Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.

John Dryden

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


Consider your line of play in six clubs from London's TGR's bridge club, on a trump lead.

If clubs are 2-2, then you could draw trump and play off hearts, making 13 tricks should hearts break 3-3. If hearts are 4-2, you discard one diamond and then ruff the hearts good but make only 12 tricks, since you eventually run out of trumps.

Equally, if hearts break while clubs do not, then you can make 13 tricks by simply playing out your other top hearts while discarding diamonds. Then you ruff a diamond, cross back to hand with a trump, ruff another diamond, cross back to hand with a spade, ruff to draw trump, and claim the remainder.

However, what you need to do is find a safer line for the slam if neither suit breaks. If you draw three rounds of trump but then find hearts are 4-2, you will need East to hold the diamond ace if you are going to come to 12 tricks. On the other hand, if you play off three rounds of hearts immediately (discarding diamonds) and East ruffs and returns a trump, you will go down.

The solution is somewhat counterintuitive: What you must do is play off two top hearts, discarding a diamond, and then play a diamond. Even if the defenders could win and play another trump (which on the actual lie of the cards they cannot), you still have two trumps in dummy, one to ruff the hearts good, and one to ruff a diamond.

Jump to three spades to show a limit raise. Your ruffing value suggests you raise spades directly and get your hand off your chest at one go. It would not be unreasonable to force to game by bidding two diamonds, then raising spades, and I would do that with the diamond king instead of the queen.


♠ K 6 4
 J 10 5 2
 A Q 9 8 2
♣ 3
South West North East
1♠ 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


Iain ClimieFebruary 16th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

A very neat play which remembers that in 6C you can afford to lose a trick so bashing out three top hearts is greedy, at least at IMPs. It does also indicate that West was quite right not to lead his DA as it makes life very easy for declarer. Given that West has a surprisingly large number of high cards, he can work out that the DA lead is most likely to help declarer as partner has nothing.

I quite often veer towards attacking leads against strongly bid slams (the S6 might be tempting here), but this hand is a case for caution. Can you give any sensible guidelines here?


Iain Climie

bobby wolffFebruary 16th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Hi Iain,

Your question and particularly your included positive attitude, always will (should) bring out the most honest and least political (hedging) answer, even if there is some (usual case) educated guessing involved.

Declarer, because of his 6 club bid is morally certain to have, at the least, 2nd round diamond control, so with a good chance that includes the king, a diamond lead should immediately be ruled out.*

While, because of what you have said is on target, our overall values makes it unlikely partner may have been dealt either the Qxx or J10xx of clubs, a club lead appears relatively safe, but still….my choice would narrow down to an aggressive spade lead (mentioned by you), but would probably settle for the 10 of hearts, which could be somewhat deceptive, both from the suit chosen and from the specific card.

When good players play against their peers, it is as standard as the night following day, for the declarer not to expect
conventional leads from tough minded adversaries, but still sometimes, nothing but mama papa, may remain in the offing.

Trying to analyze further, it is usually likely that if declarer had the AQ of spades he would have just bid 6 clubs the round before, instead of announcing to the opening leader that he was prepared for a spade lead. However that would not preclude the dummy from showing up with that dangerous card (in some cases, but not this one, to the defense).

You might be interested to know, that perhaps almost 60 years ago one of my early great partners, Oswald Jacoby (nothing short of a true mathematical genius) and at one time, supposedly the youngest licensed actuary ever in the USA, confided in me: “If I could find the time, I would love to do complete books on two subjects, opening leads against slams, and the order of defensive discards when defending with a Yarborough (terrible hand with no high cards) against top players”.

*except, of course in matchpoints wherein an opening leader has always to be concerned, especially in an above average field, the possibility of more matchpoints for holding them to only 12 tricks instead of 13, a thought to me of total repugnance, since, while indigenous to matchpoints, totally contradicts IMO what our great game stands for and what should naturally be about.

Quote the baby bird of the Raven, “Nothing more”!

ClarksburgFebruary 16th, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Mr. Wolf,
With reference to the BWTA item, could you comment on the three-trump holdings required to justify putting a hand into the “limit raise” range?
Here you show Kxx…how about Jxx?
Intermediates? e.g. 10 9 8, 10 8 x, 98x
Would the three-trump holdings for a single raise be the same?

bobby wolffFebruary 16th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Limit raises with only three card raises is against my tradition (being brought up on four card majors and still thinking that four card majors together with a forcing club is still a very difficult system to play against and, at least to me, the most effective, especially at the highest level).

However, sometimes a limit raise or, of course, a more common single raise, needs to be often chosen as the lesser of evils choice. The major disadvantage, even opposite a certain five card major, is that the “Law of Total Tricks” suffers valuation problems (both for offensive potential or lesser known, increases your defensive trick taking chances) when declarer, opposite a limit raise, expects at least a nine card fit instead of eight which evaluates at a much lower expectancy of gathering tricks during the play and when the opponents enter the bidding creates a red herring as competitive bidding gets to higher levels.

I guess “one has to give to get” but anyone who denies that to limit raise with only three instead of a preferred four, is not a distortion, at least to me, lives in a dream world.

However, single raises are quite different, and three trumps are very common and more easily handled since the level is lower.

And to answer your specific question, any three opposite a 5 card suit is thought to be doable, but to quote something which should have been on all packs of cigarettes almost 100 years ago. “Smoke these only at your own risk and take out as much health and life insurance as you can afford”!

Good luck

ClarksburgFebruary 16th, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Mr. Wolff,
The subtle (for me) point about how holding / lacking the ninth trump tips the balance between offence / defense declare / defend choice, at the margin via LOTT , was most helpfu indeedl. Most intermediate-level club players, like me, know the LOTT guides us on how high to compete, but probably don’t know / grasp, as you put it “….. or lesser known, increases your defensive trick taking chances….”

Bill CubleyFebruary 16th, 2013 at 6:05 pm


You are right that limit raises of 5 card majors cna have 3 cards rather than 4 cards. Alot of the 4 card group also play Puppet Stayman showing, ofgten, 3 card support. Seems silly to me to not be consistent.

For me, singletons and voids often make me decide to make the limit raise. Shortness in a side suit allows ruffing by the hand with short trumps or adding 1-2 tricks to the hand.

I do not go through 1NT forcing to show 3 card support to avoid giving information to the opponents. If I play against you, i would certainly not give you a count on the trump suit if it is avoidable. Sometimes this overload of the expert player helps us.

My late partner of almost 30 years, Mr Lynn Rising, confirmed this habit. He made the major suit game at least 95% of the time.

I think Al Roth invented 5 card majors to help partner bid by having a much easier time supporting his opening bids.