Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 13th, 2016

My partner and I have no special agreements in our 2/1 structure. When I picked up ♠ J-7-2, A-Q-6-3, A-Q-J, ♣ A-K-4 I could not respond two hearts to a one spade opener since that would promise five cards in the suit, and a call of two no-trump would promise four spades. Would four clubs be Gerber here?

Powerhouse Pete, Bristol, Va.

Most experts say Gerber applies after a jump to four clubs over an opening bid or rebid of one or two no-trump. In any event it would be highly premature here. Best is to bid two clubs and then raise spades, to let partner describe his hand cheaply. When in doubt, leave as much space as possible.

I was taken aback when a friend of mine told me about some videos she had seen which claimed to show some of the world’s top pairs cheating. Do you know anything about this, and where do the cases against such pairs currently stand?

Cutting to the Chase, Dallas, Texas

Various national federations are currently investigating three world-class pairs (another such pair has admitted past wrongdoing). The actions of the three pairs in question are reviewed here, here and here.

My partner, an expert, opened one club holding: ♠ J-7, A-Q-3, J-10, ♣ A-K-Q-10-6-4. When I responded one spade, he chose to rebid two hearts. I know that is a reverse, promising a good hand, but does not the call promise at least four hearts? Can you discuss practical alternatives here?

Using the Force, Grand Forks, N.D.

A reverse does indeed strongly suggest 4-5 pattern with the first bid suit longer. Your partner sensibly considered he had too much for a non-forcing jump to three clubs, and rebidding notrump without a diamond stop would have been something of a gamble. His reverse was a practical way to try to get to you to bid no-trump with an appropriate hand.

When opener opens a strong two hearts, responder bids two no-trump, and opener bids three hearts, should it be responder’s responsibility to take the hand to game? I assume the bid of two notrump cannot be passed?

Laverne and Shirley, St. Louis, Mo.

The call of two notrump is a forcing response, but suggests a minimum hand. Over that, the bid of three hearts is non-forcing and it now becomes responder’s responsibility to bid game or pass. (Normally a trick or a ruffing value should suffice to raise here).

Can you comment on the merits of leading a spade after hearing the unopposed auction; one heart – three hearts – four hearts. Your hand consists of ♠ K-10-9-2, 5-4-3, 10-5, ♣ Q-9-7-4. If you do not lead a spade, what would be your choice?

First Cut, Jackson, Tenn.

No one can tell you what will work on this hand. However, since partner took no part in the auction we probably can rule out his holding a decent long suit. I suppose my spade intermediates would push me towards leading the spade 10, but all of the sidesuits seem reasonable enough. For the record, I would prefer to lead a diamond from 10-9 doubleton but not from my actual holding.

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMarch 27th, 2016 at 9:21 am

I’m reading Tim Bourke’s Countdown to Winning Bridge, in which he refers to you as “the legendary Bobby Wolff”. What a silly thing to say! Of course, you are not “legendary”, you are here every day!!

Congratulations on being so well thought of–by Bourke, me, and any bridge player.

Iain ClimieMarch 27th, 2016 at 10:49 am

Hi Bobby,
On "First Cut's" question today, how would you rate a trump lead (assuming 3H is a limit raise)? I tend to shy away from trump leads but this looks like an exception.

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Hi David,

I’m, of course, flattered beyond belief, for both Tim’s depiction and your own very kind words.

Oft times it seems to me, that fate, fortunate timing, and topical issues come together, making someone seem more important than they really are or, for that matter, have ever been.

However, even after saying that, your (and Tim’s comments) means more than anyone could guess for my love of our game, which has consistently stayed with me since I was twelve years old, a very long time ago and already learning the game.

No doubt anyone in this life is off-the-charts lucky to be able to stay with, for so many years, something which he is dedicated to, loves, and seems to never tire of discussing.

In any event and because of the world wide cheating scandals, our game, IMO, is directly at severe risk, of reaching an impossible abyss.

