Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

The subject of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion.

Lord Macaulay

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


When this deal came up at a club duplicate the field was divided between those recording nine tricks in three no-trump, and those who fared somewhat less well.

The auction almost always took this form, and West was blessed with an easy lead of the heart jack. The unsuccessful declarers led a diamond to one of dummy’s honors. East won the trick and returned a heart, and got in with the club king to play a third heart. Now West had a sure entry in the form of the club ace, plus two hearts to cash.

By contrast, the successful declarers won the opening lead and played the diamond queen from their hand. Some Easts took the trick to return a heart, but declarer could win, then duck a diamond, and come to five tricks in the majors and four diamonds.

The more cautious defenders ducked the diamond queen. Now declarer could change tack, realizing the futility of trying to set up more than one further trick in diamonds. He played on clubs, and East won the first club and played back a heart. But declarer, with one diamond trick in the bag, simply drove out the club ace, and had his five major-suit tricks, three clubs, and one diamond winner, for nine tricks.

You could argue that the defenders who led a low diamond from hand at trick two were unlucky, since against anything but the 4-0 diamond break their play would not cost. I say fortune favors the prepared mind.

I’m not going to tell you that you will never miss game if you pass two hearts. Very occasionally your side will be able to make game. But once you have a strong no-trump to your right, game can hardly be laydown, and additionally you don’t want to stop partner from balancing in these auctions. Pass, and apologize later if you are wrong.


♠ Q J 10 7
 8 5 4
 A 10 9 2
♣ K 2
South West North East
      1 NT
Pass Pass 2 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitApril 16th, 2015 at 10:01 am

West wasn’t blessed with the easy lead of the HJ, he was cursed. If he had led a spade, 3NT always goes down. I hope you are PERSUADED by my TRUTH; I’m sure Lord Macaulay would have been.

David Warheit (Warheit (wahrheit) means “truth” in both German and Yiddish).

Mircea1April 16th, 2015 at 10:52 am

Nice problem, Bobby.

I noticed at the table that it is often better to lead the 4-card suit from hands containing a longer suit (i.e. 54xx, 64xx, etc). Of course this is nothing more than an empirical observation and it may mean nothing but as Dave promptly noticed, it applies here.

Is the play of QD a safety play guarding against 0-4 or an unblocking play (or both)? Just a minor, insignificant terminology question.

On BWTA, are there any Lebenshol-like tools allowing us to distinguish between weak and strong hands? Is a simple raise to 3H such a “tool”? I see no other use for it.

Iain ClimieApril 16th, 2015 at 11:54 am

Hi Bobby,

The DQ also forces west to duck the first round if he holds 4 diamonds. It doesn’t matter much here but could make all the difference if the NS high cards were more equally split. It is yet another case where sloppy thinking costs – the DQ cannot lose. In similar vein, players often play Axx opposite KQ109x wrongly, by playing the K first – right if there was an extra x with the ace but careless when the suit is 5-0 onside.



Bobby WolffApril 16th, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Hi David,

Yes, a better way to describe West’s fortune or lack thereof, is to use the word “seemed” blessed instead of either no clarification (as here) or any other word referring to “actual”.

However, high level bridge being a percentage game, usually lends itself to continual choices by the players, both in the bidding and the play, which (in the long run) and especially in the choice of a “blind” opening lead in which there are no tells in the bidding (as here), creates a mighty sense of relief to even the greatest players when a standout choice is available such as a five card suit (verses NT) which is solid (J109) a major suit with no Stayman inquiry, and an overall slightly stronger one.

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel for success, in the early day of the formation of the Aces we had available early computers for simulation purposes to which we (at least some of us) paid close attention.

Thousands of hands could then be simulated giving the opponents between 24-27 HCPs with the opener having a 15-17 point hand with balanced distributions and his partner 10-14 with in this case, no 4 card major, but also more or less a balanced one which was not good enough distribution wise to seek out either a minor suit game or a possible biddable slam.

The results indicated clearly that leading a five card suit instead of a four card one or especially a short suit hoping to find “magic” with partner is a totally futile effort. When then is added that the 5 card suit is even stronger, “slam dunk” becomes the answer.

These types of experiments then naturally lead to discussions of when the partner of the opening leader should consider doubling, not with the intent of increasing the set, but with the “hope” of giving the defense a better chance to defeat a hand.

An example of such might be KQJxxx (or even only five) of a particular suit with an outside ace. That road is sometimes bumpy and not at all an unequivocal certain winner, but at least, it was worth discussing.

