Hold up the ace of trumps


Giorgio Belladonna ( Italy )  

GIORGIO BELLADONNA is one of the all-time great names in the game of bridge. Born in 1923, he unfortunately died in 1995, and the game lost not only a great player but also one of its great gentlemen, both at and away from the table. He won the World Teams Olympiad three times and the Bermuda Bowl no less than thirteen times. He is the only player to have participated in all sixteen Italian world victories. He was a charming man and one of my heroes ever since I started to play the game. Dorothy Francis, frequent bulletin editor, tells a nice story about him. Following a slight altercation after which Giorgio felt he owed Dorothy an apology, a large bouquet of flowers arrived at Dorothy's door with the simple note: 'Bella Donna Belladonna.'

The most powerful card in bridge is the ace of trumps. When you, as a defender, are fortunate enough to hold this card, you must be sure to put it to the best possible use. A general does not necessarily commit his crack troops to the battle right at the start, and you too should quite often hold back the ace of trumps until it can play a decisive role. In this deal you are West:

  West Dealer 10 9 6    


Love All

 10 3 2





 A Q J 5





 A K 2









A 7 4 2     5 3

 K Q J 8 6


W                          E

 9 7 4




10 6 4 3 2

 Q 10 6



 J  8 7









 K Q J 8





 A 5





 K 8 7





 9 6 4 3

































You lead the king of hearts and South wins with the ace. If South can force out the ace of trumps he will have ten easy tricks. A resourceful declarer will not lead trumps from his own hand, for this would make it plain that he had a strong sequence. South is likely instead to cross to dummy with a club or a diamond and lead a low spade to the king.

Suppose that you release the ace. In this case the contract will be made. You can cash the queen of hearts and continue with the jack, but South simply discards a losing club. Now he can win any continuation, draw trumps and claim the contract.

Now suppose instead that you hold up the ace of trumps on the first round. Declarer continues with a second trump but you duck this also. South is helpless. If he plays a third trump, you win and play hearts, forcing South to ruff with his last trump. In this case you beat the contract by two tricks. If South abandons trumps after two rounds you eventually make your small trump by ruffing and South winds up with nine tricks.

IT is not only when you are long in trumps that you should be reluctant to part with the ace. In the next deal you are East:


  South Dealer A K 10 9 3    


Love All

 Q 6





 Q J





 A J 9 8









J 7     8 6 5 4

 5 3


W                          E

 A 4

 K 9 5 3 2



 A 10 7

 Q 7 5 4



 K 10 3 2









Q 2





 K J 9 8 7 2





 8 6 4








South opens Three Hearts and North raises to Four Hearts. West leads the three of diamonds and you win with the ace.

As the three of diamonds is presumably your partner's fourth highest, you can place South with three diamonds. The opening pre-empt suggests a seven-card suit so South can have only three cards in the black suits all taken care of by dummy's ace-king of spades and ace of clubs. Unless you can take three diamond tricks you are unlikely to beat Four Hearts.

If you were to return the ace and another trump, with the object of preventing a diamond ruff, South would easily take the balance. To keep control you must hold on to the ace of trumps and return a low trump. Now South must go down.


My BOLS bridge tip is simple:  

Whenever you, as a defender, include the ace of trumps among your assets, you should consider whether to hold up this card when trumps are first played.

After all, the ace of trumps is the one card in the pack that you are always sure to make!