Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Sir Richard Steele

South North
None ♠ Q 9 4
 K J 9
 K 7 6 3
♣ K 6 3
West East
♠ K 10 6
 8 4
 Q J 10 9 4
♣ A 4 2
♠ 8 7 5 3
 7 6 5 2
 8 5
♣ Q 8 5
♠ A J 2
 A Q 10 3
 A 2
♣ J 10 9 7
South West North East
1 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Today's deal details two points of technique, which the inexperienced player should try to master.

The first one involves when to win and when to duck at a no-trump contract. There is no hard and fast rule but it is generally true that when you hold a single stopper in the suit the opponents lead, you tend to hold up if there is no shift you fear. Meanwhile, if you hold two guards, the calculation is far more complex, and tends to hinge on how many high cards you know you will need to knock out.

In today’s deal South ducked the opening lead of the diamond queen, despite the risk coming from a spade shift, because he could see that he might have a considerable amount of work to do in diamonds. Next came a diamond to his ace, and now South played the club jack to East’s queen. That player shifted to a spade at trick four, and it was tempting to let this run to dummy’s queen. However South saw that he would be in danger if West held both the spade king and diamond ace, since he would win and clear diamonds while he still retained his club entry, and declarer has only eight winners.

So South rose with the spade ace then went back to clubs. He could now ensure that he would make a spade trick, four hearts, two diamonds and two clubs, while the defenders were limited to one diamond and three black-suit winners.

While I would never go so far as to say you should never lead your honor from a three-card suit in this position, I would say that the normal lead from your diamond holding is a small card. Imagine declarer with either AJ2 or KJ2 of diamonds to see why leading the queen is potentially such a bad idea.


♠ J 9 4
 J 7 3 2
 Q 7 5
♣ 10 5 4
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 1 NT
Pass 2 NT All 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 5th, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

Good lessons today but the club suit set off a runaway train of thought. Imagine you were desperate for a swing here and clearly both rooms will be in 3N. Instead of running the CJ, which will clearly work with west holding the queen, play the C10 to the K then a club back to the J, playing for a layout like this. West might even duck the second club, although this is perhaps far fetched. To be fair, this will go wrong quite often but west holding the CQ just means the other room is making 3N.

How often are such madcap measures worth trying in your experience? Is it better to try such tricks or just to push to some extent and hope for luck if you are behind in a match?



bobby wolffJanuary 5th, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Hi Iain,

Rarely will relatively equal chance lines of play occur, therefore enabling your answer of doing the opposite to your adversary (at the other table) in order to create a positive swing when behind and even on this hand I became used for my opponents to rise with the queen (as East) when I was missing the ace, hoping and likely succeeding, to preserve his partner’s ace for future entry to then established good tricks.

However, so as to stimulate hope when playing from behind and even against a very worthy team, it would be wise to sit pairs down at one table when the opponent’s partnerships are already known, which play different systems than their counterparts.

Obviously, by doing this, the bidding is often started with a different opening bid which, more often than is probably thought, enables enterprising opponents to make sure that different problems occur at the two tables, making catching up a better proposition.

Also it may be worth knowing that the bidding usually offers more chances than does the play. However the choice of opening lead, as you have often discussed, can be a great vehicle to create overall different results, but not to take a wild shot, but one which at least figures to be 30%+ as effective as the agreed normal choice.

Madcap measures have almost never worked for me, so they have faded from my thoughts. However being tough, making no mistakes, and throwing tacks in the road for your honest but very good opponents, are your 2nd best shot.

Not getting behind to start with is the overwhelming overall superior choice.

jim2January 6th, 2015 at 12:00 am

Well, if we’re going to talk nuances sort of stuff, we could look at the heart suit.