No more horse beating, but, at least, you understand what I think.

Bobby WolffApril 16th, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Evidenced by my reply to David is my thought of exercising choices on opening leads, particularly in pretty much “blind” leads vs. 3NT.

The Queen of diamonds is probably not necessarily an unblocking play, although it serves in this case as one, but rather the play that suits this particular hand.

The emphasis then becomes apparent that in order to achieve high-level recognition a wannabe MUST understand how the play of any particular play might go, keeping in mind the simple question, Is any particular layout a trouble spot?, and if so, and on this hand a 4-0 break (either way) could wreck the ship, unless catered to from the beginning. Merely attempting to memorize card combinations WILL NOT CUT IT, but the numeracy required to go deeper needs to be present (or in rare cases to be acquired), otherwise that potential player will have to learn to perform too many graceful different hand flips (just a random term) in order to fill the bill AKA in order to reach the physical Olympics one needs, or at least again the potential, to be a superior athlete.

Finally, in regard to the BWTA, IMO it is not worth raising to 3 hearts since my guess (and it is only that) is that on this bidding we rate to take about 8 7/8 tricks in hearts ranging from a low of 7 1/4 (bad breaks or guesses in the play) to 10. In order to try for 10 (either overbidding to 4 immediately or raising to 3 and having partner accept) the chances of going down 1 trick make the raise anti-percentage (maybe down one in either 3 or 4). Simple arithmetic but oh so very important in becoming a winner.

In unsophisticated wannabe good partnerships it becomes a sticking point when one partner in inclined to always seek games and the other is significantly more conservative. A middle road for both is desired to the standpoint of critical, if not.

All the “hoped for” science will not cut it since it simply becomes a case of being right or wrong. Of course, in an IMP match or playing rubber bridge against random opponents it helps to know one’s partner and his tendencies (also the opponent’s weaknesses), but in the long run winners do the right thing, but others, well, you say it.

Bobby WolffApril 16th, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Hi Iain,

Your philosophy is, as usual, right on and with the perfect card combination to exemplify it.

All I might add is that if I was mentoring a talented bridge player into trying to get better, I would MUCH rather have him weak in specific card combinations, but very strong in the humanic side of highest level bridge.

In simpler words, the poker element in highest level bridge is IMO significantly more useful and therefore critical in getting there from here. The other can be learned, but the nose for success is much more difficult and requires accuracy in delving into what others at the table are thinking.

FWIW I have always thought that women as a group figure to be better than men in performing the above, so if they find a way to toughen up their table mentality, and I am correct in my thinking, they could eventually become more effective bridge players than men.

Mircea1April 16th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your response. Still struggling at the first rung of the bridge ladder, I’m curios how did you determined the trick taking potential of the N-S hands in BWTA to be between 7 1/4 to 10?

Bobby WolffApril 16th, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Simply answered by saying my 60+ years of being involved in what some may think is reasonably high-level bridge activity, once LHO opens a strong NT and a relatively good partner overcalls two hearts followed by the expected pass from RHO, my somewhat surprisingly decent hand (with some heart support) looks to me that on average with both a normal opening lead and proper play and defense, my theoretical guess is about the number of tricks to expect.

Delving deeper, the lead of a high spade by RHO would immediately determine the result of approximately how many tricks are available since if his partner has both the AK of spades plus the likely ruff might result in the low number expected (possibly only 7).

In the old days good players were afraid to overcall 1NT for fear of getting doubled and set, but those days have passed and most all winners overcall much lighter, understanding, that doing so is a winning philosophy, but now, instead of in 1950 in which I would have raised to game immediately, now that judgment must be tempered to allow for much lighter overcalls, example, s. xx, h. KQJxxx, d. xx, c. QJx or s. xx, h, KJ10xxx, d. xxx, c. AQ both of course probably, but not necessarily, NV.

Think lead directing, in case the overcaller’s LHO eventually declares in spades or, for that matter, in any suit. If an overcall is not made does that mean, without a heart lead from partner that you were not to blame or if your side can make a heart contract, but instead did not get into the bidding, does that take away your responsibility?

No offense, but if playing high level bridge is anyone’s desire he must take all these possibilities into consideration or else, IMO, simply die on the vine.

Thanks for asking these probing questions.

David WarheitApril 17th, 2015 at 9:04 am

I speak no curses on verses, but I am against versus (isn’t everybody?)

Bobby WolffApril 17th, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Hi David,

I, different than ewe, will curse verse(s) and forever, unlike sheep, embrace versus for want of pulling the wool over my eyes.