Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 4th, 2015

What is your opinion on opening two no-trump with a weak doubleton, or with a five-card major, or indeed with both? I recently picked up ♠ A-Q-10-7-3,  9-5,  A-Q-5, ♣ A-K-J, and elected to open one spade. My partner disagreed with my perception of the hand's flaws for an opening of two no-trump. What do you think?

Looking Lively, Pleasanton, Calif.

You should appreciate that all the alternatives to opening two no-trump are far more seriously flawed. You misstate the hand's strength by opening one spade — and also leave yourself without any sensible rebids no matter what partner does. Open two no-trump and settle for imperfection. The best is the enemy of the good.

Do you favor an ace or king opening lead from length holding including both cards, and what is your rationale for the choice?

Robber Baron, Atlanta, Ga.

The king from ace-king for me. The only real problem holding opposite an ambiguous king lead is something like jack-third (and this really only presents a problem with dummy holding neither the queen nor ace, and 3-plus cards. In other words, you generally know when to signal attitude and when not. Additionally, this method lets an ace lead deny the king.

How much do you need to make a free bid in response to a take-out double? In second seat after hearing the auction start one diamond – pass — one no-trump double – two clubs, should I bid two spades holding: ♠ J-9-7-3,  7-5,  10-8-6-5, ♣ A-7-4, or is passing more discreet?

Entry-Level, Great Falls, Mont.

This hand is on the cusp for acting. I probably would stretch to bid, buoyed by the fact that my failure to act initially or cuebid two diamonds now limits my hand a little. But make my side-suit shape flatter and I could be persuaded to pass, especially if the vulnerability was against me.

Holding: ♠ 10-8-6-5,  K-2,  Q-9-8-6-3 ♣ A 4 I heard my partner open one diamond, and my RHO overcall one heart. I thought all three of the choices of raising diamonds to the two- or three-level, doubling, or bidding one no-trump had merit. What do you say?

Spoiled for Choice, Boise, Idaho

When you hold support for partner's minor and four cards in the other major you will normally double first, then support partner. Bidding one spade shows five here, of course. One no-trump looks wrong with only one heart stop, and if you raise diamonds you may never find spades. By the way, remember that a jump raise of diamonds in competition is frequently played these days as preemptive rather than invitational.

I wonder if you could tell me what criteria one should use as to whether to pass or open (and if the latter, at what level) a hand like: ♠ Q-10-6-5-4-3,  A-J,  Q-J-5, ♣ J-3. How do position and vulnerability – or even the form of scoring – affect this question?

Careful Does It, Montgomery, Ala.

Almost any 11-count without a vulnerable singleton honor is a one-level opening for me. Change the diamond five into a small club and I might open two spades in second seat. The most important piece of advice I can give is always to open when you have a good suit. No hand with a good suit falls between a weak-two and one-level opening bid. You can pass a hand with a bad suit, of course. This applies at any form of scoring. In second seat be more disciplined than in first and surely in third seat.

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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Ramon NitzbergJanuary 18th, 2015 at 2:32 pm

As you state leading K from A, K is ambiguous as partner doesn’t know if the lead is from A,K or from K,Q. You also state a reason you prefer leading K from A, K is leading the A denies the K. However if one usually leads A from A, K lead of the K denies the A. Thus both methods have information re a missing honor but leading A from A, K has the advantage of removing the ambiguity

bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Hi Ramon,

My immediate response may be thought to be more argumentative than helpful, but nevertheless needs to be said.

While leading the King from AK does create a problem, that specific weakness surrounds itself when partner has the jack and if from KQ the jack is a positive card and should usually, in the absence of a more compelling circumstance often be encouraged.

However when leading the ace from AK partner’s problem will often surround itself around his holding the queen. Then when the king is led, partner holding the queen can usually go full speed ahead in knowing what to signal.

Therefore the bridge logic involves transfers to the frequency of that important difference, attempted to be described above. When playing Ace from AK an opening leader, holding only the ace of a suit might (should) be reluctant to lead it for fear of getting no valid signal from partner because he will not know that you, the leader, do not have the king along with. and may give you the exact wrong information, but to not believe him would risk his having the king to match your ace. Then, his positive signal may ring ambivalence within that partnership which could result in a defensive disaster on that hand.

There could be many different ways for a disaster to occur, but before deciding on whether to lead the A or K from AK, that particularly subject is quite important to fully understand before proceeding to a decision.

Great bridge minds are pretty much equally divided with my guess the King getting the eventual nod, but that is only my experience and could be based on some kind of bias.

Forgive my rather long answer, but your question should demand, at the very least, careful consideration. Some partnerships may prefer the King, but at the five level or higher would always lead the ace from ace king so, at least the high level contract involved would be better suited to the specific information both given and also the negative inferences which also occur, when the other high honor is then led.

Furthermore, this same exact discussion has been going on since I started playing bridge in the 1940’s, and even with all the discussion there is not a real consensus, even today.

Iain ClimieJanuary 18th, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

What are your views on Roman leads, and the differences (if any) from just leading the 2nd card from an honour sequence so the 10 could be A109, K109, Q109 or J10? I’m not really up to date with a lot of developments but recall that some players 30 years ago used to play that the 10 always showed an interior sequence, although not distingushing between a suit headed by AJ10 and Q109 might cause a few problems, I suspect.