It, IMO, will be impractical, leading to impossible, for almost all very high level honest world bridge players (and there are many of them) to ever reconcile the threat of ever having to sit down against, what they undoubtedly consider, horrific bridge cheats who have won events illegally and, in retrospect, forever disgraced the game itself, in every form or at any future time, when any kind of bridge importance is being contested.

Perhaps many years in the future, the above thoughts will temper, but to even consider such a thing in the near future and without total repentance from them, in the form of unconditional confessions, will never fly, or even just crawl.

At least to me, it is not a question of just maybe, but rather one of absolute necessity.

I only wish that I was young enough (and, more importantly, not so deaf) to help out in getting done what blatantly cries out, to be accomplished.

Back to my subject of thanking you again, for your news and your expressions.

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Hi Iain,

Even after all these years of developing bridge and great players sometimes emerging, no one, at least to my knowledge, can do anything but guess as to what to lead from that hand by “First Cut”.

However, of all the so-called bridge prompts (in the way of old-wives tales) of, for example, “When in doubt lead trump”, I think that, if anything, the opposite of that is true.

In other words I would only lead a trump when my judgment suggests that a trump lead may be necessary to help the defense against bidding which suggests doing so. Without beating this horse to death, 1. If dummy looks like declarer will use the dummy’s relative few trumps to ruff losing tricks from declarer before the trumps are drawn, or 2. Partner will have a very good trump holding (again determined by certain bidding) and wanting to make less of what the dummy may contribute so that partner can gain control of the hand and at the same time prevent declarer from starting out with an advantage accrued to him by the opening leader not taking advantage of the bidding., 3. Sometimes as a default lead, when bridge logic (again determined by both the opening leaders hand and the bidding) suggests that a total waiting game will be the answer. In some ways many may think that the current question fits in this category. I do not agree since merely guessing what suit to lead (and no doubt it is a guess) is not enough reason, making to me a tougher definition of what I consider the definition of what I attempted #3 to mean.

Possibly while defending against a slam, especially when spades have been bid by declarer and his side has shown the top three honors in trump would that default definition come into play.

However what I say is certainly not gospel by other experienced players, but is only my opinion as to what has probably worked for me (assuming no illusion) through the years.

W. B. Daniel IIIMarch 27th, 2016 at 4:54 pm

On First Cut question There is an obvious at least a 9 card fit in hearts by declarer, so a heart lead does not hurt and may help by not giving declarer a free finesse. In the vase of bidding like this since no other suits were bids, there is unlikely to be an additional long suit in play. In such a case the bidding would be different.

A lead of any thing other than a low heart in the actual bidding could well give up a trick as your partner is very likely to have 5-10 scattered points. This is probably a hand where a non aggressive defense would be better. So I think a heart lead is indicated.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Hi David,
I was very touched by both yours and Tim Bourke's lovely reference to your Internet pen pal. As most old timers know, Bobby has done more for bridge pro bono than anyone in its history.

Since our marriage in 2003 (on the infamous anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day), I continue to be amazed by his timeless daily dedication to both his fans and the game that has graciously shaped his destiny with countless accomplishments, affording him an incredible life. I witness it on a daily basis and those who have read The Lone Wolff have seen it in spades! I suppose although nearing 84, he is showing slight signs of slowing down in the traveling arena, but continues to give 100% of himself to his daily AOB fans and constantly reminding the powers that be .. that if we don't formally get bridge into the schools here in America like that of Europe and Asia .. the high level game (for which we all share great love) will disappear into nothingness. However, so far most (not all) of our bridge administration here in the States are more concerned with political advancement, monetary greed, elevated tournament entry fees, egos and whatever else floats their boats. There is too little (if any at all) energy exerted to formally get bridge into our educational system to strengthen the minds of our young ones .. in the areas of logic, reasoning, numeracy, ethics and so much more. One person can do only so much! I fervently pray that in time someone assumes Bobby's dedicated unselfish role to help assure that serious bridge does not continue to die a slow death. Sorry for the rant .. but our wonderful game is in serious trouble and eventually someone must take over Bobby's reins and restore the elegance to high level bridge.

