Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: Neither


K 6 4

10 9 8 5

A Q 7 2

7 2


J 8 3

K 4 2

J 10 6 4 3

8 4


Q 9 7

A 7 6


K Q 10 9 5 3


A 10 5 2

Q J 3

K 8 5

A J 6


South West North East
1 NT Pass 2 Dbl.
2 Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All Pass    

Opening Lead: Club Eight

“I was enjoying the blessed privilege of thinking without being called on to stand and deliver what I thought to the small public who are good enough to take any interest therein.”

— James Lowell

In today’s deal the auction to three no-trump was informative to the defense. In response to his partner’s double, West led the club eight, and East naturally put up his queen. Reading West’s lead as top of a doubleton, declarer held off. Even if diamonds broke 3-3, South knew he would need a trick from the heart suit, and he had calculated that so long as East held no more than one of the missing top heart honors, he would succeed, since West would have no more clubs to play through.


At trick two, East continued with the club king, won by South’s ace. Declarer still had a club stopper, and when he tackled hearts, East gained the lead and dislodged the club jack, but with no further entries, he could not enjoy the suit he had worked so hard to establish.


See the difference if East plays the club nine on the opening lead. South must win with the jack, but now when he plays a heart, West wins with the king, and still has another club to push through. Whether South holds up the club ace or not, East will regain the lead with the heart ace to cash the clubs.


Third hand plays high, but there is a time and a place for everything. It is often easy to see that one should withhold the ace on the first round of a suit. It is less easy to see that this applies in positions like the one in today’s deal.


South Holds:

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


South West North East
  1 Dbl. 2
ANSWER: You are much too good to pass here. The question is whether to bid three hearts or double, and what the latter call should say about your heart holding. My plan would be to double for takeout — neither promising nor denying hearts, planning to convert a three-club response to three hearts. I would intend this sequence to mean that I had only four hearts but constructive values.


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


Howard Bigot-JohnsonNovember 24th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

HBJ : This this defence with foresight. Declarer has to have 3 clubs to AJx to really justify his bid. Therefore if partner has a doubleton club, it is imperative for declarer to use up one of his club stoppers immediately for the defence to succeed. I cannot recall the number of times my impetuosity compelled me to stick in the queen straightaway, with declarer happily smiling as he now sees a way to making the impossible contract.

JaneNovember 24th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The double for a club lead puts north in a tough situation. Would it be awful to pass two spades? With the three club bid by north, what would south do without a reliable club stop? In this case, looks like north does not promise a club stop either, but what does it promise? North does not hold five diamonds either.

Just curious, as this auction happens fairly often with a double by the opps for a lead. How rude of them!

Bobby WolffNovember 24th, 2011 at 3:36 pm


1. You are a bridge lover.

2. You are an honest man.

3. Having both of these necessary qualities you are among the very few who have reached a certain age, but still will improve by bounds and leaps, provided you, of course, have the time to take advantage of it.

Most civilized countries have school systems which force students to memorize axioms as a short cut and memory aid
to learning.

In bridge, memorization is not a substitute for good enough learning. The student MUST understand the whole concept and why, therefore in today’s column example, 3rd hand high will not be enough, but rather by understanding, as you eloquently point out, we must “finesse” our partner and only play the nine, instead of the queen.

End of discussion, but not the end of letting what happened sink in to our best and brightest. Habits and discipline are one thing, great bridge often requires more.

Thanks for your always helpful comments with your own very bright descriptions. I, for one, would almost be lost, and certainly, at the very least, be in lesser position without your consistent additions.

MikeNovember 24th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

What allows E to play the 9 on trick one is to have agreement about what to lead from 3 small when leading partner’s suit.

@Jane. Many (most?) play that S would pass 2C X without C stopper, so the 2S bid promises a C stopper. I guess 3C by N was an attempt to play in 4-3 major game in case S’s C only has one C stopper, that she cannot hold up.

Bobby WolffNovember 24th, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Hi Jane,

While your judgment usually does not fail you, including this hand, it is just too much of an undisciplined decision by North to just pass 2 spades.

Granted, your abrupt pass has much going for it, but it assumes some possibility which might just not be true. The result might be wishy-washy (good or bad) on this hand, but it may take a toll on later hands with this particular partner.

Partnership discipline is very necessary for any hoped for liaison to grow and to now pass is not a good start for it.

A contrived bromide fitting your possible pass might be, “Yes, the patient improbably survived, but what am I to expect from you next time”?

Please keep your twilight zone (only slightly) comments coming since your table feel is always worth reporting.

Bobby WolffNovember 24th, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Mike,

From what I have experienced with your comments, you have a solid penchant for immediately recognizing the problems involved and what needs partnership discussion.

Please consider only one topic and that is your first mentioned one about leading from 3 small. Perhaps I am not informed enough to state what I think, but I will anyway.

My guess is that at a certain level, most high-level players, unlike in the distant past, will tend to lead small from 3 small unless they have supported the suit and sometimes in the middle of the defense of a hand want to let their partner know their highest card in the suit rather than the number of how many they have. Having said the above and on today’s column hand, it would be practically wrong for the opening leader to not lead small from 3 since partner’s lead directing double (obviously showing both length and strength), and then their opponents still opting for a NT contract, the opening leader will rarely hold 4 or more of that suit (clubs) so it would, at least to me, be a slam dunk that partner will usually only be dealt one, two, or three instead of more, so that it becomes logical for him to choose between two and three by leading high or low.

I hope you agree, but in any case a would be partnership should probably discuss the concept in case they forget to discuss the many small, though sometimes very important, nuances which the game of bridge itself sometimes devilishly creates.

JaneNovember 24th, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Thanks for the input. To address Mike’s response about passing without a club stop, it depends on partnership agreement. I would ignore the double for a club lead and bid my hand as if the double never happened since this is my agreement with my partners. Seems to me by passing the double, south would also be denying a major suit, but this is just my opinion. All depends on what works for you and partner. I am afraid if I passed two clubs doubled, my partner would think I had a stack of clubs and no major, but could be feeding him to the “Lone Wolff” (just kidding Bobby, I could not help myself.)

Interesting, as usual.

MikeNovember 25th, 2011 at 3:53 am

@Jane. With C stacked, S would normally XX. The danger with passing with one or both 4 card major and no C stopper is that W would raise to 3C or higher, creating problems unless N-S have firm agreements on what X and P of 3C or higher by N means. But that is rare and not as important as showing C stopper by S allowing N to bid on like she would have without the X of 2C.

Similarly, when they X a transfer bid, Jerry Helms suggests accepting the transfer means that responder can just go ahead and bid like she would without the X, meaning openers has 3+ trumps or stopper.

Of course, there are other ways to play. But who am I to argue against the likes of Helms, Kanter etc.

JaneNovember 25th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Interesting ideas Mike. Thanks for sharing them with me. I have not seen anyone redoubling such as you suggested, but I know anything can happen in this great game. I still prefer to bid a major if I have one, but that is my choice, right or wrong.

Years ago, I doubled a transfer bid for lead direction, and guess what- the opps played two diamonds doubled making! Oh well, stuff happens.