Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 16th, 2014

If there was two birds sitting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first.

Mark Twain

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


In today's deal South rates to play four hearts, and West has a comfortable lead of the diamond jack. Over to you as declarer: How should you be thinking about the deal after the defenders continue diamonds, allowing you to win the second trick in your hand? And how would your strategy vary depending on whether you are playing teams (or rubber bridge) as opposed to pairs?

Let’s take the simplest of situations. At teams or rubber scoring, South knows he can afford to lose two trump tricks but not three. Looking for the best safety play is therefore indicated. If trumps divide 2-2 or 3-1, there will be no problem. Neither will all four hearts in East prove troublesome. But the possibility of all four trumps being held by West must not be ignored. Declarer’s first trump lead therefore must be the nine, eight or seven toward dummy’s ace, ducking if West follows with the six. These tactics hold West to two trump tricks and insure the success of the contract.

At matchpoints the situation is far more complex since if the whole field plays in four hearts, failing to make the overtrick will be extremely expensive. My best guess would be to win the second diamond and cross to the spade ace to lead a low heart from dummy. If East follows suit with anything but the king, you will cover his card, combining absolute safety with a decent gambling chance to make the overtrick.

Before you lead, find out what the opening bid showed! If it showed a very strong balanced hand, my best guess would be to lead a fourth-highest heart, hoping to set up that suit, or at least not to cost myself a trick if I'm wrong. Whereas if the opening shows a long solid minor, I would lead the spade ace, trying to decide what suit to shift to if spades look hopeless.


♠ A 9 4 2
 J 9 5 2
 J 8 5
♣ 8 7
South West North East
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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJune 30th, 2014 at 9:55 am

Hi Bobby,

I think at pairs that I’d just bash down HAx which works when hearts are 2-2, 3-1 or 4-0 the right way or singleton K on my left. If west has HKJ10, then I lose 2 tricks regardless. If I had a reason to assume east was short in hearts, I might lead the HQ through west although TOCM would then give east stiff K. I might try the same approach if desperate for tops. The trouble (as I see it) is leading a small heart from dummy gets the H10 from east and the Q loses to the king. Despite the rule of restricted choice, there is then a losing option on the next round. Although playing HAx may be imperfect, it avoids the mental anguish of getting a decision wrong on the next round, so I think it is the practical pairs play.



bobby wolffJune 30th, 2014 at 11:12 am

Hi Iain (and also Jim2, in absentia),

Of course, while playing pairs, IMO, you are nothing short of 100% correct in not only your play of the ace first, but also the specific reason why it is the winning play because of the uncertainty of what to play next after taking the column’s suggested play at rubber bridge or IMPs, losing the trick and then often having to guess what to play next to the 2nd trick in the suit in question.

Add that important decision to the unlikelihood (5%, 1 in 20) of running into all four trumps in a specific defensive hand (1/2 of 10% of trumps, in this case, being 4-0 and with only West holding them).

Of course, in Jim2’s world of TOCM tm that 5% becomes overwhelming since it continues to always happen to him (unless he takes the safety play), making his plight (and others who are likewise afflicted) very confused in their choices.

The good news for him is that in his upcoming book on “Card Combinations for Unlucky Souls” he may be on the verge of writing a best seller, one in which he figures to do very well financially, with a possible downside of eliminating Medi-bridgecare reimbursement for that affliction by finding an approved remedy for prevention (Jim2, Iain joins me in hoping that you are listening).

bruce karlsonJune 30th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Interested in your thoughts:


A832 Q95
Q106 73
73 A10943
J10 Q97

bidding: went 1ht, I c , 4 hts by South; our side was silent. Partner led a club and I played the Queen having no idea of the layout. South played 3 rounds of hts and partner was on lead. A low spade at this point would cause even a strong club player to go wrong and play low from dummy (I think). Would an expert West find the play and/or would an expert South counter it by playing the K from dummy.

bruce karlsonJune 30th, 2014 at 4:32 pm

the layout lost its position. sorry

Iain ClimieJune 30th, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Hi Bruce,

I think the club spots have got overwritten – has West got 8432 along with 2 small diamonds? Also, did declarer play the C10 from table, when ducking smoothly is not at all easy?



Iain ClimieJune 30th, 2014 at 6:13 pm

More to the point, why did declarer play a 3rd heart not a diamond? Curious.

bobby wolffJune 30th, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Hi Bruce,

Buckle your seat belt.

When declarer after winning his club king, then led ace king and a 3rd heart with West winning the queen and East showing out, something is rotten in the state of where ever it was this hand took place. Obviously the only way this hand can now be defeated with nine of declarer’s cards known (8 hearts and the king of clubs) is a low spade, but if so, why did declarer not play a diamond or, if he had one a 2nd club. Obviously since he didn’t play a 2nd club it was because he didn’t have one, but then why not a diamond as Iain suggested?

