Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 5, 2010

Dealer: North

Vul: E/W

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


South West North East
    Pass Pass
4 All Pass    

Opening Lead: King

“You pays your money and you takes your choice.”

— Punch

There are a few suit combinations that appear to offer declarer a choice of approaches, but which on further reflection have only one possible solution. Consider today’s deal, where South opens four hearts in third seat as a sort of two-way shot (maybe he can make it, or else keep the opponents out) and buys the contract there. The defenders kick off with three rounds of diamonds. South ruffs and has to hold his trump losers to one if he wants to make his game. The first thing to be aware of is that declarer has no legitimate chance against a 3-3 trump break, whatever he does. Thus he needs to find trumps 4-2 with an honor falling on the first two rounds. It might look natural to lead the heart ace and a low heart, hoping to drop the king, but that would ignore the fact that one defender would be left with the guarded heart jack — operation successful, but the patient still dead. Far better is to lead out the heart ace and then the heart queen, trying to pin the heart jack. If the cards lie as in the illustrated diagram, the defenders will only be able to take one trump trick whatever they do.


As a separate issue, it might be slightly more deceptive to broach trumps by leading the heart queen first. If West has king-third of hearts and ducks, then you have also achieved your objective.

ANSWER: The opponents sound well prepared for a diamond lead, so the question is which major suit to attack. A spade looks less likely to give away a trick, a heart more likely to set up tricks for your side. I’d choose hearts, principally because it sounds as if dummy may have a club suit that is going to be set up, so you need to get tricks quickly.


South Holds:

9 3 2
Q 7 4
J 9 5 2
K 8 3


South West North East
  1 Dbl. Rdbl.
1 Pass Pass 2 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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonJuly 19th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

With a broken heart suit and no spades, I would not bid 4 hearts. I would imagine that 4 hearts is more likely to fail than succeed, and partner may have a spade stack, dooming 4 spades. Ergo, 3 hearts.

Would you open it 4 hearts??

Bobby WolffJuly 19th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, I would.

1. The hearts are indeed a broken suit, but the interior spots, 10 and 9, offer some safety. Also the winning player not only does not assume the worst holdings from partner (although at times, like here, he will disappoint you), but he should optimistically expect from partner what it will take to make it.

2. As is the case here, yes partner has a spade stack, but unless he leads a club against 4 spades the hand becomes touch and go to make, probably down 1 and more if a club is led, but even without a trump from partner (granted, with more than his share of luck) 10 tricks were scored.

3. Bridge rules and supposition vary, according to probabilities and mood, but inviolates stay the same, e.g. the higher one preempts the more the opponents have to guess what to do and then any bid other than pass by them is at greater risk. When an opponent instead, opts to double, he then becomes subject to his partner’s guesswork.

All of the above exerts added pressure on your adversaries, making your partnership a difficult one to play against, one of the positive qualities we should all seek.

4. The alternative choice of 3 hearts is not, at least for me, to be considered. My second choice would be 1 heart with no third choice. One of the more difficult feelings to endure at the bridge table is to suspect afterwards that our partnership is pulling our punches. Winners seem to come out with guns blazing and no prisoner taking.

5. Any one hand is not nearly enough to define the type of partnership one has. However, the thing to do is for every would be pair to assess their individual bridge personalities. Many of histories best combinations were where one partner was materially more aggressive than the other. So be it, but each should get to know the habits of the other and both should then remain consistent.

6. Sometimes the best learning experiences begin and end with the discussion of non-technical matters such as this one. While beautifully declared hands and devastating opening leads are more exciting to discuss, player habits and the consistency which goes with, are more important.

Thanks for writing and good luck.

bruce karlsonJuly 19th, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Thanks much!! Agree that 3 hearts is an awful choice and not one I would make at the table. Cannot imagine what I was thinking to suggest it.

I will try to be more aggressive and remain aware that, given the opportunity to err, the opps will sometimes take it.

I am happy to report that I discuss style, defense, and lead preferences before esoteric conventions with any new partner. The former come up every hand, the latter occasionally.

David WarheitJuly 21st, 2010 at 10:13 am

I don’t understand how 4 spades could ever make. Declarer must lose two clubs and the ace of hearts no matter what, and there is no way north cannot win at least one spade trick.

Anthony MoonJuly 23rd, 2010 at 9:10 am

The play of HQ would lose as east would win and play a fourth diamond

Bobby WolffJuly 25th, 2010 at 11:34 am

Hi David,

Yes, 4 spades will always go down on this hand. I was trying to talk generally, without specifically analyzing what would happen during the play, but also to delve into and emphasize the mindset of the players during the defense.

No doubt declarer’s play is easier, less mistake prone, especially at high levels, and creates less anxiety, than does defense. This, in turn, tends to make winning players bid bolder, but trying, if possible and given a choice, to play safely.

Thanks, as always, for your thoroughness.

Bobby WolffJuly 25th, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi Anthony,

Yes indeed, if declarer opts to play the queen of hearts first (for deceptive purposes) instead of the ace, he will be sorry.

Thanks for clarifying what would happen.