Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 22nd, 2012

What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens.

Benjamin Disraeli

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


When the opponents pre-empt, you are often forced to guess, as in today’s deal. But how unreasonable is it to bid slam here, hoping for the spade queen or spade length in dummy?

The defenders lead the heart queen to your ace. You cash the spade ace and your worst fears are realized when West discards on this trick. What should be your plan next?

You must now strip all the clubs from the hand that has the diamond ace. If East has only two clubs, you need to decide which defender has the diamond ace, but why not cash two clubs to see if you can find out more? Best is to lead the club queen first. After all, West may give you honest count if he thinks his partner needs to know when to take his club winner.

When you cash a second top club, you discover the club break, so it is quite safe to take just one of your remaining club winners (not both!), then lead a diamond. You need West to have the diamond ace — if East had it, he could exit with his last club. When West wins and plays a red suit, you win in dummy, pitching your club from hand and take the spade finesse.

Note that had you cashed your last club before leading your diamond, whoever wins the diamond ace can play a second diamond and force you to ruff in hand, preventing you from taking the spade finesse.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Since declarer is as likely as dummy to be short in hearts, you might as well lead a low heart. Partner can win and continue the suit in an attempt to tap declarer out and maybe establish your small trumps.


♠ Q 7 6 5
 K 9 6 3
 J 2
♣ J 9 4
South West North East
Pass 1 1 1♠
3 3♠ 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 ClimieNovember 5th, 2012 at 10:39 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

As a general rule, when I’m really not sure about whether to lead an Ace against a slam, I tend not to lead it. This is yet another hand where I’d wind up with egg on my face if I tried this. As south is clearly prepared for a heart lead, is there more of a case for the DA here, and not just because it works?


Iain Climie

jim2November 5th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

On the BWTA quiz, might there not be merit in leading the KH?

South can continue hearts as well as North can, and dummy just might have a vulnerable minor suit holding that North signal for a shift.

Bobby WolffNovember 5th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Hi Iain,

The answer may lie in one’s adventurous spirit.

Yes, either a heart or the diamond ace might win the day, and although, in this case, the diamond is the opening leader’s best friend (ala Carol Channing), Benjamin Disraeli’s quote applies and why the diamond ace works is surely not the reason one decides to lead it.

Bridge luck and good fortune have a relationship which defies both science and logic, but this distinguishing characteristic, at least to me, only contributes to our game instead of the sometimes dreariness which often accompanies the all mind game of Chess.

bobby wolffNovember 5th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your adventurous spirit seems to be well in effect.

However, again referring to Disraeli’s quote, nothing is guaranteed, only speculated, and while, in case of either the dummy or the declarer having a singleton heart (perhaps 60% likely) your imaginative lead may be enabling for you to be able to lead through some vulnerable holding in dummy, but sometimes it backfires, by either partner overtaking, assuming you have the queen or the singleton ace is in one of the opponents hands and the queen in the other or even the singleton ace opposite J10x allowing a loser on loser play (or better) later.

All in all, I would probably choose the king for your reason given, but experience would rate the success rate as no more than the high fifty percent and remember it feels as bad as it feels good when (if I am correct in my estimate) the low forty percent option is realized.

The truth of the matter as long as percentages are being discussed, probably, about a projected 80% of the time, it will not make a difference either way.

angelo romanoNovember 5th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Mr. Wolff,
you say “If East has only two clubs, you need to decide which defender has the diamond ace” but I don’t get it. If both EW have two clubs, I think you’d play the third round, because:
– if E has 3 clubs you win anyway, while if E has 2 you win ONLY if he has the D Ace too;
– with E having 8 (or 9) hearts, he’s likely to be shorter in clubs

It’s true that if S doesn’t play the third club before diamonds and W has the Ace, he may not play clubs for E to ruff, thinking S is the one out of clubs, and perhaps E can ruff diamonds ..


angelo romanoNovember 5th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

sorry I meant “with W having 8 (or 9) hearts, he’s likely to be shorter in clubs”

jim2November 5th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Playing with angelo romano’s comment had some interesting results for me.

There are 4 cases when clubs split evenly:

– West has 3 + AD — declarer always fails (E can ruff 3rd club)
– West has 2 + AD — declarer must cash only 2 clubs
– West has 3 w/o AD — declarer must cash only 2 clubs
– West has 2 w/o AD — declarer must cash 3 clubs

But what are the odds?

Assume West has 8 hearts and has shown 2 clubs — that leaves 3 cards.

East will have shown 3 spades, 3 hearts, and 2 clubs — that leaves 5 cards.

So, from counting, the probability that East has 3 clubs and the AD would weight slightly higher than any one other case, but maybe not both.

OTOH, 5 Hearts was a big bid vulnerable. If declarer judges that it suggests the AD in the absence of both AH and KH, then that weights towards the cash two clubs cases.


jim2November 5th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Nuts! I posted the wrong file!

— sigh —

Obviously, if West has only 2 clubs and the AD, declarer can cash the third club because West cannot ruff.

Oh, well.

bobby wolffNovember 5th, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Hi Angelo and Jim2,

Without bowing to the frustration of guessing distributions, both of you are on track in discussing possible orders of play for declarer. When West showed out of the 2nd round of clubs it was like the sun came out, God’s in His Heaven, all is right with the world, particularly the one where bridge is played.

However bridge sometimes (too often) is like a wide receiver in football seeing his quarterback fire a pass which will hit him in the chest if his hands do not catch it first, but in his zeal to get ready to elusively run for a hoped for long gain or even a touchdown, he is careless with his concentration and away falls the ball.

Here the bridge analogy is not to get carried away with not having to guess the clubs, but he better not lose his concentration and cash the 4th club since then he would become trump poor and have to ruff the diamond return in hand and end play himself.

Obviously this is a beautiful hand as many fictional hands become and believe it or not, a real hand once is a while, which requires total attention to the whole hand, not just a part of it. That leads to EW, upon declarer getting careless and cashing a 4th club (it would happen more than one might think) when in with the diamond ace must then lead a diamond and not a heart which to some would be counter intuitive, unless he is both defensively counting and totally concentrating.

Bridge, at the top, demands all would be winners (at that level) to learn (like wide receivers at football) to concentrate intensely as the omission of the various steps necessary would be almost life threatening if not done on every hand played.

Soldiers during battle, surgeons during operations, pilots during emergencies, police during investigations and bridge experts during high-level competitions all require the same type of concentration, although in bridge it is usually not life threatening, but I say losing in bridge is worse than dying, because when one loses in bridge, chances are, that before long, he will have to do it again.

jim2November 5th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

BTW, I confess that I fell in to the “cash all the clubs trap” in my first run through.

It is something that may be actually easier to detect at the table than in remotely because at the table one has the cards in hand, and can literally “feel” that last club honor is the last non-trump card before one exits with the diamond.

Bobby WolffNovember 7th, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your second paragraph rings very true, probably because at the table, instead of just reading, our eyes and ears are ever at the alert, combining all of our human resources before making key decisions.

My now basic “deafness” no doubt, limits my quick reflexes significantly, causing me to both miss tell tale voice inflections which, in turn lowers my ceiling in helping me to determine exactly what someone really means when he (or she) says something. All, I guess, is part of the life cycle, not to be criticized, especially when one considers the alternative.