Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, July 4, 2009

Dealer: South

Vul: All

5 4 2
K Q 7 4
A 3 2
West East
K 10 6 9 8 7 3
5 3 J 9 8 6
10 9 4 2 5 3
J 10 6 5 Q 7 4
A 10 2
A 8 7 6
K 9 8


South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 NT Pass 6 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: You decide!

“Success is like some horrible disaster

Worse than your house burning.”

— Malcolm Lowry

In choosing an opening lead against six no-trump I wavered before settling on a disastrous heart. Afterwards I was meditating on the futility of life, when a colleague pointed out that he had made the contract on a low club lead.


Declarer won dummy’s club ace and took a spade finesse. West won and continued with the club jack. This marked West with an original holding of at least four clubs, for had he started with J-10-x, he would have led the jack, and with jack-third he would not have risked playing a second club. Declarer now cashed his spades, noting that both opponents followed throughout. He then played three rounds of diamonds, discovering that West had begun with four.


Since West had four diamonds, four clubs and at least three spades he was known to have at most two hearts while East had at least four. It was therefore odds-on to tackle hearts by playing low to the 10, as East was more than twice as likely as West to hold the jack.


As an aside, do you know what the best play of the hearts is, in abstract? Cashing the top honors is best, while playing the king or queen first and then taking a finesse is next best. The first-round finesse, as recommended above, is a straightforward 50-50 chance. However, the percentages are so close that any knowledge about the opponents’ distribution in the side-suits (as here) may tip the balance.

ANSWER: Partner’s sequence shows 18-19 or so. Despite your sterile distribution, you have enough to drive to slam. A simple call of six no-trump looks right. Note, incidentally, that had partner jumped to three no-trump, that would have suggested good long clubs, not a balanced hand. You might then have opted to play six clubs.


South Holds:

5 4 2
K Q 7 4
A 3 2


South West North East
    1 1
Dbl. Pass 2 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 2009. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Michael SteinJuly 18th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Mr Wolff:

If North’s rebid of 2NT shows 18-19, what does he bid with a balanced 16-18?


Doug GinsbergJuly 18th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Once you have cashed the spades in the South hand, and then the diamonds in the North hand, you have eliminated the side entries in both hands and are reduced to two possible plays of the heart suit, regardless of what distribution has been counted for the opponents: Either cash the ace hoping for a singleton jack or a 3-3 split (~38.5% without count information), or take a first round finesse of the ten (50% without count information). Due to shortage of entries, there is no longer any way to pick up a doubleton jack of hearts by cashing honors, which to start with was a 16% chance. Was it the correct play to use up all the side entries in hope of a definitive count?

If you instead leave one spade entry in South, one diamond entry in North, cash the king of hearts and lead the 4 of hearts from dummy, do the odds favor finessing or playing the ace?

Bobby WolffJuly 18th, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Hi Michael,

Ah my dear Watson, the question posed suggests that the questioner is either from Canada or if not, from its mother country the UK, where the weak opening NT (12-14) is often practiced. Therefore for column purposes since it is imagined that the NS pair is playing strong NT 15-17, you have your answer. Written by an American author, but questioned by British heritage.

Of course, both point counts are played around the world and as to what is best, I’ll defer to someone who has a stronger opinion than I. Weak NT works best for preemptive purposes, but strong NT is a tad safer and allows major suit fits to be discovered earlier. As Nathan Detroit of Guys and Dolls fame might have said, “You pays your money you takes your choice”.

Bobby WolffJuly 18th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Greetings Doug,

Your analysis is right on and without being able to quote odds to favor my choices I’ll let you benefit (or perhaps not) by my experience. Since the opening lead was somewhat risky my overall take is that the red suits seemed to be balanced for with even Jxxx of hearts the opening leader may have preferred to lead a safe (perhaps too much so) diamond. Also 3 little hearts is a safer lead than are 2 little, but it was not led.

A direct answer to your question is, Yes I prefer to give up on the straight Jx in West’s hand in order to try and discover what other combination exists. In other words, the underrated poker element in our great game always seems to lure me into seeking how the hand lies, and after 60+ years of plying my trade I still have no idea whether this has served me well or not.

Your final question about whether to finesse the 10 of hearts or not, without getting a definitive diamond count and an inferential spade count is an impossible one to answer, but I’ll suggest not finessing and taking advantage of the straight percentages, but being a very old dog, I would still rather rely on my nose (which is rather large, but as Cyrano might have said, “What is a fella to do except perhaps be able to smell better”).

In conclusion, knowing one’s opponents, their experience and their tendencies, is worth a great deal. Also it is true that inexperienced players sometimes get nervous if they are possessing a holding they would like to hide such as Jxxx in hearts. Add everything up and still guess, but in any event it is all great fun.

Thanks for writing!

Doug GinsbergJuly 18th, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I now see the answer to my second question is obvious. The losing play of the ace, which gains when West has 2 or three cards including the jack(26%), and loses when East has 4 or 5 cards including the jack(22.25%), would be the percentage play.

As for the first question, I suppose the discovery play as in the published hand might gain more often than it loses. But it certainly could lose (suppose West showed up with only 2 diamonds?) by limiting play options.