Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 13, 2010

Dealer: West

Vul: None


J 8 7 6

A Q 9 6 5

10 6

10 4


Q 10 5

K 8 3 2

5 3

K 8 5 3


A K 9 4 3 2

10 7 4


A 9 6



A K Q J 9 8 7 2

Q J 7 2


South West North East
  Pass Pass 1
5 All Pass    

Opening Lead: 5

“His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar.”

— Lord Macaulay, on Dryden

Today’s deal comes from the recent world championships in Beijing. In five diamonds, you ruff the opening spade lead. Looking only at the North and South cards, how should you continue?

Anyone could try to set up a club and ruff a club, but the defenders might foil you by getting two rounds of trump in. Matthew Granovetter crossed instead to the heart ace and led a low club from the dummy, figuring that this would work if East had a singleton trump, no matter whether he had one club honor or both.

West captured the club queen with his king and shifted to trumps, but Granovetter saw his plan through and won in hand to lead a second club. When East had no second trump to lead, declarer was home.

In the other room declarer followed the mundane line of leading a club from hand at trick two, letting the defenders play trumps twice and forcing South to rely on the heart finesse eventually.

If that was lucky for him and unlucky for Granovetter, consider the multiple world champion who won the spade lead and advanced the heart jack at trick two. When West ducked smoothly, declarer overtook in dummy and ruffed a heart, led a club to the 10 and ace, won the trump return in dummy, ruffed a heart, then led a second club. West took the trick and played a second trump, and declarer was dead. “What bad luck; the heart finesse worked!” his teammates consoled him.


South Holds:

8 4
K 10 2
Q 9 6 4 3 2
Q 4


South West North East
    1 1
2 2 Pass Pass
3 3 All Pass  
ANSWER: One choice is to go passive by leading a trump. On this auction, if declarer has a two-way finesse to take, he won’t get it wrong. Alternatively, the clubs might well produce a source of discards for declarer, so maybe an aggressive heart lead is correct. My soft cards in the minors persuade me to go passive and lead the spade eight. After all, how can we have five top winners to cash?


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


jim2December 27th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

The general approach seems to be to try to make the holder of the doubleton trump to win the first club lead.

East promised only five spades. Is that hand so much more likely to have a singleton trump that is worth giving up the heart finesse?

The opening lead also placed the top spades in the East hand. Especially as a third hand opener, East did not need more than one of the three non-spade high cards, so any extra chances stemming from East having both club honors due to the bidding seem really small to me.

My rude calculations seem to favor the “mundane” line.

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your interest in specific card and distribution pinpoints helps stimulate my answer.

While a general probabilities feel should enable the declarer to determine percentage likelihood, the tempo at the table is usually more to the point. The evidence of whether you, as South the declarer, thought West, at the table, was considering bidding something, (no doubt, in this case, 5 spades) over your preempt or rather was just biding his time and was always going to pass, as well as the opening bidder, upon the bidding reverting back to him, actually considering or not soldiering on, is, at least to me, the straw that may help you determine what to do in the play.

The lesson that now should come forth to the would be expert is, at least, some of the above, but, just as importantly, when on defense, herky-jerky inconsistent tempo (while not being an unethical tell to partner) now serves as also not being a tell to a very shrewd declarer.

It then follows that a defender should never, by his tempo, help his partner determine his strength by anything other than his bid itself, but at the same time, his table behavior does not owe the opponents any extra benefit either.

For what it is worth, usually a player having two small instead of a singleton in the opponents suit, is MUCH less likely to be considering bidding on.

Your query regarding card reading 101, concerns itself with separating the sheep from the goats, among the very top players.