Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 25th, 2013

Being smart was key; being careful was critical.
Being lucky didn’t hurt.

Kate Brady

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


At the San Francisco Nationals last December, the Mitchell Open Board-a-Match Teams winners (a form of scoring akin to pairs, but played by teams) were Michael Becker, Aubrey Strul, Steve Garner, Howard Weinstein, Walid Elahmady and Tarek Sadek. They gained a win on this deal from the final session, when Garner executed an elegant trump-reduction play.

Both Souths were in four hearts, and the play started identically. West led a low club, and East took the trick and returned a club. West won, cashed the diamond ace, and continued with another diamond. Each declarer inserted dummy’s jack and ruffed away East’s queen.

Against Sadek and Elahmady, South now played a heart to dummy’s queen and a heart to his ace, but had to finish down one when trumps broke badly. By contrast Garner realized that he could pick up four hearts to the jack in the East hand as long as he reduced his trump length to the same as East’s. So declarer first cashed his heart ace, then played a heart to dummy’s queen.

If everyone had followed suit, Garner would have led a spade to his ace, drawn the missing trump, and claimed. But when West discarded, declarer played the diamond king from the dummy, East and South both pitching spades.

Now declarer carefully ruffed a diamond, cashed his high club, and led a spade to dummy’s king. South next played dummy’s high diamond and was able to win the last three tricks, whatever East did, to make his contract.

I am sure everybody will lead a major here — both minor suits are unattractively dangerous. But no one really knows if it is right to lead a fourth-highest spade or to try to hit your partner with a heart lead. If I had a safe three-card lead (say 9-8-third) in hearts I would go for that. But leading from this heart suit is by no means safe, so I will lead a spade as my preferred route.


♠ Q 10 6 4
 10 6 2
 J 9 7 5
♣ 6 4
South West North East
1 NT
Pass 3 NT 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


Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Hi Bobby,

I wonder what would have happened if West had been bold (or reckless or even deranged) enough to lead a small diamond at trick 3? Unless South rises with the King, then he is going off provided East plays the DQ of course. There again, if I’d tried that, declarer would have not only played the King but partner would have held HJ10xx and might not have seen the funny side.



jim2December 9th, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I would note that playing a high trump from hand and then one to the queen is another example of the theme I mentioned in the next-to-last comment here:

That is, sometimes playing a suit in an “unnatural” order is necessary to provide an extra chance to succeed. Generally, it seems to be in cases where the hand that winner is in has few or no other entries.

jim2December 9th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Iain Climie –

In the “what if” category, what if West simply cashes the AD and leads a third club?

South has shown six hearts and not four spades (but presumably the AS from the bidding). West should know from East’s carding that East had four clubs, giving South three. Thus, South either has a second diamond or a third spade. Once the AD is played the KD is good, making the only potential source of a setting trick a trump trick.

West knows there is no harm in letting dummy have a club discard (nor can it be prevented), so why not lead a club?

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Hi Jim 2,

Very neat, as the actual play of the diamond gave South an extra entry to dummy, helping set up winners and in the trump reduction. There again, East could have had a singleton diamond, although South would probably have dumped the Queen if holding DQx.

Interesting bidding too; South’s 2H seems cautious, North’s 3H rather pushy, while there are plenty of potentially wasted values in both hands.


Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Sorry, make that “could have given” an extra entry, although playing the DK works a treat as cards lie.

jim2December 9th, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Iain Climie –

With a singleton, East might have returned it at trick 2 — it’s a sort of defensive restricted choice.

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Someone’s awake and it isn’t me!

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

For what it is worth, I am interested, though my involvement will not likely come to see my satisfaction, in what might happen if the USA is ever able to secure teaching bridge in our primary and secondary schools, such as is being done in 1/2 of Europe and all of China.

The above hands are involved in high-level technique where coup endings rule. And that, of course, involves itself with planning, timing with entries and (as you two are pointing out) sometimes help from an unsuspecting opponent.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I devoted time to beginning what is now a full fledged program of developing junior bridge (below 25, which is now broken down to youth bridge, I think below 20, and no doubt, because of school training becoming more and more special). At that time I worked out aptitude tests which, at least for that time, was a good indicator for what it took for a normal student to be able to play at a reasonable level without having to jump through difficult hoops.

The key was a basic knowledge of numeracy (the love and interest in numbers as applied to everyday life) and while executing advanced coups are not necessary to still be an above average player, the techniques used need to be at least partially understood.

From that beginning junior bridge in the USA has developed into a reasonably large number (at least more than in the previous 50 years) of would be bridge stars appearing on our horizon. However, at least in my judgment one needs more than just catering to and loving numeracy, but rather then needing to acquire the experience (like the best poker players in the world) of being able to read an opponents tempo and getting into their minds as to what they are thinking about, even with very small amounts of evidence available.

