Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: West


K 5 2

9 6 4

K Q 5 3

10 6 4


Q 7 6 3

K Q 5


A J 8 7 3


J 9 8 4

10 7 3

9 2

K 9 5 2


A 10

A J 8 2

A J 8 7 6 4



South West North East
Pass Pass Pass
1 2 2 3
3 Pass 3 Pass
5 All pass

Opening Lead: Club ace

“One hundred and ninety two (of the species of apes) are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens.”

— Desmond Morris

One of the idioms you occasionally hear at the bridge table is “stripping a hand.” This refers to a process of eliminating some of the suits from a hand to reduce the options for a defender when he gets the lead. It may sound complex, but in today’s deal, Roselyn Teukolsky demonstrated a route to success by employing the technique perfectly.

Incidentally, note North’s three-spade bid, suggesting spade values and a better-than-minimum hand.

Against five diamonds West elected to lead the club ace — a small slip that allowed Teukolsky to make the contract by force, despite the unfavorable heart distribution. She ruffed the club continuation, played off three rounds of spades, ruffing the third, then crossed to a top trump in dummy to eliminate the clubs. At this point she finally drew the last trump, ending up in dummy. Now she led the heart nine, covered by East with the 10. Roselyn put on the jack, leaving West on play. A heart return would give up the defense’s trick there, and either black suit would allow declarer to throw a heart from dummy and crossruff the rest of the tricks.

Notice that on a passive spade opening lead, declarer will probably take the spade ace and lead the club queen from hand. If East is allowed to take this trick and play a heart through declarer, all the tension of the ending is broken up.


South holds:

K 5 2
9 6 4
K Q 5 3
10 6 4


South West North East
2 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass
ANSWER: Although your values had suggested slam might have been in the offing, now, after the sign-off, passing discretely is best since you have no aces and no trump honors. If your partner cannot make a slam-try, you should respect his judgment.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2August 30th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I must confess that I do not regard the opening lead of a small spade to be “passive.” North has shown spade values and South leap to the 11-trick game despite North’s original pass suggests that those values significantly improved South’s hand. Thus, it would seem quite lucky indeed that South did not have, say, AJ of spades instead of A10, and putting the QC in the East hand. Actually, those card switches seem very, very, very consistent with the bidding to me.

The small spade lead into South’s hypothetical AJ leads to an easy make as South gets to shed the club loser.

A better case might be made for the 10D being a “passive opening lead.” East seems very unlikely to have a vulnerable trump holding on the auction, as South sounds to have extra length facing North’s 4 or 5 card support.

Look what happens, though.

Declarer wins in hand (as the column said for the xS lead) and advances the QC. East is allowed to win (also as in the column) and leads a heart through the closed hand to break up the late endplay (again, as in the column). South plays low and West wins and gets out with a black card.

Now, however, declarer plays out the hand using the KS as a late entry to the two card ending. North holds a heart and the 10C. South holds the AJ of hearts.

So, what does West hold?

That simple squeeze turns out fortuitously not to be available on a spade opening lead because West can play a second spade after winning the first heart, removing prematurely the critical late entry to the Board.

Thus, the (very risky attacking) spade opening lead is the only one that allows the hand to be set.

MikeAugust 30th, 2011 at 2:14 pm


After running all the D and AK S, declarer will have 3 H remaining, not 2.

Jeff SAugust 30th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

The West hand would have made a pretty good Lead with the Aces in its own right, but the actual play was well worth an entire column. Very nice!

My own thought was along Jim’s line that the 10D looked liked the safest lead. However, I cannot follow Jim’s line all the way through. How does South get to a winning two-card ending in that line? He has already given up a club and spade trick and still has AJxH in hand (assuming he was brave/shrewd enough to place the 10H with E and not to put up the J when E led a heart).

Where does the extra heart go? It looks to me like South is still set which would suggest that the 10D might have been the safest lead after all.

OK, time to show me the error of my ways – it’s how I learn. 🙂

Jeff SAugust 30th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Sorry – of course that should have read, “he has already given up a club and heart trick”.

jim2August 30th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

No, it looks like my error, though I still think a spade lead would not be passive.

