Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

You can be a king or a street sweeper,
but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper.

Robert Alton Harris

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



In today’s deal from the Summer Nationals at Las Vegas last July, Glenn Milgrim was at the helm in a very tough contract. Many pairs played spades, or got far too high, but Milgrim reached the only playable game when he pulled in a notch at his second turn, sensing the misfit, and knowing his partner did not require the earth for his first call. He won the diamond lead to play a heart to the jack and queen. Milgrim won the diamond return and cleared clubs, to put East on lead again.

When East returned her low heart, Milgrim won the ace and cashed his fifth club, on which East discarded a spade. She was then endplayed with a heart to her king. Though she tried to get off play with a high spade, Milgrim ducked, and East had to concede the rest to dummy. Had East pitched her heart king on the fifth club, Milgrim would have ducked the first spade to her, and again taken the last two tricks.

There was a defense, though, when East was on lead at trick eight. After winning the fourth round of clubs, East must play the spade king instead of exiting with a heart. Declarer must win, or East can exit with her top heart.

After winning the spade ace, declarer leads a low heart from dummy. East plays low, forcing declarer to win and cash the fifth club. East now discards the heart king, and suddenly West’s hand is high!

There are three camps here: those who pass because they don’t really have an opener, those who open one club, and those who open one spade. The last group has my whole-hearted support, since I am making life harder for my opponents, and bidding the suit I want led. Switch the black suits and I bid one club. One can carry obstruction too far.


♠ K Q 10 9
 K Q 7
 5 4
♣ J 10 7 6
South West North East
    Pass 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitAugust 6th, 2015 at 9:22 am

“The only playable game”? I don’t think so. Unless a H is led as opening lead, 4S walks home.

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Hi David,

Right, and if South takes advantage of the spade artificiality and becomes the 4 spade declarer, West will be less likely than East to lead a heart.

Imagine the satisfaction to NS to not only arrive at a making game contract, but to play it well and have one’s system lead to right siding it, since East, perhaps not West, might feel compelled to lead hearts when looking at what appears to be a strong possibility of also taking 3 trump tricks.

To me, it seems the extra space created by the new principle of bidding one under one’s suit (as part of improving one’s bidding methods) has much to recommend it, and although creating change for the average social bridge player, should not prevent progress at the higher levels of our game.

True, some will resent the intrusion of having to think rather than just to react, but what about the simple computer and what it caused in revolutionizing everyday living for many.

Shouldn’t change be embraced by all when progress is the goal. Without it, what would the planet earth look like today and more to the point, tomorrow?

Of course, that artificial change in bridge bidding may lead to extra opportunities to the defense for doubling for leads and/or other options, but whether that occurs or not will only be determined in the future.

Life can be challenging, but only if we have the foresight and courage to embrace it.

Thanks for your ever vigilance in righting the ship.

jim2August 6th, 2015 at 12:41 pm

On BWTA, a fourth camp would be the weak notrumpers, who would be wondering what everyone else was talking about.

bryanAugust 6th, 2015 at 1:09 pm

What happens if the opening lead is a Spade?

( Since I do not have an outside entry, I would trust partner’s passing and declarer’s 3nt that Diamonds are going nowhere . If South had spades, I would expect a final contract of 4 spades not 3 nt. With 3 hearts, and no heart bid or double by pard, unlikely I would lead a heart. So I would have lead a Club or a spade, and the mental coin toss might have resulted in a spade. )

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, playing Weak NT (12-14) does solve some bidding problems, by lumping all minimum opening balanced hands into its net.

1. Randomly describes values and type of distribution and thus appoints partner Captain.

2. Preempts the opponents out of the entire 1 level in which to begin to exchange information.

3. Sometimes an opportunity for legal deception by bidding Stayman and convincing opponents to allow your side to steal the hand. (I strongly suggest NO transfers but natural 2 level major suit bidding in order to restrict the number of times either opponent has to compete).


1. Some risk inherent in contracting for 7 tricks with not nearly enough to sustain that level without decent help from partner.

2. Less accuracy in sorting out 8 card fits (particularly major suits) and thus more often playing an inferior part score.

3. In the event of eventually defending not
being able to suggest a better lead to partner.

4. Loss of the more descriptive strong NT, which is usually able to handle itself strength wise (to handle the level) when partner has not much (but at least, a little).

