Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 21st, 2013

Here's a pretty state of things!
Here’s a pretty how-de-do!

W.S. Gilbert

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

* A (very) weak two


All this week's deals come from last year's NEC tournament in Yokohama, Japan. Today's comes from the final between an Australian and a Bulgarian squad.

With the Australians taking a decent lead into the final set, we saw a moment of low farce. Nobody was hurt, but many of the eight players emerged with scrambled egg all over their faces.

Three no-trump by either North or South has the attraction of nine top tricks while six diamonds or six no-trump by North are perfectly playable contracts, even if neither is an odds-on spot. I wish I could say the same for either four diamonds, or six diamonds when played by South. A complex relay auction (in which South described his hand precisely) led the Australasians to the very dicey slam.

Having said that, if you reached six diamonds and received a top club lead — as happened at the table — you’d count yourself a little unlucky to go down. The point is that you need only 2-2 trumps or the hand with three diamonds to have at least three hearts – by my calculation about an 80 percent chance. That was what happened to the New Zealand declarer, but East could ruff the third heart and cash the spade ace. Down one.

To add insult to injury, from a Bulgarian perspective, when West led his spade queen against four diamonds on the auction shown, North having passed a forcing call to stop ‘safely’ low, the defenders took two spades, a ruff and a trump trick. Down one and no swing!

A heart lead looks like your best chance to attack a suit where your side has seven or more cards, and the heart nine is the best way to clarify your holding to partner in case a switch is called for. My second choice would be a club, I think, my third a spade.


♠ 4 2
 9 8 4
 K Q 7 5
♣ J 8 6 3
South West North East
1 Pass 1 NT
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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Shantanu RastogiFebruary 4th, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

In lead with the aces partner has neither overcalled nor balanced hence I assume EW to have 22-23 HCP. It is cler that partner doesnt have a biddable 5 card major if he has 10-11 HCP. Also my diamond holding says he should be short in diamonds and he hasnt made a takeout double is another pointer to 10-11 HCP hand. So a heart lead is passive – gives nothing away but spade lead has the most likely hood of finding 4/5 carder with partner. So I would try Spades with my regular partner knowing fully well that he would not be misled by 4 of spade lead.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

jim2February 4th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Shantanu Rastogi –

I am not Our Host, but I suspect the recommendation weighted heavily the factor that South has not just a second but also a third heart to lead. That is, South is likely to win diamond tricks during the later play of the hand (and maybe also a club). If South began with spades, even one holdup would prevent South from later continuing that suit.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Your analysis of the bidding and your partner’s realization (especially after he probably sees 4 spades in dummy) will undeniably not mislead him as to your approximate holding.

However, there will be a big difference between catching partner with 4 or 5 spades and I think (because of no balance or immediate spade overcall) he is more likely to hold only 4 of them.

If the above is accurate, your lead only serves to chop up his holding by your side being forced to play 1st and 3rd on the opening lead, instead of the likelihood of declarer going after spades himself where the opposite advantage is transferred to your side.

Yes, the nine of hearts lead is definitely a passive choice but then catching only 4 hearts with partner still favors your side eventually establishing an otherwise possibly undue heart trick which could mean (on a good day) the setting trick (or 1 less trick for declarer) which, of course, is very important in match points.

No doubt this type of opening lead is a strict guess, but while trying to weave one’s way into more knowledge about our game, the placement and distribution of all 52 cards cannot be overestimated. This fact leads to the always present condition of there being no gods in bridge, only guides, and sadly sometimes too many outright guesses, with a relatively blind opening lead leading the parade.

It is always nice to hear from you, and, of course, discuss the game.

Good luck!

Bruce KarlsonFebruary 4th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I would play South’s 3 spades as indicating a half stopper or better and asking P if he/she has any help, expecting 3NT if there is any.

Some play Western Cue as a simple “ask” with no required holding, others, incuding me, require something to make the bid. Of course, the bidder must have the support required for P to deny and rebid your side’s suit comfortably.