Declarer wins the second diamond, crosses to the KH, and leads the JH for a finesse against the QH. Will East give count when it might help declarer drop partner’s doubleton queen? South overtakes and then plays AH. What does West discard? Some players open 1N with five card majors, so West may think s/he needs three (and not two discards), especially if East has followed up the line to prevent encouraging declarer to drop West’s doubleton queen. Note that declarer could play the heart queen last, making things just a little tougher for West to work out when making that first discard.

Whatever West pitches, a second pitch comes next. Come down to two doubleton black honors? That spade ten could look important. Blank the club ace? Might a diamond discard look better?

Alternatively, declarer leads the heart nine and overtakes with the ten (“winning” the finesse) and plays the club jack. With the heart queen in East’s hand, West would place the club queen in declarer’s. Might West think declarer was trying to sneak a club trick before shifting to spades?

No reason for declarer to make the defense easier than necessary.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2015 at 2:11 am

Hi Jim2,

While I am more than a little uncertain as to what your goal is on this hand, but know, because it is you, that you are speaking generally about “red herrings” dished to the opponents and how to confuse them into helping you and not themselves.

To that I heartily agree, and will even go further into recommending playing solid holdings into making the opponents think that what is actually held is different from what you are leading them into believing.

However, that should always be the case in every declarer’s mind, and come under the heading of being an extremely difficult opponent to play against.

Even when I sometimes have the responsibility to score a “bidding contest” I assume whoever is playing whatever final contract, that he (she) plays it to best advantage and that includes possible mistakes by their worthy but “sometimes fooled” opponents.

That, however, is very subjective and subject to argument, but any “real” good bridge player knows that facet of the game is alive and well and often determines the making of a difficult contract, sometimes with the actual layout an impossible task.

However, my only caveat to you, is, in a very good game, never underestimate what a defender is able to divan legally from all the evidence up to the key play, e.g bidding, opening lead, order of discards, table tempo on all the earlier actions, and whatever else I’m overlooking.

High level bridge is not a kid’s game, in spite of how well some very young players play.

You’ve made a very good point and others would do well to play just as seriously as you are recommending.

jim2January 6th, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Reese had one of his Menagerie characters (HH, IIRC) disparage bridge quizzes that state, “Assume best defense” with words to the effect that best declarer play can avert such a defense.

I was similarly noting that declarer should seek to choose a sequence of play that maximizes the chance that a defender might not defend optimally. That is why I called it “nuance.” In this hand, the heart suit seems straight-forward, but declarer can use it nonetheless to give West the chance to blank the club ace or discard a diamond. Either of those would let declarer succeed easily.

Bobby WolffJanuary 6th, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

Without much repetition, your just above comment is, of course, 100% agreed on by me, especially your intended use of the word “nuance” and the hoped for gain by you as a tough declarer, with the “tricky” order of heart plays.

It is also my take, that a younger player with significant talent, has, after arriving on the high-level bridge scene no real understanding (lack of experience) of just how much is known by very worthy opponents during the defense of 90% of declarer’s play hands during which they are defending and likely both defenders will know as early as trick 2 or 3, declarer’s exact distribution and likely high cards (with, of course, some rare exceptions) enabling them to not have to signal each other what to play, while at the same time operate as cooperating counterspies against the declarer often manifesting itself into their throwing up smoke screens, featuring false reads, then, in turn, lionizing psychological battles back and forth.

This knowledge is obtained through the specific bidding, partner’s choice of opening lead, of course, the disclosure of 13 cards (1/2 of declarer’s assets) in the dummy, an original signal by the 3rd seat defender and then, the way the declarer begins going about playing the hand and the order of the defensive plays and/or discards.

While the tempo of all the players is apparent to both sides, there is no firm rule that either side, owes an obligation to his opponents to give away anything more than the exact card played. However, there should never be an overt attempt to use that tempo to either help partner (defense) or to go to unfair advantage, including, of course, undue emphasis or rapid play, trying to either mislead or rather bamboozle the opponents.

To do otherwise is to directly attack the heart and therefore essence of the game itself, and by doing so, will invariably mark the offender as significant unwanted poison to our wonderful pastime.