Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 20th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: East


K Q J 4

K 8 3

A K Q 8 3





10 9 7 6 5 2

Q 10 5 3 2



Q J 10 9 7 2

J 4

A K 8 7


A 10 9 6 5 3 2

6 5 4

9 6 4


South West North East
2 Pass 4 5
5 6 6 Dbl.
All pass

Opening Lead: The $64,000 question

“‘Thou art a fool,’ said my head to my heart,

‘Indeed, the greatest of fools thou art,

To be led astray by the trick of a tress,

By a smiling face or a ribbon smart.'”

— Paul Dunbar

This week in Poznan, Poland, the open European Championships begin. To mark this, my columns this week come from last year’s event.

Attempting to qualify for a World Championship is a serious matter, but it can have its lighter side. Germany’s Sabine Auken tried the poker player’s equivalent of a bluff in today’s deal from the match against Russia.

Auken sat North and when her partner Danielle von Arnim made a weak jump overcall in spades she wondered if there might be a slam on the cards. Could partner have two aces for her weak jump overcall? Perhaps, but using Blackwood would not be a great idea, as the lead would have been coming through her heart king.

My first reaction is that she might have considered a jump to four clubs, a splinter, hoping her partner might have been able to cue-bid four hearts. That would have been reasonable, were it not for the fact that in this particular case a jump to four clubs would have by agreement been a fit-jump, showing long good clubs and a spade fit.

Another route might have been to bid four diamonds to see if partner had a heart control. However, Sabine found a third way: She jumped to four hearts, ostensibly a splinter in hearts! From her point of view, the auction then developed in an ideal way.

When East doubled six spades, do you blame West for reading this as Lightner, based on an unspecified void, and leading a diamond? Contract made!


South holds:

5 3
Q 9 5 3 2
6 5
A Q 9 4


South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 4
All pass
ANSWER: Neither clubs nor hearts seem to be lying well for declarer. Maybe his best chance to make tricks is on a crossruff; so lead trumps at every opportunity, unless the sight of dummy makes that seem an unrewarding option.


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


jim2July 4th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

As West, I think I would have led the AH despite interpreting the double as a void.

North’s “splinter” – I would reason – almost had to have been a singleton as, otherwise, South must have something like six or even seven hearts. With my minor suit holdings and partner’s heart suit, I would be confident declarer could not come to twelve tricks on nearly any such layout if South had that many hearts.

The great advantage would be that, once the AH survived, I could be confident which minor suit was East’s void.

At the table, East would follow with the 2H for a club switch and, despite seeing eleven diamonds in view, I would lead a club as demanded and even (to my astonishment) get a heart ruff.

I would still be confused as I wrote the +500 in my scoresheet.

Bobby WolffJuly 4th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

All of your comment is fairly logical reasoning and above all that, it works. However….

My guess would have been is that North’s jump, opposite a weak preemptor, is surely a void and helping me think that my partner’s 5 heart effort probably was showing at least an 8 card suit and even possibly longer.

One of the unusual features of high-level bridge (obviously only sometimes) is that each hand is different requiring special lines of thought. Notice here the splinter was a total psychic and furthermore attempted by a member of the distaff side, heretofore a first for me to experience or in this case to even hear about. How about?: East: x KQJ10xxxx void AJxx leaving declarer with KQJ10xx, xxxx, Qx, x and North with Axxxx, void AKJxx, Kxx

However, the ability to be able to write on your scoresheet +500 not only wins the day, but puts a loud paid to my feeble discussion.

Happy fireworks day which started with this column, though it was intended 14 days earlier.

jim2July 4th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

The actual West also had to consider the long term effects of not leading the most likely minor.

That is, it would damage the partnership. Or, to put it another way, the possible gain on that one hand likely was not worth the chance that partner would decline to make similar or analagous calls in all future hands.

John Howard GibsonJuly 4th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

HBJ : My thinking is that I would lead the Ace of hearts if only to have a good look at dummy. The chances of it being ruffed must be small indeed.

Then it is alll over, since I would switch to a club for three obvious reasons : dummy’s nasty looking diamonds, partner’s bold bidding which must surely include values elsewhere, and my partner’s play of a very small heart under my Ace.

If my partner played the queen of hearts under my Ace he/she would surely get the diamond shift for a well earned ruff ( in the hope it was a lightner double after all )

Bobby WolffJuly 4th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Hi Jim2,

Right you are!

High-level bridge at one time or another, hopefully ASAP, develops a consistency where both partner’s should totally rely. Once in a while one or the other partner needs to step out and do or try something original, but those situations are very rare.

To verify what you just said, the leading of a heart (even the singleton ace), instead of a minor suit, is indeed unilateral and in the old days of the beginning of the Aces would have committed one of the seven deadly sins.

However, on the other hand, neither partner should even show a touch of anger, if, like in my example hand (not the actual hand itself), West’s clubs are as long or longer than his diamonds and he leads a club disastrously.

Chalk it up to Dame Fortune not smiling or whatever, but bridge is still the master and all the players should be doing is going with the percentages by choosing the minor suit most likely to be partner’s void. In the actual example hand East, in order to quash the normal heart lead, was just hoping that partner would choose a club rather than a diamond. He felt that a speculative lead offered a better chance than one which, in his estimation, was slated for failure.

Damon Runyon’s famous quote “The battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that is the way to bet”, could be amended to “Leading what your partner is now trying to suggest, even though it is still somewhat of a guess, rather than what he previously expected you to lead, without his latest message, is definitely the way to have the best chance to succeed”.

Bobby WolffJuly 4th, 2011 at 6:43 pm


While the percentage tables would tell us that when one player (in this case the opening leader) has only a singleton ace it must generally be in the high ninety percentile (perhaps 99%+) that the dummy would have at least one in that suit.

However the bidding on this hand reminds me of another quote from “Guys and Dolls” featuring the male lead, Sky Masterson who said “One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider”.

All the logical bridge reasons in the world will not change the above, only the elusive and vast experience of being there, like Sky Masterson had been, all of his adult life.

Such are the conditions on this hand with perhaps the best lady bridge player in the world (at this moment in time) first bidding 4 hearts and then carrying on to slam in spades. It, of course, turned out that she was psyching her cue bid, but for her to be doing that is NOT the way to bet.

Oft times a word to the wise ……………………!