Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 15th, 2015

If you want to cut your own throat, don’t come to me for a bandage.

Margaret Thatcher

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


Every year in the United Kingdom there is a series of home Internationals, the Camrose Trophy, the Lady Milne Trophy, and the Teltscher Trophy for Seniors.

Today’s deal comes from the trials for the Lady Milne, the women’s event, and I should start by letting you plan the play for yourself: you are in five clubs, and West leads the diamond ace followed by another diamond. How would you proceed?

At the table one should maybe not criticize declarer unduly for following an uninspired line. She ruffed the diamond lead and played the heart ace and king. To declarer’s dismay East ruffed and played a trump. Declarer could win, ruff one heart in dummy and discard one on the spade ace, but had to lose a heart at the end.

Do you see how she could have avoided this undignified fate?

South should have ruffed the second diamond and played the heart ace followed by a low heart. West can win the trick and play a trump. However, declarer is now able to win and play a spade to her king, ruff a heart with the club jack, then cash the spade ace discarding a heart. She can ruff her way back to hand, draw trumps and claim her contract.

The key here was to count your tricks. To bring the total to 11 you need only one heart ruff, so long as you score both your ace and king. The line declarer adopted was the best line for 12 tricks, but not for 11.

This deal shows the divide between pairs and teams. At teams, where you are trying to set the contract, and overtricks are less unimportant, you should focus on the suit most likely to set the game. I’d lead a low heart at teams, while at pairs I’d try the club eight — that being the suit least likely to surrender an unnecessary trick. I tend to favor passive defense when in doubt on blind auctions like this.


♠ K 6 5 2
 Q 9 8
 K 9 8
♣ 8 6 4
South West North East
    Pass 1
Pass 1 ♠ Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Miircea1June 29th, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

I admit I cheated. I thought this contract will never make when I first looked at it before getting up from bed this morning, but I wasn’t brave enough to post it here without the aid of the tool I make my living off: the computer. I put the deal though my favourite double dummy analyzer, Double Dummy Solver (highly recommend it) and yes, 5C is doomed on any lead but a heart. The opponents don’t have many chances to allow this contract to make.

Playing as suggested in the column, East pitches her first spade when West wins the second heart and then pitches her last spade when declarer ruffs her third heart in dummy. East then ruffs dummy’s SA and declarer will have to lose JH


bobby wolffJune 29th, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Hi Mircea1,

No problem since all we have to do is give East a 4th spade and one fewer diamond. Those confounded computer declarers (some use “Deep Finesse” instead of “Double Dummy Solver”) make it difficult for us lowly bridge writers.

Fie on you folks who out think us. And besides we sometimes cheat also, when a real life hand emerges, but containing a flaw for presentation (such as your research on this one). Simply change what appears to be an insignificant feature and the hoped for message is still achieved. Aren’t we devils?

True confessions, but please do not tell anyone else.

BTW, thanks for your genius, and by all means, never disclose your sources which may, at least to some, detract from your glory.

Iain ClimieJune 29th, 2015 at 11:14 pm

Hi Bobby,

The deal today raises all sorts of questions. Why no Michaels from west, for example, although it might warn South to play differently? After the DA lead, surely west should switch to a trump. If the diamonds had been 4-3, West holding KQJ or KQx and leading two rounds, then if declarer sheds a heart only a spade switch (barring 5-1 trumps) will mess up South’s prospects. Any thoughts here, on the bidding and play?

On BWTA, this side of the pond where 4 card majors are common, there is a school of thought that says lead the middle suit if oppo wind up in NT and the auction starts 1C 1H 1/2NT (lead a diamond ) or 1D 1S 1/2 NT (lead a heart). Any thoughts on this approach (which obviously is less sound against 5 card majors)?



jim2June 30th, 2015 at 2:00 am

If one gave East a fourth spade, would that not mean that West had overcalled on a 4-card suit lacking the A and K?!

jim2June 30th, 2015 at 2:01 am

(while ignoring the better 5-card H suit?)

bobby wolffJune 30th, 2015 at 2:30 am

Hi Iain,

Your first answer surrounds itself with whether partner has passed and, as is often the case, the vulnerability.

When the answers become yes and all, the price for bidding is better declarer play from an opponent and at least possible, a likely disappointing dummy if partner chooses exuberance.

Of course a consistent bridge optimist wouldn’t think of going quietly and can only think of partner having length in one of the majors and conceivably the kings of all three of the higher ranking suits.

I usually take the positive approach, but not without many left over scars (although soon forgotten), but this time I think I would pass.

No further thoughts other than what has already been said.

When many players are playing 4 card majors (a very common worldwide approach for many years starting almost 90 years) yes, clubs more often meant clubs and even leading the declarer’s opened major was much more commonplaces (think only Q10xx or even weaker for an opponent’s major suit opening) but now a major suit opening showing five and more short clubs does markedly change the percentages, but until transparent cards come into play the opening lead will be, at the very best, only an educated guess.

Leading that middle suit has the advantage of responder having more of his bid suit than the suit below it, but I think a small percentage leading me to agree with the late and great, long time ago, British bridge author, John Brown when he stated that if only a mediocre player always got off to the most skillful opening lead, he would win every World Championship.

None of the above tends to disagree with your advice, only that I still consider the opening lead against non-informative bidding sequences closer to a lottery than to science.

GalJune 30th, 2015 at 3:58 am

Hi Bobby,

The line you suggest is a good way to go down even on a normal distribution. Say you let the the opponents win the second heart. East takes the trick with her ten and plays another diamond. I guess you ruff high (unless you want to go down even with 33 hearts and 32 clubs (West 5323)). But if you ruff a heart in dummy you will go down on a 4-1 club break even if hearts were 4-2/3-3 (West 5431, even 5341 and 5224) all along as the nine of clubs become high. So I would stick with declarer’s line to make the contract whenever hearts no worse then 4-2 and clubs not worse then 4-1.


bobby wolffJune 30th, 2015 at 10:50 am

Hi Jim2,

Yes, sometimes one change begets another, and even then, still another.

Such is life when one writes about bridge-constant attempts at making concepts and application consistent and believable.

Let’s call it TOCM-theory of concept minutiae,
an acronym yet to be trademarked.

And to think–even your dread disease has to face a competitive malady and one which originated straight from the horse’s (or should we say bridge player’s) mouth, or more accurately, pen.

And where is that smiley, when I so desperately need it?

bobby wolffJune 30th, 2015 at 11:23 am

Hi Gal,

Touche! Well expressed and an excellent example of defensive bidding (if Michaels instead is overcalled instead of merely spades) allowing extra good declarer play to make difficult contracts.

Not to suggest giving up defensive bidding, but only to glean that disadvantages do sometimes exist. The late and great Johnny Gerber from Houston, my chief long-ago mentor, once taught me a simple way to catch up deficits from some IMP matches (a condition which, at least in those days, occurred too often). Do not overcall on hands which would at the other table and do on hands which would not in order for the bidding (usually when high enough-level teams collide) to go in different ways, perhaps winding in eventual different final contracts, but even if not, influencing the two declarers, to take different lines of play.

The above only may accomplish possible different results at the two tables in play, a condition which would tend to favor the team which was behind, instead of just another tied board.

I found his advice to be somewhat effective, but not nearly as valuable as not ever being behind to start with.

However, thank you for adding practicality to the declarer equation, although some safety plays, perhaps not this one, are certainly worth taking (particularly if West used Michaels).

jim2June 30th, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Here it is: 🙂 !!!