Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 16th, 2017

Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.

William Blake

W North
E-W ♠ A Q 10 5
 6 4
 A 8 3
♣ J 9 6 5
West East
♠ K 8 7 6
 A K Q 10 9 5
 Q 5
♣ 3
♠ J 3
 J 7 3 2
 J 10 9 6 4 2
♣ A
♠ 9 4 2
 K 7
♣ K Q 10 8 7 4 2
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 4
5 ♣ All pass    


Zia Mahmood has the reputation of a player always looking for the spectacular coup, but he is also a fine technical player, who works hard to extract every possible piece of information before committing himself.

He found a very thoughtful play on this deal, from the Summer Nationals in Washington 15 years ago. It came up in the early stages of the Spingold Trophy, the primary knockout event of the championships.

He reached five clubs here in the face of strong competition in hearts, and West slipped fractionally by leading the heart king and ace (a play for which one can hardly blame him, though a club shift beats the game, and a spade might well do so). Zia ruffed, and instead of simply relying on the double finesse in spades, he decided to strip out the diamond suit just in case something happened. Did it ever!

On the second diamond West produced the queen, then Zia ruffed the third diamond high as West discarded. East was now virtually marked with a 2-4-6-1 shape, and Zia decided that East’s preempt, coupled with West’s decision not to double the final contract, meant that East was likely to have the club ace. So he worked out that that the right play was to lead to the spade queen, cash the spade ace and exit with a club. It worked: East had the doubleton spade jack together with a singleton club, and when he won his bare club ace, he was endplayed to concede the ruff and discard.

Your partner appears to have a three-suiter but not enough to double two spades for take-out. The question is whether to go active with a club lead or passive with a heart lead. Since you have natural trump tricks, the cards appear to be lying badly for the opponents; so I would go with a low heart (NOT the eight or three).


♠ Q 10 4 2
 8 3 2
 A 6
♣ K J 3 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 ♠ 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


David WarheitOctober 30th, 2017 at 10:38 am

After W wins trick 1, he knows that S is void of H, so a H lead can only help declarer. As you state, a C lead beats the contract, and a S lead might beat it. A D lead might also beat it.

There is another line of play that S might adopt: ruff the H, eliminate D, and then lead a C, thus not playing S. This line of play will certainly work unless E exits with a small S to the K and A. But now S has to guess whether W or E has the J, and the odds are 2-1 that it’s W, so this line, although reasonable, is inferior to the line taken. Wait a minute, E might be 1-4-6-2. Now, unless E’s S is the J, the suggested line will fail (E ruffs the SA with the CA and exits with a C), but the other line might succeed. I’m still going with Zia’s line.

bobbywolffOctober 30th, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for the thorough analysis and your conclusion, to which I wholeheartedly agree.

The only caveat I might tend to add is that with your last, non-chosen line of play, if East held 1-4-6-2 that would leave West with 5-6-2-0, a distribution to which he would very likely to almost certain, and even while vulnerable, continue to 5 hearts over South’s 5 clubs.

It may also be worth mentioning, that Zia’s partner, thought his hand worthy of a TO double of one heart, in spite of having only a 4-2-3-4 eleven count allowing Zia to have no doubts about competing

Perhaps he would have bid 5 clubs anyway, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, since with all those losers he would have been blind flying.

Conclusion: It is just too dangerous, especially on the stated vulnerability to not double, rather than the more narrow view (at least to me) of fear of disappointing partner with a hand which might be considered just too weak to do so.

Of course, it is of psychological help to know that one’s partner, if necessary, will play the hand to best advantage, but often, in the heat of battle, especially against excellent opponents, many get it backwards as to what is dangerous.

PeteOctober 30th, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Hi Bobby,
Could you and/or one of your regular contributors please recommend a good book to review Standard American or Two over One – they seem more or less the same system. When I first played bridge 55 years ago that book would have been Sheinwold’s ‘Five Weeks to Winning Bridge’. That book had constructive bidding, competitive bidding, defensive bidding, play, and defense. What is the equivalent nowadays? Thanks.

bobbywolffOctober 30th, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Hi Pete,

Yes, I also always thought that Sheinwold’s book was the best one of its kind, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it still is.

However, I do not know what or who has done anything better. Maybe one of our AOB pals can tell you.

Iain ClimieOctober 30th, 2017 at 10:58 pm

Hi Pete, Bobby,

I’m the wrong side of the pond to help much but do any of Frank Stewarts’s books (see recent hands) fit the bill? Failing that, maybe the ACBL website contains some references, advice or even system notes; the EBU one over here does contain a summary of currrent views on Acol.



bobbywolffOctober 31st, 2017 at 12:50 am

Hi Iain & Pete,

Yes, the ACBL in Horn Lake, MS will certainly know where Pete can get the information to which he seeks. They are currently in a drive to secure new members, and, of course, early teaching materials are of vital importance.

Good luck, and thanks Iain, for responding.

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