Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Little masters, hat in hand
Let me in your presence stand,
Till your silence solve for me
This your threefold mystery.

John Tabb

South North
Neither ♠ J 8 7 2
 Q 9 6
 J 2
♣ J 9 7 6
West East
♠ Q 9 6 3
 K 5 2
 K 10 4
♣ K 5 4
♠ 10 5 4
 J 3
 9 8 7 6 5
♣ Q 8 2
♠ A K
 A 10 8 7 4
 A Q 3
♣ A 10 3
South West North East
2 NT Pass 3♣ Pass
3 Pass 4 All pass


Today's deal comes from a recent English tournament called the Tollemache — the county teams of eight championships, with one weekend of qualifying and a six-team final.

South was correct to start with two no-trump with his balanced 21-count, despite the five-card heart suit. One of the problems with the call is that the partnership may need to unearth a 5-3 fit (not easy when playing regular Stayman).

To solve the problem, as is not uncommon in the tournament world, North’s three clubs asked for five-card majors, and thus the eight-card fit was found (though it is far from clear that four hearts is any better a contract than three no-trump).

With an awkward choice of opening lead, West led a low trump to the jack and ace. Declarer could see that he would succeed regardless of the position of the diamond king if the club honors were split, provided he could create two entries to dummy. He could clearly reach dummy with either the heart queen or nine, but where was the other entry to come from?

Declarer found the solution when at trick two he led the diamond queen. West had no counter to this gambit. If he won this trick, declarer could later reach dummy with the jack, while if he ducked, declarer would be able to ruff his third-round loser in the dummy. Now he would no longer mind that he had to lose two club tricks.

Although a decent case could be made for redoubling, you will find it almost impossible to catch the opponents for penalty in both hearts and clubs unless your partner has length in both suits (in which case spades may play well enough for your opponents). Simply ignore the opponents and bid one spade, which in no way limits your high cards.


♠ Q 9 6 3
 K 5 2
 K 10 4
♣ K 5 4
South West North East
1 Dbl.

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


David WarheitJuly 4th, 2012 at 9:20 am

I believe that west made what appeared to him to be the safest lead when he led a heart on opening lead, yet it or a diamond lead guarantee the success of the contract provided declarer plays correctly, while a club lead may defeat the contract if declarer adopts a line of play where he must guess hearts. Only a spade lead forces declarer to guess hearts. Yet it seems to me that in general the lead chosen by west was the safest and that a spade lead would normally have been the unsafest. How would you analyze this?

bobby wolffJuly 4th, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi David,

Yes, you are discussing what often is a critical factor in eventually determining who wins an important match, the choice of opening lead. In this case all four suits are in the running for best or worst and only dame fortune (at least my opinion) knows for sure.

Definitely a spade lead, as you point out, is the only non-flawed opening choice, which will disenable declarer from finding 2 relatively easy ways to reach dummy to play trumps the preferred way, two finesses (against the king and the jack) to keep from having to play from one’s hand and guess which one the opening leader possesses. With a club lead one of the two entries required to improve the trump guess will match-up well with the gambit of leading the queen of diamonds (giving up a certain diamond trick in return for a better trump percentage). True the declarer would have to play for clubs 3-3 rather than perhaps the more likely 4-2, but as many might say, “If the opening leader can guess to lead a dangerous 3 card suit, I, in turn, should be able to guess he did it”.

In order to be painfully truthful I do not think there is any science or even a computer simulation which will strongly suggest, much less prove, which is the choice of lead which will work out the most times. My gut feeling is that 4 card suits work out better for the leader than do 3, with however, 5 card suits, not quite as vulnerable as 4, if one of those is available (of course without the ace, which seems to be universally a no-no lead throughout the expert community).

In conclusion, and without directly answering your important query I’ll again quote (or almost) John Brown, a brilliant English bridge author who wrote one of the best books ever, Winning Defense, way back in the 1940’s, “If an otherwise average bridge player would always get off to the most troubling lead for declarer every time he was on lead, he would win every world bridge championship”.

To, at least, specifically answer your direct question: No, I do not think that a spade lead would ever be classified as the unsafest by a high-level group with a diamond so winning that dubious award (because of the K10 combination), and a club relatively close behind.

Thanks for your helpful and thought provoking subject. Just because there, at least in my opinion, is no standout answer, doesn’t mean that it is not well worth discussing.