Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, September 25th, 2017

This world where much is to be done and little to be known.

Samuel Johnson

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


When North opens one club, South should bounce directly to three no-trump to show a balanced 12-15 points. With this pattern, he does not want to suggest alternative contracts or let the opponents find out more about which suit it is right to lead.

When West leads the spade 10 against three no-trump, South must decide whether to win or duck, and which suit to attack first.

It is normally right to duck when you have two high cards to knock out, but here the fact that he can keep West off play, and that South fears a diamond shift, might persuade him to win the first trick. What next?

If the club finesse works, South will have time to set up hearts and make overtricks. But if the club finesse fails, South will have only four clubs and will therefore need at least one heart trick for game.

So South must go after the hearts first; the reason is that the heart ace would be a certain entry to West for his spades. If West takes the first heart, his entry to the spades is gone. South can duck one spade then finesse clubs, and be safe unless East has five spades. When West ducks the first heart, South can switch to clubs and be sure of nine tricks.

If South tackled the clubs first, East would take the club king and return a spade to establish that suit, while West still had an entry. If declarer ducks at trick one, a diamond switch defeats him.

I can see an argument for a passive club lead – the fact that your partner has not doubled for a club lead should not affect that decision, since you know he is relatively limited. That said, I think I prefer a spade lead, since dummy has by no means guaranteed four spades. I think my second choice would be a diamond.


♠ J 9 3 2
 A 4
 K 8 5 4
♣ 9 7 3
South West North East
    Pass 1 NT
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2
Pass 2 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


Michael BeyroutiOctober 9th, 2017 at 10:42 am

Dear Mr Wolff,
I am not sure about the last sentence of the article.
If South ducks the first trick he can duck the diamond shift as well. Then,
1. If the defense persists in diamonds, declarer plays on clubs before knocking out the heart ace.
2. If the defense switches back to spades, declarer follows the column line.
What do you think?

David WarheitOctober 9th, 2017 at 11:40 am

Michael: 1. You are absolutely correct as the cards lie. 2. You would be absolutely wrong if W had 4 diamonds. 3. S doesn’t know how diamonds break, but it is surely safe for S to assume that W has 4 or more spades, so the recommended line is the best line. In short, given the simple assumption that W has at least 4 spades, Mr. Wolff’s line is certain to succeed, whereas your line is not.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 9th, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for your comments, David.
You are right.
I was just fooling around, double dummy, to save a declarer (me) who ducked at Trick 1…

bobby wolffOctober 9th, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Hi Michael & David,

With you two or fortune willing, between the two of you, almost nothing more needs to be said, since both key factors, this particular lie of the cards, meeting up with defensive options on what figures to happen and to be seriously considered if and when they arise. Thanks to both of you.

One of the poignant features of our great game (and, for the most part, underrated) is for one side or the other (and often both) to look ahead as to what to expect (mostly not anywhere close to 100%, but hopefully to choose the line, based on the up to date evidence, eg. bidding, play up to then, and sometimes factoring in the tempo). At that point, sometimes, both the declarer and the defense (as here) will need to make choices and later learn to live with the ones they make.

This hand being a keen example, Michael hit a bulls-eye with his analysis, but David countered with what often predictably occurs, practical application.

Intellectuals may then offer “declarer’s play and defense are then far from perfect” and the only correct response would be, “Yes, that is right as it can be, but such are the continuous mind battles that the combatants face and glory be to the side which is right”.

What better hand to dissect than today and both of you did your job, serving as a great learning experience for those serious players, who likely already love the game, and particularly hands like this one, which features offensive and defensive choices.

Just another reason why bridge has been so well thought of, while being taught daily in primary and secondary schools around the world. Isn’t it time for the USA in particular and the Western Hemisphere in general to, if you excuse my expression, follow suit?

Again, to both Michael and David, thank you for allowing us to benefit from your using your considerable bridge brains.

Iain ClimieOctober 9th, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Hi Bobby,

Have you considered occasionally posing one or two hands as declarer play problems only and supplying the E-W hands at the end? It would be interesting to see how tempted we all are to fall for “Deep Finesse” syndrome where, if East had a singleton CK, DF would gleefully tell us that we could have dropped it.

Mind you, this is the sort of hand where you know what would have caused West to lead from S109x and to hold the HA while East had exactly that club holding.



bobby wolffOctober 9th, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, your unique thought about posing hands so that they would present a challenge, rather than just a learning and entertainment experience, has appeal to some percentage of the column’s readers.

Since my guess as to the average quality of my reader’s bridge ability would be an uncomfortable low number, causing my fears to be correct, as many have suggested to me that the column is far too difficult for the average reader,

However, I have stood steadfast in wanting to project what is possible in bridge, thus by doing so, I prefer to try and represent real challenges for players who likely have the born qualities to improve and the energy and spirit to at the very least, give it a reasonable try.

However, to make such a marked change in the format, while much more suitable for bridge magazines or books, would be a huge gamble for me to risk, one that AFAIK hasn’t yet been attempted anywhere else in the world.

Yes, we all can dream, but I probably will let some one else break tradition, not me, and still remain not trying to teach old wolffs new tricks.

And BTW, I expected your immediately above last post to be signed Jim2 instead of Iain since TOCM would have caused that layout to be present while he, not you, would have been the declarer.

Finally since DF would have guessed that singleton club king for just another maximum score, those initials should stand for damn farce.

jim2October 9th, 2017 at 9:07 pm


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