Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

A habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.

William Shakespeare

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


I am often asked why I prefer the lead of the king from ace-king rather than the ace.

Today’s deal exemplifies one of the admittedly minor advantages my method has.

Imagine your partner leads the diamond ace against four hearts. Now plan the defense.

If your partner has led from the diamond ace-king, you might need to unblock the diamond queen to tell partner to lead a low diamond to you, for a spade through declarer. The clubs in dummy present a threat of sorts, since declarer might be able to discard either a slow or fast loser on the 13th club.

However, there is a real danger that some layouts exist equivalent to that shown in the answer. Here a careless and extravagant signal of the diamond queen will let declarer play the diamond suit for only one loser by finessing the diamond 10 at some point in the hand. On the actual hand you want partner to continue playing diamonds (a spade switch by West would be fatal to the defense) so signal with the diamond six, the highest card you can afford. Partner will, you hope, continue with diamonds, and in due course declarer will lose two tricks in spades and two in diamonds, for one down.

If the diamond ace denies the king, then East would never have any thought of unblocking a high diamond at the first trick. If your partnership frequently leads unsupported aces (especially in bid and supported suits), the king-lead from ace-king has a clear advantage.

It may be self-evident, but let me make it clear: in a competitive auction like this, the raise to three diamonds is not a game-try. Some people call it a bar-bid, other call it a pre-emptive reraise. The point is that if your partner has invitational values or better, he has four forcing game-tries: two hearts, two spades, two no-trump and three clubs. The reraise is not helpful as, nor required as, a game-try. So pass now.


♠ 9 8 2
 K 10 4
 9 8 5
♣ A 10 3 2
South West North East
1 1♠
2 Pass 3 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


SlarJuly 22nd, 2014 at 1:03 pm

This topic confuses many of my peers. As far as I can tell (my oldest bridge book is a 1963 printing of Goren), leading the K from AKx(x) has been standard for at least 60 years. Yet somewhere along the way someone suggested leading the Ace instead. (Probably the same person who unleashed Stolen Bids on us.) I haven’t found anyone who can answer “why” but now there is doubt. Only after a thorough explanation of signalling with the queen to show the jack does the standard way make sense. As blogger “Tommy” notes (, you can reach life master without ever encountering this scenario.

Iain ClimieJuly 22nd, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi Bobby,

Although it is a good illustration, would you have led a diamond here? Fine if partner has the K, probably wrong otherwise e.g. If the suit were frozen. I’d have led a trump or maybe a club as 2nd choice. What would you have done, please?



jim2July 23rd, 2014 at 1:19 am

Our Host is currently playing in the Spingold in the Summer Nationals in Las Vegas.

If I read the tourney site correctly, his team just won their first match!

(In the lowest scoring match I can ever recall! 11 – 08)

Go Bobby!

jim2July 23rd, 2014 at 1:20 am

Wolff, not Woll – old fingers I have ….

bobby wolffJuly 23rd, 2014 at 1:49 am

Hi Slar,

Yes, leading the ace or king has been a well worn discussion for many years and for all that time I have preferred the king.

However, there are advantages which work both ways. Perhaps the biggest advantage in favor of the ace centers around who possesses the jack. It is helpful to be playing ace from ace king when partner leads the king if you hold the jack. Then, in the absence of more promising holdings, you can often give an unequivocal positive signal since you will not encounter establishing declarer’s queen since your partner will hold that lady. However leading the king from both holdings (AK & KQ) allows partner to usually plan the defense, especially if a continuation of that suit is not a winning strategy on that hand. Probably much more often than not, both defenders will know which honors partner has without any convention, simply by listening (and remembering) the bidding.

Some partnerships lead one card conventionally, when the opponents are no higher than the 4 level (10 trick) but tend, if the contract reaches the 5 level (or higher), to play it the other way. There are, of course, valid reasons for playing it that way, but to go deeper into them requires more time than I have right now.

I do not necessarily agree with Tommy when he suggests that the column hand theme hardly ever appears. Leading an unsupported ace is often done (and IMO) should, when that suit is sometimes the only unbid suit, especially at pairs when once in a while the only defensive tricks are in the unbid suit and if that suit is not led, like Jackie Gleason- away they (instead of we) go. This theme often appears when worthy opponents do not have an 8 card major suit fit, but bypass 3NT for a minor suit game.

However, no partnership has ever failed to reach their potential by not agreeing on which method is best, causing this entire discussion to not be very valuable.

bobby wolffJuly 23rd, 2014 at 1:57 am

Hi Iain,

Yes, I would choose a club since the lead of an unsupported ace, at least for me, is too final a decision to make and, although I do not like leading the ace of spades either, I’ll gamble it out with a club lead, since that choice is not so decisive, although, obviously sometimes critical.

Being a winning bridge player requires good judgment on opening lead, and your choices usually stand up to scrutiny, at least my take. For one to become good, only experience and against good declarers is usually important.

bobby wolffJuly 23rd, 2014 at 2:01 am

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for your interest in the Spingold. In today’s match our team (#31) is up 31 at the half, but our opponents are fully capable of coming back. Dan & I are off the 3rd quarter but will play the 4th.

I feel good about resuming my Spingold competition after not playing the last 5 years, but I better enjoy it, since the road ahead is dimming.

Judy Kay-WolffJuly 23rd, 2014 at 7:29 am

Breaking news … Bobby’s team slipped a bit in the third quarter but just left them at the playing site with smiles on their faces after comparing. Tough match tomorrow .. they take on Nickell.

jim2July 23rd, 2014 at 10:36 am

Ah, the 11 – 08 result must have been merely after the first quarter. Looks like the final score was 92 – 90.

Nickell, they’re the #2 seed!!