Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 3rd, 2014

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud:
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.

W. E. Henley

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


The old ways were not always the best ways, but it is undeniable that it was far easier for South to reach slam on today's deal by opening a strong two than it would have been had he opened one spade and jumped to three hearts. Meanwhile one must also give North credit for cooperating in the slam venture with only three trumps, a move that might not have worked out as well as it did had South had less robust trumps.

Against six hearts, West led the diamond king. You may care to plan the play and see if you can do as well as the declarer at the table did. The point of the deal is that slam is easy to make if spades break 3-3, and you are also well placed if it is East with spade length. But you can improve on your basic chances by a spot of jiu-jitsu.

Win the diamond ace and play ace, king and another spade. If West discards or ruffs in you should be able to maneuver to take two ruffs in dummy – whether it is two spades or one spade and one diamond. But when West follows to the third spade, you must take care to discard dummy’s diamond. You can win the trump return in hand and ruff a diamond low, play the club ace and ruff a club, then later ruff a spade high in the dummy and come back to hand with another club ruff to draw trump and take the 13th trick with your long spade.

When leading into a strong hand, you should first try to decide whether there is any need to go active or whether you should go passive. Dummy rates to have four trumps and some shape, but your hand does not suggest that declarer will be able to establish a side-suit in dummy easily. That being so I'd lead a trump. Without the club jack I might feel more inclined to press my luck with a heart lead.


♠ 7 2
 Q 9 4 3
 J 7 6 2
♣ A J 9
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 NT
Pass 2♣ Pass 2♠
Pass 4♠ 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 ClimieNovember 17th, 2014 at 9:17 am

Hi Bobby,

Given his spade holding and other defensive values, why didn’t West lead a trump on today’s hand? I don’t think this is hindsight so much as cutting down on one of declarer’s obvious sources of tricks – he surely needs to get the spades going and, if dummy has dececent trumps (e.g. A8x(x)) may be able to ruff high.

Out of interest, would you say the 5H bid today was intended to ask for good trumps on the basis that a stong 2 in spades shouldn’t really be a based on a suit headed by Q109?



jim2November 17th, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Iain –

I interpreted North’s 4C to be a cue in support of hearts, thus I think 5H asked about a diamond control.

bobby wolffNovember 17th, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Iain,

First and foremost, kudos to you for spotting the killing trump lead. It works because of the bad spade break (for declarer), but, after all, it is the opening leader who knows what he holds and has presumably listened to the bidding.

However, this old time bidding style (strong 2 bids) and the assumption by North that 3 trumps is enough to set hearts as trump and start the slam process by cue bidding, has at the very least, convinced this West that he should get the defense started by establishing a side trick ASAP.

Is West really wrong? Certainly, as you so clearly point out, on this hand yes, but perhaps 2 wrongs (old style bidding which sometimes led to different emphasis, expecting at least 4 trumps to appear in dummy and pushing the envelope in the choice of opening bid by South). made the final result right for NS, but not without a fine effort by declarer of justifying his partnership’s optimism after, of course, the wrong opening lead by West.

Likely, North’s five heart bid was partly asking for good trumps, but after two cue bids (one by each partner) it merely said, “You, not I, should now make the final decision, leaving you to take the credit, but more importantly, to accept the blame. However if you, not the real West in this hand, was sitting in his spot, the later mood would have drastically changed.

In those past glory days of less scientific bidding, which led to more intuitive challenges in the play, it wasn’t all bad, since the lesser the bidding meant, the more pressure was transferred to the defense to guess their way to success.

My conclusion is probably somewhat different from many others in that great bridge playing is more involved with people and psychology than restricted to the beauty of perfection.

At least to me, all the important matches which I have previously played, where honest peers have competed, seems to have verified the above, but perhaps, as many would challenge, it is only an illusion in my mind and not at all true.

Perfection, at any level, is not a word which often applies to the playing of bridge. so if that is what someone wants, better to become an ice skater.

bobby wolffNovember 17th, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Hi Jim2,

Since South has already (with this old style bidding sequence) theoretically shown diamond control, the bid itself possibly was only a transfer to “partner, you make the mistake”.

No doubt when you attend the annual Lower Slobbovian slush and bridge festival next month, you’ll hear that 5 heart bid often.

Kiss Lena for me.

jim2November 17th, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Thanks, and I have already started packing!

Iain ClimieNovember 17th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Hi again,

On a trump lead, I wonder about the best line? I suspect win in hand and lead a small spade to the jack, working if spades are 3-3 or west has 4 spades to the queen and 3 trumps. Any thoughts here?

The other reason for a trump lead is that surely partner has zilch, and we’re back to last week’s horror – declarer has DA and dummy Jxx(x) – oops!


bobby wolffNovember 17th, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Hi Iain,

I agree with you in what you suspect is the best line if, indeed, a trump is led.

While I am not, and for your stated reasons, advocating a non-trump lead, it certainly appears that dummy will have 4 trumps and, if so, a trump lead may be just a small drop in a big bucket and possibly lose a critical tempo of establishing the setting trick immediately.

Please understand that (at least I think) that likely no lead will normally set this voluntarily bid slam, only that there are so many variables, sometimes actual results play tricks with bridge imagination causing us to pine away for “why didn’t we do this or that?”

In other words, I agree that leading a trump (mainly because of our good club holding) is probably a good choice, but I just do not know, with no way to find out, what works best in the long run, the diamond king or a trump.

Your vote is a trump and I respect that.

Iain ClimieNovember 17th, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this, but I have a confession. In real life, I will try to lead almost anything except a trump. My stated choice today may be rational but I’ be chucking the DK onto the baize in reality, and probably finding DJ9xxx on my left opposite declarer’s Ax. I’ve no illusions about theory and practice coinciding when I’m actually playing.