Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 16th, 2012

All men think all men mortal, but themselves.

Edward Young

South North
East-West ♠ 9 6 2
 A 10 7
 Q 6
♣ A Q J 7 5
West East
♠ A K Q 10
 A 9 5 4
♣ 9 6 4 3
♠ J 5 4 3
 9 6
 K 10 3
♣ K 10 8 2
♠ 8 7
 Q J 8 5 4 3 2
 J 8 7 2
♣ —
South West North East
4 Dbl. All pass  


Today's deal comes from the finals of a national championship. How would you evaluate South's cards?

In one room South opened three hearts. West doubled, North raised to four hearts, and South fell from grace by bidding on to five hearts over East’s four-spade bid. It is better for South to double here to show extra shape, wanting to bid again, though North might well have got it wrong and bid five hearts himself, but then it would have been his fault! The defenders cashed out for 300.

In the other room Ishmael Del’Monte opened four hearts, doubled by West to end the auction. (Most play this double nowadays to be closer to takeout than optional, but maybe the fact that West was a rubber-bridge expert made his double more inclined to penalties.)

West led the spade king to get a count card of the five, and continued with the ace — the queen might have been clearer. East followed with the three, leaving West to guess if this was suit-preference for clubs from an original holding of four spades, or an original doubleton spade.

Either way, though, how could cashing the diamond ace next have been wrong? If partner discourages, you revert to spades and wait for your club tricks if any. In fact, West played a third spade and declarer trumped, then ruffed out the clubs via the trump finesse. He ended up with three clubs and seven hearts, for 590.

The best way to set up extra tricks here might be to lead hearts — but only if partner is stacked in that suit. A more plausible route might be to lead clubs, hoping for an early ruff, and maybe a trump promotion in the suit later on.


♠ K 9 6 2
 Q 7 5 3
 Q 6 2
♣ 5 2
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠
Pass 2♣ Pass 2♠
All pass      

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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2January 30th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

The lead quiz is another prize candidate for that theory I shall not name. 🙂

There are layouts for which any suit would be the winner, or fatal.

For example, a trump lead might be necessary if West is 2-1-5-5 and declarer needs a heart ruff. Yet, it could be fatal if partner has Jx or if the Board has the singleton Q and the tempo lets declarer set up a minor.

A heart lead seems safe, as both opponents hinted at little strength in that suit, but it could also allow declarer to ruff a heart with dummy’s short trump holding.

A diamond holds promise because declarer did not show a preference by returning to dummy’s first suit. However, South’s holding suggests the suit might break evenly allowing it to be set up easily.

A club appears strong for the reasons cited in the column. Still, declarer could be something like 6-2-2-3 with and the lead beaches partner’s holding (say, Qxxx) against declarer’s (say K9x).

What I would like is computer software into which one could input a problem such as this and then the program would grind through some set thousands of deals. It would reject those that did not fit the parameters and tabulate the results of those that did for each choice.

The output might be something like:

– spade lead 33% fatal; 54% neutral; 13% decisive
– heart lead 14% fatal; 63% neutral; 23% decisive
– diamond lead … etc.

(It should probably be by card for 13 answers.)

Absent large statistical trials, one is left with judgement (which is good, don’t get me wrong!), but the choices in close situations end up as much as a Rorschach test as anything else. Thus, the kind of answer provided in this column is especially helpful, as it lays out the pros/cons reasoning both for the recommended choice and others.

I’d still like that program, though!

Jeff HJanuary 30th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I don’t know whether the problem is with the hand diagram itself, or the way it gets presented on my PC, but for me, the 4H bid shows up in the West column. This, of course, made no sense as I looked first at the hand and then the Bobby’s comments. Only belatedly did I notive that South was the dealer and that column was blank. I hope this is not another Brideblogger glich that needs to be resolved.

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Hi Jim2,

My first duty is to apologize for the major cosmetic error in the bridge bidding as it is, of course, South who opens 4 hearts, not West. (My web site is now in the process of changing it, I hope).

