Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 13th, 2011

Vulnerable: Neither

Dealer: South


J 8 5

K 3

A Q 9 5

K Q J 4


A Q 9

Q 9 8 6 5


10 7 6 3


7 6 4 2

10 7 4

K J 10 6

8 2


K 10 3

A J 2

8 7 4 3

A 9 5


South West North East
1 Pass 2 * Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

*Inverted raise, at least invitational, with diamond support

Opening Lead: Heart six

“Simplicity of character is no hindrance to subtlety of intellect.”

— Viscount Morley

This column aims to amuse, as well as to educate and instruct, but from time to time I acknowledge that the deals err on the side of complexity. By contrast, maybe today’s deal will strike some of my readers as a little too easy, but I’m sure that at the table it would catch out quite a few victims.

Today’s three no-trump should be easy enough to reach, even though North may initially be dazzled by the possibility of playing slam in diamonds. When his partner shows a balanced minimum hand, North should settle for game, against which West leads the heart six, East’s 10 falling to the jack.

Now, if South counts his tricks, he will see that there are eight on top. If he attempts to develop the ninth by playing on diamonds, he will find that the defenders can establish the setting tricks in hearts before the vital ninth trick can be made.

The correct play is to attack spades, in which a trick can surely be set up, no matter what the lie of the opponents’ cards. So declarer crosses to a club in dummy and leads a spade back to his 10 at the third trick. After this start, declarer cannot fail against any lie of the cards. If any South player goes down in three no-trump, the alibi that he thought he had to play for overtricks will be treated with the respect that it deserves.


South holds:

A J 8 7
J 9 7 4
9 3 2
K 3


South West North East
1 NT
All pass
ANSWER: I’m not going to say a spade lead won’t work on this hand (it might). But at most forms of scoring — especially at pairs, by the way — the strategy of leading on blind auctions against no-trump is to attack from a long suit (five or more cards). If you can’t do that, look for a safe lead, and leading from A-J-fourth into a strong hand is unattractive. By contrast, a heart lead combines aggression and safety pretty well.


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


John Howard GibsonJune 27th, 2011 at 8:10 pm

HBJ speaking : As the old adage goes….a bird ( ie spade ) in the hand is worth more than two ( possible diamonds ) in the bush.

A lovely but very instructive hand.

When your gifted a heart trick, why the hell be greedy ? Simply run for home.

bobbywolffJune 28th, 2011 at 1:45 am


We purposely did not bring match points into the discussion in order not to confuse our readers into what we would consider aberrant thinking.

While matchpoints is an exciting, interesting game, it is a bastardized version of what the real game of bridge is and should be about. If anyone wonders what that might be, it is simply echoing what HBJ has just said, “make your contract mister, and the deed is done”.

Sure I am not dealing with the whys and wherefores of playing for overtricks and no doubt, there is a time and place for that consideration,

but for column purposes and for bridge teaching the safety of the contract is what is important and for my money it will always have first and second priority in decision making.

jim2June 28th, 2011 at 2:50 am

I’d like to offer a comment and pose a possibly-related question.

When I declare at matchpoints, I try to ask myself (as some experts have counseled in print) how good is my contract, how likely/common is it in the field, and how favorable is the lead. I use the answers to those questions to inform my line of play. (I am confident that our host does this at a much higher level than I.)

In this column, I would judge the contract to be the same at almost every table. However, in many cases, it will be North that plays the hand. That is, I would judge (perhaps wrongly, but sobeit) that many not playing inverted raises would bid some # of notrump with the North cards, implying no 5-card suit and no 4-card major. In those cases, the lead might not be so friendly. Thus, if I decided that East did not have the QH, then I might play conservatively, as the lead has already given me a trick many of my competitors will not get.

I confess that I would nonetheless play 4 rounds of clubs before I played on spades. I have an easy pitch, but one or both of my opponents might not. In the column hand, East would be quite uncomfortable! Pitching spades sets up a late diamond endply once spades are played and hearts are cleared, because South has a complete count of the defenders’ hands and can duck a diamond into East and get at least one overtrick anyway! Pitching hearts simply delays the same thing while giving up, and pitching diamonds lets declarer set up diamonds w/o any fuss for a risk-free overtrick that way. In summary, playing on clubs early appears to offer a risk-free chance for an overtrick (declarer still is ahead in tempo and can switch to spades if either defender shows out on the second club).

Now, my question is why lead a club to Board to play a spade to the ten? If one simply wanted to bash out Trick #9, could not one could just as easily lead the KS or 10S from hand, or play the 3S towards the Board’s JS?

bobbywolffJune 28th, 2011 at 5:53 am

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for the thorough analysis and though I haven’t done any detailing, my instincts, by having seen your comments often, tell me that they are well thought out.

My point, however is a different one. Playing matchpoints is just too difficult a game and unfortunately it is played under basically the same rules as IMPs or Rubber bridge is played. By being too difficult I am suggesting that at a certain point the opening lead, the early defense and, like the example hand above, the declarer play, when overtricks are essentially as important as the contract trick, makes the game a guessing game with too much luck floating around.

Most of the important bridge books written during the last 70+ years ago accent the game I love, have grown accustomed to its face, makes the world go around, and is more than enough to satisfy my competitive instincts.

When it comes to matchpoints with short matches, (sometimes 2 boards), one’s real competitors are not the partnerships that one plays, but actually ones that are sometimes in even different sections and always well tuned to doing what it takes to score the kind of game one needs to finish in or very close to the winner’s circle.

I am in no way attempting to denigrate duplicate bridge, only to say that its rewards for winning are beyond which I am capable to succeed.

Obviously I am a one trick pony and what I so self-servingly call real bridge is a handful for me or almost anyone who competes honestly and ethically at it to attempt to come close to trying to master it. It probably cannot be done and that also goes for the next 100+ years, so why attempt to play a less perfect game with more nuances than anyone can imagine, just because, like a mountain climber who attempts Mt. Everest, it is there.

Real bridge (at least to me) is the game I love.