I got out a deck and even played it out when the column was printed, and settled in to the two week wait. Not sure how I screwed it up now. In the 3-card ending, of course, West could keep a high club and two hearts.

Hmmm, maybe it was as part of a dummy reversal? Is that how I did it two weeks ago and forgot? Let’s see:


– QC

– heart through

– club return ruffed (South could still have S AJ)

– over to KD

– 6C ruffed

– top spades

– last Board spade ruffed, that shortens South

– now, last South diamond over to Board

– the last Board diamond lets South shed the third heart while squeezing West in the 2-card ending?

That works, I think, but it looks to require West exiting “safely” with a club rather than “risk” a spade into South’s potential AJ.

MikeAugust 30th, 2011 at 5:14 pm

If you ruff 2 C’s, you no longer have a C threat.

Bobby WolffAugust 30th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Hi Jim2, Mike and Jeff,

Wow, in the last hour today’s column (2 weeks delayed), has enveloped our minds.

First, Jim is quite right that the spade lead, although successful, was not passive, as the column stated, but rather a somewhat lucky stab of not losing a trick and at the same time, allowing partner to win the first club, resulting in his heart return which in turn scuttled the contract.

All in a day’s work whether at the table or in the bridge author’s writing room. A small case could be made for the danger of leading the ace of clubs since partner need not have the king for his raise, possibly resulting in a lost club trick, but realistically the only palpable error was calling the low spade lead passive.

Perhaps the discussion on this hand can realistically portray the pain of a losing player’s team game close loss, when he recalls how he almost led either a spade or a diamond, instead of the ace of clubs which, of course allowed the declarer to play the hand well and score it up.

When mental toughness is discussed, the winning of IMP bridge matches sometimes goes without incident, but when one loses (and there, like other fiercely competitive games), it is sometimes hard to face certain leads, bids and plays which might have made the difference and that alone, is almost enough to recognize a physical part of the game which could be explained as the endurance needed to overcome “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” which usually accompanies close losses.

Take the above on face value or as only a commercial plea and although I am biased, why I think bridge is a great enough game (certainly the best card game ever invented), to rate an Olympic acceptance as a sport that possesses, at least, some physicality.

Everything else which is needed to have been said about this hand, has already been done, by you three.

jim2August 30th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

The spade lead characterization appears to be the only thing I got right, though. 🙂

I will get that daggone deck back out tonight, though, and try to figure out where i went wrong. (sigh)

David WarheitAugust 31st, 2011 at 9:54 am

OK, Jim, maybe this will help: West leads the diamond 10. South wins and leads the club Q which east wins and he returns a heart ducked to west’s Q. West then exits with, say, a high club. South ruffs and plays 3 rounds of spades, ruffing the 3rd. At this point south has AJx of hearts & Jxx of diamonds, dummy has 2 hearts, Kxx of diamonds and club 10, and there’s nothing South can do to avoid losing one more trick. What you had him do, essentially, was cash 3 diamonds, which reduces everyone to 3 cards, not 2 as you originally thought. Now he has two losers, but, voila, the squeeze works and he gets one of the losers back. In the end south has AJx of hearts, dummy has xx of hearts and club 10, and west is forced to come down to Kx of hearts and club J. Dummy leads a club, west wins but has to concede the last 2 tricks. So your squeeze worked, but only to recover the trick you had thrown away.

What all this proves is that you were absolutely correct in your first assumption, namely that the opening lead of the diamond 10 is the true passive lead.

Bobby WolffAugust 31st, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for assuming the role of the “Master Communicator” and with kindness and aplomb.

An interesting phenomena in the bridge world is that we ALL, because of the immense challenges and, from time to time, play different roles in this great game. Who today’s hero is, changes abruptly and without warning, making us all aware of the so-called bridge environment which both frustrates and then thrills us.

If one was to try and name the emotions generally present he might choose, highly competitive, deadly serious, partnership cooperative, intense, total concentration, actively ethical, and possibly above all, just plain enthusiasm for getting it on.

All of us who are in the loop in these internet bridge discussions, possess, at least ostensibly, most of the above and, for me, it is never less than a pleasure to participate.

Little by little, we can all grow in bridge knowledge and application, which I can assure you, over time, will bring much more joy than it will stress.