Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 18th, 2013

'It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,' the Queen remarked.

Lewis Carroll

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


Transport yourself back in time, to play four spades, after an idiosyncratic auction, with 1954 Bermuda Bowl Champion Doug Steen in the East seat. West leads the club eight, which places East with the club ace and West with virtually all of the other high cards. You play low from dummy and Steen inserts the jack. Play on.

The original declarer drew trumps in three rounds and led a club to the king, which Steen allowed to win. When Steen took the third round of clubs he then carefully shifted to a diamond, allowing his partner to set up two winners in the suit. Declarer could not reach his hand except by overtaking the trump eight with the nine — and that would have exhausted his trumps. So he had to lose three tricks in the red suits; down one.

Did you spot declarer’s mistake? After drawing two rounds of trumps with the ace and queen, he should have thought back to the bidding. West appeared to have a doubleton club, as East did not try for a ruff, so West’s most likely shape was 2=5=4=2 (he would not leap to game on a 14 or 15 point 5332 shape). Thus, after the second round of trumps, declarer should have played on clubs. East could hold up the club ace until the third round, but the trump king would be the entry to the established clubs. On this approach, declarer would have made four trumps, a diamond, four clubs and a red-suit ruff.

There are no good answers here. Partner has asked you to provide a spade stopper, club support, or show extra shape in your bid suits — but you have none of these. You could pretend the spade 10 was a spade stopper or that two small clubs represented support, but my choice would be to lie about having a fifth diamond and rebid three diamonds rather than repeat my hearts.


♠ 10 3
 A Q J 8 3
 A Q J 5
♣ 8 3
South West North East
1 Pass 2♣ Pass
2 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


David WarheitNovember 1st, 2013 at 9:23 am

What possessed W to lead a club? Partner raised hearts and then doubled 4S. Surely a H lead and continuation stands out, and by my calculations would defeat 4S, even with double-dummy play by declarer. Would you have led a H?

Alex AlonNovember 1st, 2013 at 10:10 am

From West point of view, the fact that partner raised did not ensure the heart K …
Leading from AQJ in both red suits is unattractive, so leaves the Spades or Clubes. On a good day the clubs may prove the best option.
Of course all this is only my humble opinion.

Alex Alon

ArunNovember 1st, 2013 at 11:20 am

On the “Bid with the Aces” section;

Just curious about the choice of rebidding 3D – what is the rationale ?

Since the heart suit is good, would it make sense to rebid 3H with the hope of playing in 4H in case partner has no spade stopper and has perhaps KX of hearts.

Jane ANovember 1st, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Being simpleminded, I lead the ace of hearts and hope for the best. Once I see the board, I continue hearts as my partner will tell me to do so with her carding, and partner did support my hearts. If declarer has the king of hearts, so be it, but if he is forced to trump, much better. I would not lead a club holding a doubleton since I believe declarer and his partner hold that suit along with spades. Could I be wrong? Of course, but they have to hold something and it is not hearts and diamonds. East made a great double with a flat hand and no spade honor. I like it!

Should south have reopened the bidding with a double instead of bidding his four card spade suit since he is a passed hand? Was this supposed to be lead directing? Lots of bidding at this table. Fun game, this bridge.

Bobby WolffNovember 1st, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hi David, Alex and Jane,

First, this discussion of the opening lead, after this type of bidding, is, at least to me, a hugely underrated subject, not to be taken lightly and in my considered opinion (but certainly not always right) one of the differences between overall results in the higher echelon of bridge expertise.

With that as a backdrop, let us first briefly discuss relevant factors involved in this particular hand:

1. Bidding, even among the best of that era (this hand happened in the World Championship in 1954, 59 years ago) was different, much more unilateral, mainly because bidding in those days, because of the LACK OF HIGH-LEVEL EXPERIENCE was still in a primitive style, with basically only personal intuition and random advice, to guide.

2. That inexperience was also evident in the choice of opening leads, not taking into enough consideration the major factors being dogs who barked and ones who didn’t.

