Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

There are two kinds of fools. One says, 'This is old, and therefore good.' And one says, 'This is new, and therefore better.'

John Brunner

South North
Neither ♠ A 6 5
 K J 10 5
 A 2
♣ J 10 4 3
West East
♠ K 9 3
 8 6 4
 10 7 6 5
♣ K 7 2
♠ Q 10 8 7 2
 A 7 3
 Q 9 8 3
♣ 6
♠ J 4
 Q 9 2
 K J 4
♣ A Q 9 8 5
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 3♣ Pass
4♣ Pass 4 Pass
5♣ All pass    


It is hard to sacrifice a trick voluntarily, and that is especially true when you appear to have been given a free finesse. But never say never, and today's deal is an example of when deception trumps other factors. The deal shows when you might rise with an ace unnecessarily to try to encourage a continuation of the suit led — even at the apparent cost of a trick.

Four hearts might well be the best game, but your auction strongly suggested that you had three hearts and five clubs, and North opted for the nine-card fit. In a sense you have done well to avoid three no-trump here in favor of a suit game, since a spade lead sinks you if the club finesse is wrong — but even so, isn’t five clubs equally doomed?

Not necessarily: West gives you a respite by leading a diamond. If you run this to your hand, you set up an irrelevant discard for a spade from dummy. However the defenders will know to shift to spades when in with the trump king.

A better and more deceptive approach is to win the diamond ace and take the club finesse. Unless East works out to discourage at trick one (and why should he?), West will probably continue diamonds, hoping for the spade switch from East, and he will be sorely disappointed. You now have time to draw trump and set up hearts to provide the discard that really matters, the spade from hand.

It is important to understand that your redouble sets up a forcing pass for your side through two diamonds — and possibly higher, depending upon partnership agreement. At this moment you have no idea what the best spot for your side is, so why make the decision? Pass and let partner develop his hand appropriately.


♠ A 6 5
 K J 10 5
 A 2
♣ J 10 4 3
South West North East
1 Dbl.
Rdbl. Pass Pass 1♠

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 ClimieMarch 13th, 2013 at 10:47 am

Hi Bobby,

Neat but should West be fooled? If declarer has DQxx or similar surely he would run the diamond round at T1 while East’s failure to double 4D
suggests that he hasn’t got DKQ. I’m still surprised South didn’t try 3D as North holding SA10x does make 3N the right spot and 4C is rather committal.



bobbywolffMarch 13th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, your discussion adds grist for the mill of West switching to a spade, when in with the losing club finesse from declarer.

Perhaps though, the closer heart to this particular fault for the overall failure of this defense is West’s pusillanimous choice of choosing to lead from nothing in diamonds rather than away from the king of spades, what I think would be the popular choice of an experienced and thorough thinking opening leader.

No doubt East’s diamond encouragement was based on expecting his partner to be leading from something (the king, rather than only the jack or less) and although there is a not so subtle hint (the possession of the key ace of hearts) it might be right to remain neutral in not giving partner a high diamond signal by East, instead playing the three in tempo, it seems intuitive to signal encouragement while holding only the queen instead of the possible king.

The probable overall lesson to be learned on this hand is, “Just what the 3rd seat player could (should) expect from the choice of lead from his supposedly high level partner, of course, after both partner’s have listened to the bidding”?

I tend to side with East, since at least to me, when faced with this type of choice, (relatively common in scope), it is close to a slam dunk which direction I think he should be tending to go (toward aggression), and by being consistent (although that choice certainly doesn’t always work) it, at least tends to make defensive partnerships more consistent in what they, as a partnership, are trying to accomplish.

One thing for sure, which is even more subtle, is that a very slow 8 or 9 of diamonds by East, and then a spade switch by West, when in with the king of clubs, is highly unethical where the big boys live and a combination of plays which would negatively brand that partnership as big (but not the biggest, outright cheating is) poison.

Thanks for your comment which might have branched out and provided more strong opinions than expected.

