Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 9th, 2017

For man is man and master of his fate.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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


In today’s deal East was a relative novice, but one who had already indicated that he had a decent nose for the game. Against four hearts, West had no reason to find the killing club lead. Instead he led the diamond two, and declarer played low from dummy. When East won his king, there followed a long pause. Eventually South asked East if he knew whose lead it was, but East was not to be goaded into coming to a premature decision. Finally the club ace hit the deck, somewhat to West’s surprise. However, as the play advanced he realized that his partner had found the only defense to beat the contract.

To South’s credit, when he found that he had an inescapable loser in each major, he congratulated his RHO and asked how he had found the killing defense. As East explained, South was marked from the auction with at least 10 cards in the majors. That left room for just three minor suit cards.

When West led the diamond two, this could in theory have been from three or four cards to one honor but not to a holding including both the queen and jack. If the lead was from a three-card suit, then South would have been void in clubs, but could not have a diamond loser. Therefore even if the club ace was ruffed away, it could not matter.

However if South held a singleton club with either the doubleton diamond jack or queen, then declarer’s club loser could be disposed of on dummy’s diamond winner.

While there are hands where your side can make game, or find it to be dependent on a finesse or break, this is distinctly against the odds. If I had the heart queen or jack in addition, I would feel differently, but I’d need distinctly better hearts or spades to make a try for game. So I would pass now.


♠ A Q 9 8 6
 K 10 8 7 5
 Q 9
♣ 4
South West North East
1 ♠ 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 23rd, 2017 at 11:19 am

HI Bobby,

On BWTA is there a case for bidding 3S or should we give the oppo some rope? If partner has (say) 3-1-4-5 with fair defensive values, the almost inevitable balancing act could misfire badly, and their silence so far opposite a limiterd partner does suggest they haven’t got a clear cut action.



Mircea1March 23rd, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Hi Bobby,

If East in today’s column problem was a “relative novice”, than I better forget about playing this game altogether because there would not be a description for my level of play. Seriously, on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is my dog and 10 is the best in the world, where would you place this East player?

jim2March 23rd, 2017 at 12:41 pm

In BWTA, some partnerships play 1-2-3 of a major as more preemptive than invitational.

If the column declarer trusted his opponent’s leads, perhaps playing the QD under the KD was a better play. Such a play would be consistent with a minor suit holding of QD and xxC.

Bobby WolffMarch 23rd, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Hi Iain,

A ggod question from you, followed by a thoughtful premise.

Facts to which, at least I, believe:

1. Playing exactly two spades (instead of three) at both IMPs or pairs (not specified) should be substantially preferred since perhaps about 5 IMPs or as much as up to 1/2 a board are the stakes.

2. While I am not as pessimistic as you that an automatic balance will occur, it well might, which, at least in theory, figures to result in our side playing three spades rather than two, but it wouldn’t be too surprising for the opponents then finding a bigger fit than they suspected and win the board by bidding and making four of a minor.

3. If the above is true and since it represents my judgment, I still (against most pairs in IMPs and matchpoints) would pass and take my chances.

4. However against experienced and aggressively tough opponents I would raise to three spades, basically eliminating their defensive tendencies to compete.

5. Of course, there is always the two aberrations, (A) partner will have them nailed with a (as you suggest) 3-1-4-5 distribution or (B) the opponents will bid and make 4 of a minor.

6. No doubt, other experienced players (especially the ones who play competitive bridge (clubs, sectionals, regionals and nationals) on a regular basis to weigh in with their opinions as to the prevailing mindset of the often seen players who make up the masses. I suspect even a more casual player to recognize (if nothing else by their demeanor and mannerisms) what type of tendencies to expect.

IOW, you nailed a very important aspect which will tend to strongly influence the answer to your question.

Summing up:

1. To play winning bridge it is quite important to play these hands at the two level rather than three.

2. However, by being at the table, it may be possible to get an accurate fix as to the hands held by the opponents (strength wise, both HCPs and distribution) and thus then make a decision whether to re-raise to three (preemptive by most) or go for broke and pass.

3. Also, one needs to be aware of his (or her) intimidation factor at the table, with the obvious advantage of having it, rather than not.

Thanks as usual, Iain, for bringing up an important aspect in attempting to score well at tournaments or, for that matter, at Rubber.

Bobby WolffMarch 23rd, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Indeed, no doubt, this hand will “test” many wannabe good players, but leave the very casual ones and newbies to only enjoy the social aspects of playing our wonderful game, but not worrying about status, nor eventually the respect which follows.

