Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 21st, 2014

People trust their eyes above all else — but most people see what they wish to see, or what they believe they should see; not what is really there.

Zoe Marriott

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


At the risk of stating the obvious, the defenders cannot see each other's cards. Conversely, declarer can see partner's cards — though this benefit is shared with the defenders. On this hand, South should have appreciated that if East got on lead, a heart through him would very likely scupper the contract. Therefore, declarer needed to use whatever wiles were at his disposal to disrupt defensive communications.

West led the heart king, to the three, seven and two. The opening leader could read East’s seven as being the lowest heart in his hand; therefore, it was likely to be the bottom of three cards. If East had held a doubleton heart, he would have played his highest, unless it was the queen. And if South had held four hearts, he would surely have bid them over partner’s two-club response. So West intelligently switched to the club 10. In with the ace, East returned a heart and down went the game.

Declarer had missed his opportunity for subterfuge. If he had dropped the heart nine under West’s ace, doubt might have been created in West’s mind. With the two still out, West would not have been able to gauge the heart position accurately. East might hold Q-7-2, and the seven might be the highest card available to him to signal liking for the lead.

As a rule of thumb in similar situations, declarer should ‘signal’ as if he were a defender, If he wants the opening leader to continue the suit, he should follow with a high card.

With no really attractive lead, the choice is to go relatively passive (I prefer a club lead to a heart) or to go aggressive with the lead of the diamond king. There is no right answer here, but I suspect at pairs I would try to play the straight man. Meanwhile, at teams or rubber, I'd opt for the chance to be a hero — or a villain.


♠ Q 2
 10 8 3 2
 K 10
♣ J 6 5 4 3
South West North East
Pass 3♠ Pass 4♠
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


Shantanu RastogiMay 5th, 2014 at 10:27 am

Hello Mr Wolff

Q 7 2 is a likely possibilty with East but shouldnt East be unblocking his Queen as partner may have led from AKJ10 and declarer is known to have started with 2 or 3 Hearts. Also in case of East holding Queen of heart where would the fifth trick come from untill unless West holds AKJ to five hearts. So East should play declarer for heart queen as declarer can also bid 2 Spades over 2 Diamonds from North if he deems his cards bad. Only logic against unblocking Q is that if West has led from AKxx or AKxxx. That I guess is a matter of partnership style but West is giving up the chance of Qx with East especially with AKxxx.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiMay 5th, 2014 at 10:37 am

hello Mr Wolff

Pls read – West should play declarer for Heart Queen (irrespective of what card declarer plays).

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2014 at 11:45 am

Hi Shantanu,

While it is very possible that West could play his partner for the heart queen (despite the intelligent false card of the nine on the first heart it is still necessary for declarer to be up to playing the 9 on the first heart as that card is very unlikely to serve any purpose later on.

Add that to the virtual certainty of West not continuing a heart if the normal deuce is contributed at trick one by declarer since then his partner’s seven becomes the lowest heart out and since South has at least implied he does not have 4 hearts (by not rebidding hearts instead of NT) East would surely have encouraged a heart continuation unless he had the AQ of clubs, a combination (on the bidding) he could not have.

At least to me, the inferences on defense (without the intelligent false card by declarer at trick one) is very likely to be a club shift, and because of that the declarer was IMO in the wrong by not creating (at the very least) a smoke screen which West may or may not have fallen for. Sometimes missed opportunities, on both offense and defense, can be just as damaging as bonehead plays.

Perhaps declarer will hold: s. AKxxx, Q9, xx, AQJx and the game is matchpoints, unless the opening leader cashes the ace of hearts, both hearts in dummy will eventually (after trumps are drawn) discard both hearts from dummy on the good clubs and 11 tricks instead of 10 will be scored up by NS, but that requires a different mindset and is not consistent with East playing the seven of hearts with 10872.

And for East to consider throwing his possible precious queen of hearts away at trick one is indeed a very big position, since, at least as far as I can tell, absolutely no assurance that West has the Jack of hearts with his presumed Ace King.

Thanks for responding and thus allowing our discussion which may be instructive for many followers to learn about the various facets of offense and defense as they apply on many bridge hands. Is bridge a great game, or what?

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2014 at 11:52 am

Hi Shantanu,

And to prove that I, even with the whole hypothetical hand I mentioned in front of my nose, claimed only 11 tricks when without the cashing of the ace of hearts by West at trick two, would have scored up a “cool” 12 tricks, just proving how easy it is to not analyze correctly, unless one’s concentration is entirely on the hand itself. Just facts, not excuses!

