Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, November 7th, 2014

I leave this rule for others when I'm dead,
Be always sure you’re right – then go ahead.

David Crockett

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


You will be faced with a series of problems as East today. After the auction starts with South opening one diamond and North responding one heart, there are many players who would feel obligated to act. But despite your quick tricks, you have sterile distribution and no reason not to assume that you are outgunned on the deal.

So you pass, perhaps planning to re-enter the auction if the opportunity presents itself. Instead, you hear South jump to two no-trumps and North raise to game. Your partner leads the spade seven. You play fourth highest leads, but also second from four small and you may also lead top of three small. Declarer plays low from dummy and it is up to you to decide what to do now, and how to plan the defense.

Partner has almost a bust — but there is just about room for him to hold a heart honor such as the queen. Your best chance is to try to deny dummy an entry, so play the spade nine at trick one. Declarer can still succeed by playing on hearts, since the spades are blocked. But he does not know that.

Since he cannot see through the cards, he is likely to try to get to dummy with the club queen in order to take a diamond finesse. If you can stop him from doing this by winning the club ace and clearing the spades, then shifting to hearts, you will defeat three no-trumps.

The choices here are to pass, which might freeze your side out of the auction for good, or to double, since you cannot really overcall one no-trump with the wrong high-card values and such a feeble club stopper. If I advocate a double, my readers might leave in droves — but in my heart I believe that this might be our best way to compete at relatively little risk.


♠ A K 9
 10 9 5
 K 5 2
♣ A 7 3 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 1♣

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 WarheitNovember 21st, 2014 at 1:11 pm

It sure seems to me that S should play the S10 from dummy at trick 1, if for no other reason than that W might have underled both the A & K of spades. E must win, presumably with the K, and would return the H10. How would you now play the hand as South?

By the way, I appreciate the humor of this hand: everybody is 4 triple 3, something seen in these parts, oh, say once a year.

jim2November 21st, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I do not necessarily disagree on the 10S and heart shift, but I suspect the 7S lead showed no higher honor. Thus, declarer’s play from dummy on the opening lead was probably purposely designed to “show” the JS in the closed hand.

Once East knows that declarer has the JS, s/he knows there is no chance of getting a second lead “through” the dummy and putting declarer to any finesse guess as to which defender has the JS. This, then, lets East know that cashing both spade honors does not spare declarer a guess and possibly cost the defense a trick.

In other words, the play from dummy at trick one is a tactical decision, intended to encourage East to cash and clear spades. Like preempts and wild hands, some tactics work with some and others work with others.

Patrick CheuNovember 21st, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Hi Bobby,Say declarer tries the 10s on trick one,East wins KS,switches to heart,declarer wins and plays club to QC,East wins AC,and exits with second heart,something good has to happen for the contract to succeed..declarer may be forced to play KH and heart exit..if nothing much else appeals to him.Other question being East could have exited with another spade(not so here as he held the Ace) or club,rather than a heart,so QH likely to be with West..perhaps Qx(not so here).To be or not to be..regards~Patrick.

Patrick CheuNovember 21st, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Same time on blog as David..

Bill CubleyNovember 21st, 2014 at 2:53 pm


It is so rare to see my all time hero quoted. The BWTA also continues the theme as well as The Lone Wolff.

bobby wolffNovember 21st, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Hi David, Jim2, Patrick and Bill,

Finally a real hand to study after the opening lead, by 3rd seat at trick 1.

The rules allow just such a thing, although it is a good idea for the third seat player to remind declarer that s/he (thank you Jim2) is doing just that, rather than just deciding on what to play at trick 1.

However I should give you my opinion which is that process, though legal, can be both unethical and or misleading to declarer unless, as here, it is really to plan the whole course of the defense.

In brief, unless that player really may be faced with several difficult choices (such as here) in whether to win tricks or not or which suit to lead back or not discard (as here) then in some cases, when not done consistently partner may be advantaged (not here), which I and suspect others, would consider unethical.

Yes, by doing the above, when it is both necessary (again as here), and likely not revealing to partner (probably as here) then, by all means, have at it. However, along with it, likely if done ethically, may be of help to declarer, so be it, but to try and turn that (or anything similar) to the advantage of the hesitation side is against the very principals of our wonderful game and should be discouraged, if not penalized.

Yes, the above may require more to think about, but until everyone (and especially higher level players) accept this type of behavior as de rigueur in bridge, known from its inception as a gentlemen’s game (including the ladies), will lkely lose its luster.

Everything else with this hand has been explored (accurately) above. However, thanks Patrick for your “to be or not to be” which gives me an idea for a soliloquy and to Bill who obviously appreciates that adopted Texan (an imported mercenary from Tennessee) who helped make Texas history (my home state and the city in which I was born) famous at the Alamo, though he lost his life by doing it. And to David, please refer to Ely Culbertson and his law of symmetry which, at least to him, may counter your argument about how rare it would be to have everyone at the table 4-3-3-3, although, obviously in different suits. His calling card seemed to state that one singleton K in a hand made it considerably more likely that another existed in another suit on that same hand. Fact or fiction? Only the “Shadow” knows.

Who says we only discuss bridge on this site?

MirceaNovember 21st, 2014 at 5:50 pm


On BWTA, would you still double for take-out with the same pattern and same hcp count but non-prime honours? Say:

K J x
Q J x
A x x
Q J x x

bobby wolffNovember 21st, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Hi Mircea,

My answer is a resounding, YES!

Simply put, much of the contra arguments (in the past) do not hold water with me:

What is important after contemplating doubling with a minimum strength hand:

1. At least 3 card support for unbid major(s).

2. No singletons in any unbid suits but qualified (barely) with a decent doubleton (Qx+) in an unbid minor: Over 1S: s. xx,
h. KQxx, d. AJxxx, c. Qx YES but probably rather have a 3rd club than the 5th diamond, but in retrospect, quite possibly the 5th diamond makes the hand stronger in case partner does have a red suit fit, but also increases the danger when he doesn’t, making the decision a debatable issue.

3. Only disqualifying quack hands, eg. over for example 1H:
s. QJx, h. KJ, d. KJxx, c. Qxxx NO but
s. QJxx, h. x, d. AJxx, QJxx YES (barely)
or s. Axx, h. x, d. KJxx, c. QJxxx NO but no real criticism of YES.


When faced with a close choice at the low levels, settle it by bidding since it, to me, is more dangerous to get shut out of the bidding than it is to worry about getting doubled at a low level resulting in a significant set:

Always realize: That to get doubled many factors need be present,

1. 4th seat needs to have a specific strength and distributional hand to represent danger.

2. Their bidding methods must have a way to get it done (which all good players bidding methods do NOT include).

3. When their side has a fit, there will almost never be a worry.

4. Your competitive (and especially preemptive measures) may take enough bidding space away from your worthy opponents resulting in making them less worthy.

5. By doing so, it tends to make tougher opponents (your partnership) out of, up to now, easier opposition.

6. With it your partnership will get off to better leads and generally better defense later, not to mention the possibility of being able to take more profitable sacrifices and/or run the opponents up a level and sometimes setting them.

7. No insurance sold here, and sometimes will have to be disappointed with the result, but one swallow does not a summer make.