No reason possible except for the possibility of declarer having xxxx, AKJxxxxx, void, K. That is the only possible hand he could have if, in fact, the declarer was a capable one (not an expert), but just capable. I would not look a gift horse in the mouth and cash the ace of spades and then lead a diamond, hoping to hold declarer to only 10 tricks for a good matchpoint result and possibly a 1 IMP pickup at IMPs. Yes, I would probably give up trying to defeat this error prone declarer, just to get the maximum I could get from this hand, although if declarer held the only hand he could have, a low spade would probably be ducked holding him to 4 instead of the 5 he would make otherwise.

Sorry for my rant, but all of good bridge, hopefully common on this site, is based on the reason of the players being of a certain quality, without which the game becomes a case of “high card wins” instead of primary logic and good sense.

I appreciate your question and hopefully my answer only emphasizes what should be done and how to try to make every effort to always make the right play. However to accomplish that much, credibility must be given our worthy opponents and in this case certainly the word worthy, was a monumental overbid.

Iain was much more polite and patient when he used the wonderful word, curious.

And to answer Iain’s question about whether declarer played the 10 of clubs at trick one, probably, since, if not, why wouldn’t East play the 9. There I go again, demanding perfection from my opponents, who owe me nothing.

jim2June 30th, 2014 at 8:38 pm

TOCM ™ !!! 😉

bruce karlsonJune 30th, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Should have mentioned that South was not a strong player, and my partner is one of the best players in the club. Agree that the third trump was, at best, ill advised. My interest was how would an expert view the possibility that partner (me) held the spade Q and south would misread. Not sure what prompted the initial club lead as north had bid TWO clubs either.

Did not put declarer’s line into the mix and, given that, simply taking the gift of holding them to 10 tricks holds much allure. I had the club spots fouled up partner had 8432. SORRY!! There is hope but it is limited unfortunately. Thanks Dr. Wolff and Iain

Will definitely look for a higher classed problem for my next question.

bobby wolffJune 30th, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Hi Bruce,

Even with poor declarer play there is usually much to learn, even if it is a realization what not to do while declaring.

Learning at bridge is a lifetime experience, even at the top levels, so there is usually no such thing as wasted time when discussing a hand.

Peter PengJune 30th, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

I will appreciate anybody enlightening me on this.

In the following auction

1D- P – 1S – P
1NT – 2C – 2H – P
P – P – P

opener misunderstood the situation and passed the 2H bid, taking it simply as a suit preference situation.

Actually responder was 5 -5 in the majors with about 15 HCP.

Should responder jump shift to make sure it is an absolute force? How can then a weak 5-5 hand be bid?

Thanks for your insights.

bobby wolffJuly 1st, 2014 at 4:47 am

Hi Peter,

A weak 5-5 should be bid exactly as did this responder. In order to force in this special delicate situation it would be a simple matter to jump to 3 hearts and then over either 3 spades or 3NT rebid 4 hearts to show at least 5-5 in the majors.

Certainly bridge theory can also be discussed, but those who want to be told, just need to comply with this simple, but effective way to handle this type of hand.

Remember with no adverse bidding the sequence of 1 of a minor P 1S P
1NT or 2 of the same minor P 2H merely asks for a preference and can easily be passed. The reason being is that any good hand can be handled by jumping, which doesn’t require much effort or memory work.

Peter, I hope the above covers the bases.

jim2July 1st, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Peter –

I am not Our Host (who has already answered just above) but I do qualify as “anybody” so I will chime in, also.

When on partner has made a limit bid (here opener’s 1N), the other partner must jump, reverse, or make an artificial bid to force another bid. Thus, if the initial response had been 1H and the second 2S, I believe that would have been a forcing bid (maybe not in all partnerships, but certainly in any I have played). Similarly, the cue bid of 3C would have been forcing.

bobby wolffJuly 1st, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for accurately adding to the description of the theory of why 2 hearts in its original form should not be forcing and only an attempt to get to the right strain at a part score level.

During my youth (so long ago, if it ever happened), bridge books were sold everywhere from being heartily promoted as usually the lead item in the book section of the largest department stores, to the mail order houses which specialized in them to of course, the bridge periodicals which included all of them from around the world (mostly Europe and America).

SJ Simon’s great book, “Design for Bidding” is one of my all time bridge learning favorites from long ago and suggested his versatility as both a serious author of bridge learning as well as his humorous ones of “Why You Lose At Bridge” and “Bridge At Ruff’s Club” where his large as life fictitious bridge characters reigned, teaching all who listened, what not to do.

Peter PengJuly 2nd, 2014 at 3:45 am

Thanks Jim2 and Mr. Wolff – much appreciated insight and bridge syntax lessons!