Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 4th, 2016

Thoughtlessness — I try not to think about it.

Jarod Kintz

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


The time to plan as declarer is at trick one, when dummy appears, and not in the post mortem. All too often declarer plays on auto-pilot at the start of the deal, and by the time he realizes his mistake, it is too late.

In today’s deal the contract was the same at both tables, reached via an identical auction. When South opened one heart, North raised to two, suggesting constructive values, since he had not gone through the forcing no-trump. That was enough to convince South to rebid four hearts.

The lead at both tables was the spade nine. At one table, in a knee-jerk reaction, South played dummy’s queen, which held. The contract was now dead in the water; because West had the diamond ace, declarer ended up with four minor-suit losers.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the way to 10 tricks involves losing a spade, even though the king is onside. There are six heart tricks, plus the two black aces. Therefore two more spade tricks will bring the total to 10.

That being so, as the second declarer showed, it is essential to play the spade four from dummy at the first trick. Win with the ace, draw trump leaving the ace in dummy for a later entry, then play a second spade. East wins with the king and switches to the diamond queen. But now, after the defense take two diamonds, South can win the club switch, enter dummy with the heart ace, and discard the two losing clubs from hand on the established spades.

Did you lead a heart – fourth highest from longest and strongest? BZZZ! Go to the back of the class. The lead will sometimes work. But a spade lead is less likely to cost a trick, and on a blind auction your objective is to lead a suit of five or more cards, or failing that to find the lead that combines safety with some aggression. The spade seven, second from weak length, is ideal here to suit that purpose.


♠ 9 7 6 4
 A Q 6 3
 J 6
♣ 10 9 5
South West North East
      1 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


slarJanuary 18th, 2016 at 7:27 pm

I have some questions about card combinations. With opponents silent, partner blasted to 6S and found himself with Axxxx in hand opposite JT8x. He cashed the A, played another spade (dropping the K/Q), then claimed. Was this right? It didn’t matter that day but my instinct was to finesse twice. I tried to figure it out myself and got lost in a maze of “what if” situations.

Elsewhere I put myself in 5D with AKT9xxx opposite xx. Affording no losers, I cashed the A and when the Q dropped offside, I decided to finesse for the jack which turned out to be right. If I understand correctly, this play is indicated due to restricted choice. I could not come up with sound reasoning to support my partner’s play on the previous hand. Is that one that just has to be memorized?

In the more general sense, what resource do you suggest for card combinations? The beginner / intermediate resources I have seen are enough to get me off in the right direction but aren’t anywhere near complete.

denisJanuary 18th, 2016 at 7:48 pm

Interesting board. Had the H5 and H6 were swapped between dummy and hand, the Spade play would be immaterial, right?
It is all about entry… having 4 cards fit in trump like this does not give you more entries… 🙂

Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Hi Slar,

The key holding with your nine card spade combination is when either the king or the queen is together with the 9x on side (right of Axxxx or another way of expressing it, behind, or the right of J108x).

By a very small percentage margin while holding the nine in addition to the J10 between the hands it is right to take two finesses, but when the above (last paragraph) is considered, it switches to strongly in favor of playing the ace first.

The above “feel” is directly tied to a player’s numeracy quotient. Yes, there are many tables which can be memorized, but by doing so, the declarer (usually but sometimes the defense) needs to understand what the previous paragraphs state and most importantly, why, the difference?

I can attest to your interest and to your legitimate enthusiasm to get it right (understanding what is involved with no omits), but your attitude to relatively simple but nevertheless all important bridge arithmetic, remains to be proven.

On your diamond combination which, as you suggested directly involves Terence Reese’s Restricted Choice principle wherein when a player has a choice of playing one honor (Q or the J) the fact that whichever one is actually played is interpreted as not having the other one as a choice, hence the odds then drift very strongly in favor of the finesse the second round.

There are different interpretations of that now approximately 70 year theory, but the only certain result is that all bridge authorities agree, Restricted Choice is to be respected and then followed, unless there is greater evidence in that hand which might result from the bidding, opening lead, defense up to then, or even varying tempo by one defender.

However in order to not fall victim to byproducts which, in fact or controlled by the adverse players at the table one then cannot take a finesse when Ax faces KQ9xxx (or similar) and after the ace is played it goes x, x, 10 or jack). Since the hand behind the length could have J10x and make the (what should be the routine play of the 10 or the jack) therefore distorting Restricted Choice and thus having nothing at all to do with that theory.

All I can do is have you and possibly other readers think about the differences and at some time (hopefully within the next couple of years, since it will require time and experience), the epiphany of understanding will engage your thinking.

Finally, I do not know of any bridge book (Probably about 100 years ago I thought about writing one, but couldn’t afford the time to do it right, and even if so, it really wouldn’t have sold) so my best advice is to keep an open mind, consider the advice given by players you respect and always remember that bridge itself will test your resolve regarding how much to give to it, in order to get enough satisfaction from the result.

The above is another way to say Good Luck!

Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Hi Denis,

Yes and all I can say is Amen, including with it the abrupt phrase, “That’s bridge, mister” meaning since Dame Fortune dealt one the five instead of the six, now’s the time to prove one’s worth to her. And furthermore she is one devilish lady, who is often very demanding.

David WarheitJanuary 19th, 2016 at 2:25 am

I note that a C lead defeats 4H, assuming E plays the 9 at trick 1. Seems to me that is what I would lead, on the theory that the opponents stopped in game, therefore our side has some values and since I only have an A & a K, partner probably has a little something, so let’s get somewhat aggressive. What do you think?

Bobby WolffJanuary 20th, 2016 at 2:39 am

Hi David,

While it is likely wildly unfair to answer a question about random opening leads when the bidding has gone 1M P 2M P 4M all pass, all I can do is quote what I think after years of experience, but having to deal with cobwebs in my own mind, which may or may not have created illusions.

I have always (perhaps for 60+ years) formed the conclusion that aggressive leads seem to work out. However, leading an unsupported ace, although certainly aggressive, is almost never my choice, leaving the passive spade lead against the aggressive club.

No doubt, my very being would insure a club lead, although many very good top of the line players, like the whole French Open Team for many years, all seemed to choose, when faced with what was to them a choice, went passive.

However, no real science comes into play, only a concept, so, at least to me, nothing constructive really develops with any top of the line player after he or she has had enough experience, with scalps on the wall (such as the French). Only the results remain and it is extremely doubtful that any one player can quote more than just the feeling his bridge adventures have determined to even begin to prove anyone’s belief.

Add to that the absence of any worthwhile statistics on this or that (keeping in mind there are many more factors such as the particular experts declaring, tendencies of both the opponents, aggressive or not, and the proclivities of partner who did not bid together with the vulnerability, state of the match, and, of course, the exact systems played by both pairs.

Sorry to not be of more help, but what is said above is, at the very least, thought to represent my sincere feelings on that subject.