3. Hits and misses were the order of the day, without severe criticism waiting since the critics (much smaller bridge media and certainly no BBO, as well as partners and teammates who, if being truthful and rational, would admit to also just guessing themselves instead of anywhere near being sure)

However, in spite of the above (and maybe because of it) certain discipline and original thinking (for that day and age) began to develop, as it is currently now, which could and I think, would apply to this special hand.

When that type of bidding would occur, as if it would today, although on this hand, and as pointed out by the three of your combined comments, it is, in my view, virtually no chance this hand would be bid that way, because of the increased unnecessary risks which should have blazed forth in neon lights.

West, the opening leader, should suspect that South had a 2 suiter which almost had to be spades and clubs, and that, together with partner’s penalty double (almost guaranteeing a balanced hand as well as suspecting the two passed hands to not be freakish) should warn West off even the consideration of leading the declarer’s 2nd suit, even at the small risk of the opponents, especially the declarer South, sitting in front of the opening heart bidder and still holding that card.

That fact alone should steer West to lead what I think is a slam dunk, to lead the ace of hearts. By the above sentence, am I sure the ace of hearts is the best lead? Certainly not, but compared to the other choices, a black suit or the ace of diamonds, expert bridge logic should and needs to convince a talented bridge lover that all one can do is consider the evidence presented and act on it to the best of his (her) ability.

The three of you have made interesting and to the point comments, but rather than comment on them all, I’d rather just concentrate on what I think needs saying and that is the above. When bridge becomes universally taught around the world as an important logical subject with so many educational subjects involved, real life logic, psychology, competitiveness, ethics in living life or playing the game, legal partnership communication through a code language (bidding), overcoming adversity, etc. we may then begin to understand what is important and what is not so, like the exact system with, of course, the conventions to be played, which should match that particular partnership’s personality, not one size fits all, at this moment in bridge history.

The above hand and lead problem would and should be discussed in perhaps the third or fourth year of bridge learning, when other less talented or therefore interested bridge pupils have opted out or even those who just accept bridge as a game and not worth seriously pursuing.

Lead the ace of hearts and then, after seeing dummy be better placed to know what to do next and that would certainly be, in this case, to switch to diamonds.

All three of you, if you were born much later and had the opportunity, certainly represent bridge lovers with enough passion and likely talent for the game to do very well if learning high-level bridge was easily available. Instead, you can and will still enjoy the game to the fullest. Be happy for that and hopefully, as time goes by, the playing of bridge will be a great educational tool, as well as off-the-charts challenging for some to explore. In addition the motto of the WBF, “Bridge For Peace” can bring many cultures together in a common worthwhile pursuit, where our minds will battle instead of our bodies.

Bobby WolffNovember 1st, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Hi Arun,

Since your heart suit is indeed respectable, it is a possible choice, but the answer in the actual column discusses the choices and basically determines that the “least lie” would be rebidding the also respectable 4 card diamond suit.

Perhaps the fact left undiscussed in the answer is that by bidding 3 hearts, partner may raise you with a singleton (assuming you had 6 instead of 5) while bidding 3 diamonds instead, is not a final decision nor may it lead directly to one next round of bidding.

Perhaps if partner now raises your 3 diamonds to 4 (the bid you would fear the most) you could then bid 4 hearts and your partner may at least be better placed to place the final contract. With whatever happens, these hands are difficult, to say the least, and care needs to be taken to choose the “lesser evil”. You think that is now 3 hearts and in reality you may be right, but fortunately neither of us needs to pay the piper, at least not right away.

Bobby WolffNovember 1st, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Hi everyone concerned,

In an attempt to clear up a horrible piece of writing by me, in my too long letter, my reference in the 5th paragraph (as counted by me) was to the virtual impossibility of South, a passed hand, of holding the king of hearts because of his later (2nd round) intervention.

When holding that card he is not likely to venture into a live auction, not having opened the bidding and having that card in front of the stronger bidder.

Sorry for the lack of clarity which seems to happen much too often.