Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 26th, 2017

The hard half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance, except perhaps fair play.

Thomas Hardy

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


South’s rebid of two no-trump shows a balanced 22 to 24 points. North does not really have enough to consider the possibility of slam. But what should he bid now?

Of course, if North’s long suit were a major, he would transfer into it, en route to three no-trump. That option does not really exist when your long suit is a minor, though. Some people use three spades as Minor Suit Stayman, but exploring for slam in a minor suit would risk going past three no-trump. With no singleton, North has no reason to bypass no-trumps, that being his side’s most likely game.

When dummy comes down in three no-trump after West’s heart lead, South can see he needs four tricks in diamonds to ensure his contract. A fifth diamond trick would be welcome, but since the value of the game far exceeds the overtrick, South cannot afford to jeopardize his contract in search of an extra 30 points.

At matchpoint pairs it would be perfectly reasonable to play diamonds from the top; after all, the chance of a 3-2 break is better than two in three. But if South takes the diamond ace then wins the second diamond in dummy, he can take only three tricks in the suit and three no-trump will go down.

At teams or rubber, South should duck the second round of diamonds – even if West deviously drops the jack at his second turn! This duck protects declarer against the four-one break, a precaution that is necessary today to bring home the contract.

The age old issue: keep partner happy by leading his suit, or attack in what you consider to be your best prospect on defense, namely hearts? I’m going to damn the torpedoes and lead what I think is right, by putting a small heart on the table. The fact that a spade lead is so likely to cost a trick persuades me to do this.


♠ A 4
 J 10 7 6 3
 J 8 4
♣ Q 7 2
South West North East
  1 ♣ 1 ♠ 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2July 10th, 2017 at 10:42 am

Admiral David Farragut may or may not have played whist, but I think pard rates to have a singleton heart on this auction so I am leading spades.

East’s bidding suggests three hearts (failed to make a negative double so not four) while West’s failure to rebid clubs suggests four. Yes, East might have two and West might be 3-3-3-4 but, with such help in pard’s suit, it is enough to tip the odds for me.

jim2July 10th, 2017 at 1:21 pm

So, how should one play 3N at MPs? To reduce headaches, I will assume declarer can read the opening lead to indicate hearts are 5-3. Odds change slightly if hearts can be 6-2, etc.

As Our Host alludes, taking the safety play in diamonds loses to all other pairs in the obvious 3N contract when diamonds split normally (68%). It will, OTOH, likely get a shared top score 23% of the time when they split 4-1 and the J is not singleton. (for 4-point-something percent, the J is singleton and both lines work).

Playing diamonds from the top likely yields a slightly above avg score when diamonds split (or the J is singleton), and a slightly below avg when diamonds split 4-1 (and J not singleton).

So, on a 12 top, playing for 3-2 would appear to get ~7 about 68% , ~5 23%, and ~6 (diamonds 5-0 or J singleton) for an expected score of just above 6. Playing for 4-1 diamonds would get ~1 when diamonds are 3-2, ~11 when diamonds are 4-1 J singleton, and 6 when J singleton or 5-0. This looks like an expected score of under 4.

There is, however, more to commend playing diamonds from the top at MPs!

Specifically, one gains a tempo by not giving up an early diamond trick that lets the defense clear hearts.

For example, declarer can win the first or second heart, cash the AD (to check for J singleton) and now duck a club. Then, when hearts are cleared, declarer can cash the top clubs before testing diamonds. Now, should diamonds behave, declarer gets TWO overtricks. If diamonds break badly, declarer still can make 9 tricks if the clubs are 3-3.

(Alternatively, instead of ducking a club, declarer could lead a small spade to the JS. This would allow declarer to make 9 tricks when diamonds break badly in the 25% of cases where East began with both spade honors.)

(When diamonds are revealed to be 5-0, I think the lines converge because declarer must find a 9th trick outside of diamonds.)

jim2July 10th, 2017 at 2:35 pm

The point to the above club (or spade) duck before playing off diamonds is that it reduces the numbers of cases (hence the probability) that the diamond duck will gain. This is because declarer will now have a black suit chance to gain the 9th trick and hence draw back even with the diamond duckers who declined to play for OTs and were rewarded with one defender holding Jxxx of diamonds.

Bobby WolffJuly 10th, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Hi Jim2,

First, kudos to you are very much in order for, if nothing else, all the time and effort you exerted to break down as close as possible, the expected results from both success and failure when playing the top diamonds (starting with the ace) expecting the 3-2 break or the other extreme having them be 4-1 (5-0 kind of handles itself, but as a side issue also works best for declarer, after beginning with the ace).

