Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 29th, 2017

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein

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



Chris Willenken brought home a difficult contract in the Round of 64 of last year’s Spingold Trophy from Washington. Against four spades, reached on a somewhat unusual but very revealing auction, West led the diamond eight, covered by the king and ace, and East returned a trump.

The trump return and the auction had suggested that West would have a natural trump trick. Declarer could see nine tricks in the form of one club, one diamond, two ruffs, and five trump winners. But where would trick 10 come from?

Willenken decided that his best shot – assuming his view of the enemy distribution was correct — was to endplay West into leading a heart in the endgame, so he won the trump switch, ruffed a heart in dummy, ruffed a low club in his hand and ruffed another heart. When East followed with the heart king, Willenken was sure West had started with a 3=6=2=2 pattern.

So Willenken ruffed another club in hand, cashed the trump king and crossed to the diamond queen. In the five-card ending West was down to four hearts and the trump queen.

On the club ace, declarer pitched a heart, and the ending Willenken envisaged had materialized. West, realizing that ruffing the club ace would leave him endplayed, discarded a heart. Willenken then ruffed a club in hand (West again discarding a heart) and exited with his now bare spade jack to West’s queen, ensuring he would collect the gamegoing heart trick at the end.

Anyone who only raises to three diamonds, go to the back of the class! This hand is far too strong for that action, and you have two ways to show the extras. One is to bid the impossible two spades (you have denied length there already) as a way to show a maximum raise for partner. The other is to jump to three spades, a splinter bid agreeing diamonds.


♠ 5
 K 5
 A J 6 5 3
♣ Q 10 8 6 2
South West North East
    1 Pass
1 NT 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


ClarksburgAugust 12th, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Matchpoints, South Deals, NS VUL
After Passes by South and West, North opens 1C.
You, East. hold: KQJ73 A9 A97642 Club void.
How would you rate the following actions?
Diamond overcall? (starting out to show 6-5 shape)
Spade overcall? (nice suit, and lead direction)
Big Double, intending to then bid Spades? (with only 14 HCP but + playing strength)

Related question:
If the auction in fact went P P 1C 1D 1NT P 3NT P P P, what would you, as West, select as an opening lead from 1098 K10874 8 10942 ?


jim2August 12th, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Well, I am not an expert, but the fact that partner is a passed hand makes me want to start with a lead director. For that matter, the two suits are enough different in quality that treating them as 5-5 feels not unreasonable.

Not sure what I would lead. All three other players want me to lead diamonds, it seems.

Patrick CheuAugust 12th, 2017 at 4:39 pm

One spade would be my choice,rightly or wrongly for lead directing purpose in defence.On the second question,West surely would lead a heart as the opponents seem to expect a diamond 3N. I stand to be corrected..

Bobby WolffAugust 12th, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Likely, as are other educational endeavors in life, someone needs to be embarrassed (at least slightly with unfortunately, feelings sometimes also hurt) in order to move up a whole level or echelon, no doubt, an understatement in bridge sophistication, in order to merely begin to understand the anomalies which “real” bridge, if only on occasion, often represents.

Now, back to the reality of your question as to what West should lead. No doubt, in my mind the 4th best heart which luckily, will allow
EW to win, switch to spades in time to likely defeat the opponents club based 3NT (unless North was dealt an 8 card club suit, which is virtually impossible on the bidding since South figures to have at least 2 clubs and likely 3 or more preventing those opponents from stealing
9 tricks. However if, of course, West dutifully leads his partner’s suit those 2 or 3 diamond tricks created for NS will, when added to at least 6 clubs and the spade ace create a huge bridge robbery perpetrated by NS.

However it would be better for EW if that horror happened (as long as the stakes weren’t too high), which, in turn, will serve as a wake-up call as to what occurs more often than expected when experience meets naivety, having nothing at all with overall intelligence, only with the direction (and nature) of the game we all love and cherish.

To now say what my not so hidden implications have been implying, to not now bid 4 spades the second time East bids, is obviously a grievous error, to remain in bridge lore, although no doubt similar atrocities are occurring with regularity as we now communicate, the world over.

While some neophytes may proclaim, I only had 14 points, well having a 13 card suit only has 10, and East’s hand, although not that strong,
very well may catch a hand similar to what East did catch, making 4 spades a likely make (and what about if West had a 4th spade, then 6 spades would be very much in the ballpark) while 3NT by the opponents would either make or go down one or two without a whimper., depending on the choice of opening lead.

More could be said, but considering who I am talking to, I do not think it need be. Only that our beautiful game has many sides to it, with not the least important, *but instead, probably the most” the magic of distribution when a partnership “fits”. Finally those fits occur much more often, especially when one hand has the potential to do so.

Consequently, to not further explore those possibilities, is perhaps the greatest single mistake any self-respecting bridge player can make.

Finally, apologies for my rant, but first things first. I’m hoping you can forward by feelings to your group, by thanking them for the opportunity to veer off from their specific subject (opening lead choice), important to them, but rather to another one which may help their various bridge careers achieve much greater success. Needless to say, yes, there is a “slight” risk of bidding 4 spades, but, IMO a 50 times (not at all exaggerated to me) greater one, to not.

ClarksburgAugust 12th, 2017 at 6:24 pm

Thanks Bobby, Jim2 and Patrick.
Main lesson here (for me) is the risk of not bidding Four Spades over their 3NT. Thanks.
Considered it… seriously…but judged setting their Vul NT would be a safe good Board.
Oops….Diamond lead.

ClarksburgAugust 13th, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Good morning Bobby
At the Table, as East, I really liked my hand. Even with passed Partner, I was thinking offence not defense. So I overcalled 1D intending reverse into Spades.
Was that a gross misjudgement and bidding error?

Bobby WolffAugust 13th, 2017 at 2:34 pm

Hi Clarksburg and good morning,

No, indeed, not a gross misjudgement nor a bidding error, but the right course of action, since the path to finding a partnership’s longest trump suit should be started as early as possible, and at the first time to bid, that time is then. Since the next time this happens when holding this type of both distribution and togetherness of high cards held matching longer suits, cries out (or should) to find our longest combined suit to name as trump.

Still delving deeper into what the lesser experienced player no doubt feels (and acts on) is the lack of confidence in what happens when partner has 2-2 (or something similar) in both suits, together with the opponents, (sometimes luckily) now doubling and reaping a large reward because of Dame Fortune favoring them and not you.

However, the winning player (regardless of his sometimes mediocre bridge technique) discounts that pessimism and only looks to fit one or the other of his suits, so that his magnificent few loser hand can be put to the use it usually becomes. Please remember that partner is not in any kind of position to help until you have bid a suit to which he has length (not much, if any, strength). Partner could easily have 4+ spades, or for that matter even diamonds with opponents seeking the short route to game with only one diamond stop but a very long suit suit and enough protection outside to take nine plus tricks.

Finally, experience, not having much nor anything to do with intelligence, is the indicator for being aggressive when distribution overrides hcps in determining value for taking tricks. That sort of thing happens much more frequently than most players suspect, especially when the few times a bad result occurs, one’s partner pounces on him for daring to think aggressively.

To repeat what I have said or otherwise indicated before, the right of passage to a talented player is dependent on his or her overcoming the poisoned flowers dealt to him by an overall less talented player, players or mentor, who somehow have achieved senior status, usually developing from either longevity of mediocrity or sometimes even just sheer force of personality.

I wish you the good luck that you richly deserve, mostly because of your developing bridge smarts and above all, your sacrifices and determination to get it right.