Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, January 6th, 2014

Many things are not as they seem: The worst things in life never are.

Jim Butcher

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


Today's deal from the most recent American trials was generously reported by the victim of proceedings, Christal Henner-Welland. After stretching more than somewhat to respond one no-trump at her first turn (in competition the typical range for this action is 7-10), South was treated to a small-heart lead in three no-trump, and she won East's nine with the queen.

Now, should you play the clubs from the top, or finesse? Playing off the top clubs looks right to me; if West wins the club queen, there is no return he can make that will hurt you. As against that, if West has the club queen and East had ducked the heart king, you will end up with egg all over your face.

At the table, South elected to run the club 10 at trick two, losing to the queen. The spade 10 was returned. How should you play from here? If West started with a small singleton or doubleton, you must cover and win the trick. However, if West started with honor-doubleton, you must duck and the spade suit will be blocked.

At the table declarer ducked, playing for West to hold honor-doubleton in spades. Result: misery. Well done, Roger Lee as East, who overcame his distrustful partner’s opening lead. (The game goes down on a spade lead — but who leads partner’s suit?) When he shifted to the spade 10, he was in effect playing his partner for the spade eight and for declarer to misguess what to do. Clever stuff, eh?

Before I start, I warn you that experts disagree on what you are expected to do here. But partner's double of three no-trump is surely based on the desire for a lead other than hearts. (If he wanted you to lead hearts, he would simply have passed, expecting you to lead his suit.) My guess is he has hearts and good clubs, so I would lead a club.


♠ J 9 4 2
 9 7 3
 Q 5 3 2
♣ 3 2
South West North East
Pass 1 1 NT
Pass 3 NT Dbl. 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJanuary 20th, 2014 at 10:20 am

it took me several minutes to realize that you hadn’t made a mistake describing what happened on the opening lead. I finally realized that W led a heart, not a spade. Why he didn’t lead a spade, I have, like you, no idea. But surely, if he had honor doubleton, even this W would have led a spade. So, I think S should have played the SJ at trick 3. This wins on the actual layout and doesn’t cost if W has any singleton. Of course, I am looking at all 4 hands, so maybe I’m full of it.

Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2014 at 10:26 am

Hi David,

I was about to post something similar, especially as West has led from K108xx – if he’d led from KJ10 or KQ10 then maybe he could have Qx in spades, but not otherwise. Your last concern is thus N/A although my wife wouldn’t let me off the hook most of the time.



Shantanu RastogiJanuary 20th, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

North has clearly upgraded his hand and hasnt opened 1 NT. If 1 NT is opened and East competes with 2 Spades and South manages a penalty double its 800 if he doesnt double its 300. Both are better than 3 NT being -1. Also if East doesnt come in with 2 Spades 1NT would make. So should North’s hand be upgraded holding 17 HCPs , a five card suit but with no check in Spades ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiJanuary 20th, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

A follow up- if South doesnt bid 1 NT on 1 C – 1 S and the bid gets passed to North a take out double would surely happen. Now should South pass for penalty or bid 1 NT. The young USA 1 (Kranyak) when they took part in the trials for Bermuda Bowl at Bali were taking such chances (of passing for penalty). In reality should one ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Hi David,

While I usually agree with you and some others about tactics (including choice of opening leads and sometimes some types of legal deceptions) I do not think anywhere close to all opening leads are as clear cut as some do.

Sometimes, particularly when a relatively young innocent looking player bids 1NT over my partner’s overcall, I, as an opening leader (and particularly so with my partnership’s light overcalling requirements) sometimes hope to catch lightening in a bottle and run to other suits which I hope happen to be more effective.

I’m not claiming any 6th sense or anything like that, but sometimes blind flying gets the job done, not that I wouldn’t lead a spade this time. Might not partner have KJ10xx, AQx, xx, xxx sometimes?

Would Damon Runyon’s famous quote always work, “The battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that is the way to bet”, no, I do not think so, since bridge judgment, unlike sports betting is based on both science and the cast of characters present, and sometimes grizzled veteran bridge players are better judges of that than are younger very talented whippersnappers.

Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:23 pm


A stray thought on a 2S overcall here. If spades run, east still needs 3 more tricks to make 2S. What is happening to 1N in that case? Very simplistic, of course, but east should pass 1N here especially as south could be bidding 3N with a different hand and east can potentially cash out.


Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:24 pm

That’s after an opening 1N of course.

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Hi Iain,

Your point is well taken except the person to be determined (opening leader) could be a relative stranger who, having played with his wild partner before, has learned not to respect his overcalls.

All I am intending to say is that humanity enters into this decision and to deny that it, at least, has some influence, is to think of bridge as much more a safe harbor than sometimes we would like it to be, when we, like here, are faced, as declarer, with rising with the jack or not.

An issue here is simply, whether East is a good enough player to dare lead the 10 from AKQ10x? Obviously he is, but some may not be.

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Hi Shantanu,

I do think that North is just too strong a hand to venture a 15-17 pt. NT. His good 5 card club suit clinches that fact to me, but if he does, I totally agree with you that East would be better off passing and let the chips fall where they may with defending 3NT to be looked forward to, since we are on lead.

In answer to your second question, yes, I, too, noticed that in the last series of important bridge events that, more than my previous many years there were penalty passes often converted leaving the defense to perform well in order to get the maximum out of the cards and basically go for the throat on defense.

While I am not qualified more than many for determining whether that is winning bridge or not, my inclination is that since defense, particularly the opening lead, is usually such guesswork then adding that later defense is usually much more difficult (with educated guesses to be made) the end result, particularly with bridge scoring, as it has been ever since its inception in 1927 has not favored defense (sets not costing as much as they might) I will leave those tactics to the youth who seem to favor them.

Yes, I have been judged as optimistic at the bridge table as anyone else, but defending with these hands and at low levels, when extreme distribution may be favoring the declarer, is not my cup of tea.

Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Hi Bobby,

A fair point but leading partner’s suit in the absence of a good alternative can avoid moaning from some partners I could (but won’t) name!


bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Hi Iain,

You present what sometimes can be a difficult (Hobson’s) choice. The lady or the tiger?

Perhaps more often than others realize, the tiger is safer since, upon occasion, the tiger can be trained to be gentle and respectful.

If my advice did not arrive in time, please send me your hospital room number.

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Hi everyone,

Judy and I are leaving this morning for a trip to the strip (Ballys) in Las Vegas for the annual Regional bridge tournament.

Judy, as always, is taking her computer so I’ll try and stay in touch. Wish us happy finesses.



Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Hi Bobby,

All the best to you both and let’s hope the opponents lead into your tenaces, avoiding the need.


Bill CubleyJanuary 20th, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Bobby, I think your 50% finesses win as often as Hideous Hog’s finesses. He did say “When I take a 50% chance I expect it to win 90% of the tie.” This also explains why you write the columns and I read them.

Good luck!

David WarheitJanuary 20th, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Iain: thank you for the kind words, both to me and Bobby. You seem to have forgotten that he is going to LAS VEGAS. Don’t wish such a person “All the best”; wish him “All the bets”. All the bets, Bobby.

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Hi Bill,

Yes, I, too, expect my 50% finesses win as much as 90%, but not because of my judgment or skill in taking the right ones, but rather my eternal optimism.

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi David,

Judy’s and my trip to the strip is only from a suburb of LV, namely Summerlin. and the bridge tournament we attend helps us not spend our leisure times bucking the odds at a special kind of blackjack, called fun, 21 (sometimes a misleading name) where Judy plays the special odds (very small in favor of the house) better than I do.

jim2January 20th, 2014 at 7:13 pm

May you bid so well that you don’t need any stinkin’ finesses!

bobbywolffJanuary 20th, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

Good advice, except we believe the old bridge saw, “if down 1 is good bridge, down 2, must be even better”.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 12:17 am

Re Bobby’s confession about my blackjack style, it’s about time I played some card game better than The Lone Wolff! Seriously, Superfun 21 Double Deck Blackjack is an exciting game and being a resident of Sin City for over eight years, it is great to just hold one’s own.

We just arrived here at Bally’s and am looking forward to a hectic week of bridge adventures and seeing so many old friends.

ClarksburgJanuary 21st, 2014 at 4:30 am

Is that a new indoor record?

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

No, you just broke it with the 21st and then I……… When will we ever learn?