Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

The only sure thing about luck is that it will change.

Bret Harte

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


Your call

The idea of underleading an ace against a slam is one that appeals to the true gambler. The possibility that you might lose the ace if you don’t take it is dangerous enough that, even when the opportunity arises, few players will take advantage of the chance.

However, in Opatija, Croatia, three years ago in the European Championships, Tommy Garvey seized his chance for an underlead during Ireland’s match against Russia in the Open Series.

South had shown a limited hand with clubs and spades and no extra values, then admitted to one key-card in response to Blackwood. The auction had made it clear that North held a diamond control, which in the light of Garvey’s hand was likely to be the king rather than shortage.

If dummy held the king plus the queen, or no secondary honor, underleading the ace could prove very costly, especially if South held a singleton diamond. Also, declarer might subsequently discard a diamond loser on dummy’s hearts. None of this was especially unlikely, since declarer had at least nine cards in the black suits. But if dummy held both the king and jack of diamonds, the gamble might succeed.

Garvey went for the gusto and led the diamond four to trick one. Although he might have suspected something was afoot, declarer had no reason not to put in the jack. John Carroll produced the queen and returned a diamond to set the slam with the first two tricks. That resulted in a slam swing to Ireland.

I could understand bidding three clubs to preempt the opponents out of the auction, but you actually have a fair chance that this is your hand, not theirs, particularly because you have the boss suit, spades. So I would just overcall two clubs, hoping to get a second chance to describe my hand.


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

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieNovember 23rd, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

How would you play the hand single dummy on a trump lead? Obviously the H8 / 9 is a bit of a giveaway while a club is out and clearly makes life easy.

I do wonder how good a contract 6S is here. It is likely to need 3-2 spades as a minimum and a fair bit extra to come home.



Bobby WolffNovember 23rd, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Your challenging question of how to play the hand, after a heart lead, reminds me of a cherished answer I remember concerning another half-baked slam when asked the same question, “Under an assumed name”.

While the choice of the eight or the nine of hearts is in no way a disclaimer of also possessing the king, if in fact, West is a grizzled
veteran, accustomed to not making life easy for his always “hated” opponents.

I can say, I would rise with the ace and then after drawing trump and guessing to take advantage of the club spots and backward finesse the 3rd club while ruffing a heart and/or guessing the diamond (when a diamond is not led by a good player after this bidding) it is a fair indication that he does not possess he queen since partner can fairly often have the ace jack over the dummy’s known second round control, including the king, not a singleton.

All the above is worth something, but not much, and in order to not have to tiptoe through some number of tulips may just risk it all by ducking the first heart, planning to play West for the ace of diamonds, not the queen.

I would give myself about s 20% chance of making this hand, and if so, expect to pay the price of later going down in a good slam in order for the immutable law of averages to get even with me for being a terrible bidder.

To my poor opponent’s regret my bad luck may occur against someone else yet to be played, but that is the way it is done in the fast lane, when a KO bridge tournament is in full bloom.

Of course East, after winning the first heart would need to return a diamond, but that is to be expected.

Finally, the relay system, after a 2 club natural opening should certainly not reach this horrible slam. Why? Probably because North was just hoping that his partner had more than the relay system allowed to show him. If and when North had exactly the same hand except for his singleton club being the Queen it may have taken that brilliant (but not necessarily recommended by me) opening lead to defeat it.

What do you think, or are you too going to use a pseudonym?

David WarheitNovember 23rd, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Iain’s question was how to play on a TRUMP lead, not a HEART lead. My thought: win in your hand and lead a D, playing the K if W ducks (why the K not the J? W didn’t lead a D, meaning he much more likely had the A than the Q). Now draw trump and play on C, making if the CQ is doubleton or third or if E has 109 doubleton.

Jeff SNovember 23rd, 2017 at 3:01 pm


I am not sure how I’d play this one against a trump lead – it is hard to know for sure once you have seen the hand (at least, for me, it is) – but I think you have to play for something very like the actual position which is to say, you have to hope for 3-2 spades, East having at least two clubs or, failing that, West having the 9S, and in any case, West having the AD. And, even at that, I think I’d be playing for one down and hoping for a miracle (which actually occurs, but is incredibly lucky).

Then – take the first trick with the AS, lead a club to the A and immediately trump a club with the 8S (whew, that barely worked). Now, it is a bit easier, lead the AH and another, trumping the second heart low. The KH falls and suddenly there is hope. Trump a 2nd club with the KS. Lead the JS to the Q and draw the final trump with the TS. Now, run the clubs. On the last one, discard the QH or JD depending on what West keeps. Finally, lead a diamond towards the K and, as it happens, we make it home.

All that required a ridiculous amount of luck, of course. Is there a better way?

Iain ClimieNovember 23rd, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Hi Folks,

That’s why I asked, as I really think I’d muddle it due to the numerous options. Nice to have my view that it is a disgusting slam confirmed, though. I might try the HJ at T2 after winning the trump in hand and then viewing whether to run it. If it were to hold (or be covered) then a diamond can go away quite quickly and I’ll try to set up clubs. If I did run the heart, I’m straight off, though if East returns a diamond.

Is it me, or are people bidding more and more iffy slams at top level?



Bobby WolffNovember 23rd, 2017 at 8:32 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, I took off on a heart lead tangent, instead of what you clearly indicated, a trump lead.

Then, of course, the trump lead beginning got a couple of comments, on the road to making this poor slam, leaving it to the imagination of the reader whether or not it would be realistic to correctly guess all the following contingencies.

As to your feeling whether people are bidding more and more iffy slams at the top level, I do not have any idea. But keep in mind that the time to do so is when your team is behind so perhaps the reporting of these real live hands involved teams suffering from that malady,