Overall rating: At least by me, about a wash, good for use against mediocre competition but not nearly as effective, against good.

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Hi Bryan,

Yes, 3NT will surely go set. And while your reason to consider and then possibly lead a spade is valid, but probably not as often as you might suspect.

Sometimes one is lucky enough to find partner with xxx in diamonds and the suit divided 2-2 with the opponents. Also North would be very happy to pass 3NT if he held great spades: AKQJx(x) since with balanced outside distribution he has no reason not to prefer NT.

Add that to another simple disadvantage of possibly losing an important tempo which sometimes is critical in defense and we then often go back to square one in making that determination.

John Brown, a long ago famous British bridge author once said, “If a very mediocre player would always get off to the right opening lead he would never lose a Bridge World Championship” and I grudgingly, 70 years later, tend to agree with him.

Not that I do not respect your considered opinion, simply because it is certainly not without high-level bridge logic.

bryanAugust 6th, 2015 at 6:13 pm

My coin toss would go about 75% Club , 25% spade so more likely than not, I would not have got off to the spade.
The bidding seems likely to require an active defense, and clubs could easily be a problem for declarer. However, (for the 25%) this might be the only time I am on lead for a lead through dummy’s spades.

David WarheitAugust 6th, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Same auction, only S accepts the transfer and winds up playing 4S. W leads DQ, S wins and plays SA & small S, E playing 9 & then Q & then leads HK. Crossroads: should S play for S to be 3-3 or should he smell a rat?

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Hi David,

Great question, high-level situation deserving a hard hitting 100% accurate answer.

It is fairly common for East, while holding KQ10 over a led small card from partner, West, and J98 in dummy North to play the queen when the 8 is “finessed” by declarer, South.

Of course, the overall parameters of the entire hand must pass scrutiny, no need to immediately attempt to set up a 2nd trick and let’s, for want of a better name to call this legal deceit, assume that the idea is to plant
a wrong notion of safety to an unsuspecting or at the very least a hopeful declarer (remember that the declarer may think the opening lead was from a holding including both the king and the ten, so will be unlikely to duck while holding the ace you, East, know that he is possessed. Also, of course it may be more often done when the 3rd seat follower has no other “in” cards.

This type of ruse is very common obfuscation in the advanced game that all of us want to be capable of playing.

Whatever one wants to call such a play, to not do so, would be thought of as a significant error in the expert community. And just another reason to extoll IMPs or Rubber Bridge, not Duplicate Matchpoints, since partner, even if he is not sure will always play his partner for doing such a thing if it involves the set rather than possible make of such a hand.

Therefore, by inference I have answered your question and by all means any player not playing the king or the queen (after likely playing the 10 not the 9 on the first trick, although optional depending on what East thought might likely fit the occasion) on the second trick would be far from what could even be thought of what is now commonly called a “world class” player.

Perhaps by your to the point example one can start to get an idea of what is what and who is who, and as an analogy might suggest that in baseball what good is a slider, curve, sinker, change of pace, or even sometimes a 98 mph fastball being thrown, if it is telegraphed before.

No major lead pitcher could possibly survive without being able to camouflage his delivery.

Likewise, nor could a bridge player seeking to stand out from the herd.

As a final comment, most excellent defenders (and sadly, there are not nearly enough of them) both know from a combination of the bidding and the play up to then what the declarer is very likely to have (perhaps over 90% of the time especially after the first few tricks). To not know is the way of the ostrich and keeping ones head in the sand is not compatible with playing high-level bridge.

I could go on with specific questions posed for a high-level bridge aptitude test (to which I gave the 1991 Junior attendees, with much keener responses than I thought would ever occur) That group of players went on to much greater heights and so it goes with what talented numerate laden students can begin to accomplish at the bridge table.

Thanks for listening.

Lee McGovernAugust 6th, 2015 at 10:41 pm

“the new principle of bidding one under one’s suit” – does that convention have a name and can I read about it further at a link online?

Bobby WolffAugust 6th, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Hi Lee,

Not that I know of.

It is part of a relatively integrated system and as far as I know, it has not been detailed in a published way and likely, at this stage, is just discussed privately between partners as to when it applies.