Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.

Lord Byron

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


Today is our third themed deal of the week, in which we are looking for the most effective way to handle a suit where dummy has a singleton.

Unlike in chess, where thematic approaches tend to be relatively constant from game to game, in bridge it is often difficult, and sometimes nigh impossible, to extrapolate from one example to the next.

Here you declare four hearts on the lead of the spade jack. You win the trick with dummy’s ace and have to tackle the trumps to avoid losing more than two trump tricks.

In the absence of a vile side-suit break, you would appear to be home no matter what you do if trumps are 3-3, and virtually sunk if trumps are 5-1. What that means is that you should focus on how to negotiate 4-2 trumps. (Let us discount the deals where West has four trumps to two top honors since you will not be able to succeed in those instances.)

There are only two serious lines to consider: The first is leading to the jack, then following up with the ace. The second is leading to the ace, then leading out a low card. Cashing the ace and leading out the jack or 10 never gains and frequently loses.

Of the two lines, the first picks up six different positions where East has a four-card suit with both honors, but loses to eight lines where West has a doubleton honor. The second line is the mirror image of that, winning in the eight lines where the first fails, and losing to the six variations where the first succeeds.

So, the better line is to lead toward the ace (maybe East will err and split his honors), then lead low from hand.

Your hand is worth competing to three clubs. The question is whether you should simply raise to three clubs directly or wait to make the raise after the opponents settle in two hearts. These weak trumps and defensive values suggest delaying the raise — especially because you don’t really want a club lead unless your partner has a natural lead himself without your input.


♠ J 10 7 4
 Q 9
 K J 8 3
♣ 8 7 5
South West North East
  1 2 ♣ Dbl.

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Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


PaulFebruary 20th, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Hi Bobby,
In BWTA while I agree in general with the comments and like the distinction made between a direct raise and a delayed raise my question is whether a direct raise of 3c may be superior because of the preemptive effect it has on west and makes it difficult for the opponents to find the right strain and level.
Regards Paul

Iain ClimieFebruary 20th, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Spare a thought for East if he errs when holding KQ8x in trumps and splits, though. What if South held AJxxxx or similar (perhaps with the H9) and his only hope is that East ducks here. One pip makes a huge difference.



Bobby WolffFebruary 20th, 2019 at 4:04 pm

Hi Paul,

No doubt you have hit the nerve which IMO, governs what is likely to work better.

Furthermore that winning decision, bid immediately, instead bid later (if practical), or regardless not bid at all, is worth discussing even if only a little knowledge can be gleaned.

While all three options are at least sometimes available (first and third always), allow me to voice the factors which might help find the winning alternative.

1. IMPs, rubber bridge, or matchpoints?

2. Vulnerability of your side?

3. If known, (or accurately guessed) the proclivities and experience of the opponents?

4. The small advantage of not having your
partnership become stereotyped.

No doubt, being tough opponents (to raise immediately) has its advantages and I definitely agree with you that forcing the opponents to play a higher part score contract will by rote result in percentage wise better results, not to mention the taking of bidding space away from them to sometimes even keep them from finding their best suit fit or even, on very lucky occasions, cause them to miss a game which makes.

Sure, in retrospect the opposite can happen, but in general, the less bidding space they have available, the more they will suffer.

A possible but nevertheless negative fallout of bidding might be, while playing with an overly aggressive partner who, after your action could have resulted in a winning result, your partner continues, backtracking into a disaster.

Since the above what ifs, speak for themselves (or should), I’ll let you and others who want to contemplate first and then discuss with regular partners, to take it from here and decide your own choices.

Of course, it goes without saying that whatever choice is decided, active ethics, with our game, will always apply, especially in not conveying the kind of raise, or almost (when pass is chosen) which would be most unfair and illegal, to your specific opponents and the field in a matchpoint game.

To you, I am positive this above need not to be said, but I feel a responsibility to the game itself to include it, when talking to the general bridge public, which is usually taken into consideration during all discussions.

Thanks to you Paul for bringing up this sophisticated and provocative subject.

Bobby WolffFebruary 20th, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Hi Iain,

As usual you have spotted a flaw in our original analysis.

However, from a percentage viewpoint, my guess is that it would be more often correct to not insert an honor when the singleton is led from dummy, but possibly depending on both the rest of the hand and who the declarer is, might determine the final result.

However, it is no less than wonderful that you spoke up, if for no other reason than to visually explain what a complicated game we play and just how many variations we sometimes need to consider.

Although the above obviously has been in existence ever since our game, and its parents, Auction Bridge and its grandparents, Whist was invented, my guess is that most of the time playing low with East’s holding, while facing this exact bidding might be best.

However if you are on my right and me being declarer, since you have already won the psychological one-on-one battle, I hope I do not encounter a combination of cards which will allow me to do the wrong thing, since I do not trust my judgment on this particular match-up.

