Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 9, 2009

Dealer: North

Vul: None

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


South West North East
    1 Pass
1 NT All Pass    

Opening Lead:2

“When a scholar goes to seek out a bride, he should take along an ignoramus as an expert.”

— The Talmud

One no-trump has been described as the contract for the connoisseur, and on this deal from the 2008 Lederer Invitation Trophy, Ian Pagan justly won the best-played-hand award for an unusual but well thought-out play.


It looked as if South would probably go down in his contract of one no-trump on a club lead, as the textbook play in diamonds (cashing the king and finessing the jack on the second round) only makes six tricks. (If declarer finesses the jack on the first round, he can recover if he guesses which defender began with four cards.)


However, Pagan looked more deeply into the position on the normal club-two lead, won in dummy. West had led from a broken club suit, and a four-card one at that, on an auction that would typically call for a major-suit lead, or so he surmised. Surely, therefore, West was either 3-3-3-4 with four clubs, or had four diamonds.


Declarer backed his judgment by playing a diamond to the ace and running the diamond jack on the next round, thereby collecting three diamond tricks in due course, and coming to seven tricks in total.


This produced a deserved swing, as North had opened a strong no-trump in the other room. Now South could hardly do less than invite game, and in fact he elected to drive all the way to three no-trump, down three.

ANSWER: Given that everyone will lead a spade (won’t they?), the issue is whether to lead the spade queen or a low one. The spade queen will gain if dummy has a doubleton and declarer three spades to the king with the 10 in one hand or the other. A low spade will work if partner has the doubleton 10 or doubleton king, and also if declarer has four spades facing a doubleton king, so it is the better play. The deal comes from Krzysztof Martens’ “University of Defence: Opening Leads.”


South Holds:

A Q J 5 2
9 4
9 7 2
10 8 5


South West North East
      1 NT
Pass 3 NT All 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


David WarheitNovember 24th, 2009 at 5:26 am

The contract is cold, but not the way South played it. After winning the opening lead, he should cash the diamond ace and lead a LOW diamond towards dummy at trick three, planning to cover anything that West plays or, if West shows out, playing the king and leading back towards the jack. This is a book safety play. There is absolutely no reason not to do this; he can see that 3NT is very unlikely to make, but might well be bid by a number of the other competitors, so his only objective should be to make his contract. The actual South’s logic was good, but it was not inconceivable that West had 4-4-1-4 distribution.

Bobby WolffNovember 24th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Hi David,

Let me start out by saying that from a technical point of view you are nothing less than 100% correct. In addition to what you fear, a 4-4-1-4 distribution, West could be an untrustworthy type of opponent who might have led the 2 of clubs from five or even six clubs, just to be deceptive, and although running the risk of misleading his partner, making the possibility of his holding a singleton low diamond even greater.

However, since I am a firm believer of bridge, especially at a higher level, being an “art” form and not a strictly scientific bent, I would, if coach, captain, mentor or even just a kibitzer of a declarer, such as depicted in the column, allow him (or her), if I had the power, to use his judgment as to when he should take heed to this or that. The only caveat I would demand is that he, like some dogs in some states, are entitled to freedom until it makes its first bite, then, after that, and if it does occur, it must be muzzled, not to do it again.

Believe it or not, there are some very talented bridge players, and, in my experience, all starting young in their bridge careers, who are almost NEVER wrong in their bridge psychology, which, after all, is like the larger than most people expect, pronounced poker element in bridge, which should only add to its allure.

ROSS TAYLOR, are you listening?

David, thanks for writing, for without your keen analysis, this discussion could never take place. I’ll conclude with a story which will always be ingrained in my memory about back when I was a teenager (in the late 1940’s) and already in love with bridge. Johnny Crawford, one of our greatest American bridge players and a master psychologist, was told to me that during the determination as to who should represent America in our International matches, he played an important hand and guessed a singleton king off side with no special information and with 4 of that suit held by the opponents, but, because of the poor percentage play that he took, was not allowed on the team in spite of the fact that he was as right as he could be.

Probably an “apocryphal” tale, but nevertheless one which will always remain with me.