Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres.

William Shakespeare

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


The natural play in four hearts here on the lead of the diamond jack is to cover with dummy's queen. East will win with the king and return the diamond eight. Whether South covers or not, the defenders will establish their second diamond winner and be ready when in with the trump ace to cash their diamond and spade winners.

The winning approach features the concept of a frozen suit — a somewhat arcane designation of a position where neither side can successfully attack a suit except at the cost of a trick.

If declarer accurately reads the opening lead as coming from J-10-x of diamonds, then he can rise with the diamond ace and simply knock out the trump ace. With the cards lying the way that he had hoped, neither defender can successfully play on diamonds without establishing the third-round winner for declarer. Of course, declarer cannot play on diamonds himself without creating two winners for the defenders — but he doesn’t need to. Since he has five club winners, four trump tricks and the diamond ace, he can come to 10 tricks whatever the defenders choose to do.

This concept of a frozen suit would apply equally well if the East-West holdings were identical but the diamonds were Q-5-2 in dummy facing A-9-6. Again, declarer would have to work out that West had the J-10, then duck the opening lead to prevent the defenders from continuing the suit effectively.

Your partner has shown extra values and good clubs – probably 17 or more HCP since he could have bid three clubs directly with a decent overcall. With an eight-count, you surely have enough to get to game, but which? Cuebid three diamonds, hoping partner can bid three no-trump, or make some other descriptive call.


♠ J 9 4
 J 7 3 2
 9 6 2
♣ A Q 6
South West North East
2 Dbl. Pass
2 Pass 3♣ Pass

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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2013 at 9:57 am

Hi Bobby,

On the example holding you quote at the end (A96 opposite Q52) declarer can also take the Ace at T1 instead of ducking – anything as long as he doesn’t play the DQ at trick 1. Mind you, if West has led from Jx, then you have to play the Queen.

Today’s quote is the ghost of Hamlet’s father bemoaning his fate (o his son “I am thy father’s spirit doomed for a certain term to fast in fires til the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away” i.e. He is in purgatory. Judging by the rest of his despairing rant, including the words you quote, it sounds like he is being forced to play bridge there with bad partners, suffer dreadful breaks, see only anti-percentage lines work and be fixed by lucky opponents. It sounds like Shakespeare’s Claudius was an ancestor of Mollo’s Karapet the luckless Armenian!



Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2013 at 10:20 am

Sorry, misquote. “… doomed for a certain term to walk the night and by day confined to fast in fires…”. More haste, less accuracy.

bobby wolffMay 15th, 2013 at 10:46 am

Hi Iain,

The combination of your bridge knowledge and acumen, together with your off the charts literary education, indeed makes you a formidable commentator.

In order for me to even hope to stay close to the league you are in, I need to “Brush up my Shakespeare” (from, I think, Kiss Me Kate), generally hunker down, learn more about Victor Mollo (although in about 1970, he flew to Dallas, stayed with my late wife Debby and me for about 6 weeks, and wrote “The Story of the Aces” which was almost finished, but never published). That venture was in itself quite unusual for Victor, since he hated flying and only did so, for what was to him, an unique experience.

I’ll never forget his staying up most of every night, brandy in hand, recounting his vivid imagination which included his wife, Squirrel (who did not make the trip), and his imaginary menagerie which will likely never die as long as bridge is still being played.

No doubt the Armenian, Karapet, was patterned after Claudius as Victor, with his Russian ancestry, often quoted “The Bard”, and likely would have made a wonderful acquaintance of yours, not to mention not having to frighteningly fly across the pond to do it.

Please continue educating me (and many others) with your highly tuned and inquiring literary mind. Perhaps in the next life we will be neighbors, but until that event occurs, our messages back and forth will just have to do.

Your friend,


Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thanks Bobby for the very kind comments although I still wouldn’t swear that I’ve got the quote spot on. The speech can be readily tweaked to be a lament by anyone whose partner and opponents have conspired against them. My love of Shakespeare was probably helped by not having to study it at school.

I was fascinated by your comments on VM and his fear of flying. I’ve spent most of my working life in engineering, with much of it trying to make sure air crashes are sufficiently rare. Nervous fliers are recommended not to talk to me on this, though, as I have a shockingly warped sense of humour.

All the very best,


PS was a draft kept of the Aces story? If so, could it be published?

bobby wolffMay 15th, 2013 at 11:39 am

Hi Iain,

From what I remember “The almost finished biography of the Aces was stored at my very good friend, Col. Joe Musumeci’s home in Dallas. Joe, who was called to Dallas after my recommendation to Ira for him to take over the rigors of coaching the Aces in 1968.

Joe died in 2003, but not before transferring much of the Aces memorabilia (all that he had) to me for storage. Since then I have had several residences, although I have now settled down in Las Vegas since late 2005 and, of course, married Judy in 2003 after which she moved to Dallas.

The good news is that I will check my storage facility for that book (about 400+ pages), with a pretty good chance of finding it, but the not so good news is that it consisted of more or less a documentary rather than a book featuring the great style and writing of Victor, accenting his humor and imagination.

In any event I will notify you, if and when I can find time to search for it, and then reread the manuscript in the hope of finding enough optimism to expect it to, at the very least, be a book which Victor would have wanted to be published with his name.

Iain ClimieMay 15th, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Many thanks and best of luck. If Victor had put that much effort into the book, I’m sure he’d have been very happy to see something published, even if not in his usual style.

All the best,


bruce karlsonMay 15th, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Not trying to push this lead thing forever but: Leading the J from J10x strikes me as aggressive, dangerously so. My inclination would be passive and would lead a trump. That seems to work better here but the question is really one of preference in general. Passive or aggressive? Does the experience level of the opps have any bearing? I think the more decisions required of weaker player, the better chance for a mistake, My last comment regarding lead preference…. I promise!!


bobby wolffMay 15th, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Hi Bruce,

I’ll have a two part answer to your question, with first, John Brown, a long ago excellent British bridge writer who wrote, perhaps 70 years ago (in the early 1940’s) one of the best bridge books ever, named “Winning Defence” wherein he proclaimed that if a no better than average player would always (100%) get off to the right (most effective) opening lead, his team would never lose a bridge World Championship. After all these years, I still agree with his statement.

Of course, even cheaters through the years did not always get off to the right opening lead because, knowing what partner has and wants is not always the answer, since how the remaining 26 cards are distributed and held by the opponents, are just as important.

Second, holding the J10x IMO is fairly safe, and anytime a sequence is held such as KQ, QJ, J10, 109 it should be preferred to instead leading from a broken non-sequential holding, especially so if the sequence carries over to a blessed third card, KQJ, QJ10, J109, or 1098.

Most of the very best players on up to ones who are world class, when in a justifiable quandary, will likely go aggressive rather than passive. Please add on to the common phrase, “Feint heart seldom wins fair lady (by adding) nor important bridge tournaments”.

When in doubt be bold and your bridge results will improve. However, by so doing, one puts him or herself in jeopardy to be criticized when it doesn’t work out, but isn’t that also true in many forms of competition?

Being in a comfort zone is merely another way of saying, “I do not want to be blamed for losing”, however if being aggressive is necessary and that gauntlet is not chosen, the result will still be the same and since all losing creates the same empty feeling, one might as well die with his boots on.

All the above is mere conjecture, but you heard it here first. Almost all of the very top players this world has to offer are supremely aggressive and throw caution to the wind, when it comes time to make choices and the opening lead, especially against games and slams, is often one of those times.