Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 14th, 2014

The combat deepens. On ye brave,
Who rush to glory or the grave.

Thomas Campbell

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


In today's deal, declarer neglected to focus on the possible problem he might have with communications, and so gave up his best chance of making his contract.

West led the diamond king against four spades, which declarer allowed to hold. There was a likely trump loser plus a club loser or two, depending on the position of the club king. South saw that on a 3-3 heart break he could rid himself of both his club losers and end up with 11 tricks.

So he won the diamond queen continuation, cashed the top spades, ruffed his losing diamond with dummy’s last trump, then played ace, king and another heart, which he ruffed. When West discarded, South was philosophical — he still had the club play in reserve. But a club to the ace, then a club to the queen, saw West win with the king, and the club return spelled the demise of the game.

South failed to take his main chance in the right order — he should have tried to succeed against either a 3-3 or a 4-2 heart break. To cope with the 4-2 heart break, South needed two entries to dummy, but he had squandered an entry by ruffing his third diamond prematurely.

After playing his top trumps, declarer should next have taken the heart ace and king, then followed with a heart ruff in hand. Only now should he ruff the diamond. Another heart ruff would establish the fifth heart, and the club ace remains in dummy as the entry to it.

Had your partner not doubled the final contract, you would dutifully have led a spade. So does your partner's double simply try to increase the penalty he expects to get? I think not. The double should indicate he has another very good suit and wants you to try to find it. The odds favor that suit to be clubs, so I would lead the club nine, and have my excuses ready if partner has K-Q-9-fifth of diamonds.


♠ 5 2
 Q 9 8 3 2
 J 10 6 4
♣ 9 5
South West North East
1 1♠ 1 NT
Pass 3 NT Dbl. 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


Jane AJuly 28th, 2014 at 7:29 pm

I guess it depends on partnership agreements, but when partner doubles the final three NT contract, couldn’t this indicate that it would be OK to lead partner’s suit? If a diamond is led, which one?

Thanks in advance, as always.

bobby wolffJuly 28th, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Hi Jane A,

You are correct in assuming the old rule of an eventual penalty double requiring the lead of the bidders (now defenders) suit so that the contract will be sure to go set.

However, the new thinking is that partner will be likely to lead that suit anyway, so that the penalty double now means to look at your hand and attempt to visualize what I may be nudging you to do. Many would now expect that partner’s hand may be: S. QJxxx, h. x, d. xx c. AKQJx.

On the surface this thinking appears logical, but let me caution you and whoever else is reading, those who have dreamed up wonderful conventions do not, as a rule, have many (if any) scalps on the wall, sometimes over think and, although making sense to many, do not necessarily have the winning touch.

If I led a diamond, which could be right if catching partner with perhaps s. AJxxx, h. J, KQ9xx, Qx but since I, the opening leader have more diamonds than clubs the betting would be that partner has more clubs than diamonds.

Now, if only that is true, it will be a successful penalty double, but what is an opening leader (whether fella or gal) to do? I guess it is better to just hope that partner will lead a spade when the overcaller has s. KQJ10x, h. xx, d. xxx, c. Axx while you hold s. x, h. xxxx, d. QJ10, c. J109xx.

If one is accustomed to almost always lead partner’s suit in these situations should you still lead a club, or should he not overcall 1 spade holding s. QJ109x h. xx, Ax, KQxx for fear of you getting off to the wrong lead vs NT.

Only players who play results will not appreciate the above and not search out for themselves what they want partner to do when one decides to double after first overcalling.

From such combination theorist and thinking for themselves humans, come the world class bridge players.

Patrick CheuJuly 28th, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Hi Bobby,in the Springold final Bd19 second segment was of interest in terms of what is the right contract from the EW all hinges on whether South opens or not it seems..N 86 AK6 K432 AJ92 E AQ73 QJ1084 K1075 void S J10 75 862 AJ9865 W K9542 932 Q107 Q3.In the open room South did not open and North did and East overcalls 1H and got to 4H and NS got to 5CX-3 500.4H would seem to make.In the closed room,South opens 3C and East doubles North’s 3NT and West bids 4S X-1 200. A swing of 12 imps to the eventual winners.It seems that the 5-3 heart fit plays better than the 5-4spade fit,how often is that the case in your experience?Maybe this hand goes to show that pre-empts make things harder as usual..regards~Patrick.

