Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Vulnerable: East-West

Dealer: South


K 8 7 3 2


A 5

K Q J 10



K 9 8 5 4

K J 10 8 2

9 6


5 4

10 7 3 2

9 7 6 4

5 3 2


A Q J 10 9

A 6

Q 3

A 8 7 4


South West North East
1 Pass 2 NT* Pass
3 NT Pass 4 Pass
4 NT Pass 5 Pass
5 NT Pass 6 All pass

*Game-forcing with a spade fit

Opening Lead: Club nine

“Obtruding false rules, pranked in reason’s garb.”

— John Milton

In today’s deal from the Dyspeptics Club, South found himself at the helm of a respectable spade slam. Following his usual principle of not giving any deal much thought until he needed to defend himself in the post-mortem, he won the club lead, drew trump ending in dummy, then took the heart finesse. He won the heart return and crossed to hand with a club to try the Chinese finesse in diamonds by leading the queen. It was easy for West to cover this, and down went the contract.

South apologized to his partner, claiming that all the cards were poorly placed, but North unsympathetically remarked that the only wrong thing about the hand was South’s thinking. Can you see what South should have done?

South should have won the opening lead, drawn two rounds of trump, and cashed all the clubs. At this point, rather than just relying on the heart finesse, he plays the diamond ace followed by a low diamond to put the defenders on lead.

If it is West who has the diamond king, he will have no choice but to give a ruff-sluff or lead into the heart tenace. If East has the diamond king, he must lead a heart now, and declarer is no worse off than before since he can take the heart finesse for the contract.

This line of play turns a 50 percent contract into one that needs either red king properly positioned — in other words, a 75 percent chance.


South holds:

K 8 7 3 2
A 5
K Q J 10


South West North East
1 Pass 1
1 Pass 2 Pass
ANSWER: There is no hand with diamonds and values that could be bid at its second turn but not over one club. If you trust your partner, this auction suggests spade tolerance and diamond values. But you don’t have to commit yourself yet. Bid three clubs to show where you live, and wait to find out where your partner wants to go.


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 GibsonJuly 21st, 2011 at 11:25 am

HBJ : Hi there. Given the club lead, which on the face of it could give declarer a much needed tempo to set up a side suit for potential discards, the absence of a red suit opening lead might suggest West having king holdings in one or both suits.

The club is a very passive lead, one that doesn’t want to give anything away. The bidding revealed very little about declarer’s and dummy’s assets outside spades.

After eliminating oppos black cards, I too prefer to put my precious eggs into two baskets. Therefore, I would play diamonds before hearts, because if that plan fails ( East turning up with the king on the second round ), the heart finesse is still always there for plan B. Taking the heart finesse before trying diamonds is tantamount to folly, having put all your eggs in one basket. Now of course, West takes his wretched heart King only to put declarer back in with the Ace. Contract off.

A truly instructive hand in the art of giving yourself not just a tiny extra chance, but a whopping great extra 25%.

Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2011 at 12:51 pm


Beautifully spoken, taking my breath and desire to speak away (not an often occurrence), and craving the extra 25% afforded me by correct handling.

However, seemingly with both of our respective National government’s financial condition in such dire straits it may result in a 25% extra chance of nothing equates to no advantage.

Oh well, cannot wait to get back to bridge when 25% extra is always worth fighting for.

God save the King(s) and Queen(s)!

And to JHG, the top of the day to you and thanks for writing.

jim2July 21st, 2011 at 5:53 pm

On the bidding quiz, how should North have bid:

S – –

H – A432

D – KQ62

C – A5432

Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Hi Jim2,

During the bridge revolution which seems to be continuous through the years, all I can do is relate to you my thoughts of what is best, with the only evidence being my gut feel as to what probably to do and what probably to not.

I would overcall RHO’s opening bid with 1 heart, with the idea of bidding again or possibly takeout doubling at my next opportunity. With this style, nothing positive, except unlikely to be stolen from, is immediately gained.

