Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Dear Night! This world's defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb.

Henry Vaughan

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

The big question!

Most of the critical decisions in the problems I present arise in the middle of the deal, but this time in a teams match you are simply faced with an opening-lead problem.

By the way, did that four-club call on a zero-count shock you? You wanted to take away bidding-space from your opponents, believing they had a good fit and the balance of high cards. Your opponents nonetheless sailed into a slam — but partner (a very good and highly aggressive player) ups the ante. Your lead!

Anyone familiar with the Lightner double might guess that, since you would have considered leading a club without the double, you have been asked to do something unusual, and the spade lead looks like the obvious choice. When your partner doubles a slam, you look for an unusual lead. So far so good, but I hope you avoided leading a fourth-highest spade four. If you did, your partner would ruff the first trick and would then consider underleading his club ace to get a second ruff.

Why? Well, I told you that your partner was an aggressive player. He can guess that six hearts doubled might also be the contract reached at the other table, and so that extra undertrick would be worth 300 points, or 7 IMPs. Since you know an underlead in clubs would be a disaster, lead a suit-preference spade eight, to steer partner away from the club suit.

Incidentally, which opponent, North or South, do you think should have retreated to the cold six no-trump?

This is an awkward one. Your partner heard you suggest diamonds and spades (on an auction where you could have doubled for takeout of hearts). When he overrules you to bid clubs, do you have any reason to doubt him?- He might have seven small clubs. right ? That argues for a pass now; his clubs will be worth tricks when they are trumps but will be valueless to you.


♠ A K J 6
 K Q 6
 K Q 8 5 2
♣ 3
South West North East
1 Pass Pass 1
1♠ Pass 2♣ 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 WarheitJuly 15th, 2014 at 9:55 am

Who should bid 6NT? Well, it would be kind of hard for N, since his club stop doesn’t appear to be strong enough. Better question: if NS do bid 6NT, who should bid 7C, E or W? 7CX is only off 5 and -1400 is better than -1440.

Interesting fact: EW can make 8 tricks in C while only having 8 HCP.

Iain ClimieJuly 15th, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hi Bobby,

Aa few quick thoughts on today’s hand. Clearly only south can move to 6N but should west consider a spade lead anyway? 2 clubs will clearly not cash and it is difficult to see much other hope – just as long as east doesn’t think over 6H then pass. I suppose there could be a discard of a club loser if a club isn’t led and a hole somewhere e.g. Oppo might have DAxx opposite KJxxx, although then a diamond gets thrown on a spade instead.

I’m not sure east should try the underlead, though, at least unless west has led his clearly lowest spade. South has either one club or the CK (or both) for his bidding. The 4 is just nondescript, although I take the point about leading the S8. Whether I’d manage it at the table is a different story.



bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hi David & Iain,

Yes, South should be the one to convert to 6NT, when East doubles. However, if South is inexperienced, (in this case, meaning unsure of what Lightner doubles represent) there have been stranger bids by North with as Edgar Kaplan often saying, usually as the viewgraph commentator, that 6NT by North is either daring when South turns up with the king of clubs, or otherwise foolhearty when he doesn’t.

Also, when NS do not seek greener pastures (bidding, as David suggests, 7 clubs) the opening lead should be the eight of spades or even the ten, if, for no other reason than to stop his partner from exercising serious greed in trying to increase the set.

However, show me a player (particularly a young one) who has the foresight to lead a high spade and I’ll show you one who has the overall thought process to be a great bridge champion. While at the table and sitting within the cauldron of competing at the highest levels, it is rare that every situation is handled flawlessly and without oversight.

My thoughts go back to the early years of the Aces in Dallas (late 1960’s) and would East be charged with a black error if he led his 4th highest spade instead of a high one (regardless of what his partner led back at trick 2, but let’s assume the ace) instead of a gray or white one. Maybe I would guess, while early with the Ace’s development gray, but late, black. Then, what would East be charged with if upon receiving a lower spade, ruffing and then leading back? Certainly the ace, either gray or white, but a low one, you tell me, since I do not remember a similar situation having occurred, especially one where close to the identical hand might have happened and the opponents got +300 at the other table.

