Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

T.S. Eliot

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


On today's deal, even though game cannot be made, it very definitely should be bid. North should assume that if the clubs run, declarer will come close to making his game, while if not, even two no-trump may struggle. With a balanced hand, North should give no thought to playing five clubs. Again, while there are hands where the suit game makes and no-trump does not, there are many more hands where the reverse is true.

What should West lead to the first trick? Violent battles have been fought on this subject; but my least favorite lead is a spade. That rates to give up a trick, often for nothing, and even if you can establish the spade suit, you won’t ensure the defeat of the contract from that suit alone. If you do lead a heart, please lead the eight not the six. This deal is a fine example of how hard East would find it to read MUD (middle from three small cards).

Let’s say you lead the heart eight. Seeing insufficient defensive prospects from that heart suit, and with the menace of the long club suit on the table, East should realize that defensive tricks will need to be taken in a hurry if the contract is to be defeated. Spades offer the only hope. East, therefore, wins the heart ace and shifts to a spade, but, lacking a subsequent quick entry, should lead the jack in the hope that West holds four spades headed by the ace-queen.

Your partner has suggested about 17 HCP here, typically 5-4 in the minors, and your builders in the diamond suit, coupled with an ace, suggest you have just enough to raise to three no-trump. If you aren't going to bid game, a retreat to three diamonds would probably be in order.


♠ J 9 3 2
 A 10 7 4 2
 Q 10 4
♣ 8
South West North East
1 Pass
1 Pass 2♣ Pass
2 Pass 2 NT 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 WarheitSeptember 13th, 2014 at 9:24 am

“Game cannot be made”. Hmmm. W leads a D, presumably the 7. Making 6C & 3D tricks on the double D finesse. Or W leads a C. Now the best line of play is first to try the double D finesse. “Game is cold unless W leads a H at trick 1, E wins the A & returns the SJ.”

MirceaSeptember 13th, 2014 at 10:33 am

David, I think the comment has been meant as double-dummy. I have a constant argument with my partner about the value of the par result on hand records. Although on occasion it is a fantasy, I find it more often to be valuable by telling you quickly what could/should have happened on that board.

I’d be curious to find out what our host thinks about the value of double dummy analysis. Should it be ignored as too often off the mark or looked at it as a reference point from which the analysis should begin?

jim2September 13th, 2014 at 12:32 pm

If we assume we cannot see the defenders’ hands and say a club is led, what line has the best odds?

Well, the hand is cold if West has both aces, East has both aces, or the aces are split with West holding the heart ace. That looks like 75%, pretty good odds!

Say we win the club and try the diamond finesse and it loses. Have we lost anything? It does not seem so, as any return by West puts us back where we started. So, the double diamond finesse in isolation is 25%. Starting with it means the total chance of success has become 0.75 + (0.25)x(0.25) = ~81%

So, yes, to make the opening line of the column correct, one should replace the 8D in the South hand with a less lordly spot card.

bobby wolffSeptember 13th, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Hi David & Mircea,

It is often folly to delve into other minds, especially with discussing bridge, and while taking away their emphasis, settle it to the satisfaction of all. In other words, not likely to be done.

However, I’ll try to attempt it by first suggesting to David that the choice of opening lead (a deaf and blind effort, except for the reverberating bidding), much more often than expected, becomes critical.

Against either 3NT or 5 clubs (played by South) I prefer the 8 of hearts (even if against suits, partnerships usually prefer low from three, especially when the opening leader values a switch, as here, by partner). As the column mentions, even the sometimes preferred MUD (middle, up, down) is, at least to me a horrible method, although at times the ability to obscure the lead from declarer by either going up or down with the second play might confuse him. Here, and against NT the lead of the 6 might (likely) cause partner to expect either KQ86 or KJ86 (depending on whether declarer follows suit with the queen or the jack) as the best (and only) opportunity for a victory.

While our main thrust with this hand is to acknowledge the so-called expert choice of the jack of spades is far and away the best return by East (against NT), the choice of opening lead becomes equally critical to the defensive success.

Now to Mircea’s specific curiosity about the value of double dummy analysis, I would never ignore it, but rather treat it like I think it is suggesting to be. A learning aid, to first better understand how to adjust to specific card combinations (J9xx over the 10x with RHO) and when to apply winning imagination and style to overcome herd mentality.

