Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, December 28th, 2015

Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.

Blaise Pascal

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


The Brighton Congress in the UK lasts for 10 days every August, and like a US Nationals has something for everyone. The Swiss Pairs and Swiss Teams take up one weekend each. But there is also a Seniors Congress, for pairs and teams as well a “Really Easy Congress” for tournament novices, not to mention a host of other enjoyable singlesession events. And for those for whom two sessions a day are not enough, there are the Midnight Owls Speedball pairs and teams.

In today’s deal after a pass from South, West opened the bidding with one diamond, over which North made a take-out double. South now cuebid two diamonds though arguably his balanced shape suggested a simple invitational call of two hearts would have been enough. West’s three diamonds was passed back to South, who now bid a forcing three hearts, and North raised to four hearts.

West led a top diamond, which declarer ruffed in dummy. He was faced with some awkward communication problems at trick two, since he needed to get the clubs going, but had to concede at least one club trick in the process.

He solved his problems by leading a low club from dummy at trick two, away from the ace and queen. West won with the jack then switched to the spade king. Declarer simply allowed this to hold and West was stuck. A diamond would have accomplished nothing, so he continued with the club king, losing to dummy’s ace. When trump were drawn declarer had four club tricks, five trumps and a spade.

Neither red suit lead appeals to me, so it is a question of which black suit is the least offensive. Leading from length is hardly a serious infraction, but still, the spade sequence gets my vote. We all remember how when we lead from this holding, the first four cards dummy puts down are king-10 fourth in our suit; we forget how often the lead is effective, or at least not costly.


♠ Q J 7
 A 3 2
 Q 10 7
♣ J 9 5 4
South West North East
      1 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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


slarJanuary 11th, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Every opening lead vs. NT carries some risk. There is also the chance that you will hit partner. (Hooray!) But what does partner need to have for a lead to be helpful? In spades, it looks like either the K or T make the lead helpful, with the A and 9 potentially helpful. In clubs you really need partner to have more than one honor for the suit to be a helpful lead. If partner has only one, at best the lead is neutral and the suit might be frozen. With this in mind, the spade lead stands out.
(This is the sort of assessment I try to make at the table.)
Am I reading this right?

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2016 at 10:33 pm

Hi Slar,

My major feeling with your discussion about this opening lead and perhaps opening leads in general is that you are sincere in what you think and then attempt, on just the advantage of hearing the bidding, to find the right initial choice.

However my answer, assuming you trust me to be, as they say in tournament poker, to be all in, is to only relay what my long time experience has cried out directly to me from the mountaintops. And that answer is whatever is decided cannot be nearly as accurate as you or anyone else (even with momentous natural talent) would either want it to be, or in fact be anything more than a simple educated guess.

To lead anything else but a high diamond on this hand is to defy bridge logic, although as the above speaks, the bridge gods will determine, depending on the 52 card layout, nothing more, nothing less.

You MUST accept this fact, otherwise bridge will eventually become a lost leader, if only because of the sadness any other mindset will bring.

Thankfully bridge is not a double dummy game where any of the players involved, in this case the opening leader, get sneak peeks of the arrangement of the other 39 cards before the opening lead. And furthermore even if we could see the dummy beforehand (but neither partner nor the declarer can) we (or at least I) might still choose the high diamond, hoping South is short in clubs and wanting to force the dummy to perhaps lose a key future entry.

However, this one hand is not that important, but the concept of thinking that you, now, could, should, be able to defend perfectly from the get go, will only lead to much frustration which will only hasten your departure from the game itself. There are just too many card combinations and other variables to even begin to attempt to find the magic necessary to consistently succeed.

The above is enough to consider, so my recommendation is to think about what is being said here and then feel how applicable this logic fits in with most of the bidding and play of the majority of the hands you play in the next three months or so.

Sure, after the hands are known (and that will average about at tricks 8 or 9 now, being reduced to perhaps tricks 4 or 5 eventually when you may reach the zenith of just how good you can become. That transition will change your doubts about the game from a great challenge to the glow of success for your ensuing lifetime.

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2016 at 10:44 pm

Hi again Slar,

Please forgive my oversight since I thought you were talking about the column hand, not the LWTA.

However, in spite of my gaffe I hope my advice about merely leading a high diamond in the column makes sense.

Yes, while you and I both agree that a spade is our choice, chances are only lady luck will answer and contrary to the song from “Guys and Dolls” luck is not always a lady.

Yes, in most ways you are reading the choice of opening lead right, but do not take it all that seriously since again, as noted above, only humans can play bridge, and dealing well with adversity (errant opening leads), will often make the difference between winners and losers.

Again sincere apologies for my significant mistake, but even sometimes, errors may become beneficial.

Iain ClimieJanuary 11th, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Hi Bobby,

Is South’s 3H bid still game forcing by a passed hand? Poor west; if he could have seen the whole hand he would have gone much more quietly or even opened 1N with rather too much. He must have wanted to scream seeing that North hand opposite an original pass and guessing what would happen but at least he didn’t double!



Peter PengJanuary 11th, 2016 at 11:52 pm

hi Mr. Wolff

I encountered a situation today that I do not understand. My partner dealt and passed and I opened 1H, having
AKTxx in H, QTxx in S, x in D and xxx in C. My natural instinct is to pass a 9HCP hand, but I have been persuaded that a third hand should open with such hand, especially considering the good hearts and the four spades.

The first question is: Do you agree with opening third hand with such values?

Then partner bid 2NT, saying that a 2NT bid shows 11 HCP after a one of a major opening.

While I understand that 2NT by responder shows 11 HCP against a normal opener, I think that, since a 9 HCP opener by third seat is accepted, then I think that the two bids are mutually incompatible. That is, either one does not open a 9 HCP hand, or one does not bid 2NT responding to a third hand opener.

Can you please elaborate a bit on these thoughts.

Your attention is much appreciated.

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2016 at 12:05 am

Hi Iain,

Once South had passed originally, then even after a cue bid, his return to 3 hearts should not have been forcing. However. as you well know, a key void can often produce a barrel full of tricks and that was what North was hoping when he raised to game.

Not terribly consistent, but nevertheless not necessarily foolish.

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2016 at 12:20 am

Hi Peter,

Yes, your consternation is noted and approved, at least by me.

My possibly compromised solution may be one of two methods:

1. With hands such as your 1 heart opening. 4-5-1-3 in 3rd position, may decide to open a weak two heart bid. Yes, you are one heart shy, often important, but so are the advantages of opening the bidding (might make some low level contract, plus getting a heart lead from partner against those opponents if instead they outbid your side).

2. Once passed, even with up to 11 HCP’s only respond 1NT (instead of 2) and hope your partner with better than a bare opening bid will bid again and if so, the 11 point hand will then make an aggressive rebid.

Neither of the above two options is anywhere near foolproof, but if one is looking for only safety, stay away from the challenges of bridge.

You have to give to get so good luck and sharpen up that partnership’s defense so that many players will think twice before trying so hard to outbid you.