Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence.

Charles Dickens

South North
Both ♠ A 6 2
 Q 6 3 2
 9 6 3
♣ Q 10 4
West East
♠ K Q J 10 7 4
 A Q 2
♣ 9 8 7
♠ 9 8
 10 5 4
 J 10 7 4
♣ 6 5 3 2
♠ 5 3
 A K J 9 8
 K 8 5
♣ A K J
South West North East
1 1♠ 2 Pass
4 All pass    


How do you plan to make four hearts after West leads the spade king?

The nub of this problem is that you want to avoid losing three diamond tricks, but surely West is the favorite to have the diamond ace.

Your first step is to duck the first round of spades, then win the spade ace, and draw trump in three rounds. Next you cash the club ace, king and queen.

Now lead dummy’s remaining spade and discard a low diamond, forcing West to win the trick. A diamond return gives you a trick with the diamond king, while a spade exit lets you ruff in dummy and discard a second diamond from hand. Thus you will lose only two spades and a diamond, making the contract.

And what would happen if East had followed to the third spade? If he had followed small, you would still discard a diamond from hand to force West to win the trick. If East was clearly going to win the trick (say West had a 5-2-3-3 pattern), you ruff the spade and exit with a low diamond from hand. For the defense to stand a chance, East must win the trick and play a third diamond. Now you put up the king, succeeding whenever the diamond finesse succeeds or West wins the ace but has no diamonds left.

Notice that if you hadn’t ducked the first trick, East could have gained the lead in spades, whereupon the obvious diamond shift would scuttle the contract.

The opening lead here is more about temperament than anything else. Some prefer to go passive and not give up a trick; others go for instant gratification by leading a diamond in the hope of cashing out or setting up that suit. Put my vote in with the diamond leaders; but don't ask me to justify it.


♠ Q 5 3
 7 4 2
 K 9 5 3
♣ A J 4
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1♠
Pass 2♠ Pass 4♠
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


Iain ClimieApril 30th, 2012 at 10:02 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

On the lead problem, isn’t the position of your club honours a factor? With LHO all too likely to hold KQxxx or possibly K10xxx opposite 2 small clubs, this surely tilts the balance towards a diamond. Having said that, will card migration (if I understand the concept properly) give dummy a weak club suit and Ax of diamonds opposite declarer’s CKx and DQx(x)?


Iain Climie

jim2April 30th, 2012 at 12:18 pm


bobbywolffApril 30th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Good morning Iain,

No doubt, the position of the club honors, plus the specific diamond honors (around the table), are factors as big as Alaska is, as part of the USA.

However, on the bidding given, which indicates that both opponents have about the equivalent of opening bid strength, and although the dummy figures to have better clubs than declarer, call it to average out at about 65+% for dummy and 35-% for declarer, the difference sometimes falls into insignificance. Also, especially at matchpoints, the declarer holding the king of diamonds is not nearly as devastating as the queen might tend to be (opposite the ace in dummy).

The difference with that last statement stems from the bastardized overtrick importance at matchpoints, compared to the relative insignificance of overtricks at IMPs or rubber bridge. However, in your coloring book, take note that there are so many random factors, never to be either analyzed, much less proven, pertaining to specific card combinations plus possible declarer decisions and problems which different leads certainly cause effect.

For empirical evidence all I can offer is that the French top players, (Chemla, Perron, Mari, Lebel, Svarc, Boulenge, Roudinesco, Stoppa, Moulton, Levy, Mouile, Delmouly and others), who I greatly respect (especially the ones which go back some 45+ years) almost to a person lead or did very conservatively, even in IMPs while I, and I think most top Americans (through the years) have led and still do, much more aggressively.

On the subject hand I would choose a diamond, while others would choose a heart, but not necessarily because of the evidence gleaned on the bidding. For example, if the opponents were playing weak NT and then after that opening bid by LHO, RHO became declarer in a probable mundane auction at 4 of a major, it would not greatly influence my choice away from a diamond, unless somehow they were bid.

Please take my history and advice in its proper perspective and to again quote my favorite all time author, “Signifying nothing” (or, at least, not much).

Thanks always for your interest and particularly your exact questions, which IMO are appreciated by many other readers in search of discussion and opinions. As to card migration please consult Jim2, who has become the poster boy for being abused by it.

Iain ClimieApril 30th, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Many thanks for this. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to systematically assess the relative merits e.g. Via computer simulation. My all time worst lead was where I spurned a safe trump against 7H after an auction (with us silent) started 1S-2H-3D and the opener later showed 3 Aces (but not which).
I found the cunning ploy of the C9 (unbid) from K9x only for declarer to have a 1-5-1-6 hand with CAQJ10xx unshown and dummy a singleton. It might have made anyway, and at least dummy didn’t have Cxx but it still smarts! Passive proponents may have a point.