Second, your idea is great and possibly computer technology is now ready for such an experiment as you suggest, and if so, perhaps your dream could come true, or, at least, almost. Both you and I would love to find out, or, if necessary, help analyze the results, perhaps turning old wives’ tales into either fiction or fact.

However, unfortunately although perhaps the programming could be made available, but who would be in charge, arranging financing, subject matter and the general enthusiasm for such a worthwhile project for the future of our game?

In my perfect world the ACBL would have just such a division which would be responsible for accumulating the results and although volunteers could, and I think would, help mightily, but as of now I hear no rumblings, other than you (and now I) for even the consideration of such a worthwhile learning project.

Now to your significant specific suggestions. Yes, if such an enterprise could be done, the playing of bridge, particularly the high-level variety could be improved by bounds and leaps.

On the LWTA problem, my guess if that it is a toss-up between a heart and a club, with a diamond a relatively poor 3rd and a spade not to be considered since if the dummy contains 2 spades, and with my meagre other holdings 8 tricks for declarer could almost never be denied.

But all I have to go on is my experience and trusting that, could be a big stretch, but I would join you and other high-level bridge lovers and enthusiasts in rejoicing, if it ever could get done.

Let both of us continue dreaming and hope an angel appears with similar hopes to ours and, most of all, decides to put his energy and resources to good effect.

Thanks for sharing your ideas with me and other readers.

Alex AlonJanuary 30th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

In a rare moment of contradiction with Jim2 and our honorable host, i must say that a program that will calculate the lead is not something i crave for.
This great game is great because of the uncertainty and the human factor. Each player has the opportunity to lead a card based on his own deduction and reasoning and even considering the now famous dreaded “theory” 🙂 I prefer to play a card and then see what happens. To take that away is to reduce the fun for me. And a game that is not fun isn’t worth playing …

Alex Alon

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Hi Alex,

“Different strokes for different folks” is a well known bromide, but in this case the strokes may not be as different as first thought.

Yes, Alex, your thrill of playing the game by making your own decisions is one that should never be taken away from you. However bridge has gone somewhat professional, or at least semi-professional where people, who devote their lives to learning it, crave the right information to play it the best they or perhaps anyone can.

And even within the subset under the heading of enjoying the game, there are different attitudes for improving one’s bidding, leading, and playing.

I certainly respect what you are saying and do not think for one minute that your way is even the least bit strange. It magnifies the thrill of doing something all on your own and that is the experience you desire and almost crave.

Let us all look at bridge as being a game with many ways to enjoy it and your opinion exemplifies your and its individuality.

Right now, I am very upset over the fact that as of yet, the column hand was wrongfully posted and still not corrected.

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Hi Jeff H,

Please excuse my late response, but I just returned to my computer and I am disappointed that the bidding has not been corrected. Yes it was definitely a mistake and for that I apologize for the inconvenience it has caused.

Thanks for your comment and hopefully this type of breach will not again occur (at least soon)

Bruce KarlsonJanuary 30th, 2012 at 8:17 pm

From the cheap seats (intermediates only need apply): I would play East for 4 cards as if he held a doubleton, South would perforce have a 4/7.. or 4/8.. hand. Given 4 spades, I would be reluctant to open a preempt in hearts as would most to the persons with whom I play. Thoughts???

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Hi Bruce,

There is a bridge joke which begins with one player asking another, “Is there another name for describing an 8 card suit?” to which the answer was, “Yes, trumps”. Still another appropriate answer would be, “I have a two suiter, both of them being ……”

Since I could have been the one answering that question I would have no qualms at all of opening an 8-4 (with the four being a major, especially the other major) or even a 7-4 with a large preemptive bid.

Just my opinion, but by not allowing the opponents to come in at the low levels is well worth the exaggerated risk of you, the declarer, playing in the wrong trump suit.

An important fact one learns while following the yellow brick road to better bridge results, is that errors of omission are at least as costly as errors of commission.