Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 28th, 2013

Advice is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most always like it the least.

The Earl of Chesterfield

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


Some of the most important techniques in bridge are those that assist you in establishing a suit. In today's deal, how would you play the spade slam when West leads the diamond 10? The key is to make full use of the available entries to dummy.

If spades break, you are home; what if they do not? West may have led from the diamond king but it is no more than a 50-50 chance. And rightly or wrongly, many players regard leading from a king as a sin comparable to coveting one’s neighbor’s ox. A rather better chance is that clubs will break 4-3 and that you can set up a second discard in the suit.

You rise with dummy’s diamond ace and lead low to your spade ace. You then unblock the club ace and return to dummy with the spade king, discovering that East holds a trump trick. All follow to the club king, on which you discard one of your diamond losers. You then ruff a club, and when you return to dummy with a top heart and lead a low club, there is nothing that East can do. If he ruffs the losing club with his master trump, you will discard your last diamond loser and claim the balance. No doubt East will prefer to discard on the fourth round of clubs. You ruff in hand, return to dummy with a heart, and lead the club jack. Whether or not East ruffs, you will throw your last diamond and make the slam.

On auctions of this sort, the world is divided into those who go passive (here a diamond lead is more logical than a club, since partner had the chance to double clubs and didn't do so) and those who go active with a heart lead. Put me in the latter group, for better or worse. A trump lead is NOT passive by the way — give partner the doubleton spade jack to see why.


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


jim2February 11th, 2013 at 1:21 pm

On the lead quiz, would your choice have been affected if:

1) E – W were playing forcing Stayman?
2) East had bid 3S (instead of 2S) and been raised to 4S?
3) West had bid 3S (instead of 4S) and been raised to 4S?
4) #1 plus either #2 or #3?

bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Hi Jim2,

All good questions and all worth consideration.

To make a general type, tell tale response which may (will) shed some common reason to consistent answers which could be applied to future choices later, let me confirm the overall goals:

1. In matchpoints (bridge’s own bastard, loved by many, type needed to create competitive pair contests, and obviously here for the long haul) the thought process is usually, but certainly not always, enough to sometimes have different type reasoning as we now emphasize frequency of gain (specific number of defensive tricks needed, in matchpoints not giving away a trick, against in IMPs or rubber bridge (RB) amount of gain, enough tricks to defeat the contract, while, of course even in matchpoints, still striving to defeat a contract, if possible.

2. We must understand first, that the game of bridge, has been and still requires great skill to become good at it, and even more so to be even better, but the key fact to learn is, especially on any one hand, the huge luck factor which could and usually is present when skill is challenged by the varience of the specific construction of the other three hands, impossibly guessed at, even after most bidding sequences are complete.

3. The law of averages, however is a great benefactor to the better players, and since it is always in operation (witness the billion dollar structures quite in evidence in my now home city of Las Vegas, a testimony to the house edge in gambling greater against the player in games of sheer chance (Baccarat, Craps, Roulette and other concoctions) instead of against games of, at least some skill (Blackjack (BJ) and Poker, but still having a significant house edge, trumping the sucker’s skill in BJ, and resorting to only legal skimming (taking a specific amount of every pot) in poker.

4. Getting back to bridge, it is my belief that matchpoints (MP) is just too difficult a game to play well, lessening its importance as against RB and/or IMPs which, because of its basic nature at least approaches sanity in that its choices (opening leads and percentage lines of both declarer and defense especially with the knowledge learned as the bidding proceeds and then later the inferences and arithmetic of the legal signalling and counting confirms, whether or not the bidding has already basically told the whole story (usually only the distributions, but not, of course, the specific suit qualities).

5. And now back to the ranch of your specific questions and pardon my above interruption, but I thought necessary to discuss for the best and brightest out there who should use the above discussion to understand what they are (if you’ll excuse the pun) dealing with.

6. With #1, since East bid 4 spades, chances are that he was always bidding game since when playing two way Stayman the responder (in order to not allow the opponents to double for leads, but with the intention of either bidding 4 of an 8 card combined major) or settle in 3NT will choose to bid his best minor so as not to give the opponents an advantage. That rules out a club for me (no lead directing double from partner) and in MP I would settle for a diamond (either the nine or the five, depending on partnership agreement), but in RB or MP would go for the low heart lead which, at least to me, increases our defensive chances by a relatively small amount, but in any case will unlikely give the possible setting trick away.

7. In #2, I suppose East is trying to show 5 spades (allowing partner to raise with 3), but I do not think that difference is enough to dissuade me from my same choice as above.

8. In #3 the defense now knows it is going to be a close game bid, but I doubt again if there is any difference which can be technically discerned, but since every sinew of my bridge brain suggests to me to be aggressive when possible I might choose a low heart, even in MP because of my possible obsession in going for the gusto, instead of sitting back and wait for the mountain to come to Mohammed. It could be noted, though, that through the years, the great, totally honest, French experts have tended to lead very conservatively, quite often choosing passivity over aggression and they, as a group, have had the most international success against my teams in my most important tournaments, putting pause to my (and others) who believe it is better to die with one’s boots on. However, at least upon sketchy analysis, it seems that this difference was not the reason they beat us some numbers of time, but rather their consistent overall games and, of course their well worked out systems which are closer to what most top American players play only, if anything, more so.

9. Because of the uncertainty of what that particular partnership’s tendencies about starting with either 2 clubs or 2 diamonds and the likelihood of their choice being contrived I give little credence to #1 being a factor, although perhaps another player may see it differently than I do.

Thanks for suffering through all the discussions, many not pertaining to your questions, but still perhaps worth mentioning.

jim2February 11th, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Very insightful, and thanks.

One thing I considered was that, if I thought their trump fit were strong but their point count just enough for game, I might lead a small trump.

bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Hi Jim2,

It occurred to me that you might have meant ONE way forcing Stayman instead of Two Way Stayman (2C NGF with 2D GF).

I wrote assuming you meant 2 way Stayman, to which I play and basically love it preferring it over transfers.

The upshot of the difference does not change my position much, if any, so let us just leave it at that.

Sorry and good luck in agreeing or not with what I offered.

bobby wolffFebruary 11th, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Hi Jim2,

We got caught in simultaneous renderings.

The trump lead is not as risk free as some think in that it could give away the defensive jack or even, since it would be highly unusual for the opening lead to be away from the queen, allow declarer to rise with the king in the dummy and therefore block the ability to get three rounds of trump led from the get go.

Otherwise, since the above is low percentage, your possible choice is certainly a viable possibility.

M JhaFebruary 12th, 2013 at 5:12 am

I am Happy on one count that I shall be leading the Hearts as the Master would! Gives me immense pleasure!