Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

No one is such a liar as the indignant man.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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


To be third in hand at favorable vulnerability after two passes is a delightful position. You know that your left-hand opponent has a good hand so you can make life as difficult for him as you dare.

Here West had a good club suit and virtually no defense, so he opted for the three-level pre-empt, which worked very well. North’s takeout double was clear and South was happy enough to bid his reasonable five-card diamond suit. That ended the auction.

After cashing two rounds of clubs, West had to decide what to do next and he found a good play, the opportunity for which crops up quite frequently if you are on the lookout for it. He switched to the spade THREE.

Declarer won with the ace and no longer had a winning line. As soon as East got in with a red-suit trick, he could play another spade, establishing his own queen, which he could cash when he was next on lead.

Declarer now cashed the diamond ace and played hearts. East took his ace and led a second spade. Declarer won and continued with hearts, hoping that East had four hearts and three diamonds, but West ruffed with his diamond seven, and three diamonds went down a trick.

Note that if West had switched to the spade jack, that would have sunk the defense, for East would not have been able to continue the suit when he got in.

Did you get fancy, looking to play six clubs or five clubs here? Settle for simplicity and bid the cards in front of you. Both slam and five clubs are a long way away. Respond three no-trump and hope declarer can reach your clubs … and yes, I'm only joking.


♠ J 3
 9 5 3
 7 2
♣ A K Q J 9 6
South West North East
1 NT 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


David WarheitNovember 6th, 2012 at 10:18 am

Minor point: east should play the 3 and then the 10 of clubs, thus showing 3 clubs and a desire for a spade shift. This makes it just a little bit easier for west not to make the mistake of leading the spade jack.

Iain ClimieNovember 6th, 2012 at 11:41 am

Hi Folks,

Sometimes leading small from an honour and a small card is another old BOLS tip (Rixi Markus, I think) but there is a slight risk. An unimaginative partner may get confused while on the spade layout shown, east might think Wesdt has S10xx and flashily lead the SQ back to pin the Jack – it does so, but not in a good way.

On the BWTA the advice to keep things simple is clearly sensible. There is an old joke about a player with ten solid spades and three singletons at rubber bridge passing first in hand to await developments. The hand is passed out and he glumly asks his partner if he had much. “Not really worth opening with just the 3 Aces and no intermediates” comes the reply.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Hi David,

As usual, you have nailed what could, with more words available, be also written within the column, although even without partnership cooperation (such as in a typical bridge club rubber bridge game where subtle signals are often ignored by one or the other partner) the lead of the small spade from West would (should) still standout.

In any event, thanks for writing what you did.

jim2November 6th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I don’t think I would ever spot the column shift at the table.

bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, right you are, but even considering returning the queen of spades by East would be catering to an unlikely hand combination of likely J109 of hearts with partner since the 8 is in dummy and declarer would probably, even just holding the 9xx of hearts and Jx in spades,, based on the 3 club preempt, guess what to do in hearts.

However, what you said is well worth saying, but should not be considered by East, since he should appreciate West’s dilemma and play him for the Jx in spades. No perfect science, bridge, only a combination of judgment based on card common sense and, more specifically as applied to the particular hand dealt and in this case, defended.

Your memory, of course, improved by your possession of a complete book on early BOLS bridge tips, is quite spectacular and even I, without that book, remember Rixi’s discussion on when to defy convention on defense.

The high-level game, as you are well aware, is made up of knowledge, experience, and the confidence of partner having been there, done that, and ready for battle.

Your joke about the person who passed out the hand with only 3 aces, reminds me of when I was a teenager (either 18 or 19) and playing rubber bridge at my original home in San Antonio, Texas and also picked up the same hand, ten solid spades and 3 singletons and experience 1 heart by my LHO, 2 clubs by partner, 5 hearts on my right, 6 spades by me, double by both opponents and not possessing any clout and then being subject to an irate partner screaming how can you bid that way?, while laying down a void in spades and only A10xxxx in clubs and Axxx in diamonds?

Later, the table got very quiet with the other three being 2 chagrined opponents and an embarrassed partner together with a smiling cat who had just eaten the canary.

Iain ClimieNovember 6th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

You were very tactful not asking partner why he didn’t redouble with such useful cards! Or maybe he realised they’d find the cheap save.


jim2November 6th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Since this is story day!


I think I was in my teens and playing in my first nationals in DC (Summer 1973). The highlight hand was when pard picked up:

S 10xxxx
D xxxxx
C –

I was dealer and the bidding went:

1C (Precision) – 1H – 1S (5 – 8 HCP and 5 spades) – 4H

Partner wanted a shot at 4H, was distressed at my 6S, despondent when it was doubled, then horrified when he realized that the pause across the table was moi considering Redouble.

Eventually, I Passed and the opening lead was AC (ace from AK).

His face cleared when I put down:

S AKQxxx
H –
D –
C QJ987xx

jim2November 6th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Oops – I should have said I was JUST OUT of my teens ….

jim2November 6th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

The wisdom of the BWTA answer is evident by trying 6C with the column North hand. As good a 1N opener as South could expect to get as dummy, 6C is nonetheless a poor odds contract. Still, I find such things fascinating.

On a diamond lead, South appears forced to hope for Q10S onside (25% – for a diamond pitch) and then be able to lose only a single heart trick (basically AH onside, also). This appears to put success odds at ~12.5%.

Things look up a tad on a club lead, as one can play on hearts while the AD still guards diamonds. If hearts fail to bring in three tricks, the 25% shot in spades is there as a backup of sorts. AH onside and hearts 3-3 would suffice, as would AH offside with LHO holding J10 doubleton, blah-blah-blah. Without making my head hurt too much, I’d estimate the total success odds after a club lead at about 50%, and possibly a bit higher.

On a heart lead, it depends on the heart led. If it is the AH, then the odds look pretty good, but what if the shift is a spade?! If the lead is the JH, then if the leader has the 10H, all is well. If it is a small heart, then one is probably back to the 25% forlorn hope in spades.

If the lead is a spade, though, one would have to choose at Trick 1! Hearts for three tricks or spade Q (only) onside? The math suggests playing small is a 50% shot, as good as one can get here, but do folk realllly lead from queens on acutions like this?? Could I really ever open my eyes again after putting in the 9S?

So, yes, 3N has my Nov 6 vote. If nothing else, it cuts down on the ibu.

bobby wolffNovember 6th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, those were the days, my friend, I wished they’d never end.

At the Sheraton Park Hotel, I was there or was that the 1961 Nationals. The 1973 event was when Edith Rosenkrantz was kidnapped but returned unharmed to the standing ovation of thousands of people. It was an inside job, masterminded by a fairly well known young bridge player, who was an accomplished musician as well from Houston (who I had played against and knew well, who just 10+ years ago was released from prison, but has since died. Both Edith and her well known husband, George are still living (94 and 96 years old) and living in Northern California.

jim2November 6th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Yes, that kidnapping cast quite a pall over things back then.