Shantanu RastogiMay 5th, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

Please pardon me for the comments I made as I was defending an imaginary 3 NT but not 4 Spades :-). I forgot that in the deal declarer was playing 4 Spades. Against 4 Spades noone would throw Heart Queen on K lead.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Patrick CheuMay 5th, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Hi Bobby, in these ‘days of thunder’,if East has 10852 or 10872 or 10876,on West’s lead of the Ace of hearts,which card does East play? 8 or 5,8 or 7, 8 or 7,some partners prefer 5 in case 1,8 in second and 8 or 7 in third case..what is the correct way?The point I am leading to,is if East plays the seven,declarer may confuse the issue with the 9,but if the above 4card holdings are clarified in partnership agreements,there is a chance for the defence to get it right. There is also the point that some people play Ace leads asking for reverse attitude,and King for normal count..does that help here with East 1087 of hearts?Regards~Patrick..Its Bank Holiday here,maybe I should get back to bed..Ha Ha.

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Hi Shantanu,

I assure you that you are indeed, forgiven. And I apologize to you for my gross miscount of how many tricks might be taken on my hypothetical hand.

Even in only discussion, with mulligans (I think primarily a golf term meaning replays) allowed, mistakes are a way of life in bridge.

Bill CubleyMay 5th, 2014 at 12:27 pm


I see Bob Wolff has set the Guinness record for sports broadcasting at 74 years, 6 months+. Talent is spread throughout your family.

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Hi Patrick,

Yes, you better search out the safety of your bed and pull up your covers, since this early in the morning in Las Vegas, and even with a Bank Holiday, will not protect you from a severe response to your signalling discussion.

The first signal by your partner (on a normal lead) is, or at least should be, attitude toward the suit led. Yes, many very good players play all sorts of variations and, at least according to them, have improved their partnerships because of the change. However, perhaps at least part of that improvement has to do with varying tempos which only add to the communications (no offense intended, Ha! Ha!)

In the absence of discussing a lot of mostly nonsense and excepting discussions about “special leads” such as the lead of the Q from KQ109 and some NT leads which ask for second highest and sometimes “highest”, attitude could (perhaps should) be the first preference.

Others swear to different schemes, but, at least to me, give unconvincing arguments, especially when the ethics require tempo to be not telling (and that also applies to slow 3rd seat play at trick one in spite of all the protests to the contrary).

By the above, I am not discounting the VERY few out there who actually do engage in Active Ethics throughout their entire game, but IMO, too few to matter.

First attitude, then, in no particular order (except for a very few who have spent endless hours of discussion) count or suit preference in one degree or another come next.

My choice, in a long term partnership with both players possessing considerable talent, after attitude (or in rare cases even before) give partner what he needs to know (considering the opponents system, the bidding, and, of course, what the opening lead is supposed to convey in information). That karma, if there is such a thing, and if so, it will only apply to those talent laden players who are good enough to piece the information together, in a like way, and be on the same wave length in order to direct the right thought process, and, most importantly, to have the confidence that it has been, in fact, communicated.

You can now take the covers off your face.

Result, NIRVANA! except for the 90+% of the players who try to and fail.

E’nuf said! Strong letter to perhaps (but not really) to follow.

Patrick CheuMay 5th, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Hi Bobby,thanks! Point taken,attitude first!

Bobby WolffMay 5th, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Hi Bill,

If falling in constant abyss’esses’ can be construed as talent I have the broken bones to prove it.

However, thanks for the thought.

Yes, between my three wives dead or alive, four children including step, brother, father and mother, nieces and nephews, and four grandchildren which add to double digits there is some talent only because, without any at all, we would indeed be a unique family.

Mircea Giurgeu, Kitchener ONMay 6th, 2014 at 6:57 am

Mr. Wolff,

In your initial comment you said that with a doubleton, East would play high first. Would he do that only on the lead of the king or on the lead of the ace, as well?

If on both or just the ace, than how does West know how how to continue – lead or underlead the other honour? On this particular hand, as you indicated in one of your latter comments, West could identify the lenght in hearts by declarer’s failure to bid the suit at his second turn and read the position correctly, but the auction could have gonne through Jacoby 2NT concealing that information.

My point is that if we aggree that attitude is the primary signal on the lead of a high card when dummy is not short, than the correct play from a doubleton should be low. All these assume straight signals (not UDCA)

Bobby WolffMay 6th, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Hi Mircea,

Your answer depends on whether the partnership on lead leads the king or the ace from the ace king.

