Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, November 24th, 2014

It is better to be a fool than to be dead.

Robert Louis Stevenson

East North
None ♠ Q J 9
 Q 9 8
 A K 10 4 2
♣ K 4
West East
♠ 10 7 5 4
 8 7 3
♣ A Q 8 6 5
♠ K 3 2
 7 5 4
 Q 5
♣ 10 9 7 3 2
♠ A 8 6
 A K J 6 3 2
 J 9 6
♣ J
South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
3♠ Pass 4♣ Pass
4 NT Pass 5♣* Pass
5 Pass 6** Pass
6 All pass    

*One ace
**The trump queen and diamond king


This week's deals all come from the Fall Nationals held at Phoenix this time last year. Currently this year's event is taking place in Providence, Rhode Island. You may be able to follow the action live later this week on Vugraph at

Since the point eluded quite a few pairs in the Blue Ribbon finals, let’s look at the contract of six hearts by South on the auction shown.

Using Keycard Blackwood South can locate first the missing keycards, then ask for the trump queen, planning to stay in five if partner does not come through for him.

There is no defense to the slam to trouble declarer, but at the table, playing pairs, West might sensibly lead the club ace, for fear that it will get away if declarer has the diamond queen instead of the jack.

After the club ace lead and a trump shift, it may seem that declarer will have to rely on the diamond or the spade finesse, but he can do better. Declarer wins the trump shift in hand and cashes one diamond, then comes to hand with a second trump, and leads the diamond jack toward the king. He plans to put up the king and pitch his diamond loser on the club king unless the diamond queen appears. Of course when the diamond queen does put in an appearance from East, declarer can simply draw the outstanding trump and claim the rest.

This is close; with a likely reentry, and your opponents not expressing concern about spade stoppers for no-trump, I'd lead a top heart and prepare my apologies in advance if I'm wrong. It is the outside entry that persuades me to go after hearts; with the club queen instead of the king I might go the other way.


♠ 8 2
 J 10 9 4 3
 9 8
♣ K 10 3 2
South West North East
1♠ 1 NT
Pass 3 NT 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


MirceaDecember 8th, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi Bobby,

How do you rate this slam? It looks a bit pushy to me. I guess the main reason declarer went for is his holding in the minors.

ClarksburgDecember 8th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Mr Wolff
Having been steadily learning from this Blog for a few years now, I find today’s LWTA illustrates a few pointers you’ve frequently offered.
Specifically: Against 3NT, if you have a five-card suit, lead it; your partner has to trust that you’ve chosen what you thought best; your worthy opponents might not actually have that Spade stop.
Is that perspective about right?

Bobby WolffDecember 8th, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Hi Mircea,

Yes it is a somewhat “pushy” slam, and yes his singleton club was probably the major reason he decided to bid 4NT (which by bridge definition is a contract for slam, once enough controls and key cards are proven to be present). If South would have held the queen of diamonds, instead of only the jack, it would have made it much more clear.

Good enough slam bidding requires “feel”, technique and strict discipline, without which, an aspiring partnership will have a definite ceiling, limiting its ability to compete against the very best.

Innate bridge reasoning and years of experience are probably the two characteristics which matter most.

Bobby WolffDecember 8th, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Hopefully you will not mind my annotating your conclusion.

Not just having a side 5 card suit is enough to warrant not leading your doubleton spade while defending 3NT and on this bidding.

However the J109 combination in hearts, together with your likely entry (king of clubs) and, the specific bidding of NT behind your partner’s opening and of course the 3NT raise which merely verifies the dummy’s confidence of the NT game being the right contract.

However, as has been said often, bridge is not an exact science, causing the judgment within the game to be highly subjective, with hopeful being the key word. The above elements indicate, as I hope our rhetoric suggested, the close nature of that choice.

Keep in mind that a departure from leading partner’s suit may upset partner greatly, if it turns out that a spade lead was necessary, and although that should not dissuade you from exercising your best judgment, a competitive bridge player has got to learn to deal with that emotion. In other words, if it is exactly 50-50 in your choice, lead a spade, if only to keep partner happy. But if those odds switch, IYO, to 60-40 in favor of a heart, by all means lead it.

I would have to be at the table on this one, judging my opponent’s behavior to try to intelligently, make this choice.

Iain ClimieDecember 8th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Hi Bobby,

Is the slam really that pushy? Even if dummy had nothing in clubs, drawing trumps then running the DJ makes it 50-50 (unless west has 5 diamonds and gives lard a ruff). Ad d in the spade position and the CK, and I’d be very happy to be in it, especially after the lead. My only worry would be too many options!



Iain ClimieDecember 8th, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Also, a club at trick 2 forces a decision on the discard, although it would be more effective if north held SQJ10. I hate it when better cards give losing options.


Bobby WolffDecember 8th, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Hi Iain,

The real culprit to whom you allude is that fickle female, Dame Fortune.

She is sometimes tantalizing, always seductive, largely incorrigible, ever present, thus inescapable at the bridge table.

However a real match up between her and a world class bridge player (WCBP) seems to be a fair match, since the WCBP, being a born bridge detective, is more likely to find hidden clues which others simply do not spot.

I do agree with you that being in 6 hearts is recommended, although Bob Hamman has it perfectly defined when he states that a good slam is one which makes, regardless of the technical percentage going in.

Also, regarding superstitions in bridge such as hating it, if North held QJ10 of spades instead of QJ9, or in any other worthwhile competition,
they are fun to complain about, but, at least in my experience, NEVER to be catered to, if faced with a choice. Always take the best percentage line of play or bid, but it is “cool” to take into consideration table action, which often, although unknown to mathematicians and/or actuaries, sometimes materially changes that percentage.

Iain ClimieDecember 9th, 2014 at 12:00 am

Thanks for this, and a stray thought – why is luck always female (think Guys and Dolls with “Luck be a lady tonight”)? Against this, there is the Rubiyat of Omar Khayam – ‘T’is all a chequer board of nights and days, where destiny with men for pieces plays”. Ambiguous, and possibly male. There again, opera contains “Donne e mobile”, so why do we blame the fair sex for bridge and other misfortunes?

Any thoughts, excluding our good ladies of course?


Bobby WolffDecember 9th, 2014 at 12:32 am

Hi Iain,

An interesting pose. However if in G & D’s someone would write “Luck be a gentleman tonight” he would have to have a powerful singing voice to be appreciated.

And checkers (chess as well) are usually assumed to be men as in knights. Even cards remind me of my teenage escapades at the rubber bridge club, when the club octogenarian (doesn’t seem so old now) used to say after picking up his cards, “Hold on, I need to get my men together”.

Verdi’s Rigoletto, being an art form, may suggest that females are generally more graceful than men. Rudyard Kipling seemed to write about men’s adventures (Gunga Din and “If”) and Robert Louis Stevenson which my bridge column often quotes seemed prone to discuss dark topics like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, not Ms. Hyde).

A learning experience or a coincidence, you decide, but before we discuss it with our ladies, we need to carefully edit, if we are expecting smiles.