Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, April 26th, 2013

He has two chances, slim and none, and slim just left the building.

Chick Hearn

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


Antonio Sementa of Italy was the hero of today's deal. If you want to try it first as a single-dummy problem, then cover the East and West hands and play five diamonds on the friendly lead of West's singleton club.

Sementa won the club cheaply in dummy and rejected the idea of drawing only two rounds of trump before playing clubs. Had he done so, West would have ruffed in and would now have defeated the hand by cashing his side’s spade winner and eventually collecting a heart trick. Instead Sementa drew all the trumps, ending in dummy.

In a comparable position, a fine declarer had ruffed out the clubs and led a low spade from hand. East won, and could now have set the hand by playing back a spade. That would have allowed West to keep a spade winner at the end, since both North and South were out of trumps.

Sementa instead made the key play of leading a heart from dummy, relying on East (known to have four clubs and two diamonds, and presumably only five spades, since East-West had not bid) to have a doubleton heart honor.

When West took the heart king and played back a spade, East could lead a further spade, forcing dummy to trump and denuding North of side entries. But Sementa ruffed out the clubs, then played the heart ace, dropping the queen, and dummy was good.

Although this play might have led to extra undertricks, this was really the only legitimate chance for the contract.

Despite the fact that you have a 12-count, your side does not necessarily have a game here. A pessimistic approach would be to invite game with two no-trump or to raise to three diamonds. A more aggressive approach is to bid three clubs, a cuebid asking partner to show a club stopper or to make a descriptive call. If you take that action and hear a three-diamond rebid, you might elect to pass.


♠ 8 2
 A 10 8 4
 K Q 3 2
♣ K 7 4
South West North East
1♠ 2♣
Dbl. Pass 2 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 ClimieMay 10th, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hi Bobby,

I know a club lead could work if East has either minor suit ace, but his double of 3 spades surely suggests some top honours, the auction has hardly leapt ahead confidently and the lead is very likely to expose the suit position. I’d maybe have led the SJ without the double but the opportunity to blame partner if a club were right anyway is strong. If he does have (say) SAQ and a minor ace, he can find the club switch anyway. I think West tried too hard here – the contract could be marginal so why not go fairly passive?



jim2May 10th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Iain –

I must confess that I would have led the AS. Indeed, once partner has made a lead directing double, I cannot imagine leading anything else.

jim2May 10th, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Er, that was supposed to be the JS!

Also, there are, of course, hand holdings with which I might NOT go with partner’s lead-directing double. The West holding in the column hand, however, hardly seems to me to meet that [high] threshold.

bobby wolffMay 10th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Hi Iain and Jim2,

I totally agree with not only what you two say about leading a spade, but to not do so is unilateral.

However, after saying the above, and in spite of whatever logic, partnership harmony, and good bridge is about, a club lead could be the only killer, keeping in mind the wide variety of what 52 card speculation demands.

Substitute the singleton ace of spades for the singleton Q with North, leaving East the KQ for his double and also give North the queen of clubs but then give East the ace of diamonds and North only the jack.

Perhaps with the above supposition, the bidding might have been different, but maybe not. Then East might then have been proclaimed the goat, but should he be? Can one just pretend to hear the conversation going:

East: “I know I made a lead directing double, but you had a singleton to lead, and wild horses could not have prevented me from doing so”.

West would reply either: “Next time I’ll know better” and either stop there or continue, “and not pay any attention to what you suggest since you are rarely right with anything you do at the bridge table”.

Result is that we all want good results making the best (possible great partnerships in the making) able to withstand adversity without losing confidence within the partnership. All the best partnerships in the world go through this type of indoctrination and was one of the primary concern in Dallas during the development of the Aces.

The above at times is what both endears people, but at the same time, runs players away, until we all realize that the game itself, and only it, is the master and will forever be so.

None of the above would keep me, and no doubt the two of you, from following the suggested path by partner.

Thanks for echoing your views.

Iain ClimieMay 10th, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, but a stray extra thought. Suppose East has SKQxxx HQx Dxx CAxxx or similar. He can be pretty sure that partner has a singleton club so a dbl of 3S is unwise – he doesn’t want a spade lead here but a club. Is this a case of Reese’s dictum about careless talk?

If there is a natural lead (here a spade) that you’d expect partner to make, then pass doesn’t forbid it, merely suggests that it is no guarantee of success (what is at trick 1). On the hand above, if 3S is not doubled, should West only lead a spade if he has the Ace and wants a look first, shying away from other spade leads? Effectively I think I’m suggesting that if partner is likely to lead 4th suit anyway against a suit contract without many losers in the 4th suit (they’re not in NT) , a double is strongly suggesting the Ace. Is this too obscure, though?



bobby wolffMay 10th, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Hi Iain,

I cannot improve on your analysis. Yes definetly if East has the ace of clubs, he should never lead direct with some other suggestion.

Everything, at least that I know of in high-level bridge is based on sound PARTNERSHIP logic, based on the events leading up. Sometimes constantly changing, sometimes remaining the same. That probably is why bridge status should always be based on partnership effectiveness, not individual brilliance.

The more world-wide bridge exists, the more it goes in the direction mentioned above. Two absolutely brilliant players in the past, playing together now against a world class tried and true partnership, would IMO fare poorly.

Iain ClimieMay 10th, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

That last point has always been relevant, I feel. S J (Skid) Simon and Maurice Harrison Gray in the 1930s both said that a pair of tolerant or even mutually admiring club players who knew how they each bid and played could potentially get much the better of a pair of bickering experts, although this is maybe less down to partnership understanding and more due to good behaviour.

Modern bidding techniques and card play knowledge would allow a team of good club players to have beaten (say) Culbertson’s 1920s team, I suspect. You can only judge players at any game or sport against the opponents, knowledge, training and equipment available when they competed, and Ely was a fantastic player and publicist without whose efforts the modern pair wouldn’t have the opportunities, rewards and skills they may now attain.


bobby wolffMay 12th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hi Iain,

While I agree to your assessments in NT, bridge players often digress, and compare players of long ago with modern ones who have benefited greatly from the experiences and opinions of their current peers.

When game players are born with superior numeracy they will have the opportunity to rise quickly to high levels, if they also choose to take the time to do so, and life has thrown them into contact with tournament bridge.

Many of my former mentors, who lived decades ago, would have become geometrically better with today’s modern bridge ideas, together with devotion to their particular favorite partnership.

Comparing players of years ago with current ones is just not fair, not to mention totally skewed and difficult to fathom.

Summing up, I agree with all your theories, but do not know myself just how good Ely was and will probably never know, except that he was a very clever man with a wide spectrum of interests.