Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Fortunes … come tumbling into some men's laps.

Francis Bacon

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


How would you tackle today's spade game when West leads the diamond nine?

The original declarer did not give the matter sufficient consideration, and as a result, plunged to defeat. He won the diamond lead with dummy’s ace and finessed the spade queen. West won with the king and played another diamond. After cashing two winners in the suit, East tried his luck with a fourth round of diamonds. With the trumps lying as they were, this promoted West’s spade nine to the setting trick. Do you see how declarer could have avoided this trump promotion?

To kill the entry to the East hand, you need to duck the first round of diamonds. You can then win the second round with dummy’s ace and finesse in trump, and West can no longer reach the East hand for a trump promotion. There is absolutely no risk in ducking the first diamond. If the diamond-nine opening lead happened to be a singleton, West would be ruffing a loser after a diamond return.

Holding up an ace to break the defenders’ communications is a familiar idea when playing in no-trump, but it can be just as valuable in a suit contract. The purpose is exactly the same — to cut the communications between the defenders.

Incidentally, you must also resist the temptation to try to cash the top hearts early. There is no need to rush to take your discard — it can wait till after trumps are drawn.

Your offensive values are so good, and your defensive tricks so negligible, that it feels right to jump to three diamonds immediately, rather than competing to two diamonds, which might leave your opponents room to get to together more efficiently than you would like.


♠ 6
 10 9 5 4 3
 K Q J 6 2
♣ Q 4
South West North East
1 Pass
1 1♠ Pass 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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2013 at 11:30 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

What if East takes the first diamond and finds a devilish switch of a small club, retaining the CQ as a potential re-entry? If South takes the CA immediately and crosses to the DA to take the trump finesse, West can win and can (although might not) underlead the club honours so East can generate the trump promotion as before. If declarer tries to cash 3 hearts early, dumping a club, he loses an extra ruff and still has a further diamond and trump to lose.

The column appears to double up i.e. the CA has to be ducked too! This might also apply from declarer’s perspective if the CQ were led – it could be from CQJ(x).


Iain Climie

Bruce KarlsonJanuary 29th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Hi- I am much averse to leading the top of a worthless doubleton, particularly if there seems to be a decent alternative. In this case, the club jack stands out. That looks to be a decent lead in this hand, but what are you thoughts in general.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Hi Iain,

When discussing better lines of play we must never forget, all the factors involved. The decision at trick one of whether to win the diamond or not is dependent on whether or not the opening leader might have a singleton diamond or not. If he has a singleton and declarer ducks the diamond, West will ruff the diamond return and switch to a club. At that point it seems right for declarer to try and pitch his losing club before attempting the spade finesse since by sheer numbers and logic that finesse is more likely than not to lose. This however does not work since West is also short in hearts as well as diamonds, which however is mere supposition because the vacant space created with the assumption that West started with a singleton diamond (instead of the doubleton he actually held) will probably be filled with a 3rd heart meaning that declarer will still make the hand.

The question of percentage plays is sometimes more complicated than many less numerate players may be able to cope, simply because of the vast number of different arithmetical combinations which need to be concerned with in determining the more likely route to go.

Here, at least to me, the eight of diamonds held by declarer suggests West to be short in diamonds but considerably more likely to have been dealt 2 instead of 1, merely because of the more vacant spaces available in the West hand for the extra diamond. Perhaps the tempo of the lead could also be taken into account with a faster lead of a singleton present, rather than the more thoughtful lead of a less aggressive choice of only a doubleton.

At least to me, ducking the first diamond particularly so, since East did not overcall 2 diamonds, even while vulnerable, tips the scales rather strongly in favor of it.

Like solving a difficult murder case, sometimes good declarers, like good detectives, need to study long in order to not study wrong in making the correct play or correct supposition at trick one in bridge and confirm the right suspicions in law enforcement.

bobby wolffJanuary 29th, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your question is indeed one which has been debated for years by top-level players, but like other subjective questions in bridge, no 100% or even 70% answers arrived at.

The factors involved with leading random doubletons as opposed to length and, at least, some strength, may be swayed by other truths. Having trump control lends itself to leading doubletons, since by so possessing, the doubleton choice doesn’t need black magic to find partner with either the AK or AQ over the King in dummy, or the ace of trump himself in addition. In other words, with adept defending choices, a ruff still may be in the cards in spite of not finding a perfect hand from partner, if trump control is held by the opening leader. However, the holding of four trump to the king suggests perhaps a forcing game, started by a club lead, except the bidding on this hand places at least a 6 card suit with declarer, somewhat negating the likelihood of the immediate above statement.

Cutting to the chase, opening leads are only a guess, with, of course, the best ones usually made by the very good players, possessing the most experience, after a careful consideration of the exact bidding together with the tempos of their opponents in choices.

John Brown, a magnificent long ago British bridge writer, said it best in his masterpiece of “Winning Defence” when he stated something to the effect, If a very average player always got off to the right opening lead, he would win every World Bridge Championship. That should say it all!