I take the point on exceptions e.g. vs high level contracts, from AK doubleton and when switching to a singletion after leading the “wrong” honour from AK.



bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Hi Iain,

I assume that your mention of “Roman leads” refers to “Rusinow leads” wherein the lower honor is the preferred choice from KQ, QJ and J10.

Sometimes the discussion about Rusinow is confused with what is now usually called “coded” leads of the 9 from K109, Q109 or (usually vs. NT) A109.

I have really nothing original to suggest about Rusinow, since I have never experimented with them nor entered into discussions about playing them myself. I have often played against them (of course, required to be alerted) and, at least up to now, have never thought them to be either inferior and/or superior to what I would call standard in the ACBL.

However, I do not prefer coded leads since with them, jack denies a higher honor always go with and I believe that when playing that method, while it may slightly help partner, it instead lionizes a competent declarer to always play hands involving that defensive maneuver by his opponents into playing 100% correctly against those defenders, translating into always getting the worst of it for the side who is playing it.

Add to that the frequency in which it occurs, often, and you come to understand my concern. As a simple example when the declarer has both the King and the Queen among his assets, but in different hands and gets a jack led from a side playing jack denies, he will always play that suit to best advantage knowing the lead cannot be from AJ10.

For those experienced out there, and you certainly belong to that group in NT you can then immediately realize the great advantage a defender passes to his already worthy opponents as to what to do on offense.

In one’s zeal to help partner being in a better position to know exactly what to do, that strategy has sent such important strategic information to the dreaded enemy so as to make the exchange, IMO, devastating to the defense in the long run.

I will only suggest that when dummy is on one’s right and the queen of the suit chosen is alive and well situated there, then the jack denying a higher honor is a good treatment to play since you want partner, if he holding the ace plus others to duck, because he then should know that you, the jack leader, do not possess the king.

Of course, even that caveat should have an asterisk since the rest of the hand may indicate to partner that he better take his ace or never get it, but that is on a case to case basis and probably doesn’t need to be said.

So much for technical talk which, in the absence of being live at the table can tend to get both boring and hard to follow. I hope the above is at least somewhat enlightening and I appreciate your listening.

Iain ClimieJanuary 18th, 2015 at 8:37 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, plenty of useful info. Funny how a lot of conventions, systems and carding methods which were fashionable when I played in the late 70s to mid 80s seem to have drifted away while I was absent from the game, although others have flourished. Is it me, or do far fewer players now play strong club systems now?


bobby wolffJanuary 18th, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Hi Iain,

My guess is that, at the top (or near top) there are perhaps fewer strong club systems now, compensated by more natural systems, but playing more gimmicks.

Likely almost any previously little or never used bid, now has at least a small (usually very small) utility since to not do so could be a wasted opportunity. Also efforts like last train, kickback, serious and not so slam tries together with attempted small improvements with key card BW are filling the menus.

Mostly well intended improvements, however the partnership feel will often be tested since, without constant repetition the uniqueness of the keen bridge mind will tend to keep most partners from being totally sure what partner is trying to distinguish.

Accidents will continue to happen, making it sometimes questionable whether random additions really become a plus or not.

It is still the same old story, a case of love of the game or glory, but the handling of adversity during important competitions will decide winning from losing. The strongest will survive and not necessarily the very best partnerships, but rather the most practical resilient ones who exude the confidence to hang in there after looking bad and overcoming disasters.

No doubt, in this high-level enterprise, every team needs three strong pairs to have their best chance to survive and sometimes professionalism makes that difficult.

However, everything that is as fair for one as it is for the other is allowed and winning is where one finds it.

slarJanuary 19th, 2015 at 11:18 am

With favorable vulnerability I had -/KQJxxxx/xx/AQJx and opened 1H (too strong for 4H). LHO overcalls 2D. Pard gives me a LR so after a cue-bidding sequence revealed the DA, I pushed to 6H and LHO proceeded to double. I shrug and ruff the SA after pard lays down xxx/xxxx/AQxx/Kx, I see that the only play is the finesse. But wait, RHO shows up with the DK for down 1. I was incredulous. We thought LHO gave us a roadmap but instead she made a vulnerable overcall with JTxxx and two aces!

Yet we survived that match and were undone later by bidding miscommunications. Hands like the above show that there is so much unpredictability in bridge that you have to focus on what you can control, namely understanding your bidding system and getting it right 100% of the time.

bobby wolffJanuary 19th, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Hi Slar,

Adversity occurs in all forms of competition and bridge is no stranger to that fact.

No doubt, the fact that the vulnerable diamond bidder had only J10xxx for his 2 diamond intervention is probably newsworthy all by itself. However, if one is to know that some of us consider how one acts and then reacts to unlucky happenings as perhaps the best guage as to just how far a talented player will progress in this great game of ours, then feel blessed that it has happened to you and what now occurs will be forever remembered.

No sense in not making the best of difficult psychological events, in order to restore partnership confidence. “It’s indeed a very ill wind which doesn’t blow someone some good” can be looked upon as a positive event coming off your unhappy experience.

I also like your resolve in sticking to what you can control and accepting to what you cannot.