Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 15th, 2019

(Sunday) should be different from another day. … There may be no relaxation, but there should be no levity.

Samuel Johnson

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


Today’s deal saw a fine example of premature euphoria being punished. In my experience, there are two common reasons for players failing to find plays they should. These come when things appear to be going so well that they do not consider what might go wrong, or when things are going so badly that they cannot imagine how they might recover from the seemingly hopeless position.

Today, South reached three no-trump without either player having significantly overbid. But on a low heart lead, the outlook did not appear very promising. South nevertheless made the right play when he put up the heart queen. With the heart queen doubleton, there was no advantage to playing low from dummy and forcing a high honor. Meanwhile, putting up the queen would pay off if West had underled the ace-king.

When the heart queen held, South relaxed and cashed dummy’s top clubs, then came to the diamond ace and took his remaining top club before leading a second diamond to dummy’s queen and being disgusted by the result. At that point, the contract could not be made since the diamonds were dead.

The winning line is to cash dummy’s club winners, then lead the diamond king, on which you unblock your own 10 before crossing to the diamond ace and taking the club queen. Now the 4-1 diamond break becomes apparent, and your unblock in diamonds allows you to finesse against West and run nine winners.

There is no certainty that dummy will have any ability to ruff clubs — or indeed that dummy will be able to ruff successfully at all; your partner may be able to over-ruff. So it seems premature to lead a trump at trick one; you will surely have time to shift to a trump later. I prefer to lead the heart 10 to the spade ace, as this is less likely to cost a trick.


♠ A 9 8 6 4
 10 8
 A 2
♣ A J 6 4
South West North East
1 ♠ Pass 2 ♠ 3 ♣
Dbl. 3 All 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


ClarksburgJuly 29th, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I just added a supplementary question to yesterday’s blog.

bobby wolffJuly 29th, 2019 at 4:39 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Just answered it on Sunday’s site.

GinnyJuly 29th, 2019 at 11:10 pm

Please – Can you (anyone) critique the following analysis of this hand:
1. I need 8 minor tricks right off the bat.
2. West more probably has 5 hearts than East. Would you lead a low heart from 3 hearts as west? What is more likely with that lead 4:4 or 5:3? I think 5:3
3. Because West underled the AK of hearts, West probably does not have the ace of spades?? (need 2 or 3rd heart in East, because I have no outside entry)
4. Because West probably has 5 hearts, East has less hearts and more space for diamonds and the probability of a 4:1 split in diamonds lies with East.
5. The probability of a 3:0 split is still well under 50% in diamonds (after the fist round diamond trick, so I should not take an 2nd round finesse in diamonds.
6. I have not learned anything yet to tell me the hearts are 4:4 (and to lead a spade).
7. I cannot find a way to protect against a 4:1 split in diamonds with East having the 4 diamonds (and not take that 2nd round finesse). Since I cannot protect against that, play West for 4 diamonds and protect against that without the 2nd round finesse. (Etiquette question: How long should I look at the table for this possibility?)

What analysis should I be doing?

bobbywolffJuly 29th, 2019 at 11:56 pm

Hi Ginny,

Please forgive me for not answering your questions (although all of them make sense) in any particular order).

Your description of the choices seems accurate, however since, of course, the goal is to make one’s contract when declarer, and, if possible, defeat it while on defense.

With no other entries, except in the opening lead suit, it seems best for the opening leader to choose his 4th best, rather than start with a high one. However if done, it may be better, especially at IMPs to lead a low one next (if starting with a high one, allowing East to have a heart left to return, if and when he gets in on time.

However the vagaries of bridge being what they are, seems inevitable on this hand for the declarer to score up exactly nine tricks with any reasonable line he takes. Of course if he gets careless and does not unblock the 10 of diamonds, needing the ace of diamonds for an entry back to his queen of clubs (after he cashes the AK before returning to his hand) for his ninth trick his ship may sink.

Yes and no doubt, the declarer cannot protect against the four defensive diamonds (including the jack) being with East instead of West. For that matter if declarer does just lead a diamond to his 10 and finds that East did have those 4 nasty diamonds, East should immediately learn that he is not holding up his hand high enough for South to not see it.

As to your other practical problem of how long should it take before declarer then plays it correctly. Perhaps up to 30 to 45 seconds and then if it doesn’t come to him or her naturally, he or she should work on his suit combinations at home and during his own time (including, of course, of not blocking himself out of cashing the queen of clubs for his contract trick.

There will be many conscientious bridge players who will not agree with my last statement, but simply put, bridge is and should be a timed competition, so that one player, even the defense, should not take all the time out of the round for his or her problem. I am not trying to be harsh, just trying to keep a somewhat selfish player from getting lost in his own mind and make others wait indefinitely for his or her action.

While playing rubber bridge instead of tournament, it becomes a different story, since only the 3 other players at the table will be disadvantaged by a prolonged huddle.

Besides, although today’s hand requires careful thought, it still can be done rather quickly if that person can find a way to concentrate totally on the task at hand, rather than having his thoughts interrupted, causing him to make all the other players involved (especially in tournament bridge) consistently wait.

Obviously, in very complicated situations, far more difficult than today, can be exceptions and IMO no one should seriously object to that player taking much more time than usual, and TDs in tournaments should be well versed enough in bridge to understand when those hands occur.

I know I am dreaming, but expecting the world to be perfect in its equity. Never happen, never will, but can always hope.