Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 10th, 2014

Vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave.

Thomas Gibbon

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


Have you noticed how many experts seem to be lucky and how many palookas are born to run into hostile breaks and unfavorable lies of the cards? I wonder whether the two things might somehow be linked. For example, the average player might go down like a stone in three no-trump here, and complain about his terrible misfortune, but in reality he would have only himself to blame.

Declaring the no-trump game, most Souths would duck the first heart, although this play is probably not important today. He would then take the second heart, cross to dummy with the spade king and lead the club queen. It would not matter whether East covered or ducked; the defense can prevail. The point is that declarer is permanently cut off from the long club in dummy — since the side entry is gone.

Another losing approach would be to cash the club ace at trick three — this is a somewhat better approach since it guards against West’s having all four clubs, though it fails today.

The expert player would, realize that nothing could be gained by ducking the first trick. He would win the first heart with the king, but then make the critical play of leading a low club toward the jack. This guards against a bad club break in either hand. Whether East wins or ducks the first club, declarer can set up the suit for one loser and come home painlessly with nine tricks.

Partner rates to have a few scattered values here. A trump looks far too dangerous, and, of the other choices, a low heart is my least favorite since partner does not rate to have honors there. Either the diamond ace or a low club are sensible choices. Of the two, the low club would be marginally my favorite despite the fact that underleading aces is normally frowned upon.


♠ Q 4 3
 K 9 8 6 2
 A 10
♣ A 9 4
South West North East
1 Dbl. Pass 1♠
Pass 3♠ 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 WarheitFebruary 24th, 2014 at 9:19 am

In LWA, I lead the DA because: a) partner could have the DK and each opponent at least 3 (or maybe declarer has a doubleton, allowing me to make my SQ), so there’s 3 tricks plus CA plus very likely something else, and after ruffing the 3d D I can probably safely exit with a S, b) if partner doesn’t have DK and opponents only have 8 spades, finessing me for the SQ becomes rather unsafe (risking partner winning the SQ and then either cashing a D or giving me a D ruff).

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 24th, 2014 at 10:14 am

Dear Mr Wolff

I was just wondering that do you recommend North to bid 2 hearts with A x or Q x ? North at any rate doesnt have 3 carder + hearts.


Underleading Club Ace may gain at trick one as it gives the guess immediately before distribution becomes better known. So for this deal underleading Ace may not work out badly as if partner wins the Q he can switch to Diamonds.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2014 at 10:49 am

Hi David,

What you say has much going for it, but when it comes to relatively blind leads, such as this opening lead guess, it is unlikely, probably impossible to consistently, or anywhere near, make the right choice.

My secret pick of opening lead would be a small spade since I think it is probably at least 50-50 that both the ace and king will be in dummy, and, if so, declarer will probably not guess it right because of the bravado of the opening leader, although the opening bidder, leading away from it.

However, the choice requires guesswork, and, to the point, good luck, in order to give the defense a fair chance of defeating the contract. Whenever honors, especially aces are either led (ace of diamonds) or led away from by choosing a low club, neither will fare well since the opening lead side has to play 1st and 3rd to the trick, advantage then goes to the opponents who assume the cat bird’s position of playing 2nd and 4th, which added to the information already given away by the bidding, only increases our worthy adversary’s edge.

Between this opening lead choice and the theme of the column, this hand runs a complete gamut from total guesswork, the opening lead in the LWTA, to the 100% action of insuring the contract with the safety play suggested in the main event.

BTW, let us assume that this hand is definitely meant for either rubber bridge or IMP play, not match point duplicate, where the possible overtrick comes into importance.

“East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” sums it up and I am not here to tell anyone what is the right choice of play while playing matchpoints. All I know is, I absolutely hate those hands which require such a bastardized decision since my personal feeling is that the overtrick in matchpoint needs to be catered to (probably a simple go to the dummy in spades and lead the queen of clubs) but I have no admiration for players, including myself, who do anything but lead a low club from hand. That theme is what bridge should be about, not the greed which calls for the probable percentage matchpoint action.

As a justification for my thoughts I will go to Grantland Rice’s (sportwriter) famous quote many years ago, something like, “When the great scorer in the sky marks beside your name, it will not be, whether you won or lost, but rather, how you played the game.”

Furthermore I do not even like discussing it, since it truly, just bringing it up, makes me feel sick.

I apologize for the rant!

bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2014 at 11:10 am

Hi Shantanu,

We were, as often happens, both writing at the same time.

Obviously a low heart is a possible lead, which only brings all suits into focus as choices. I have no real preferences (which haven’t already been said) and just charge it off as to only just one of the great mysteries which are often present while playing our game.

Yes, chess is a purer game luck wise than is bridge, but no, IMO it is not a more interesting nor fascinating one because of the many extra challenges bridge offers: psychological, legal partnership communication which makes both the bidding and the play and defense in bridge more exciting, poker type bluffs in the bidding and in the play in bridge, rather than the limited only strictly cerebral advantage of chess and that fact also can be argued as to the brilliance needed to compete against the best.

Iain ClimieFebruary 24th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

In today’s play hand, would anyone make it at pars where any 3-1 or 2-2 break argues for spade to king, then club finesse? Loved the quote though – perfect for a grey Monday in an office full of gloom!



Iain ClimieFebruary 24th, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Sorry, you’ve answered the question earlier! Still a good quote though!

bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hi Iain,

As always you have brightened my day with your positive comments.

Yes, the quote, no doubt refers to those in power who are enabled to both cause great joy, but also much distress by their actions.

Frightening, but so true as history will prove. “From a jack to a king, and back”.

Iain ClimieFebruary 24th, 2014 at 6:06 pm

In cardplaying terms, I loved the review of one actor giving a poor performance in King Lear. One critic wrote “He played the King as if believing someone was about to play the ace!”


bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Hi Iain,

Swallowed up would be an apt description, but the critic’s comment was perfectly said.