Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 12th, 2012

I'll think them every one an Antony,
And say ‘Aha! you’re caught.’

William Shakespeare

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


How would you have dealt with the club situation in this deal, which arose during the 2007 European Youth Teams Championships, held in Jesolo, Italy?

Defending against four spades, West led the heart four. South won with the bare king, cashed the spade ace and king, then got off play with a trump. Back on lead with the spade queen, West deviously returned the club queen, which was ducked all around. West continued with the club nine, and declarer, deciding that West’s initial club holding was Q-J-9, ducked again. East’s jack won, and the club return to the ace defeated the contract.

Great play by West, but should declarer have fallen for it? Probably not. Think back to the opening lead. If West had held both the heart queen and jack, the queen would surely have been the opening lead. The actual lead of the four suggests that it is away from one honor, not two. So, if West had held such an attractive sequence of club honors — the one South was playing him for — wouldn’t that have been the more obvious choice of attack?

At another table, also against four spades, West led a low diamond. Declarer inserted the jack — just in case — and East fell from grace and covered. South won, cashed his top trumps, then cashed his other top diamond, overtook the heart king with dummy’s ace, and discarded a club on the diamond 10. When later in the play declarer led a club to the king, that brought in 11 tricks.

Don't be a hero. Yes, the club ace or a low club could be right; but equally you may need to set up diamond tricks before they are discarded on declarer's clubs, and nothing in the auction tells you that you need to be desperate. So simply lead a low diamond and try to find your partner at home. When in doubt, avoid the unilateral play; it helps to keep partner's blood-pressure stable.


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


jim2November 26th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

The BWTA intrigued me.

If I understand the opponents’ bidding, West is 5-4 in the majors and East is 3-5.

West raised twice but did not splinter, suggesting 5-4-2-2. East bid 2-over-1 but did not introduce a second suit, so probably is not 3-5-1-4 or 3-5-4-1 (and so is 3-5-2-3 or 3-5-3-2). With both opponents snappily raising each other’s suit while not mentioning NT, both major suits might be solid. If that is the case, then they have ten tricks once the defense surrenders the lead.

The point to my above ramblings is that the defense may need to cash precisely two diamond and two club winners at the start to set the hand.

If that is the case, then pard must win two diamond tricks and must then contribute enough in clubs to allow us to win one more than “my” ace.

Pard needs to have AKD and KC for this to always work, but AQD and QJC will suffice if the minor suit kings are properly positioned for the defense and we lead a diamond at the start.

West will be the dummy and, if it really is 5-4-2-2, then the defense cannot go wrong by trying to cash a third diamond or club before trying the other minor suit.

The defense could err, though, by East winning the first diamond and leading another rather than a club when East turns out to have a major suit winner. For example, say East has:

S Kxx (AS on Board)
H x
D Axxxx
C QJxx

If pard wins the AD leads back a diamond, declarer will draw trump and pitch one of dummy’s two clubs on a diamond.

So, is the deuce the right diamond to lead? If there is a doubleton diamond on the Board (as the bidding implies), then there is no risk pard will try to give me a third round ruff. Maybe the 10 or the 8 might be better, as it suggests no diamond honor.

That is, declarer will not have a diamond guess, but partner might.

Alex AlonNovember 26th, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf
this reminds me about all those TV viewers that jump from their armchairs when a player misses an easy layup or an open shot. Many of them thinking “i would have made that shot”. What we forget is the pressure of the moment. The difference between great champions like you and players like me is the composure to analyze and act in spur of a moment in the correct way. The defenders play was remarkable and only an evenly remarkable declarer would have countered that the way you explained.
I would play the K club on the Q making the contract, but for the wrong reason, looking at the hands before reading on i decided that the A club must be onside if the trump doesn’t split :). silly me.

bobby wolffNovember 26th, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

Nothing you say or describe could be considered either untrue or even very unlikely. However, there is a paradox involved which centers itself around the distribution you expect from the opponents as well as the conflict on what partner may think, once he wins the first trick.

Without getting into different distributions, both opponents or perhaps only one of them might have, let me suffice it to say that partner should attempt to play you, the opening leader for whatever card you need to set the hand, and when faced with a choice, choose the one which offers the best chance, keeping in mind the tendencies which all high-level players subscribe to e.g. not leading an unsupported ace, unless the bidding virtually demands it. For example, if my ace of clubs would have been the king instead, I would easily choose the club rather than the diamond from only the ten.

Caveats to follow:

1. Do not over analyze bidding sequences to the point of trying to be brilliant, because if one does, he will, too often be wrong and for one reason or another sometimes allow a no play game (in this case) to succeed.

2. Lead the right card from the holding of the suit you choose to lead. Here, it is abnormal to lead either the eight or the ten, which, in the long run will confuse partner more often than enlighten him.

3. Never forget that bridge, not you, partner or even the worthy opponents, is the master of any hand and therefore trying to pinpoint the defense before seeing any of the other 39 cards (only listening to the bidding, which can be, and often is, antithetical to what anyone could expect).

4. Again, to say that nothing above suggests that you are not possibly right on target in your expectations, but by not leading the normal card from a certain holding, it, more often than anyone might think, might mislead your expert partner into doing the wrong thing (probably at trick 2, but not necessarily) as he, by his being given your unnatural choice (making it more difficult to read), and therefore not envision what it might take to achieve a set.

5. The time to be brilliant is not necessarily on opening lead, but usually by the defender who is privy to significantly more information than is the opening leader and that in this case, as it usually is, would be your partner who now sees dummy, remembers the bidding, and therefore is in a much better position to judge, unless the tacks in the road are thrown by you, not by the opponents.

6. As a conclusion, in the early days of the Aces, dating back to 1968, and after going over so many hands, both declarer’s play and defense, I think I can safely say, that if the opening leader would have chosen the eight or the ten of diamonds and it disrupted the defense to such an extent to allow a non-making game through, that opening leader would be marked with violating one of the seven deadly sins of Unilateral Action.

Sorry to be in a scolding mood and totally realizing that your reasoning might be right on point and therefore single handed, making a silk purse defense out of a sow’s ear, the above IMO still needs to be said, if moving up the ladder in high-level bridge ability from a defensive partnership position is the goal.

Thank you for your candid imagination, without which, this whole subject would not have been brought into the open.

bobby wolffNovember 26th, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hi Alex,

Your extreme modesty is indeed endearing and
not only gladdens the heart, but also lightens the mood which, in turn, makes all of us appreciate legal deceptive card play.

West’s switch to the abnormal, but highly correct play of the queen of clubs, should, especially in a high-level game cause a not so naive good declarer to understand that his opponents are definite adversaries, not there to make it easy for him, but rather to be tested in making the right play.

Therefore, similar to “all that glitters is not gold” this declarer should only play the percentages after realizing that LHO is committed to making it as tough as possible for you to “get it right”. In other words, if he (or she) is trying to get me to not play the king than I should, on either the first (preferable, because West might have only Q9x in clubs and thus when East wins my king and leads back a low one, then rise with the 10. because, as the column mentioned my LHO would have chosen the queen of clubs as his opening lead, holding the QJx rather than a low heart from probably only one minor honor. The final caveat should suggest that “do the opposite of what, my worthy opponents, are trying to persuade me to do”!

Alex, all I can suggest to you is to above all, play the game, ask questions and your game will improve by bounds and leaps. You already possess the right attitude in enthusiasm, desire and proper respect for those who have gone before you. Parlay that into using that keen mind of yours into learning this off-the-charts greatest mind game of all time.