Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.

Samuel Butler

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


Today's deal emphasizes the point that bridge is not a game that you can learn by mastering one theme and extrapolating it to other deals.

First of all, let’s see what happened at the unsuccessful table in a teams match. Against three no-trump, the heart queen was led to the ace. The diamond 10 went to the ace, and declarer took the losing spade finesse. The next heart was ducked and South won the third rouind of hearts, throwing a spade from dummy. At this point he must have felt confident he was going to succeed. After all, if West had the diamond queen, the finesse would work. If East had it, the hearts were not a threat.

But when declarer led the diamond nine and West showed out, East ducked. Now the contract was no longer makable. With no entries to dummy there were just eight tricks.

Declarer had in a sense done well. If he takes the diamond finesse immediately, East clears hearts and the contract will depend on the success or failure of the spade finesse. However, at the other table South led the spade jack from his hand at trick two, a truly unnatural play, but one that would generate nine tricks no matter how the defense played. When West took the trick and continued the attack on hearts, South ducked, won the third round of hearts, and now ran the diamond 10. Whether East took this or the next diamond, South had four diamond winners and nine tricks.

A simple raise to two spades gets your values across satisfactorily, and if you are on defense against a club contract, you will know what to lead. But what if West plays four hearts? To get the diamond lead you want, you are much better advised to bid diamonds now or to double, suggesting values, diamonds and spade tolerance.


♠ 10 8 6
 7 4
 A K J 5 4
♣ J 7 3
South West North East
1 1♠ 2♣

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 ClimieSeptember 26th, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Ironically the South who went off did so due to too many assets. If he’d held SKQJ he would surely have found the right play, although this does assume that West hasn’t found a short suit lead in hearts from (say) HQJ9.

The bidding is a little curious, though – should it be 1NT – 3NT or similar?


Iain Climie

jim2September 26th, 2012 at 12:22 pm

What would you lead with:

S 9542
H QJ10
D 72
C Q854

bobby wolffSeptember 26th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Hi Iain,

It is very difficult for a mere mortal, like me, to compete with your creativity.

Yes, South in today’s combination business and bridge world would be thought to be overqualified when he would both lead directly from hand holding either AQJ or KQJ. Same effect, but different feeling which might lead just an average good player astray. Like Mae West, the player holding AQJ might resist everything but the temptation to go to dummy to finesse the AQJ resulting in disaster, except perhaps later, the exciting opportunity to also finesse Mae.

Regarding your second curiosity, an opening 2NT is going through a deflationary period of first being downgraded from a low number of 20 to 19 and now 18 is being experimented with. Reminds me of Helen Sobel’s great book, “All The Tricks” when one of her chapters was captioned, “Whatever Happened to Diamonds?” First clubs fell and now since 5 card majors was coming into popularity, 3 card diamond suit openings was now in vogue.

Now, since artificiality in the form of bidding and more likely responding one under the bidder’s real suit is coming into practice, perhaps the new cry will be why did so many bridge players give up the game as they knew it, since by modernizing, the masses cannot keep up and are now preferring simpler competitions.

bobby wolffSeptember 26th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Hi Jim2,

You tricky devil! I would lead anything but a heart since I do not want to contradict anything the Aces on Bridge sets out to teach on declarer’s play.

Kudos to your originality, but fie on your insideous veiled criticism of our today’s hand.

jim2September 26th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Guilty as charged!


bobby wolffSeptember 26th, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Hi Iain,

Also from a purist’s viewpoint, while West might have only 4 hearts (with a 1-4-4-4 distribution) declarer with KQJ of spades instead of AQJ continues a second spade when his king goes all small, a play not required of declarer if he held AQJ and it also went all small. East now jumps to win the second spade and leads a 3rd one, causing declarer to have to adjust his play to update to the new possible distributions including possibly allowing East (now the dangerous hand) to get in with the queen of diamonds).

Of course, I realize that now East figures to be short in diamonds, but still he could have Qxx with very short hearts and clubs.

Anyway, something to ponder, a feature that probably only bridge and chess have in common and that is adjusting to both surprising distributions in bridge and in chess, an unexpected move by a worthy opponent.

JaneSeptember 26th, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I agree with Lain about the two NT open by south. A balanced 18 looks fine to me to open it one NT, or one club. At least have a “dog in every pen” so to speak, and have some type of honor in each suit if 2 NT becomes the bid of choice. Sort of like the “good old days” when none of us peons would open one NT without all four suits stopped. I am glad that went away however.

Partner and I would open one club with the south hand, one NT by north (in our partnership agreement, 9-11 HCP and no four card major), three NT by south. Now east has to guess which major to lead. He might lead spades because leading the heart five is tougher to figure out as far as what holding he could have. The spade seven could show an honor, but not as likely. Even if north bids a diamond, south now bids two NT and north happily goes to three. In MHO, south’s hand is more accurately described this way to partner.

To each his own, but how “light” are we all really going to get?

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2012 at 5:43 am

Hi Jane,

Right you are and much more down the middle.

If we live long enough 2NT may fall to 17+-19, but if so, all of our declarer play has to, at the very least, improve slightly.

Helen Sobel had a chapter in her best selling bridge book, “All the Tricks”, bemoaning what happened to diamonds since when the 4 card major standard system was being overrun by the new 5 card major variety, therefore introducing an occasional 3 card diamond opening.

The more things change the more we need to adjust, although when other bids come in, it does leave room for more excuses.

Thanks for your advice.