Bob,

BTW, your comment about East leading the queen of clubs at trick three has much merit and appears 100% correct.

Of course there are up and down advantages and disadvantages, but on balance I definitely agree with you.

Sorry for omitting the above when I initially responded.

Iain ClimieJuly 16th, 2019 at 9:18 pm

HI Bobby,

With HA102 surely East is playing the H10 at T2? After all West is hardly playing the HK from Kx or leading the Hx at T2 from Kaz.



bobbywolffJuly 17th, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, little doubt that West has led from anything but KQxx (without the 10) but if declarer has both the 10 of hearts and the jack of clubs, the defense is out of luck in getting their setting trick, once West made his opening lead.

Such are the pitfalls of defense where unknown “little” things often mean a lot, this time giving up setting the contract when , if the queen of clubs is led back declarer must and will duck it.

However envision East having three hearts and KQx of clubs and declarer the jack x, then after leading the club queen , winning the trick leads back a spade, whereupon declarer wins in hand, takes a club finesse and then goes down 200.

Good bridge can be exciting, particularly so if West had the ace of diamonds. Just imagine the discussion generated at both tables when comparing scores.

No doubt, declarer would be thanked by his teammates for not finding a way to go down three.