Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Dealer: East

Vul: Neither


Q 6

Q 2

10 8 2

K Q J 7 5 2


5 4

A 7 5 4

A Q 5 4 3

9 8


A J 10 9 7 2

J 10 8

9 6

10 6


K 8 3

K 9 6 3

K J 7

A 4 3


South West North East
Pass Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All Pass    

Opening Lead: Five

“The effort really to see and really to represent is no idle business in face of the constant force that makes for muddlement.”

— Henry James

Today’s deal comes from the finals of the NEC tournament, held in Japan last February. Over the years some eyebrows have been raised when I criticized the use of MUD leads (middle, up, down) from three cards. I accept that it may occasionally be useful to know that your partner has led from an honor. But, more frequently, when you lead the middle card, partner might not interpret your holding till it is too late. Watch one of the world’s top pairs experiencing this problem. 

Both tables reached three no-trump, and both declared it the wrong way up. Both Wests led a spade, and both declarers found the correct technical move of rising with the spade queen, forcing East to win the trick and thus cut himself off from the long spades. Had declarer not inserted the spade queen, then he would have had no chance, whatever he did. 

So far, so technically competent; but the difference was that in one room Agustin Madala as East knew from the lead of the spade five that his partner had at most two spades. He shifted to a diamond and found his partner with the perfect hand to defeat the game. In the other room Adam Zmudzynski had to deal with the possibility that his partner had started with either the 5-4 or 8-5-4. He guessed wrong, continuing spades. Declarer won in hand, set up first a heart, then a diamond winner, and claimed nine tricks.


South Holds:

K 8 3
K 9 6 3
K J 7
A 4 3


South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass Pass Dbl
ANSWER: With a balanced maximum you are entitled to redouble here, asking your partner to opt for defense if he is suitable. This will allow your partner to double the opponents with three trumps if appropriate. Having shown you are at the top end of your range, you can leave the decision to your partner from here on.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


JaneMarch 3rd, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Hi Bobby,

Looks like if a diamond is lead to begin with, the hand will go down. Takes careful defense of course, but it works. What is your recommendation on the strength of weak two suits for opening in first and second seat? Some of my partners prefer two of the top three honors. Vul makes a difference but as said earlier in another post, vulnerability is for children! I also wondered if the declarer should have used Western cue to ask if his partner had a spade stop. Then the hand may be more “right sided” and the opener has to find a diamond lead to set the contract from his doubleton. Not so easy from his hand, right? Depends on bidding style and how strong the opener’s suit could be. If partner does not have the spade stop, then you could wind up in a minor suit partial or game, which I know is less than ideal, but could be correct. Just asking?

Alex AlonMarch 4th, 2011 at 9:40 am

Hello Mr. Wolf

As usual reading your articles is a pleasure.

regarding the MUD leads, in our partnership we incorporate a lead of lowest card in a suit bid by partner fron 4 or 3 cards so even from 854 i would lead the 4 and from J54 i would lead a 4 also. What your suggestion about it please?

Alex Alon


bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Hi Jane,

Yes. your answer would get the job done, unless the opening leader, now East, would magically lead a diamond originally.

However, in order to properly analyze this hand from an objective viewpoint, once South blithely passes the opening 2 spade salvo, and North possibly saves the day with his very weak 3 club balancing action, can South actually bid only 3 spades, hoping his partner is able to venture 3NT? It would seem to most casual observers that it would be South’s place (duty) to bid 3NT himself absolving North from having to use his judgment.

Many less than world class experts DO NOT realize that bridge bidding (nor play) is not a perfect science (not even close) and good or superior judgment is required to score well. Result being that bridge becomes much more interesting, entertaining, and not to underestimate, good for bridge column writing.

However thanks for your attempt at perfection. Be it only thus!

bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Hi Alex,

Yes, obviously you and I seem to realize the ambiguity of MUD renders it, at least to me, one of the least valuable conventions, especially in helping determine what card to lead when defending.

My guess that MUD leads were designed for deceptive purposes so that the opening leader later in the hand can camouflage the number of cards he holds in the opening lead suit, by either following suit up or down depending on the way he wants to influence the declarer. The disadvantage, of course, is that before that possible deception may take place, the opening leader makes it more difficult for his partner to determine the opening planned defense in general. However, far be it from me to douse MUD leaders with cold water, especially when they have taken a shine to what MUD represents.

However, you and I are in agreement. How can that be bad?