Iain ClimieFebruary 20th, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Hi Bobby,

Add the 10 to AJ9xxx, though, and now splitting is a disaster. Not splitting guarantees 2 tricks, splitting could result in 1, 2 or 3 tricks according to how lucky East is and which heart from the Jack down declarer holds. No wonder that many players hate results merchants i.e. “If you’d have done X (or not) then it would have been better”, forgetting partner’s blood pressure may already be in a dodgy state.



bobbywolffFebruary 20th, 2019 at 7:28 pm

Hi Iain,

Oh yes, and no doubt that your explanation is a given with bridge analysis.

However, what you explained is necessary in understanding that particular card combination, therefore making the serious bridge student think in terms of quantifying other card combinations which are also
subject to the closed hand holding.

“Little by little we can do great things” and by securing knowledge as to when that is possible is a very important first step. It does lead to deeper thinking, hence more complete and accurate reasoning.

Fie on results and even hopefully, temporary blood pressure readings.

TedFebruary 20th, 2019 at 9:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing IMPs we had this auction (I dealt):

P 2S Dlb P
4H P 4S P
5D P 6H all pass
(4S = Key card kickback, 5D = 2, no Q)

These are the hands (Don’t remember all the opponents spots).

KQJxxx — Jxx J9xx
8 KQJ5 AK765 AK6
xxx K9742 Q8x xx
A87 A1083 109 Q1043

SK opening lead. I took the A, ruffed a S, cashed the HK, and could no longer make the hand on the 5-0 trump break.

Opponents are excellent players, so assume no unforced errors from them. Based on what is known at the table, what would be the best line of play? Should this contract be made? (Even double dummy it took me several tries to get the timing right .)



jim2February 21st, 2019 at 12:02 am

Two heart kings.

jim2February 21st, 2019 at 12:17 am

Assuming the enemy heart king is a spot card and that declarer is not prescient, win the opening lead and cash the KH before anything else:

1) AS
2) KH — oops! West has five minor suit cards, we need no singleton
3) AD
4) KD
5) D ruff – West follows, so has 2 clubs
6) AC
7) KC
8) D ruff – West can pitch a S but must have another
9) S ruff small
10) D ruff

Board still has two top trump.

TedFebruary 21st, 2019 at 12:31 am

Thanks Jim2. Obviously you’ve had more practice with these than I have given your history with TOCM.


bobbywolffFebruary 21st, 2019 at 2:12 am

Hi Ted,

Actually Jim2’s history with TOCM has, if anything made him the greatest player around. His disease has nothing to do with his ability, only with the way TOCM has distributed the migration of the cards.

You nailed it with his experience with 5-0 breaks since no one has come close to having as many as he has, so others have asked him to open a booth at all the large bridge tournaments whenever, even after the hand was misplayed for others to ask him what they should have done.

The good news is how his clients and customers, with his guidance, have greatly
improved their play, the bad news is that
since it happened so frequently with his past partnerships, he, by his own choosing, just decided to basically act as a professional advisor, similar to “advice to the lovelorn” columns do.

“Unlucky at cards, lucky at love” is his motto and he proves it every day.

jim2February 21st, 2019 at 2:26 am


Actually, people love to play in the tables near me. So much so that Directors are often bribed when I am N-S by players seeking to be N-S at the adjacent tables.

You see, they know that luck evens out, and that includes spatially. Sooo, all that bad luck at my table means good luck nearby due to conservation of luck.

bobbywolffFebruary 21st, 2019 at 4:34 am

Hi to everyone but especially Ted,

One not so fine day for many, the Post office delivered some horse manure (by mistake) to Jim2 and he went into his back yard predicting and receiving a Shetland Pony.

jim2February 21st, 2019 at 1:04 pm

And found 5 of them already there!

All of them vigorously adding to the PO delivery.

As I surveyed my new remuda, another truck drove up, the driver came over and said they had been delivered to the wrong address, and loaded them back up.

They left copious evidence of their previous presence behind.

So goes the life and times of jim2.

bobbywolffFebruary 21st, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

And what you are no doubt saying, “unlucky is U N L U C K Y”!

But what about our site and your incomparable contributions? Why should we be such unworthy benefactors of your talents? Always conscientiously taking over the necessary role of chief answer man, with nary a sign of neither mistake nor omission.

In spite of perhaps an obviously selfish wish of a long and healthy future life, how could we ever replace you?

The GOAT* award you deserve may eventually be awarded to you, but to think
you may have to wait at least to one not so fine day to receive it, paralyzing both my emotions and all of my soul.

*BTW, GOAT stands for GREATEST OF ALL TIME and not another vigorously adding animal in your back yard. At least that may be the one and only instance where TOCM TM was outsmarted, and should we describe it as detoxified or is that too, an impossibility?

jim2February 21st, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Kind words, indeed, and TY!

I have been wrong before here but, following your sage practice, I admitted it each time. (I think)

As for that award, I suspect at the bridge table that I am the GOAT goat.