My choice for action comes from the way the expert game (and the not-so) seems to be developing. With everyone (usually the bridge loving enthusiastic reasonably talented group), involved, a central theme runs into finding a fit ASAP with the idea of preempting the opponents out of the auction or, at the very least, making them guess at high-levels.

The former Roth-Stone system thinkers are the most vulnerable since they required much more to open the bidding or make an initial overcall, therefore falling easy prey to the current pervasive practices.

All I can further say is that bridge bidding and therefore overall philosophy has changed through the years and although the differences are hard to accurately quantify that if ever one has thought at one time that winning bridge is a bidder’s game, to compete now makes it apparent that from being a suggestion it has grown into a mandate, just to make sure your partnership does not get completely overrun.

What could stop that trend, one may ask? At least to me, the only solution (if one is thought to be required) would be to change the scoring system making both vulnerable and non-vulnerable sets significantly higher.

Otherwise my forecast for at least my time left on this planet, is for more of the same, only at an even greater pace.

Trying to put on a conservative teacher’s hat and passing with your example hand, I would only bid 1NT at my 2d turn and have my partner raise to at least 2NT and probably 3 (if he doesn’t the 1NT bidder should) and hope that the opponents do not launch a spade attack (which with the bidding heard is unlikely to occur very early and even if it does it wouldn’t help the defense).

NickJuly 22nd, 2011 at 3:04 am

Did you see that one of your deals on your column is incorrect?

ERROR: The cards of the deal on October 11, 2010 are incorrect.

Bobby WolffJuly 22nd, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Hi Nick,

Since my column files are not kept forever, I have no convenient way to check what you saw, an error in the 10/11/10 hand of last year.

I will apologize for your (and no doubt others) having to endure it. If you could reproduce the error I suspect I could correct it for you.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Bob LoseyJuly 23rd, 2011 at 2:28 am

Dear BW,

As long as you first strip the black suits, does it really matter which red suit you play Ace then low? And, don’t you improve your chances (perhaps ever so slightly) by playing the Q of H first on the off chance that it will be covered. If it’s not covered then you play the Ace and throw opponents in. Perhaps no expert would cover the Q of H, but some non-experts would. So why not hearts first?

jim2July 23rd, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Bob Losey –

I am not BW, but I think I can answer your question.

The straight heart finesse line is 50%; that’s obvious.

The AH then heart line wins precisely when the hand that holds the KH holds also the KD, no matter if it is East or West. That makes the probability also 50%. That is, it is the probability that West holds both red Ks (25%) plus the probability that East holds both red Ks (also 25%).

BW’s line wins under all conditions where the heart finesse wins plus all the times the heart finesse loses, as long as West also holds the KD. Thus, it is 50% (for the finesse) plus 25% (for West holding both red Ks) for a total of 75%.

The key card that makes the difference between your line and BW’s is the JH.

Compare your line to BW’s when the defender wins the first red K and leads a small red card in the other red suit through the red Q. In your line, it would be East leading, declarer playing the QD, and being covered by the KD then AD, now leaving declarer with only small Ds in both hands.

In BW’s line, West would be leading a small H, East covers with KH and declarer wins the AH. Now, however, dummy’s JH is high.

Another way to look at it, is that BW’s line loses ONLY when West has the KH and East has the KD. Meanwhile, your line loses when West has the KH and East has the KD, and also when East has the KH and West has the KD.

Bobby WolffJuly 23rd, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Hi Bob,

As a well-known former football coach, turned TV personality, Lou Corso, would say, “Not so fast, my friend”.

Your line of play, assuming East would not make the poor play of covering the heart honor in dummy, would only work if the red kings would be in the same hand and would not work if they began life in different defensive hands.

The column’s percentage after following the recommended line of leading ace and another diamond will always work if West holds the diamond king, (50-50) or if not, then if East holds the heart king ALSO (50-50) thereby combining even money happenings making the correct percentage 75% or 3 out of 4 instead of approximately 50% 1 out of 2.

However, if the percentages were the same, as you suggest, yes, your psychological advantage is worth something, but not on this hand since the percentages are not what you claim.

I do appreciate your writing however, since it gives us a chance to clarify what is likely to be bothering a large number of readers.