Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, December 26th, 2015

When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.

Leo Burnett

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


Plenty of players swear by leading middle from three or four small cards. They believe that the ambiguity on count is outweighed by the knowledge of the presence of an honor making third hand’s defense easier. I don’t agree – though second highest from four small at no-trump does make sense.

I believe third and lowest leads, coupled with occasionally leading high from small-card holdings is more helpful to partner overall. Note that it is not only third hand but also declarer who may benefit from the informative lead. Consider today’s deal, for example.

In one room in a team game the defenders led and continued clubs against four spades. Declarer ended up losing two hearts and two clubs. In the other room when a fourth-highest club two was led to the ace, South dropped the king. Why? Given that West was marked with three or four clubs, including the queen (he would have led a higher card without it), declarer’s best chance was to discard his heart losers on dummy’s diamonds. For that to work he needed not only additional entries to dummy but also for East to have the diamond ace.

East shifted to a low heart, and declarer played low from hand. West won the heart king and had only losing options left. He chose to return a heart, and declarer was home when he played low from dummy to force the queen.

But had West played the club queen and another club, declarer would have been in dummy. He could then have taken the ruffing finesse in diamonds against East while dummy still had a trump entry.

You might not feel you are worth a bid of four hearts, but I encourage you to make that call. The opponents may or may not make three spades, but your spade king is likely to be pulling its weight, and you have enough fit and high cards for four hearts to be in the picture. Don’t be pushed around by your opponents here.


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


Iain ClimieJanuary 9th, 2016 at 9:42 am

Hi Bobby,

I know it is based on seeing all 4 hands, but what if east leads the HQ at T2, trying to look like a man false carding with HKQ10, although it might also be HQx, Q10 or Q alone? What would you then do as South at the table, given east’s failure to play another club?



David WarheitJanuary 9th, 2016 at 9:47 am

W has a killing opening lead: a trump. Is there any way that you think he could (should) have found it?

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Hi Iain,

You bring up a somewhat original subject (at least from one point of view), but certainly one which needs a specific answer.

The opening lead is blind, certainly not deaf because of the bidding, but still not based on anything but comparing your hand (the opening leader) with what the bidding has spoken about the distribution of the cards.

Therefore when talent meets talent e.g. the great game as we know it, one should expect worthy opponents to, after seeing the dummy and not only hearing the declarer’s description (and the tempo along with) but also predicting the declarer’s line of play (within certain boundaries) will now materialize as the potent enemy you knew him to be.

Therefore, percentages rule, rather than table feel and therefore when the queen of hearts appears, the higher percentage of split honors rather than one or the other player having both, should prevail.

Of course, another relatively quiet subject is always present when giants collide and that is not to believe the table feel your individual opponents are trying to convey. They ARE NOT on your side, so be particularly aware of what they are trying to feed you.

Possibly not unlike world negotiators face when they go to the bargaining table to discuss crucial political deals. The difference between winning and losing is at stake, so wake up and smell the coffee or one side or the other will choke to death or worse, die a much slower, painful one.

jim2January 9th, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Had a “bridge column hand” at the table yesterday.




With opponents silent, you land gently in 6S. The opening lead is a smallish club. How do you play?

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Hi David.

I’m not much on leading trumps. Never have been and only, opposite of “when in doubt lead trumps” usually need a (what I think) to be a valid specific reason to lead one.

On this hand, since it doesn’t disturb the peace and give declarer an extra entry to do what he so desperately needs to do, establish diamonds, the trump lead works.

However, the great conservative French players have always led trumps when others have declined and I must admit it seems to have worked for them.

Pity that historical recording has done very little to prove points necessary to intelligently answer questions like yours, but perhaps with bridge a much more topical subject, at least in Europe and Asia with their school involvement, may eventually clear up debates with clear statistics. I know I will have missed out on that glorious gift, but others will thrive from better understanding what to do.

Such is life and I, for one, have no quarrels at all with only helping bridge in a small way.

I do appreciate your probing questions and only wish I could give more definitive answers.

Bobby WolffJanuary 9th, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Hi Jim2,

My suggestion is to win the ace of clubs, cash 2 diamonds, throwing hearts from hand, and then play ace and another heart, intending to ruff the losing heart with the nine of spades and, of course returning to hand by ruffing clubs if given a chance. True, I can get overruffed in hearts or diamonds if East wins my losing heart, but I might instead of playing ace and another heart, duck a heart to West , preventing the overruff, assuming East does not put up a high heart.

At least, on the surface, ducking the opening club lead is not really to be considered since the path home from there is very tenuous with very reasonable chances after winning the club ace.

What say you?