Patrick CheuJuly 28th, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Sorry, West’s clubs n diamonds are reversed,it should be K9542 932 Q3 Q107.

Iain ClimieJuly 28th, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Hi Bobby,.

On the lead hand, what inference (if any) should the opening leader draw from partner’s failure to use Michaels?



bobby wolffJuly 28th, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Hi Patrick,

I’m also assuming North had Kxxx in clubs instead of AJ9x since South had the AJ9x of clubs.

Sometimes there is little rhyme nor reason for an 8 card fit to play better than a 9 card one, and it is also the case here when while playing spades as trump, 3 rounds of hearts will defeat 4 spades, as long as South has the jack of diamonds to take the setting trick. Even if a trump is not led, the defense can switch to a trump when in with the ace of diamonds and accomplish the same, but possibly not if the jack of diamonds is with North. That illusive diamond knave is no where to be seen.

To generalize, it is often crucial to play in a partnership’s longest trump suit, but sometimes the vagaries of a specific hand dictate otherwise.

I’ve often said that bridge (even at the highest level) is very hard to predict and not close to an exact science, but instead an art, not subject to mathematical genius. This hand does not really fall into that category, but all we can do as players is follow known caveats and head toward the longest trump suit for salvation.

bobby wolffJuly 28th, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Hi Iain,

Your question is indeed on point. Obviously as an opening leader it would be necessary to know one’s own conventions (and partner’s habits) in order to solve partner’s reason for doubling.

You are rightly suggesting that if the defense was playing Michaels he would have bid 2 hearts at his first bid if he had either 5 clubs or diamonds for his initial bid. My preference is to play specific suits for a major suit cue bid (the other major and clubs) so I would lead a diamond defying a probability that partner would likely have length in clubs instead of diamonds.

Your question is what good bridge is all about, using the gathered evidence to solve the riddle.

Thanks always for your input, but keep in mind that sometimes even very sharp players forget to consider first the perfect bridge bid right in front or his nose and/or, of course, his partner may not consider the evidence, like you did.

Bridge, at all levels, usually pays off to those who make fewer mistakes, something like baseball is often won by the team who makes fewer errors in the field.

Patrick CheuJuly 29th, 2014 at 6:23 am

Hi Bobby,my apologies for mixing up the diamonds n clubs in the North hand as well!Yes the illusive JD is in North’s hand.Of note to the play if East is in 4H,one of the commentators pointed to the importance of the ten of clubs in West’s holding of Q10x,guess on a club lead East may feel the force..thanks for your patience in view of my mixing up the clubs and diamonds not once but twice!:o)

Peter PengJuly 29th, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff

In response to the 5-4 vs 5-3 question, it seems that playing the 5-4 fit as trumps will give declarer a chance for 2 discards using the 5-3 suit, if it breaks, of course. I had always found that playing the 4-4 fit as trumps instead of the 5-4 was better, giving me one discard. But this was 25 years ago. I came back tot he table after 2 decades, and nowadays, with 100% computer hands, I have much more often found 4-4 trump fits facing 5-0 and 4-1 trumps. At least I have that impression. I don’t know if it is an experience other players have.

bobby wolffJuly 30th, 2014 at 4:53 am

Hi Peter,

Yes, sometimes the 4-4 fit is better than a 5-4 fit, but not always, especially when there are bad breaks.

Computer hands are supposed to follow the predicted distribution better than random dealt hands, but the proof can only be determined with a huge sample over a significant amount of time.

Perhaps, Peter we can ask Jim2 what he thinks. since he is afflicted with TOCM tm which is short for The Theory of Card Migration, a bridge disease, the symptoms of which make all necessary finesses and suit splits exactly like the victim doesn’t want them to be.

In any event, I have no idea what is really happening with either random shuffling or computer duplication, but in about 20 years I’ll give everyone a report, with the proviso that the listener better bring his own air conditioning unit to hear the answer.

jim2August 1st, 2014 at 2:03 am

I prefer 7-6 fits.

I figure I’ll always have one defender with a trump void, so why not have two.

bobby wolffAugust 1st, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

If anyone deserves at least an occasional 7-6 fit it is you. By being a victim of TOCM tm you have constantly had to prepare for the absolute worst adverse distribution possible.

It would then follow when neither opponent could have a trump that no surprise ruff (on opening lead) could ever occur. Count your blessings, even if it is only for one hand.