The above takes time, so at least IMHO, there will be no child genius’ until the combination of understanding the high-level game together with acquiring the poker ability of knowing when to do what to whom and when become a normal part of what it takes to be “world class” which is an overused term meaning there are not nearly as many yet as there may be in the future.

Our little get-togethers on this site cover a wide variance of combinations of analyzing, technical ability, and then seeing ways to get it done. All of this comes after the best and brightest students have achieved enough technical ability to have a chance.

The above needs also to have would be top players understand that there are difficulties along the way such as bad luck, too much advice from less than qualified legends in one’s own mind, finding the right partner and then teammates, overcome the need to allow bridge professionalism to 100% rule actions to the disadvantage of having top teams square off against other top teams, and other oft occurring practical boondoggles.

The future is, of course, uncertain, and will never have a chance in the Western Hemisphere until bridge becomes recognized as a necessary form of education with a tremendously high upside. Will it happen?

I do not know, but all effort will be made by me to give it a chance as it is, at least to me, a painless and marvelous way to learn how to problem solve, think for oneself, understand numbers in everyday life, get along with others who are interested in the same thing, and all by having an exciting and very positive function to bring many people together, if for no other reason, than bridge for peace in this chaotic and violent world we now live.

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I further support your aims by flagging the possible benefits for both young and old. As well as breaking down barriers, the possible benefits for younger people can include information on possible careers, identification of referees and advice on work, companies and even types of people to avoid. The social skills which bridge can develop can be useful in the office, even if only learning to deal with grumpy beggars like me – I have my charmless moments but try to minimise them. Kipliing’s imposter dictum often applies at bridge, work and life


Bill CubleyDecember 9th, 2013 at 7:27 pm


You {and , believe it or not , I} lead a spade in LWTA. The factor I used was how any spade honor{s} in partner’s hand make the spade lead effective. It takes a lot of help in the hearts suit.

I found at the table that leading a suit where I need the least help from partner usually works where the situation is unclear.

Feel free to explain how I might be wrong here. This theory is you write the column and I read it.

Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes the social aspects, to which you state, are far reaching and necessary, especially in this turvy-topsy world we live in.

The benefits far outweigh any negatives which manifested themselves
long ago when various religions including Christianity sometimes thought of cards as “tickets to the devil”. Ira Corn, the Aces’ benefactor was never introduced to cards until he was 22 years old, being born to a family which probably, to say it in an inoffensive way, was just a waste of time and emphasized gambling, which can become addictive, leading to family and financial ruin.

At least to me, even conceding that there could be at least some truth with that statement, every case should be considered on its own merits, and, to start with, bridge is not a gambling game, but rather a mind sharpener which teaches numerical logic and because of that has positive application in fairness, communication, ethics, problem solving, dealing with adversity and, at the same time, is highly competitive, but unlike having a fist fight only challenges us in being able to find non-violent (most of the time) solutions.

As I have said before and many times witnessed, middle Eastern bridge players are fast friends and social companions with Israelis at bridge World Championships but their governments will not allow them to compete against Israel, so instead they go out together instead and when they play socially, to everyone who feels and watches there is only one word which applies and that is RESPECT for one another. Where has that disappeared to in real life between those hard nosed countries?

Thanks for your additional very good reasons to have it happen which I so desire.

Patrick CheuDecember 9th, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Hi Bobby,bridge keeps us going in this tough times,in more ways than we can imagine,your valiant effort in trying to pass it onto future generations,is to be applauded.Regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffDecember 10th, 2013 at 12:04 am

Hi Bill,

I understand what you are saying about teacher and student, mentor and mentee and parent and child and to that I must tell it like I think it is. There are no proven theories in bridge, only opinions usually based on experience and confidence as opposed to not so and not so.

Do not worry about what cards your partner needs to make your lead the best one or better said, the most effective one. Sometimes it is necessary to go after tricks, but at other times it is better to not play 1st and 3rd on tricks (whenever your side is on lead and throughout the hand) but rather play 2nd and 4th (whenever the lead belongs to the opponents).

In other words the two operative words are speculative and luck. Just lead what is natural, keeping in mind that the better the opponents explain their hands to each other that information is now available to their opponents and they can often make better use of it than do the actual bidders.

Don’t sweat it, just be logical (that is bridge logic) and you, and everyone else who is experienced enough to know how little the top players really know will now understand how to use this knowledge to best advantage.

Some might say that “The Taming of the Shrew” “much Ado About Nothing” and “As You Like It” are all Shakespeare titles, but in reality they all apply to bridge.

Good luck!!!

Bobby WolffDecember 10th, 2013 at 12:17 am

Hi Patrick,

I sincerely appreciate your very kind words.

We are different nationalities and yet I feel about you, that I would be very proud to be your father, brother or son, but to qualify that remark, if you would be my father you would certainly be into 3 digits in age and therefore probably no longer with us, so I am, in this special case and only because of that, glad that you are not.

The whole wide world strongly needs more people like you.