Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Feeling does not succeed in converting consolation into truth, nor does reason succeed in converting truth into consolation.

Miguel de Unamuno

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

*maximum pass, with heart support


At the Yeh Bros. tournament last summer, the New Zealand team did not have much to cheer about. But GeO Tislevoll (formerly of Norway, but now a New Zealand resident) found a nice line in the game here.

As South, declaring four hearts after a straightforward, if optimistic, unopposed Drury sequence, he received a club lead. He won the ace and took a spade finesse, then played the ace and another spade, ruffing with the seven. Then he played the club king and ruffed a club, and led his winning spade 10. When East followed small, Tislevoll carefully ruffed it with the jack as West pitched a diamond. That allowed declarer to ruff his last club in dummy and lead dummy’s heart queen.

East had to win his ace, of course, and he was then able to cash the diamond ace, felling his partner’s king for the defenders’ second trick. East could give his partner a diamond ruff now, but GeO’s trump ten-ace of the king-eight was good enough to take the last two tricks when West had to lead away from his 10.

Did you note the defensive resource? When declarer ruffs his winning spade to hand at trick seven, West must underruff, preserving his diamond holding.

The key difference here is that when declarer leads his trump from dummy, East can win the heart ace and underlead his diamond ace. Now the defenders cash two diamonds, ending in East, after which the defense can promote a trump for West on the lead of either plain card in the two-card ending.

There are some who play this call as unusual (showing 5-5 in the black suits), but it is far more effective for an unpassed hand to use this call to show a good strong no-trump. That said you hand now seems to be worth a bid of Stayman, both to invite game and to try to find a spade fit. If you don’t find a spade fit, bid two no-trump.


♠ A Q 10 8
 Q 9 6
 9 8 7 3 2
♣ 3
South West North East
      1 ♣
Pass 1 1 NT 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitFebruary 7th, 2019 at 10:32 am

You say that S takes “a spade finesse” at trick 2. I assume, of course, you mean he finesses the Q. But then, when he cashes the SA, W has an obligatory falsecard of the K. I don’t think it matters on this hand, but it should be mentioned.

Also note that if W’s opening lead is DK, the contract is easily defeated. Does this lead at all suggest itself to you?

Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 12:20 pm

HI David, Bobby,

If East doubles 2C to show a take out double of hearts (as opposed to a club stack) then the DK lead does seem quite attractive. It is a question of which use for the X is better – any thoughts here?

I agree about the SK but David got there first; South ruffing with the H7 does suggest the false card wasn’t found.



jim2February 7th, 2019 at 12:59 pm

On BWTA, I do not think I would bid Stayman. I think pard would overcall with five spades and double with four. I would either pass or bid 2D.

Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

But surely you know he (or she) will have J9xx AJx Kx AKx if you bid 2D and might even (for no good reason) bid 2H (instead of 2D) with (say) 2-4-4-3. I presume that 2D should be bid in the latter case, or does the possibility that 1H was a baby psyche be considered and partner should show 4H as you might have had 4?



Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 2:12 pm

OK, add a club or a heart to the first hand; partner having only 12 and you’re OK!

Ken MooreFebruary 7th, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Jim2 and Iain,

Such pessimism. Some days the sun really does shine.

jim2February 7th, 2019 at 2:42 pm

Ken Moore –

Oh, I am sure it does!

Just not where ***I*** am!

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 7th, 2019 at 2:45 pm

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
South played brilliantly and EW could not rise to the occasion.
But perhaps , based on bidding , a trump lead stands out and south does not have any play for the contract as east would obviously shift to a diamond after winning A of heart . West should have led a trump had he thought a bit

Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 4:00 pm

Hi Ken,

I work in engineering, on functional safety assessment e.g. trying to ensure avionics systems are sufficiently unlikely to crash aircraft. Gloom, doom, pessimism and dark mutterings are part of my everyday working life! Even on really bad days, bridge is blessed light relief!



Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 4:21 pm

Hi David,

Yes, the text should have noted that West threw the king of spades under the ace following the well known defensive caveat of, “when holding equals (and after declarer finesses the queen, the jack is so promoted) always play the card you are known to have, in this case, the king”.

The above, while certainly worth an apology for not so doing, reminds me of what can be simply described as “maturing at bridge” to the extent of doing such things without thinking, since it should become automatic, but, in this case, while describing it to the many readers, screams out that it must be mentioned, if for no better reason, than to teach it.

As to your crucial opening lead question, my thought out answer is not to do so. The reason being, at least on this sequence, almost no side suit information is given by the declaring side, other than a spade fit and game directly bid.

However it does point out what has always been an important caveat to me, when faced with a relatively close decision by South after
his partner has used the “Drury” convention showing support in the major as an original passed hand and better than just a single raise to two of the trump suit. Just bid game rather than to scientifically try and exchange information and then be back to square one in deciding whether or not to bid game or not.

IOW, since game or not may likely depend on how well the opponents defend, certainly including their opening lead, so why arm them as much as possible with a greater knowledge of the offense?

Perhaps similar rules are used in wars, where clever generals try and take maximum advantage in winning strategies. We all can note by the so called “blast” to game by South may gain that advantage and if I was then sitting West, my choice would not lend itself to such a bold effort as the King from an unbid suit without holding either the ace or the queen to which on another day could fairly easy be the only lead which could give away the “setting” trick to a bold declarer.

However the above is just my opinion and as all readers should clearly understand, that the blind opening lead especially against games and even sometimes slams is never close to foolproof and too often is the determining factor in success or failure.

Thanks for your direct question, allowing me to only give you my opinion and the reason(s) for it.

jim2February 7th, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Iain Climie –

I’m a nuke. Preach it, brother!


Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 5:10 pm

Hi Iain,

Many experienced players would play the double of an artificial bid (2 clubs, Drury) as lead directing and then play a cue bid of 2 hearts a TO. However, it so, yes, then the diamond king lead (one of partner’s suits) becomes very reasonable, except of course the holding of 4 to the 10 in trumps, usually looking for the defensive longest (and of course, strongest) suit in order to have a better chance to start forcing declarer in trumps.

However on this hand, declarer is happy to accept a cross ruff, the method he used to be successful with today. No doubt that dastardly opening lead becomes mighty important.

Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your reasoning and thus choice certainly has merit, but partner may have 4 spades and only 2 diamonds with hearts and clubs well stopped, then suspecting you will bid 2 diamonds if he doubles, so, deciding to instead bid 1NT.

Of course, being conservative (like you suggest) may work, but in today’s higher level game there are many who respond to an opening bid with terrible hands (0-3hcps) just to make it more difficult for their opponents to give up trying to find a game contract they can make.

Also, since the requirements for opening the bidding (especially when non-vulnerable) have also taken a downward swoon, making the unsuspecting opponents, greater candidates for being robbed.

Consequently and from current experience, it definitely seems percentage to bid the first round if possible, rather than be bluffed by bridge bullies. BTW, bullies are not just restricted to the partner of the opening bidder but also to the opening bidder who will now open 1 Spade with: s. AKxxx, h. xxx, d. Kxx, c. xx or with s. AQ10xxx, h. xxx, d. KJ, c. xx and think nothing of it. However back when Ely Culbertson was king of the bridge community (1930s in the USA) he also advocated opening the bidding with 2 and 1/2 honor count, to which those hands also (at least almost) qualified.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 6:10 pm

Hi again Iain,

If I leaned to be somewhat devious at bridge with a proclivity to an occasional psyche or at least hedge in meeting requirements to bid rather than to meekly pass, I would be most careful not to do so when playing against you.

Reason being is that your antenna seems always alert to a wary opponent trying to confuse your judgment.

My experience is to save that behavior for the romantic world when the stakes have risen to what may last a lifetime, instead of a bridge table where a mistake can cost only that hand.

Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 6:21 pm

To Ken & Jim2,

Sure the sun is sure to shine, but why is it said that when the sky is clear but there are raindrops falling that the cause is the devil beating his wife.

And both of your attitudes are hugely plus, since Ken continues to see the sun shining while Jim2, with his TOCM TM, has an always excuse for any and everything bad happening to his partnership.

Think positive, even if sleeping in the streets is the result, since you may find the most comfortable concrete available.

Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 6:43 pm


While leading a trump from 10xxx may always defeat 4 hearts (probably would, but not without a struggle) but sometimes it either gives away a trump holding or instead loses a critical tempo in establishing the setting trick but in discussing that crucial subject I always remember the prophetic words of John Brown, a great British bridge author from the 1930s and 40’s whose book, “Winning Defence” was one of the best bridge books ever written.

If an average bridge player, no better, no worse, always led the right suit when he was on opening lead, he would win every world bridge championship ever held.

I doubted him when I first read that (long time ago), but now, I not only agree with him, but I’m ready to shout the same thing from the mountaintops.

Finally AVRR, if you know a player who leads that well, please show me who he or she is, and I will return showing you a prima facie bridge cheat who has seen the hand records before the event.

However, nothing above proves nor even suggests that you are wrong.

Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 6:55 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

No wonder Jim2 refers to nuke when only thinking of what Iain with his profession, goes through on an almost daily basis.

Instead of suggesting when he returns home, “We need to change my mood so instead of cocktail anyone, how about cocktail, everyone”.

And to just think, I feel badly when I only miss guess the location of a queen.

jim2February 7th, 2019 at 8:09 pm

What is the mantra of the nuclear engineer?

jim2February 7th, 2019 at 8:12 pm


Redundancy is good.
Redundancy is good.

Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 8:41 pm

Hi Jim2

Triple redundancy is even better, but people won’t pay for that. I looked up some info on the Fukushima meltdown, though. Who thought it was clever to site the back-up generators for reactors 1 to 4 in basements where they could flood, having already underestimated the potential tsunami height when building a protective sea wall? I strongly suspect you would have been much wider awake here.



jim2February 7th, 2019 at 9:30 pm

Nukes use diversity instead of triple redundancy. It is better for avoiding common mode failures.

Many are the stories I can tell about the F event.

Iain ClimieFebruary 7th, 2019 at 10:02 pm

Hi again,

Makes sense although there are limits e.g. getting the spec wrong then having different implementations of the same wrong idea. You might be interested in the Haddon-Cave report about the loss of an RAF Nimrod, or at least the summary of it. The conclusions are harsh but accurate. See



Bobby WolffFebruary 7th, 2019 at 11:26 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2, and everyone,

And to think after President Trump”s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, that my country, USA, is concerned about legal immigration where the emphasis seems to lie squarely on separating the good guys from the bad in order to keep us safe, prosperous, optimistic and so very important, creative.

Comparing that with the immediate impact of Brexit and its overwhelming implications for so many nationalities, both coming and going, renders my countries troubles to be only a trickle to a tsunami.

It reminds me of the long ago lyrics to a song from a popular Broadway musical, West Side Story,, “There is a Place for Us, Somewhere a Place for Us” or is there?

We need to cross that bridge as well as to bridge that gap. In any event the WBF motto of “Bridge for Peace” may help in taking advantage of the World’s top honest bridge players and the respect they have for each other in allowing many nationalities to bond together with a single unique enterprise, our beloved game, as the common denominator to ward off, in truth, not as important as some think, our differences.

Ken MooreFebruary 8th, 2019 at 12:00 am

Hi Jim2.

I am from the Department of Redundancy Department.

A V Ramana RaoFebruary 8th, 2019 at 10:39 am

Hi Jim2
That explains your mentioning of Schrodinger’s cat while elaborating on TOCM sometime back. Good Luck and regards

jim2February 8th, 2019 at 2:38 pm