TedMarch 13th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

The auction seems to virtually scream for a spade lead almost irrelevant of your holding. Any other lead I think would be a surprise to everyone at the table. They’re not in 3NT or 6C and they bid clubs, hearts and a diamond control — whatever could be the problem?

At trick one 3rd seat is going to need to study dummy, review the bidding in light of what he now sees, consider partner’s and declarer’s likely honor holdings based on the opening lead, consider declarer’s likely line of play and whether at this stage he would plan to cover or duck dummies honors.

Given all of this, what would help determine whether there was unethical hesitation at trick one?

bobbywolffMarch 13th, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Hi Ted,

While I do not consider a spade lead a “slam dunk”, nevertheless both a club and heart lead should not be considered, so as between spades and diamonds, (both unbids except for a cue bid in diamonds which was not doubled, always for a preferred lead), it virtually narrows down to leading from something or the opposite, leading from nothing and, on that basis I strongly prefer the spade.

Others (even otherwise good players) come from backgrounds of not wanting to lead from major honors, especially kings, and as far as that preference or, if you will, that habit, I seriously disagree, but my opinion is only based on my own experience, and although I do not see it as even close, not everyone agrees, so consequently different choices are often made.

Now to get to the more important subject in your comment. No doubt, bridge, as we know it, has a feature which almost no other game has, basically because it is a partnership game and tempo and other body language enters into the possibility of unauthorized information (UI) which, if allowed, or even not severely frowned upon, will cause bridge to drop from (what I consider) easily the greatest mind game ever invented to very sadly, not even worth playing.

Consequently, it is up to the players to not allow UI to ever raise its ugly head and, if anything, get the worse, in any close situation, of any possibility of conveying it.

Obviously an emphatic high card as well as a reluctant high or low card will get across an unethical message, one which could easily be read by any experienced above average player.

Therefore East, at trick one and on this hand, must play at his even tempo and choose a card reasonably quickly which at first blush, best suits his instincts. To do otherwise, even though reasons could be given for this or that, is a direct violation of what our game has to be about, and although to some (or probably many) is one of the more difficult chores a defender will be likely to face, but to not comply, renders our great game virtually unplayable, and improperly disregards responsibility.

In this case, since East also held the queen of spades and, of course, declarer opted to rise with the diamond ace, should tell this subject 3rd seat player that, by inference, if partner had the king of diamonds, the opening leader, by the next play or two will be able to piece together what declarer had in mind with the way he now proceeds.

On this hand when declarer now goes directly to the club finesse, the opening leader, if he holds the king of diamonds and upon winning the club king will know that you, his partner will have the queen of diamonds (why else would the declarer not let the diamond ride), but the opening leader should know that a spade switch is also necessary if partner has the queen, which a slow play at trick one would inferentially, but definitely illegally, probably indicate.

While all the above will no doubt confuse many, but there is (at least to me) no way to better discuss the sometimes complicated, but vitally necessary table ethics which accompany our game.

Summing up, if East holds the diamond queen, shown by his nine play, and very importantly does not hold a spade higher than the jack, he obviously would play a fast (also to be frowned upon) eight or nine of diamonds (sometimes East might not hold both), but with the king or queen of spades he might break tempo, therefore committing a frowned upon unethical act, which obviously can be used to his sides advantage The result should always then require the opening leader to not take advantage and continue a diamond just as he did.

Sorry for the rambling and many words used, but it is VERY important for all bridge players to understand this caveat and from the get go realize their obligation to keep our off-the-charts game exactly the way it needs to be.

Yes, even very good players, once in a while violate this obligation, but at the very top level everyone knows who they are and because of that, get the sometimes sullied reputation which they no doubt deserve.

I, of course, wish our committees, tournament directors and otherwise peer players make it widely known who these questionable players are, but never forget that political considerations, like other more noticeable violations are sometimes kept under wraps for one reason or another, mostly having to do with self-service.

Sorry for the above long ramblings, but this subject needs to be comprehensibly discussed and when and if, bridge ever gets into American schools, like it is in Europe and China, bridge ethics, like legal and medical ethics, will be an early course in school and the mysteries surrounding them will disappear.