If the partnership leads the king then the ace denies the king so East would play his lowest heart from a small doubleton. The most significant disadvantage to partnerships who prefer leading the ace from ace king that, in order to compensate for the possible disadvantage of partner misreading the opening lead and therefore giving an incorrect legal signal, the opening leader is loathe to lead an unsupported ace (unfortunately, sometimes the called for lead).

To theoretically answer an unasked question, partner’s assumed play should usually have priority over the opponent’s bidding, since when given a choice, believe a friend rather than a foe.

The better the partnership, the more this is true, but in a new partnership it is important and usually necessary to give it time to begin clicking. Also the warning sign on the above advice should emphasize that, when selecting a way to play, especially conventions, be sure to understand the disadvantage of playing it a certain way and weigh that fact in determining whether to go that direction or not.

A final point is that when partner might be leading from an AK against a suit contract, it is usually important to give a high low (come on) with a small doubleton so that the 3rd seat defender can trump the 3rd round.

Mircea Giurgeu, Kitchener, ONMay 6th, 2014 at 4:39 pm

OK. So playing that the partnership leads the ace from AK, if East trades a heart for a club from South and the auction went 1S – 2NT!; 4S – all pass, on the lead of the ace, East has to play high (now from doubleton). Is that correct?

If so, he would have to play low from Qxx. If yes, it seems that you can’t have the cake and eat it, too (something we all know to be true).

One final question on the same topic: if leading the ace from AK, is it OK to lead the king if the opening leader is looking for count in the suit (and dummy is not short and/or with the queen)?

Bobby WolffMay 6th, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Hello again Mircea,

It would perhaps be a superior way for you to reason thusly: When you want a suit to be continued, whether it is a doubleton or the Qxx or even Qxxx (when no other alternative is more attractive) then so inform partner with a high card, but if another defense, from your point of view, appears more productive than signal for a switch, according to what you prefer done.

However, your partner then has to weigh your card, (NOT YOUR TEMPO WHILE DECIDING) and proceed ethically in following suit to your suggestion. Yes, there is some (most) subjectivity in both of your choices, but that is what bridge (especially while defending) is all about and takes experience and at least some numeracy talent to become good at it.

While answering your last question, if the partnership leads the ace from ace king conventionally then the king denies the ace and partner will signal accordingly. For example, if the king denies the ace, it then shows the queen so as his partner I would give a come on signal while holding the jack (unless another defense appears more profitable).

Complicated, yes, impossible or even improbable to play well, not at all, but experience with at least almost equal partner talent and dedicated effort is necessary to move forward. Without the right elements present, yes virtually impossible!

The above is what makes it so imperative to teach bridge in the earlier schools, something which is now being done in Europe and China complete with rave notices from both the teachers and their pupils.

To not do so, is shameful among large populations who value important education.

Paul GoldfingerMay 7th, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I’ve been a fan of yours for years.

And that’s why I cringe when I see errata in your columns, including several recent errors. Among the errata that I’ve seen in just the past few weeks were:

• In the April 19 column is the sentence, “Back came a third spade and Reid ruffed, cashed a second heart as South completed his echo…” How can South complete his echo when Reid is South?

• There was a similar error in your column of Monday, April 7 in the Lead with the Aces section. Since West bid NT first, North is on lead, not South. I say this is a similar error to the April 19 issue because I’m guessing that in both cases the hands were rotated but something else didn’t get rotated.

• In the April 21 column, there is reference to dummy’s two club bid, when dummy bid two diamonds, not two clubs.

I am writing to call these problems to your attention and to encourage you to improve the review of the columns.

Your fan,

Paul Goldfinger
Whidbey Island, Washington

Bobby WolffMay 8th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your critique which, no doubt, is accurate and calls for stricter attention, to which the reader is definitely entitled.

I offer no excuses and will immediately try and implement better quality control than the three phases of current proof reading which we employ but is obviously not working even close to well enough. Unfortunately we have been relegated to at least one of those phases performed by non-bridge players who only check on the lay-out and the number of words used, not the bridge itself.

Whatever, from this moment forward, and although we are more than four months ahead in our bridge column production, I will make every effort to conform to your appropriate request.

Thank you,


Paul GoldfingerMay 8th, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Dear Bobby:

Thank you for your in depth response.

I would like to communicate with you without this public display.

I tried emailing to, but it came back as undeliverable. Is there another email that I can use?

–Paul Goldfinger