Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

I’ve tested life and I’ve learned what works for me.

Joe Namath

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


Today’s deal comes from the Gold Coast pairs, held in Brisbane last February. The first round of the evening featured two of the top seeds taking on one another. Zoli Nagy declared the first deal, and the defenders had the chance to make him find a nice play.

David Lilley as North had already done well for his side by stopping low. Nagy won Matt Mullamphy’s spade lead in hand (Ron Klinger accurately putting in the 10) and returned the suit, ducking West’s nine. After some thought, Mullamphy exited with a third spade.

Nagy ruffed away the ace, then led a diamond to the king, and a club to the jack and queen. Mullamphy returned a diamond, and Nagy won in hand, cashed the heart ace, and played a top diamond. Mullamphy ruffed, and had reached a five-card ending where dummy had four trumps and a losing club left.

Mullamphy chose the simple line of cashing the club ace and playing a spade, but declarer could ruff high and lead out a top trump, losing just one trump trick further, for plus 110.

Had Mullamphy played a winning spade before cashing the club ace, declarer would have needed to discard dummy’s club, rather than ruffing in. Were he to ruff low, East would obtain a cheap overruff. If declarer were to ruff high in dummy, East would discard a diamond. Then, when in with the heart king, East could put his partner in with the club ace for a fifth spade, to promote the heart eight to the setting trick.

You could belong in either minor or in no-trump. Fortunately you do not have to take an immediate decision. Bid two hearts, a forcing call showing extras, planning to raise diamonds at your next turn. While slam may make, even facing a passed hand, let partner describe his assets before committing yourself.


♠ K 5
 A 10
 A J 4
♣ K J 10 9 3 2
South West North East
    Pass 1
2 ♣ 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2March 9th, 2016 at 1:48 pm

I found the column hand very tough in terms of figuring out the best line of play. That is, declarer starts with seven tricks and there are so many ways an eighth can be found — and failed to be found.

The column line of ruffing a spade is sound, but one could instead win the opening lead and bang down two trump, conceding a third spade instead of ruffing it. That would later ensure a third diamond (ruffed away in the column line) or good clubs, should declarer guess right or have good club luck.

Alternatively, one could concede a club ruff by playing that suit from the top, hoping to use the AD as a late entry.

Anyway, I am still unsure what line is best mathematically.

Bobby WolffMarch 9th, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Hi Jim2,

Before I confess to a simple, how could you or anyone, expect me to come up with the superior percentage line for 8 tricks while playing a 2 heart contract, if you cannot or at least are somewhat unsure.

Of course, when the defensive suit breaks are indeed reasonable and, wonder of wonders, the eventual diamond finesse works, although the club finesses do not, perhaps your declarer genius hits a snag when your luck is perhaps 50% instead of usual, something closer to 1%.

However, I must try and live up to my role, real or imagined, and follow my instinct of, such as this declarer leading a spade right back, intending to ruff that 3rd spade, and then and only then, worry about what to do next, probably take the club finesse.

Programs such as “deep finesse” although very competent (in my experience) do not consider best play, but only what works on this hand, leaving the reader to his own imagination.

However, after playing thousands of hands, the one constant factor remains that the only ones later featured are the ones the declarer du jour, faltered in either his judgment or his percentages, making the remembrance of these difficult hands somewhat sour.

Good luck to the reader who is somewhat sure that he has the answer to your request and is willing to subject himself to the “intense hot seat” of proving it to any and everyone who thinks he has it all figured out.


ClarksburgMarch 9th, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Unrelated to today’s column:
At Matchpoint Pairs you are on lead against 3NT after a blind auction.
You hold AJ1064 93 108 9652.
Playing standard uncoded leads, which Spade should be led?

Bobby WolffMarch 9th, 2016 at 7:50 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Another difficult decision. However in pairs I would lead the jack of spades, and as reference can only suggest that Al Roth, a great player of yesteryear, would have led 4th best.

Two factors, I think, are involved. First, matchpoints instead of imps, then an intermediate honor will be in keeping with your many contemporaries at the other tables, a feature that tends to protect the number of matchpoints you will receive. Second, with imps perhaps, 4th best or just low may defeat 3 NT slightly more often, but also gives an extra overtrick away likely more of the time. A key holding is Hx in dummy and H9x with declarer, compensated by even with that holding, declarer may very well play the honor in dummy if he has designs on finessing into you later or choosing a line which lends itself to that play.

Finally with dummy unlikely to have 4 spades, because of no Stayman effort assuming 1NT 3NT, that to me, slightly favors the lead of an honor, but again it, to me, is too close to call.

TedMarch 9th, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, with the spade A very likely sitting in front of the K, this looks like a good diamond slam if partner has as little as KQ 6th in diamonds and doubleton A of clubs. What would be the logical sequence to get there after the 2H bid?

Bobby WolffMarch 9th, 2016 at 10:07 pm

Hi Ted,

Because of probing questions like yours, very good players sometimes appear out of nowhere (not to say you were nowhere).

At this point, there is no way to know for sure
what your side can make, anywhere from a slam to only a part score (s. Qxx, h. xx, d. KQxxxxx, c. x) Over 2 cue bid hearts he would obviously bid 3 diamonds upon which I will suggest another cue bid of 3 hearts with partner then returning to 4 diamonds, all pass.

Strong advice, but I think, on target. However both sides bid well to achieve the right contract. Of course with Ax of clubs he should bid 3 clubs and if so, perhaps even a slam in diamonds would result and make as long as the 2 diamond bidder had K10xxxxx of diamonds in addition to his ace of clubs.

I could keep on with other examples, but as said in Looney Tunes, “That’s alllllll folkssss”.