IMO, this layout, kind of serves as a poster child for taking the diamond safety play in IMPs and rubber bridge, but not at matchpoints.

As for the LWTA, I would choose a heart, basically for the reasons mentioned in the LWTA. Since I am in possession of 9 hcps it is almost certain that all three of the other players are likely minimum for their 1st round bids and although it is indeed possible that partner has a “deadly” singleton heart, I do not see that possibility as likely as you but like you revealed especially not 4 with East since he failed to make a negative double.

Although it, like the other theme of matchpoints vs IMPs & rubber, also enters the thought process, but alas with no clear cut direction as to how to view it. However, the idea of giving almost a certain trick away by leading the spade ace (and to lead a low one instead seems closer to bridge suicide than it is to a successful and clever gambit) is my determining factor, with the more likely 4-2 split with, of course West having the length, then becomes a danger area, but that chance, at least to me, is worth the risk (partner’s then specific doubleton heart grows in importance, but, of course, I am hoping he has 3).

The best part of this whole discussion is not necessarily what one would decide to lead, but rather the thinking involved while deciding, is in truth, at least in my view, the major difference between a player who has a decent chance to rise quickly up the bridge ladder as opposed to one who plays bridge primarily for fun and entertainment, but not so much for intellectual satisfaction and eventual glory.

Finally, Jim2, thanks again for all your thoughts and tedious effort, but after all, you have had, thanks to TOCM, the most experience of any of us with 4-1 and 5-0 breaks so who else to lead our discussion?

Bobby WolffJuly 10th, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Hi Jim2,

And since Admiral David Faragut’s most famous quote apparently was “A ship without Marines is like a garment without buttons”, I have it on reliable authority that he, being a Whist player (before even Auction Bridge was invented), thought his partner had three hearts, not only one, which in turn was more than The Tin Woodsman.

I know, just more “Fake News”!

Bobby WolffJuly 10th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Hi again Jim2,

I just realized that he also said and is better known for his expression, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”.

Damn my fake news computer!

jim2July 10th, 2017 at 4:43 pm

I was playing off that latter quote in your column LWTA answer.

David WarheitJuly 10th, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Without going in to all the various games (IMPs, rubber, etc.), seems to me that S, after winning the H, should first cash DA & CA. This caters for the possibility that one defender has QJ, J10 or Q10 doubleton in clubs.

Iain ClimieJuly 10th, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Hi David,

Good idea as usual, unless the same player has 5C and 4D but, when nothing happens in clubs, declarer should lead the D10 under which West should unleash the Grosvenor coup by playing the D9. Except at pairs, the effect on South will beggar belief and it only risks an overtrick.

It might well still work at pairs in a way but unless (say) on an early board in an eight / nine board Swiss Pairs match, it is all too likely that the hands South blows in the next hour will benefit other pairs rather than ourselves. There again, if you really don’t like somebody, what’s not to like?



Bobby WolffJuly 10th, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Hi David,

If declarer, at pairs, follows your very well intentioned suggestion and cashes one high diamond and one high club, East following suit with the jack,, then encouraged by the sight of East’s high club continues with the king of clubs, only to see West show out, then forcing West to guess the 4-1 diamond break to only just make the hand.

This discourse is only to put all bridge players on notice, that bridge is the master, particularly when clear headed good players are participating and what turned out to be a simple extra chance, clubs offering an extra chance to be safe, turned out to create a devilish choice.

Perhaps. if the cards could speak, when East played the jack on the first high club by declarer, he should cry out “beware” instead of the “check” which is often used in chess.

Bobby WolffJuly 11th, 2017 at 12:03 am

Hi Iain,

You just described a sensational play by West, the nine of diamonds (aka, the curse of Scotland) which, no doubt, could and would dazzle them in Glasgow.

However, sorry Iain while the nine appears to be a “Grosvenor’ it is actually not, since a Grosvenor will never gain on that hand, but does give their opponents a chance to succeed when none existed, but done to just make their hated opponents feel terrible, because they squandered their chance to succeed.

An example might be, sittting behind the AKJ9xx of trumps while declarer is playing a grand slam in that suit, with Q10x while dummy (LHO) had 2 little and play the queen underneath declarer’s ace, suggesting to that same declarer to go to the dummy with his only entry in another suit to lead low to the 9 when partner followed but then, well you know the result.

It is done primarily to get a hated opponent to quit the game forever (sometimes worse, suicide) not to just win that hand.