Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 11th, 2014

It is hard to be defensive toward a danger which you have never imagined existed.

John Christopher

South North
Neither ♠ 9 5 3 2
 6 4 3
 J 10 9 4
♣ A 6
West East
♠ J 8 7 6 4
 K J 9 7 2
♣ J 10 3
♠ Q 10
 10 8 5
 K Q 6
♣ K Q 7 4 2
♠ A K
 A Q
 A 8 7 5 3 2
♣ 9 8 5
South West North East
1 2* Pass 2
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass

*Both majors


After the weekend it often takes a just a little while for the brain to move into full gear. So here is an easy problem with which to start the week.

Your task is to plan the play in three no-trump on the lead of the heart seven.

This problem looks extremely straightforward: You play ace and another diamond, win the return, and run the diamonds. Even if you forget to unblock the diamond spots from dummy, you have plenty of re-entries to your hand in spades.

If you follow that approach, you will bring home your game four times out of five without realizing that you had been guilty of extremely careless play. The exception comes when diamonds split 3-0. If it is East who has the length, you will not avoid two losers unless you start the suit by leading low toward dummy. When the 3-0 break comes to light, you can subsequently cross to the club ace and finesse in diamonds to make your game.

Curiously, if it is West who has the length, you may also avoid a second loser. After all, West might be worried that his partner has the singleton ace — mightn’t he? If he ducks the first diamond, you will own him for the duration — or at least until you do something equally stupid against one of his contracts.

This is a classical safety play, and the good news is that you do not even have to invest a trick to protect yourself.

The opponents have competed to the three-level on limited values. Their best chance of accumulating tricks must be the trump suit, so I would lead the spade jack to try to cut down a crossruff. The alternative would be to lead the diamond nine and settle for taking our top tricks — in case declarer could knock out the heart ace and establish discards.


♠ J 7
 A 10 4 3
 9 8 3 2
♣ Q J 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1 Dbl. Pass 2♠
3 3♠ 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 ClimieAugust 25th, 2014 at 10:25 am

Hi Bobby,

Is there any way in which East can (ethically) induce West to lead a club, which kills the contract stone dead? Double springs to mind, suggesting that a heart lead may not be optimal, but then west might lead a spade – which could be right if West’s majors were reversed. If East were just a little stronger (DKQ10, ssy), then I’d be inclined to double regardless given that I would be confident the diamonds couldn’t be picked up – surely dummy doesn’t have 2 entries.



jim2August 25th, 2014 at 11:34 am

The LWTA hand is not from the day’s column. I wish I knew which it was: real life or a complete construct.

West did not open and East could not find a one-level spade overcall, yet the provided answer expresses concern that E-W might be so shapely as to execute a cross-ruff, or have a combined heart holding that they might get discards from it.

My interpretation would be that East held diamonds and secondary spades with no heart strength (no double and no spade overcall), and that West held clubs and secondary spades but no heart strength (no opening bid). Nor could North find a heart raise, so perhaps the other hearts were simply left in the deck this hand. Instead of rebidding diamonds, North passed after West’s claim of spades and clubs. Yet North could also have bid 1N or 2C quite safely and economically.

Since neither opponent bid made a spade overcall when it could be done at the one-level, i seems spades are likely 4-4.

Could North hold some balanced 12 count (say, 3-2-4-4)? If I led JS, TOCM ™ would make North’s spades Qxx and good-bye trump trick. If I lead 9D, the board would hold a singleton and declarer would get a free finesse and then get discards/ruffs.

Anyway, I would sure like to know more about the LWTA hand.

bobby wolffAugust 25th, 2014 at 11:38 am

Hi Iain,

As you often accomplish, your active thinking constantly seeks ways to constructively get better results. However, when played by honest players like yourself, to do so, undeniably runs risks.

Here a double by you, of a voluntarily bid contract (3NT), should be used, not to attempt to increase a set (down instead of making is enough reward), but to increase the chances of defensive success.

Since bridge in general, as often stated right here in River City, is NOT an exact science, but rather a detective story, where both sides need to use their useful bridge brains to examine the evidence and proceed accordingly.

Therefore, since West’s Michaels cue bid was woefully weak (not that it was unthinkable), partner’s double could (considering the above caveat, should) warn him off the likely normal lead of leading his partner’s longest major (or at least as long) and then possibly his choice would turn to the jack of clubs. After all, he did have jack ten and partner was only following his suggestion of bidding his longest major when their worthy opponents intervened and suggested that they could make 3NT against a lead of that expected suit, in this case, hearts.

Right they were, making it reasonable for the defense to counter with a surprise lead (because of the enlightening double).

These cat and mouse games and between excellent players, are what helps make high-level bridge the greatest game ever. It is time more people step up to the plate and show their logical minds, risking shame in order to secure fame.

As always, thanks Iain, for adding your progressive thoughts to lock in with all interested readers vivid imaginations, in order for them to consider and then decide when to make event changing (certainly, at the very least, hand changing) decisions.

Be emotionally prepared for some failures, but the victories, when based on solid evidence, are well worth the risk.

bobby wolffAugust 25th, 2014 at 11:58 am

Hi Jim2,

You speak the truth.

My take is similar except to add that instead of necessarily good diamonds, it appears that East, the declarer has heart length, (West usually being relatively short to accommodate black suit length, although he could hold 4-4-1-4), plus partner North, not giving a courtesy raise nor competing further in diamonds, which usually confirms a minimum in high cards, plus no long strong diamond holding.

I do not remember why this lead hand crept into our LWTA, many months ago since this hand was written, but nevertheless I appreciate your views, especially the one about the possibility of chopping up a natural defensive trump trick, although sometimes if a cross ruff develops by declarer that trump trick comes back into being.

In conclusion I certainly agree that I think it very close between the actual choice of lead and the relatively simple 9 of diamonds, the suit partner opened the bidding with.

jim2August 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Not a real life hand, then — and thus no “Paul Harvey.”

Okay, thanks!

bobby wolffAugust 25th, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, no “Rest of the Story”. However, as you well know, these types of hands frequent all kinds of bridge, from rank novice up through World Championships and no real and lasting knowledge is likely to shine forth.

Possibly too many intangibles, plus choices both in declarer’s play and defensive switches. It often comes down to key nines and random tens leaving bridge to quote the bard, “signifying nothing”.

At least for you, it upgrades bridge from your TOCM tm suffering to others also being brutalized with uncertainty and guessing. Usually and my guess is that declarer, because he can concentrate on seeing all 26 of his assets, will average 1/2 trick more than par would allow him, because of the disadvantage to the defense of only seeing 13 of their own and 13 of the opponents, making defensive errors more prevalent than declarer miscues.

The above numbers are only my random guesses and not to be taken seriously.