All parents would love to see their children be quite interested when stories are read to them and followed by intelligent (to the point) questions from them, if for no other reason, than they became interested in that subject.

Such are the teachings of the glories of bridge and why it has so caught on in schools around the world (of course, not at all, as yet, in our Western Hemisphere). The playing of our game has everything to do with what can be called numeracy e.g.(the ability to use numbers intelligently in various ways).

As you have no doubt noticed, declarer has shown 10 cards in the majors before settling in 4 hearts. Therefore East, having listened and not snoozed during the auction, knows that South only has (at most 1 club) partner having led the deuce (no more than four, but probably exactly four percentage wise, not three). The then arithmetic involved marks declarer with precisely one club which will go away on a good diamond (whether declarer has the queen or the jack as his other) because if partner would have had both, he would have led the queen.

So, presto magico, it becomes necessary for East to make a non-intuitive play of the ace of clubs instead of waiting for a lead through by partner (which will not come in time), and then upon further analysis East should know that the king of clubs, (made good by East cashing his ace) will be of no help to declarer since his remaining cards are all in the majors with either a loser or not depending on what he was dealt.

The above is typical bridge reasoning, but do not despair if it does not come naturally. It is definitely counter intuitive, but very necessary to understand the logic of the game itself.

If I tried to make it simpler it would be a mistake since the above is all that needs to be said, particularly to a person of your overall intelligence who, no doubt will take this simple example and then begin to apply its teachings to a much larger percentage of hands which are waiting to appear in your future.

Once bitten, always remembered and getting to know you, makes me realize the positive nature of your involvement and how for forever more, the mystery of all players distribution will rise in importance, making bridge so much easier for you and for countless numbers of players who have yet to directly experience such a thing.

The above has absolutely nothing to do with overall intelligence, only the special and unusual nature of our game. Many of the brightest people the world has every known
are less versed than you in the above subject and without having a direct experience (like this one) will not have the incentive to learn it, simply because they haven’t had a chance to think, and no one available to remind them.

Good luck and forever more, your stock will zoom up in value not only as a player, but as a teacher who will serve as one for your current partner and if he or she is not interested in learning, I suggest you get another one, since you will be very valuable to our beautiful game yourself, but perhaps, now unwilling to partner someone who either decides not to, nor is unwilling to add spurs to his or her bow and then wake up and smell the roses.

Much thanks to your wonderful countenance and above all, willingness to honestly disclose
your love of the game and your future in it.

Good luck to you and, no doubt, you will get it.

Bobby WolffMarch 23rd, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, but however (assuming 4th best leads from partner,) would mean that South has at least two diamonds, but most likely exactly two, and including either the queen or the jack since with both, partner should lead the queen.

And, answering your questions in inverse order, most partnerships (at least tournament players) usually do play a rebid of three of a suit after support is, as you say, preemptive.

David WarheitMarch 23rd, 2017 at 6:17 pm

You speak of “the killing club lead”. Yes, a club lead is killing: it kills the defense. E wins the opening lead, and what does he return? Anything but a spade immediately gives up a trick, so he returns a spade. S plays small and W wins the K (if he doesn’t, S can now make 11 tricks). Best is for W to lead a D at trick 3, but S wins the A, cashes HAK, and runs S to get rid of dummy’s diamonds, then ruffs his remaining D. Killing lead? W found it when he led a D at trick one.

Bobby WolffMarch 23rd, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Hi David,

Yes, at least at double dummy you are correct,

However if East leads a diamond back, declarer has a thorny guess to rise with the queen rather than to play East for the jack and West for the king. Furthermore, a diamond return stands up to scrutiny, whatever diamond holding he has. Obviously if he holds both the KJ nothing will save the defense (unless EW are lucky enough for West to hold the queen), but, on the bidding, nothing else should appeal since the defense needs to develop a diamond trick before West’s spade suit is set up for diamond discards in dummy (assuming declarer has a singleton club).

Almost the same principle as the column emphasizes, develop the setting trick before it goes away, except with a diamond lead it becomes up to East to cash the eventual setting trick, while he is able.

However, and no doubt, the opening lead of a club is not the killer unless East returns a low diamond and declarer miss guesses it.

Bridge can and often does make one careful before he wishes for something. No doubt, before the opening lead, East would wish for a club lead, but, as you correctly pointed out, the diamond lead, not clubs, is what surely does declarer in, where the defense also needs a wrong guess from declarer, even when the defense is perfect (after the errant lead), to succeed.

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