How would you play it in this situation or in general?

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 4th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Dear Mr Wolff

I assumed that the leads are made in a duplicate teams game. What you point out is correct that probabilty of finding 4 card major with West is a high one and a Spade lead would locate partner’s honour(S) in the suit but with 22-23 HCP with EW are likely to make game and I’m not too concerned about overtricks in teams. My obssesion in teams is how to take contract down and my best likely hood is to find AKJ three carder with West and Ace of Diamond with East and partner sitting with 5 card Q7632 and few entries in Clubs and hearts. It would be good fun to take 22-23 points 1 NT down.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 4th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

The spade holding with North in my second comment should be Q7653 and not Q7632.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Hi Bruce,

While I generally agree with what you say about a cue bid at the three level is generally a “Western Cue Bid” defined as asking for a half stop along with something in that suit from the cue bidder, it sometimes is is a suggestion to bid 3NT if the he (she) has the suit fully stopped.

What cue bids, particularly in competitive situations where the bidding has gotten higher faster, really mean is “do something intelligent partner” DSIP and after hearing your answer, I’ll be better placed to make my decision.

Obviously on today’s column hand North expected South to keep on bidding after his cue bid, and, of course, that created the somewhat farcical 4 diamond contract, which, while played from the wrong side, resulted in a disaster. Of course, South, according to partnership wishes, may not play North’s 3 heart bid as 100% forcing (I wouldn’t but others do).

My judgment is for North to bid a quantatative 4NT instead forcing me, if only interested in aces for slam, to first start with a cue bid (3 spades) and then bid 4NT over partner’s response unless he bid 3NT and then 4NT would still be quantatative but then 5 clubs would ask for aces.

Slam bidding, particularly in competition can get fairly complicated and needs to be thoroughly discussed, but if not, just either bash or not and hope for the best, but avoid misunderstandings at all costs.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi Shantanu,

No doubt it would be great fun to take 1NT down, but it is indeed a small window you are shooting at.

My advice is to not have your great expectations and go along with normal percentages, only hoping that you can hold declarer to a minimum number of tricks, whatever that number may be.

Play solidly down the middle with normal optimism but better to restrict your dreams otherwise too often they become nightmares.

Bill CubleyFebruary 4th, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Reminds me of Casey Stengel when he managed the Mets. Can’t anybody play this game.

We all do this sort of thing sooner or later. For me sooner, for you later.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Hi Bill,

Perhaps there is a reason for being less than perfect while attempting to play either of the two games you indirectly mention, baseball and bridge.

Trying to hit an 100 mph fastball and/or selecting a lead against 1NT without seeing a card in the other three players hands does not lend itself to extreme accuracy nor, of course, consistent success.

However, that does not mean that any of us should give up trying.

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 5th, 2013 at 5:09 am

Hello Mr Wolff

Its been a privilege discussing finer points of bridge with you. If it hadnt been for this forum I from India wouldnt have got opportunity of discussing things with a world champion. You have taken enough pains to put your point across to a upcoming bridge player like me without being dismissive so I can not go just on and on about my view. But I must add – having been from a country whose bridge pedigree is at best modest I need to steal points from tougher/highly seeded opponents and thats is why the trade off of 4-5 IMP gain against 1-2 IMP loss appeals to me greatly. In pairs off course I would lead a heart. Thanks once again.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Hi Shantanu,

It’s my privilege as well, discussing bridge with you.

India has a fine pedigree for excellent and even above that, actively ethical world class players.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing against many expert Indian teams and in later rounds of the WBF World Championships, once in the medal rounds of the World Team Olympiad. Even now, many Indian experts play in our National tournaments and even though my participation in the last few years has been very limited the Indian participation always presents among the finest the world has to offer.

In addition some of the Indian players are my very good friends and I even had the honor of writing a forward for the late and great R. Jayaram’s “The Romance of Bridge”.

India’s bridge participation has always been a source of great pride for everyone who has played against them.

Good luck and thanks for your very kind words.