Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, May 7th, 2012

There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity.

Douglas MacArthur

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

* Both minors, short hearts


This is the normal time of year for the Cavendish tournament in Las Vegas, but this year the event will be held in Monaco in the fall. I shall be running deals all week that focus on the players in last year's event. Here is a deal that saw the winners from 2011 chalk up what seemed to be a normal if mildly fortunate result. But there is more to it than that.

North-South actually play a strong club, so I’ve simplified the auction to a standard sequence. The play in three no-trump saw declarer, Kit Woolsey, win the first heart and pass the diamond jack to East. Back came a heart, ducked, and a club shift. Woolsey won and drove out the diamond ace, and when both aces were onside, he had nine somewhat fortunate tricks — or was there more to it than that?

Contrast what happened when Justin Lall and Kevin Bathurst were West and East respectively. Since South had opened a 14-16 no-trump, North passed initially, Bathurst balanced with two hearts, and North reopened with two no-trump, a nonforcing call suggesting the minors, which South judged to pass.

The heart lead was won by South, who played the diamond jack. Lall hopped up with the diamond ace and cleared the hearts. Now declarer had to guess if East had the bare diamond queen or the spade ace, and he got it wrong by repeating the diamond finesse — down two!

Lall’s defense protected his partner’s entry and deserved the result it achieved.

There is no reason to look beyond your black suits on opening lead. Spades are an unbid suit — but either opponent might turn up with four. The advantage of a club is that your extra length and intermediates make it both more attacking and somewhat safer if partner produces any high card in the suit. As against that, East has bid the suit. I think a club feels right; five-card suits have so much more to offer.


♠ A 7 5 4
 Q 3
 9 5
♣ Q 10 6 4 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass 1 NT
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 ClimieMay 21st, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,

On the lead problem, I always used to reckon that a diamond was worth a look on this bidding sequence and a heart after 1D 1S 1NT based on opponents bidding suits upwards. Does the idea have any merit, even though partner’s silence here points more to the club lead? – He hasn’t overcalled or doubled although he must have some high cards.

On the play problem, West did well not to be hidebound by “2nd hand low” or even his position at the table. Many instructive hands show East jumping on an early card from dummy (e.g. Playing the Ace on the J from J10x on table) to return partner’s lead against 3NT and preserve his entry. Far fewer seem to feature West in this situation so the subconscious alarm bells (often needed when declarer tries to sneak his 9th trick early in 3NT) don’t sound. Despite this, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed being East with a bare DQ waiting for South to get it wrong (I hope) – what if attempts to look calm tip off declarer e.g. The Lee Hazen coke story?


Iain Climie

jim2May 21st, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Kudos to Lall, of course, for finding a play at the table that apparently gave declarer a problem.

With that said, however, did not declarer insult the defenders? That is, if West truly had AQx of diamonds and East the AS, could not the defense always prevail by West waiting to win the third diamond before clearing hearts?

Iain ClimieMay 21st, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Hi Jim2,

True and well spotted but Lall’s play is essential if South has one more club, west the SA and East one more diamond while South might still prefer 3NT to trying for 5C in that case. Does it count as a Grosvenor as the cards lie, though – or am I seeing the daft things everywhere?


bobbywolffMay 21st, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Hi Iain,

While there is some logic in trying to guage partner as the dog who didn’t bark, since the opponents could have up to 25 HCPs, limiting partner to only 7 and, especially here in America, diamonds (even a 5 card suit) are often overlooked by the responder of the opening bidder, making a short suit diamond lead very speculative. Also when Justin rose with the ace, he was hoping partner had 3 (of course, including the queen, which you mention during your reply to Jim2), but even without that protection, declarer would need to guess.

In the olden days, which unfortunately has much too large a range for this reporter, a wannabe top bridge player had to develop nerves of iron, especially when playing against someone who had good poker instincts, otherwise he would be had for lunch during competitions. Never, never giveaway to wary opponents what they needed to earn at the table. Steel against steel is how I would describe it.

The mention of Lee Hazen brings back fond memories to me, since I knew him quite well, when he served the ACBL as their attorney for almost 50 years. A grand man, he, with a special sense of humor to boot and also an excellent and wise bridge captain for teams who were lucky to have him.

bobbywolffMay 21st, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

In some small way one could deem it an insult to the opponents to play him for also the queen of diamonds when he rose with the ace, in order to continue hearts. However Justin could have had 4 hearts instead of 3 and even more likely, since these plays are made very fast (and Lall is one of the fastest), it is very difficult, to say the least, to read too much into swift plays by fast thinkers. Bridge itself is too much a mystery and as always, the defense is so much harder to guess right than most declarer play, that tempo, while always playing at least some part in decision making, should not be taken as gospel as often as some do.

Is bridge some magnificent game or what?