Peter PengMarch 27th, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Hi Bobby

I have some time ago done or had done against me two plays that I have seen no name to them (except false-carding), but I found to be effective carding.

I one case, I led J from QJ doubleton, trump suit, after opponents showed 9 cards in the suit.

I found K9xx in dummy and ATxxx in closed hand.

Missing 4 cards, and seeing the J on the table, declarer decided to play us for 2-2 or for 3-1, Q on my partner’s hand.

She won the the table and when partner followed low to the second round, she finessed and everybody, especially partner, was surprised to see Q emerge from my hand.

On another occasion, I had 4 cards in hand, Axxx and QT9 in dummy.

I decided to play low to the QTx. When LHO played low, I played the 10. RHO, having KJ stiff, played the K. Of course, I came back to my hand and played low to the Q9 remaining in dummy, finessing for the “marked” J in LHO’s hand.


Is there any special names for those falsecardings? Are they common? Why is it that I do not forget them and am looking for them all the time?

Best always


IainClimiewMarch 27th, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Hi Peter,

I think false cards is fine but you might like to have a look at “Deadley Defence” by Ron Klinger, Roman Krzemien and Wladyslaw Izdebski which contains a real feast of possibilities, including many like the hand where you were caught (it also works with KJx of course). On the first hand, a singleton Jack of trumps is rarely a attractive lead, at least for stronger players, so perhaps declarer will not understimate you next time – or it could be double bluff of course.



bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Hi W.B.,

Yes, a heart lead seems safe and almost surely is, unless a surprise is in store where either the opener chose a 4 card major to open, or his partner expecting five jump raised with only three leaving the opening leaders partner with Qx.

However, that cannot be predicted and would be an exception, but the race for defensive tricks is very common and the opening lead advantage for the defense need not be thrown away. Suppose opposite your given hand is something like s. Qxx, h. x, d. A98xx, c. K9xx. Thus without even trying to reconstruct the declarer hand and his dummy and for this hand assuming his 26 cards were distributed 3-3 in spades, it would likely take a spade lead to immediately establish 2 defensive tricks without which the defense is passing control of the hand to the declarer and then by the time spades are switched to, one of the spade tricks will have gone by-by, the most likely way is that the offense held 4 diamonds in one hand and only 2 in the other, allowing time for declarer to set up a spade discard after the diamond ace is knocked out.

I am not trying to play tricks with you (please pardon the pun), but merely trying to explain the advantage of an aggressive opening lead rather than a passive one.

And for sure, since there are indeed infinite different card combinations to which the opponents hand may be distributed, at least at IMPs or rubber bridge, attempting to defeat the hand may call for going after developing immediate tricks rather than passively waiting for them to occur. Here the opponents were bidding confidently, likely expecting to make their contract, all of which should alert the defense that aggression is better than passivity.

However, the decision to lead a trump also may the the winning defense. Soon after the opening lead that question is usually answered.

Finally a word to the wise. Give a very good declarer free reign (by being passive) and likely the defense will come out on the short end of the result. Just saying…..

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Hi Peter,

It would be difficult to impossible for me to improve on Iain’s advice, except to possibly fill in the blanks.

The lead of the jack of trumps from QJ doubleton was named by Terence Reese “the old chestnut” and appeared in his books, back in the day (many years ago). It is perhaps a no lose play (hard to see a card combination in which it could lose) but to echo Iain, an experienced declarer will wonder why you are taking a chance to lose a natural trump trick by risking leading the jack which could enable declarer to lose no tricks holding only 8 trumps, therefore missing 5 including the QJ.

However, your second example has fewer flaws, one of which may be fooling you if declarer had happened to lead a small one from xxx, gotten the king to take the nine and then, of course the defender would fly with the ace when next led thinking declarer had the jack in hand. All in a day’s bridge work, but it only takes one sad experience to alert a clever defender of the risks.

