When overtaking your partner’s king with the ace is smart

Among bridge players it is a well-known fact that trumping your partner’s Ace is legitimate cause for justifiable homicide — you can shoot any partner who does that and if the judge knows anything about bridge, he’ll let you off.

But what about overtaking your partner’s King with your Ace? In some cases, that actually deserves a medal instead of a death sentence. Tina “Gimme Some Cards!” Perelli had such an opportunity at the Thursday luncheon meeting of our office bridge club, but she failed to seize it.

It happened on the opening hand of the session, which became the featured hand of the day. Pieter “Cy the Cynic” VanBennekom had opened 1 No-Trump and wound up in a 3 NT Game contract after his partner, John “Unlucky Louie” Walston had attempted to transfer to his five-card Club suit (that prospect didn’t enthuse “Cy” too much since he had a doubleton in Clubs, so he closed out the auction in 3 NT).

Tina’s partner, Jim “Mr. Defense” Giuliano, led the King of Spades on the opening trick. It held, and Jim (who naturally also had the Queen of Spades), didn’t know who had the Ace-Jack of Spades — he suspected “Cy” because he didn’t think “Cy” would bid 3 NT without a solid Spade stopper. So Jim shifted suits, and “Cy” was then able to run off 10 tricks in succession with the help of a successful Club finesse and a good Club break.

As the cards lay, Tina had the Spade Ace and “Cy” had the Jack. Even though it is a counter-intuitive play, Tina should have overtaken her partner’s King with the Ace and led a small Spade back to him. In that case, Jim and Tina collect five tricks right off the bat and the contract goes Down One.

There are three reasons Tina should have overtaken her partner’s King with her Ace:

  1. Jim led a Spade, indicating it was his longest suit, either a five- or a four-card suit (it happened to be 5 in this case). In any event, that’s where the opponents had the greatest chance to do damage because of Jim’s length. If your partner has length, you want to play your high cards first and have low cards to come back to him. That’s called “unblocking” the suit. Even if Jim had led a second Spade to Tina’s Ace, she only had a doubleton so she would not have been able to lead Spades back to him after getting stuck in her hand with the Ace.
  2. Jim led the King. He would never lead a naked King without protection, so he had to have the Queen also. Therefore, overtaking the King with the Ace can’t do much damage because you still have the Queen to control the suit as the next highest card.
  3. If you’re worried about making the Jack of Spades good, that doesn’t matter, either. If Jim has the Jack, too (in other words, he might have led from King-Queen-Jack), then overtaking the King with the Ace matters even less because your partnership has the two next highest cards to control the suit. And if the Declarer has the Jack, by leading a small Spade back through him, you can finesse out his Jack and run the suit.

Tina said her bridge skills don’t reach to the level of being able to reason all of that out, but she did agree in the end that it’s all a learning experience and that bridge skills are never static — they’re always evolving, so maybe next time she will confidently overtake her partner’s King with her Ace.

“Louie” and “Cy” quickly got a second Game after that shaky 3 NT steal with a Game in a major making an overtrick to take the only completed Rubber, two Games to none, and they also were slightly ahead in the unfinished second Rubber to take the session by a total score of 1,340 points to 100.

Was it good practice for the joint appearance tonight at the Bridge Studio of Delaware in a midweek Sectional Swiss teams tournament for “Louie” and “Cy”? Time will tell — lots of silver points are at stake and “Cy” is getting closer every day to attaining his Life Master rank with the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL).

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