Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.

Jawarhalal Nehru

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


Today’s deal is from Andrew Robson’s latest themed collection, “Counting and Card Placement”, available at

Andrew is one of the top European players. One of his specialities is explaining the game in simple terms. He is much in demand as a teacher and lecturer, and his source material is excellent.

Consider today’s deal, where you have driven to slam in somewhat cavalier fashion after partner’s limit raise in hearts. Of course, the club king wasn’t the card you had hoped to see in dummy — you would happily have traded it for the heart jack.

As declarer you receive the lead of the club two, third and fifth and take the queen with your king. What should be your plan to play hearts for only one loser?

You can do nothing about 4-0 hearts, but if one defender has the bare ace, it seems slightly more likely to be West, since he appears to have the long clubs. Rightly or wrongly, you cross to hand with the diamond ace and lead a heart to the 10, king and ace.

Back comes a spade; plan your next move.

It is best to win the ace, cross to dummy by leading the diamond 10 to the jack, then play a trump. When East follows with the eight, the odds of finessing are clearly better than playing the queen. Why? Because we are weighing up either a singleton 10 or jack with West — in which case he would be forced to follow with that card — against doubleton jack-10. Each of the singletons is almost as likely as one specific doubleton, so the odds are almost 2-to-1 in favor of finessing.

This hand may not be quite worth a double followed by a heart bid, but the alternatives are so inelegant (a two-heart overcall or a bid of one no-trump?) that the more flexible route seems wisest. You plan to double and bid hearts, but this might also allow you to get to diamonds in some circumstances.


♠ A Q 3
 Q 9 6 5 4
 A K Q 10
♣ 4
South West North East
      1 ♠

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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Bobby WolffMarch 7th, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the gaffe at trick one wherein the opening club lead was gobbled up by the king in dummy, not traveling around to the declarer.

I could say “gremlins at work” but I’ve seen the enemy and since it walks like us, talks like us, and sadly, looks like us, it is MOI!

BTW Andy Robson who lives in the UK, is one of the greatest, very high-level bridge assets in the entire world. He has contributed running a sensational bridge club in London (where Judy and I have had the good fortune of playing). The hand records (distributed after the game) not only are available but every hand has been analyzed. He also writes about bridge for a major London newspaper, is among the best players in the world and always a pleasure to be in his company.

He came to fame from the junior ranks in Great Britain many years ago and from the beginning, has always been very special as a perfect ambassador for our beautiful game.

Patrick CheuMarch 7th, 2018 at 10:33 pm

Hi Bobby,Had the bidding gone 1H 3H,4D..should North just sign off in 4H? Is there a case for 5H(by North) asking pard to bid 6 with good hearts?

Iain ClimieMarch 7th, 2018 at 11:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

Anyone dubious about the rule of restricted choice should look up the Monty Hall problem, the 3 prisoner problem and Bertrand’s paradox. Conditional probability messes with your mind (my maun degdee subject was statistics).



Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2018 at 12:02 am

Hi Patrick,

If South would have bid 4 diamonds, undeniably a slam try, since the trump suit has already been mutually determined, South should (IMO) definitely cue bid 5 clubs, since the three controls (AKK) become monstrous, especially considering North’s first bid was only a limit raise.

Slams plus aces and kings go together like a horse and carriage. Also the king of trump is so much better than would be the Q or even the QJ (imagine partner holding Axxxxx or even AJxxx). If partner now only returned to 5 hearts I would grudgingly pass, but would be disappointed by so doing. Perhaps his hand is:
s. xx, h. AQxxxx, d. AKxxx, c. void or s. KQJ, h. QJ10xxx, d. AKxx c. void, but it also could be:
s. KQ, h. AJxxxx, d. AKx, c. Jx where slam is close to 90%.

And to answer an oft asked question before it is asked, yes, if I have overbid earlier (in this case) a poor 3 heart limit raise (s. xxx, h. xxxx, d. Jx, c. AKQx and only rebid 4 hearts, awaiting a 4 spade cue bid by partner to now, and of course, now bid 5 clubs. If partner passes I would comfortably, but not without some fear and trepidation, put down my dummy.

The important unassailable fact will always remain that it is flat impossible to guess what to do, almost regardless what one holds, to be right in a huge percentage of cases, but one thing is sure, there should not be restrictive rules, like always being required to cue bid, if 1st round control is held, and to not believe me will surely bring some very strong heartache to those who were expecting much more consistently great results, from 100% rules.


A direct line to Dame Fortune (who deals the cards) is a much more successful tool.

TedMarch 8th, 2018 at 12:06 am

Hi Bobby,

When West leads the club2 and East presumably encourages with the 10 after the King is played, is there any clue as to whether West lead from 3 or 5? If not, how would you play the hand (or at least the trump suit) if dummy holds the heart 8 instead of the 7?

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2018 at 1:11 am

Hi Iain,

In discussing the Law of Restricted Choice, perhaps the human element should suggest that if a robot was always programmed to play the lowest of equals when holding a doubleton, then when the 10 was played with 4 to the jack ten originally out, the law would not apply and the drop should be favored because of the missing spaces principle. Of course, then if the jack was played, by rule the finesse would succeed.

Note: If anyone or everyone would refuse to read the above, it is likely that no one would have missed anything valuable.

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2018 at 1:24 am

Hi Ted,

Since West refused to lead a trump, (not startling) the declarer might attempt to lead a card other than a trump at trick one to better be able to get a count, but to do so against average to above players is a total waste of time. However a small clue (perhaps 5%) would be that West may lead the 10 from jack ten as, of course, a ruse to try and manipulate a trump trick, since leading a singleton 10 of trumps is not in any way, a safe lead, and would normally be close to my last choice. IOW, if I lead the ten of trump I will have the jack.

In the very old days, many of the top experts at that time would wait until determining who would be the more nervous defender and then play him or her for AJx.

However, before making the crucial decision the declarer may inquire, “Is your wife about to give birth?” before falling back on dame fortune determining.

A V Ramana RaoMarch 8th, 2018 at 11:36 am

Hi Dear. Mr. Wolff
(Sorry for a late post)
On some other table, west defender who is a novice and told by his tutor that whenever opponents agree strongly on a trump suit, perhaps you should lead a trump to reduce the ruffing power, led trump ten. South , a coffeehouse player was pleasantly surprised but did not come out of his slumber fully , called for low card from dummy and the hand blew up in his face.
Bridge can be funny and cruel at times

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2018 at 12:54 pm


Yes, bad things happen when one plays automatically without examining the whole hand.

However if Mollo’s Rueful Rabbi, as declarer had played a small one out of the dummy, only because he had not thought first, West would have made a deceptive trump lead of the 10 from jack ten doubleton.

Yes, and unfortunately sometimes luck, trumps careful play, making who it tramples on, very rueful. However if declaring this hand while playing against a very good opening lead player, he is very likely (at least to me, the favorite, to have the J10).

Thanks for writing.

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Hi again AVRR,

Please add a t to Rabbi, since, AFAIK most Rabbits are not Jewish.