Nothing said above is to discourage “brilliance” from being attempted, only the downside when
less than satisfaction becomes the result. Also remember that in the absence of enough entries to dummy, the correct playing of Q109 opposite the ace is to finesse twice leading from the dummy so when declarer goes the other route of leading small from hand it may set up a red flag to respect.

Thanks for describing interesting and oft held card combinations while relating your experience.

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 8:14 pm

Hi Peter,

Perhaps it is because you have a virtuoso bent, in other words, an artful dodger. The Dickens you might say.

Finally I have never heard a name for winning the nine with the king when also holding the jack, but, at least when it works, you may be called something very choice by the opponents, which you will be able to attest its new name to your specific identity, but please if there are ladies present, keep it a secret.

Patrick CheuMarch 27th, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Hi Bobby,East played the 4C back on t2,after AS..his hand being-A976 965 106 Q643,West held J1084 KQ42 4 AJ107,on this auction-W 1C N pass E 1S S pass -W 2S N pass E pass S 3N.Declarer plays the 2C smoothly,West won with the 10C…what next? Defense is always difficult but should East played the QC(nothing is automatic as you once said..) as he had no other entries..West returned the 7C and declarer claims 10 trks.South KQ3 A8 AKJ532 K2 North 52 J1073 Q987 985.(Vanderbilt SF 2016).It’s always easier to watch.. If East had KxxxC, he is more likely to play low club on t2 and Kxx the K? regards~Patrick.

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Hi Patrick,

Your post is a bit difficult for me to decipher, but, I think having to do with a defender splitting his honors (KQ) when a small one is led from the dummy on his right.

The defense is always disadvantaged by not seeing all 26 of its assets, which declarer is always privileged to see. Sometimes at trick one and before playing as 3rd hand, a defender may try and grasp what the maximum defense may be, of course, depending on how declarer goes about playing the hand.

In an abstract way, it is indeed generally better to duck the KQ allowing declarer to go wrong when holding AJ9x by his usually finessing the nine and losing to the ten, rather than taking the lesser percentage play of the jack. However, every hand is different and only the best players are right most of the time, but never all the time since no one can bat 1000.

I hope this at least attempts to answer your question, but I easily could have missed what you intended for me to answer.

Good luck!

Patrick CheuMarch 27th, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Hi Bobby,3N by South,West led a spade and East won with the Ace and play 4c and declarer played 2c from K2,west won with the 10c and now has to decide cashing the AC(winning play) or low c..West held AJ107 clubs and East Q643,dummy 985 and declarer K2…

Patrick CheuMarch 27th, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Was it possible for West to find the Ace of club play after winning with the 10C? If East has Kxxx or Kxx he might have played a low club..

bobbywolffMarch 27th, 2016 at 10:55 pm

Hi Patrick,

Yes, it is highly unusual for declarer, while holding Kx opposite 3 small and having that suit led, coming through his king, not playing the king.

However some genius may defy convention and, while being morally sure that the ace is offside, convince LHO after winning a small card to think that South may have the king still guarded and therefore not falling under the now played ace. All almost too much to comment on an individual basis, but at least two factors help determine. 1. Why didn’t East lead a higher club, planning on holding the lead if South was unable to keep East off lead without playing his one honor. 2. Since, by not offering the king, South was not playing bridge, but rather a complicated mind game, often masquerading as part of the technical side of the game.

If there is an intelligent answer to just suggest West now crying bingo after he now laid down his ace to much success, it now only resolves itself to various psychological ploys invented by imaginative players hoping to increase their chances of scoring well.

My answer, while not having a firm opinion on what to do, certainly considering whether partner will have another entry soon to continue clubs, will probably just figure out the right play, but one thing is for sure, South is not a player to play as a partner with unless one is prepared to ride the roller coaster with him till death do you part, and please do not resort to murder for that to happen when he guesses wrong as to the location of certain high cards.

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