No results were ever played or even emphasized, (unless I have a convenient memory), but in any event let it be clear, that a horrible result happening would make it more likely for it to never occur again (and I mean lifetime).

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Oops, I meant West, not East, being charged with a black……….

And I am talking about perfection in defending when I cannot accomplish it in describing…..

Are we kidding each other?

BryanJuly 15th, 2014 at 1:19 pm

8s for lead direction = Club return?
If west had wanted a diamond return what would he have led in spades? (Even though he is not void on this hand, some hands getting 2 quick ruffs in may be the only way to set.)

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for your post. Without it, one rarely can get exposed to what constitutes high-level bridge.

The logic involved on this hand after one’s partner has made a “Lightner double” which should be defined as a lead director emphasizing not leading what would be thought to be normal (partner’s bid suit) in order to have a much better chance to set the hand but NOT to increase the amount of the set (the usual reason for making a final double), although that motive also usually comes into play when recording the result.

Here, the bridge logic involved, centers around telling partner what he NEEDS to know, e.g on this hand, I’m leading a high spade (which, because of your double, together with my length in that suit) I expect you to ruff, but when you do, DO NOT expect me to have what I may have, a major honor in the suit I have raised.

Nothing more, nothing less, but I think you will agree that the logic of our wonderful game centers around the other facts related to this hand, which only could be, the holding in the key suit the opening leader has, after partner is able to accomplish what he suggested to me, of not leading a club, but rather a suit he might ruff.

The above is the language of our game, which although strictly code (artificial), is the essence of what our game represents.

Another truth to consider is that our language (both the bidding and sometimes the specific card that we play) is all we can transmit at the time. No black magic, only game logic!

Good luck and ask another question if there is more you want or need to know.

SlarJuly 15th, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Mr. Wolff,
I saw your response to Bryan but I don’t get it. Paraphrasing from Bergen For The Defense, the chapter on suit preference signals…

…highest ranking spot card tells you to lead back the higher ranking of the two side suits. If he wanted clubs, he would have led the 2. If partner [wants neither], he would lead back a neutral middle card.

So if I had done what I was taught, an expert partner would have made me look like an idiot? Perhaps world-class players can have this sort of agreement but for us mortals it is just asking for trouble. The pair has done so much right to get to this point (sound overcall, preemptive raise, Lightner Double, spade lead) it would be a shame to blow it on unnecessarily complicated signalling methods.

TedJuly 15th, 2014 at 7:03 pm

If South had been the first to bid NT and now bids 6NT over the Lightner double, might he get a non-club lead (per Iain’s comment above). If the opponents are convinced two clubs will not cash, then South may not actually need a club stopper.

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Hi Slar,

Once a spade is led and defensively ruffed, then to underlead the ace of clubs is way too big a play and should only be done if East is 99.99% sure that partner has the king. Unless partner leads the deuce and is ultra reliable, then there should be absolutely no consideration to underlead the ace. It was only an afterthought to even discuss it, so after knowing this I do not think there is any reason for you to be confused or frustrated.

Just cash the ace of clubs and be done with it.

Obviously on a free lance discussion where some like to discuss all aspects of a possible choice, the dangerous discussion might come up. That should never be misunderstood and lead a wannabe improving player to wonder about what is going on.

Good luck!

bobby wolffJuly 15th, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Hi Ted,

If West is looking at the AK of clubs, chances are pretty good that he will be leading them vs. 6NT.

Consequently our discussion belongs in never, never land and basically off limits. However during a long career, perhaps 60+ years of playing, many unusual situations will come up, causing the discussion to get away from normal subjects.

We all can now see the danger of such interruptions and will be more careful with frivolous comments.