Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday June 27th, 2011

Vulnerable: Both

Dealer: North




K Q 10 9 7 4 2

9 7 3 2


Q 8 6 3

Q J 8

J 8 3

A K 5


10 5 2

10 5

A 6 5

Q J 10 8 4


A K 9 7 4

A K 7 6 4 3 2



South West North East
3 Pass
4 All pass

Opening Lead: Club king

“The spots on the dice are the music signs of the songs of heaven here.”

— Carl Sandburg

Today’s deal is an example of the play in a single suit, where the success of the contract hinges on a proper appreciation of the spot cards.

The auction was unremarkable. When North pre-empted, South wisely decided to bid what he thought he could make, knowing that slam was unlikely and that hearts would almost certainly play better than spades, even if dummy had more spades than hearts.

West led the club king, on which his partner dutifully followed with the queen to suggest good clubs. It would have been easy for West to continue clubs, but he realized that the contract was highly unlikely to go down if declarer could run the diamonds. If not, the best defense had to be to shift to a top trump to kill the potential spade ruff. How should declarer play now?

At the table South made the most of his resources. He won the trump and played two more rounds of trump, ruffed the club return, then carefully led a low spade toward dummy’s jack. It was unlikely, if not impossible, that the jack would score. More practical was that the spade 10 would come down in three rounds and that declarer’s spade nine would control the fourth round of the suit. As you can see, if declarer tackles spades from the top, he stands no chance, but with today’s lie of the cards, he can come home if he follows the recommended line.


South holds:

J 9 4
8 3 2
A 10 7 4 3
9 5


South West North East
1 Pass 1
Pass 1 Pass 3
Pass 4 All pass
ANSWER: Leading a diamond, whether a high or low one, seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Since there is nothing about your hand that suggests the black suits are behaving for declarer, you might opt to go passive with a trump. If not, a spade lead looks to be your best shot to set up tricks without giving too much away.


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 11th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

On the opening lead problem, I consider it a prime example of what I have explained to my partners to be “the theory of card migration.”

1A) Failing to lead a trump could give declarer the necessary tempo to ruff diamonds which, by winning the AD on the first round and leading a second trump, West could prevent, BUT

1B) Leading a trump could skewer partner’s holding and turn out to be the only losing lead. See also, 2A and 3A.

2A) Cashing the diamond winners before declarer can pitch them on something like SAKQx in dummy facing xS in the closed hand might be the only way to set the hand, BUT

2B) See 1A (and 3A).

3A) Leading either black suit might be the only way to keep partner off a late endplay, especially if it is necessary to lead it twice. Say, Board has AKJx in the suit, BUT

3B) See 1A and 2A.

In my limited experience (over 50 calendar years, but fewer than 10 nationals and only one international), I have all too often gotten these leads wrong.

So much so, that I have theorized, as noted at the start above, that the cards migrate as I make my opening lead. It is the bridge version of the Schrodinger’s Cat dilemma for physicists. When the lead is made, the state of Erwin Schrodinger’s cat is revealed. That is, any lead could be the only one that could defeat the contract or be the only one that lets it succeed.

Sadly, as I said, all too often for me it has been the latter.

Bobby WolffJuly 11th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your lament causes me some depression, so let me treat you with my form of medication.

John Brown, a long time ago very powerful English bridge writer, once wrote something like, “If a very average mediocre bridge player would always get off to the winning opening lead, nothing could stop him from winning every bridge championship”.

And while I have no way to calibrate what is right or wrong, the current Aces hand, since holding 3 little trump (instead of just 2), at least to me, is decidedly less likely to mangle partner’s trump holding and indeed (since dummy is very likely to have only 2 trumps) to enable a trump lead to have a positive effect (although still a low percentage to do any real good).

Leading an unsupported ace, especially when holding the A10 is one of my last choices so, my conclusion (for what it is worth) is that a trump lead is entirely reasonable on this puzzle.

Don’t despair and accept bridge for what it is, a very difficult ever changing environment, which has its participants gasping to keep up with it, creating unseen hurdles during the race, and challenging all who undertake it (at least the ones who have high aspirations) to have enough patience to develop the insight necessary to one day knock the door down with success.

And when (and if) that happens, good results will only appear occasionally, certainly not consecutively, to firmly acknowledge to all who care, that the game itself, not us, is in control.

jim2July 11th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Mr. Wolff –

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the game.

It’s just that I have slaughtered a verrrrry great many pasteboard felines in my 50+ years of making opening leads ….

John Howard GibsonJuly 11th, 2011 at 7:15 pm

HBJ : This is one of those typical hands where dummy offers nothing in the way of a trick, yet bizarrely his singleton jack provides two glorious chances of seeing the contract home.

The ruff ( which alert defenders will scupper ) and the promotion of the spade 9 providing the layout of the missing cards is 4 to the queen opposite 3 to the 10.

This is part of my game I need to get my head into gear over: looking at how a suit needs to divide, if I’m looking to maximise the number of tricks on offer in that suit. Sadly, I am the victim of lazy thinking. Tx for the inspirational guidance.

jim2July 11th, 2011 at 7:20 pm


You’re right! Dummy had a a powerful 7-card suit, but the only card that helped declarer was a singleton non-trump jack! Funny!

Bobby WolffJuly 11th, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

The only thing your pasteboard feline slaughtering should tell you is that what a significant disadvantage the defense to a hand starts with, by having to make a blind lead, (of course, that tradition starting with contract bridge’s grandfather, Whist) with only the bidding to go on, but no specific visual adverse card identification to base it on.

From that mindset, then drift to realizing that if the specific scoring system was redone from the 1927 transition from auction bridge (it’s father) to contract, surely the sets in bridge would be more than 50 or 100 per trick, but once those numbers were established (or rather entrenched), it has been determined that making a marked change in those traditional numbers might cause more problems than it would solve, to which I grudgingly agree.

In any event, those original scoring numbers have widely influenced the game and its strategy and to consider a major change would be especially difficult since of the 8 to 10 million continent wide North American players estimated to currently be playing (down from 30+ million in the 1950s through the mid 1960’s) only about 150,000 of them (about 1.5%) play tournament bridge and, at least for statistical purposes, take it seriously.

Whatever and almost regardless of the specific conditions of contest and play, bridge, as we know it, at least in my estimation has no game close to it, in being spectacularly challenging and entertaining.

Obviously, chess advocates will think otherwise, but at least to me, the various luck and percentage features of our game which result in experience being vitally necessary in attaining the skill needed to compete at the top, adds to, does not subtract, from the strictly 100% nature of only pure analytical skill needed, which is the calling card of chess.

The mental toughness then required, at least in my opinion, is about the same in both games.

jim2July 11th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I read Robert Ewen’s book (Opening Leads) a few times, etc.

I also remember less well my opening lead successes. The disasters, though, are tougher to forget!

Bobby WolffJuly 11th, 2011 at 8:22 pm


Thank you for your continual echo of the wonders of our game and how each one of them (singleton jack and in an off suit, not trump) appears mostly uninvited, like aliens from outer space.

Your inquiring mind is the exact talent needed for quantum jumps in playing skill and I consider myself very lucky to probably not being around in the year 2040 when you, no doubt, will be consistently winning world bridge senior events, although the minimum age by then will probably have risen to at least 80.

You, calling yourself a lazy thinker, is about as accurate as me calling myself a nuclear physicist.