Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 4th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: South


Q J 10 5

3 2

A K 7 6 2

5 3


8 6 2

K 9 5 4

Q 8

K J 10 9


9 3

J 10 8 6

J 10 4 3

A 8 7


A K 7 4

A Q 7

9 5

Q 6 4 2


South West North East
1 NT Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 4 All pass

Opening Lead: Spade two

“If I ever do a mean action, it must be in some interval betwixt one passion and another.”

— Laurence Sterne

In today’s deal you play four spades with only two top club losers, but nothing close to 10 winners. Moreover, West finds the most effective attack when he leads a trump, preventing you from ruffing two losers in dummy. If the defenders can get a second round of trumps in early, you appear to be running short of tricks.

It would be easy to assume that you needed the heart finesse to come close to your contract, but that would be to ignore dummy’s long diamonds. However, considerable care needs to be taken to insure that you can bring the diamond suit in without running into trump trouble. You must win the trump lead in dummy to guarantee that you have enough high trumps in hand to cope with the threat of a bad diamond break. You win the spade 10 at trick one, then take the diamond ace and the heart ace. Next you cross to dummy with the diamond king to ruff a diamond in your hand with a high trump.

Then comes a spade to the jack and a second diamond ruff with a high trump. Now you concede a heart, can arrange to ruff either a club or heart low in dummy, then draw the last trump and take your long diamond for your 10th winner.

If you try to be economical and win the first trump lead in your hand, you will go down. West scores a trump trick one way or another.


South holds:

8 3
K 9 7 5 2
Q 6 4
10 7 2


South West North East
1 1 1 NT
Pass 3 NT Dbl. All pass
ANSWER: This sequence suggests your partner believes that an alternative lead to a spade will set three no-trump. (Had he wanted a spade lead, he would have simply passed.) Since neither red suit looks like a plausible candidate, try your luck with a club lead, that being the only practical alternative.


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


Michael BeyroutiApril 18th, 2011 at 10:47 am

Dear Mr Wolff,

your answer to the LEAD question took me by surprise. I would have thought that North’s double calls for a diamond lead. How bad am I?

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hi Michael,

The game of bridge, particularly the high-level one, is ever changing. I, probably like you (but probably much longer ago), was originally taught that if partner bid a suit, then doubled a final 3NT contract, that the double suggested leading the suit overcalled, but to do that, since there was always a stop in that suit by declarer, that the doubler better have an entry, often the ace, of the primary suit to be laid down in dummy.

From those early teachings it was also included that when partner had not bid and then doubled 3NT, he is asking for the suit bid by dummy, holding a solid holding (perhaps KQJ9x or better) plus an ace on the side to, at the very least, give the defending side a much better chance of defeating the game with that suit led.

Those earlier theories, while replete with logic, have fallen victim (not without usually some expert detraction) to more modern world class thinking, in which a final double is better used to jostle an opening leader, into leading a suit he would never usually consider, but in frequency would no doubt occur ever so often, an unbid suit.

Please consider it going 1 diamond by your RHO and you holding: s. J109xx, h. xx, d. A, c. KQJxx decide to overcall 1 spade, followed by 1NT by LHO, Pass, 3NT back to you. the full hand: Opening bidder, Qxx, AQ8, KJ10xxx, A, leaving declarer with: AKx, J10x, 98x, xxxx.

As a defender and opening leader, count your blessings. Without the queen of diamonds in your hand it is a much tougher decision, since indeed partner may be holding the same type of diamond suit as he held in clubs above. But luckily, dame fortune has dealt you that lady making it well nigh impossible for partner, (not possessing that card) to have enough in diamonds to suggest that action.

Yes, world wide top bridge action is ever progressing and whether we agree 100% or not it is wise to respect the judgment which is now being followed by at least some great bridge thinkers. Will it change from time to time? You betcha it will, but to get your own keen mind involved, in its evolution will keep your own brain ever active, not to mention young.

Tennis or golf, anyone? “No, I would rather play bridge”.

Thanks Michael, for asking.

jim2April 18th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

One step in the sequence of plays surprised me a bit, and that was the early cashing of the heart ace.

It could not be to allow leading towards the diamond king as a safety play against a 1 – 6 diamond break, because the ruff plus two high clubs and the now-established heart king would promptly set the contract anyway.

Was it a safety play against diamond discards allowing a defender to later ruff the heart ace? (short in both red suits but still no more than three spades?)

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, your answer about a safety play against diamond discards allowing a defender to later ruff the heart ace if he was short in both red suits but still no more than 3 spades is the reason for the comment in the text.

As you probably know, it is fairly standard practice that before embarking on most cross ruffs the cashing of side suit tricks is recommended to keep opponents from discarding cards, trying to void themselves before the highest cards in those suits are cashed.

However, in the particular above hand it looks very far fetched that either defender’s hand could rid themselves of all of their hearts before the ace of that suit was cashed.

Chalk it up to imperfect proofreading on my part, but having the sidebar good news of imparting usual proper technique in executing a normal cross ruff.

jim2April 18th, 2011 at 5:13 pm

It was not criticism (I swear!), so much as it was trying to settle the reason for the play.

You see, I was trying to reconcile or balance the forfeiture of the heart finesse with the risk being averted. Both gain with different E-W holdings, but all appear unlikely and so generally not worth the skull sweat, certainly not at the table.

Still, if I were to cash the heart ace early, with my luck, East would hold:

S xx

H K10xxxx


C AKxx

Would East overcall into that auction on that empty heart suit, or double 2C with that club holding? Probably not.

bobbywolffApril 18th, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Hi Jim2,

First of all, while my feelings are not entirely immune to criticism, when I deserve it, (sometimes all too frequently), it really doesn’t bother me.

Being the author of a bridge column, particularly one when the writer is as visible as The Aces on Bridge, and may be read by so many really good players, at times seems to be an exercise of instead of trying to eradicate errors altogether, is rather, holding one’s mistakes to as few as practical.

Your comment about wear and tear on the bridge mind of very low percentage possibilities is on point and especially with both writing bridge columns, (where limitations of space are critical), and playing in very important tournaments, since that requires much endurance.

In any event your bridge mind is seriously analytical as well as determined to seek as close to perfection as possible.

All the above is to be admired and I, for one, am delighted when you write to me.