Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

The concept of two people living together for 25 years without a serious dispute suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep.

A. P. Herbert

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


Today's deal, from the Open Teams in San Remo, really succeeded in sorting out the men from the boys. Cover up the East and West hands before reading on.

The deal was played at many tables but East/West never entered the auction. South opened the bidding with one spade, North made some sort of limit raise to three spades and South went on to game. Plan the play on the lead of the heart jack.

Where the ‘boys’ were declaring, South won the lead and played a trump. But West went in with the ace and switched to the club king and another club, East winning with the ace and delivering West a club ruff for the setting trick. Well defended.

The ‘men’ were more alert to the possible danger. They won the heart ace, crossed to dummy with the diamond ace and discarded a club on the heart king before touching trumps.

According to the Daily Bulletin, the board was played 32 times in the Open Teams, and on 30 occasions the contract was four spades. On 14 occasions the result was down one, but on five of those the opening lead was the club king, so there was nothing declarer could do.

So we can be reasonably confident that at least nine declarers failed to cater for the potential club ruff. Sixteen declarers succeeded, but we don’t know if any of them were also careless but went unpunished.

It might seem the height of aggression to come into an auction at the three-level with a minimum opener, but you simply cannot afford to be stolen from in auctions of this sort. Even if you find yourself in game, when partner plays you for a little more than you have, they haven't doubled you yet. And there are other ways for your opponents to go wrong when you keep the auction open.


♠ K J 9 7 2
 K 8 5 2
♣ Q 10 9
South West North East
2 Pass 3

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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMarch 18th, 2015 at 10:51 am

Hi Bobby,

I’ve probably been playing too much pairs recently, but I don’t think I’d have found the CK lead with a relatively safe alternative of the HJ. To be fair, the CK is likely to be right if partner has the CA and some of the time he has the CQ (declarer might play a Bath coup with AJx opposite xxx and discover it was a good idea for a totally different reason to normal) but what would you recommend as the opening lead at teams?



Mircea1March 18th, 2015 at 11:48 am

I find that in general, leading the jack from a 5-card suit is poor. The main feature of West’s hand is the doubleton club coupled withe the master trump. In order to set the contract, East will have to contribute at least one trick but it’s difficult to expect two tricks of him. Sure, leading KC is risky but not unreasonable. Am I biased?

The best description of making the opening lead is the graphic on the cover of Mike Lawrence’s book on the subject where a boy is shooting arrows at baloons. I really like it (and the book, as well)

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Hi Iain & Mircea1,

Although this hand has mainly to do with what a truly expert declarer should do, when given an extra life by not receiving a club lead, the bridge philosophy of what to lead is certainly worth discussing.

The facts concern themselves with a commonplace occurrence, an accepted limit raise, resulting in a borderline game which, with the right brilliancy always be defeated and, even if not, in the absence of superior declarer technique, still may have a 2nd chance to do so.

Count me among the opening leaders to lead a heart, and being 50-50 between the jack or 4th best (holding only 4 or fewer I would choose the knave). Mircea1 makes a good point about not leading the jack from 5, although with 6, only experience tells me to now going back to leading the jack.

Although when leading a heart, the aggression of the king of clubs runs a close race to choose. However, by holding the ace of trumps the defense may still get a chance to switch in search of one’s partner having the magical ace (with the right lucky distribution around the table).

No doubt true there are many scenarios where the club lead can succeed centering around partner having only the queen instead, but the downright truth, contentious but unknown, is that success in opening leads probably should honor the old danger of putting all of one’s eggs in one basket and, of course, that is symbolized, at least in bridge, by leading an unsupported king.

Yes Mircea1, Mike Lawrence, is a good friend and one of the original Dallas Aces, who has fought his way into being a prolific and nothing short of a great bridge author.

And Iain, if I were to lead the club king, I would prefer to do it at IMP teams (or rubber bridge) instead of pairs where there is such a premium given to overtricks, the major stumbling block in being very aggressive.

jim2March 18th, 2015 at 2:06 pm

In BWTA, the answer does not state explicitly just how South should “come into the auction.”

Could you discuss the relative “scores” you would give to the choices of three spades and double?

Bobby WolffMarch 18th, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

In many ways bridge and its judgments (and by its best, experienced and most thoughtful players), are as different and therefore as biased as opinions on so many subjects can be.

My off the cuff opinion is simply the following percentages: 3S=100, Pass=70, Dbl=10

Meaning: I think a player holding 1st, shortness in the opponents suit, 2nd, enough strength, barely, 3, with the same overall distribution but the 5 card suit is a minor with spades 4 and the other minor 3, then Dbl.=100, Pass=50. If the singleton heart ace is the deuce with those 4 HCPs chopped up into upgrading 2 other minor cards to honors, e.g. s. KJ972, h. 2, d. KJ52, c. KQ10 then dbl=100, 3 spades=90, Pass=10.

Going still further, my preference for 3 spades (if you call it that) is centered around, 1st IMO it is losing tactics for short in the opponents suit to not be aggressive, holding 5 spades, and being outgunned (LHO being significantly stronger than partner) and partner holding specifically 3 spades we will have a better chance of avoiding a “killing penalty double” since we will still be at the 3 level not the 4 level when partner bids his longer minor holding a balanced hand. Add that into missing 4 spades when partner has a decent hand but 3 spades and a 5 or even 6 card minor but together we have 3 losers making 4 spades our only potential successful game contract.

True (I) we (am) are only going to our Ouija board for solutions, but I think the above is realistic enough to cater to such specific judgments.

You always seem to sense what are, at least to me, important distinctions in what separates winners from not as much, in relatively common, but oh so critical situations, mostly in intensely competitive decisions.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be right anywhere close to 100% or even 75% of the times but maybe 65%+ may be closer to what I suspect.

Finally the above decisions become the character to which every respected bridge player is held accountable. Many almost always double, (allowing partner to be in on the mistake) others unilaterally almost always bid suit(s) (largely, narcissistic, me), still other often pass (staying away from disasters, but used to losing instead, which to me is no different than a disaster, albeit overall).

A good motto which speaks to my beliefs, is that yes, bridge is a bidder’s game, when one catches partner with a suitable or better, a great hand, and even when it is wrong, more often than is thought, circumstances still seem to favor the pressure brought to bear on the opponents and hark, still a better result, as if invisibly shielded by magic, for being aggressive.