Bridge is indeed nothing except fascinating, making the learning of it a real challenge and with it, comes adjusting to what is often right in front of our nose. The value of numeracy cannot be over emphasized when discussing what a bright beginner can accomplish, once he decides he wants to get good and quickly. For others, not totally blessed with that attribute, the path is more difficult and winding, but it too can be overcome with greater effort.

That, of course, would show up in school learning if bridge ever gets thrust into the curriculum on this side of the Atlantic. When it has been tried in Europe and now all of China, the positive results have been overwhelming.

Therefore I think Mircea is on target when he says sometimes the value of a par result is only fantasy, but even then, its value, as a learning tool, or a “reference point”, is still important.

David WarheitSeptember 13th, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Jim2: Just to tweak the probabilities a little more: W having SA & E having HA is 26%. The double D finesse is 24%. Then, E must have either the SJ or SQ or both (76%), and finally the S suit must not block. Oops, one more thing: W must not lead a S. So total odds are a bit more than 81%.

bobby wolffSeptember 13th, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, your analysis is probably correct, except for the unlikelihood of a club lead, especially against 3NT, which you are surely discussing. What about rising with the club king and then leading a heart from dummy. Might it be more likely that East may duck the ace, rather than rise and switch to a high spade? Granted the high-level play (up ace and then the jack of spades) is likely the best shot, but sometimes mistakes are made and then it becomes a question of which is more likely, a 25% opportunity in diamonds or a sleepy low heart with the ace from East?

Bridge discussions often remind me of that famous line from “The Cincinnati Kid” filmed so long ago, “You ain’t ready for me yet, kid”, although that line would, of course, not apply here, or would it?

jim2September 13th, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Well, Sir Host, I chose the club lead for two reasons. First, it had already been suggested. Second, it was basically a neutral lead.

In reality, any lead but a heart guarantees this hand as the cards lie. Upon the lead of a heart, only a spade shift with West holding the AS will defeat declarer. Additionally, there are several spade layouts with AS offside that still allow a make after a heart lead and spade shift. For example, give West the AQJ tripleton.

As for choosing between the additional conditional probability of both Ds onside versus an unwise duck by East, I defer to your bridgium vitae.

bobby wolffSeptember 13th, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Hi Jim2,

Since you, David and so many others, all deserving, add so much, and on a continuing basis, to the imagination and even fantasy of what our game is constantly about, it would be nothing short of disturbing of me, to even begin to discount your value.

Sometimes our comments seen to at least border on different views, and that, in itself, is IMO healthy and the stupid thought of me having more skins on the wall is to me totally irrelevant and not to even be considered.

Am I kidding? Absolutely not, since, for example, I continue to be amazed at the accuracy of the percentages given, numbers which do not jump out to me as they would to you, David and obviously many who comment.

We are all brothers and occasionally sisters under the skin, bridge lovers to be sure, but different only in the ways we present our case.

I do not want anyone to agree with me, such as when I mention East ducking the ace of hearts, simply because, yes, IMO, ducking is a horrible play when all players must know, with that club suit staring at us, declarer is instead leading toward his hand and we have the ace. Obviously my experience tells me that declarer has sent up a neon sign that “Defense, beware of me looking for trick 9 and trying to baffle you into ducking the ace if you have it”.

So, if I wanted to represent what David and you, so intelligently mention, why did we not change the diamond spots to make your line not work, I would be more honest than I was in not complimenting you two’s astute analysis.

At least as far as I am concerned, case closed, I am wrong and am slow in admitting it. So back at you, I defer to your bridgium vitae (if only my non-existent French would understand what that meant?)

jim2September 13th, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Please, please! You are NOT wrong!

I am always happy to debate numbers until my head hurts.

However, choosing between two lines when one adds only a tiny extra chance and the other depends on a human error is a very different matter!

If all the hands of high level bridge we readers of yours have played were added together, I doubt it would even begin to approach your own personal amount. Thus, I was quite serious with my made-up Latin reference to your body of work. You really ARE far better qualified to judge between the human at-the-table element and the tiny extra math in two different lines.

I truly and humbly defer to that!

bobby wolffSeptember 14th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Hi Jim2,

Latin, French, 8 of diamonds, no 8 of diamonds,
subjective reasoning, mathematical computation, all a source of evidence for wide ranging thought processes, leading to different choices.

At least IMO, there are no winners and especially no losers, when our featured group (which includes a large number of real bridge lovers) engages in high-level discussions, always (or almost) enriched with everyone being enabled to imagine his own ending.

When people like you and everyone else involved contributes mightily, only bridge itself becomes the winner, and for that fact alone, I am very proud to be part of it.