Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, June 3rd, 2016

The offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings.

Edmund Burke

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


Rubber bridge is an exciting form of the game – and there can be a lot of money riding on your decisions, not just the glory of matchpoints or IMPs. This deal cropped up at TGR’s rubber bridge club in London. Put yourself in the West seat by covering up the East and South hands for the moment.

What would you lead against six hearts, reached on a delicately nuanced auction?

At the table West chose the club queen, which held the first trick, East, a good player, playing the seven and declarer contributing the five. What now?

When West continued with the club jack, declarer did not cover in dummy but ruffed in hand. He ran all but one of the trumps and cashed the diamond ace and king, reaching a three-card ending in which dummy had the bare spade ace and two clubs, while declarer had two spades and a heart in hand.

Since West could not pitch a spade or declarer would cash the spade ace and his hand would be high, he came down to the bare club 10. Declarer read the position perfectly when he led the club king, ruffed away East’s ace, and now dummy was high.

Should West have got the position right? I think so. East was known to have the club ace by the end of trick one, so his seven should be a count card not attitude. To defeat the contract, West must shift to a top spade at trick two, to take out declarer’s vital entry to dummy prematurely.

Since the opponents have found a low-level fit, your partner is doubling for take-out. I’d guess he has a shape like 2=2=4=5, and your best spot must be clubs. It is irrelevant that your RHO has opened the suit – East could easily have a three-card suit. Even if he has four, your intermediates suggest you should be able to cope with any bad break easily enough.


♠ A J 10 5 2
 8 6
 K 4
♣ K 9 8 2
South West North East
      1 ♣
1 ♠ Dbl. Pass 2
Pass Pass Dbl. 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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitJune 17th, 2016 at 10:18 am

In the other room, after the same auction, W led SK and S ducked. Is there some way for W to know what to lead at trick 3?

David WarheitJune 17th, 2016 at 10:19 am

Sorry, at trick 2, of course.

bobby wolffJune 17th, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Hi David,

The immediate answer to your probing question is first, no, but then perhaps, after a hitch for thought, most certainly.

Very much like the fictional detectives, Philo Vance and most certainly Sherlock Holmes should and would have reasoned thusly: for declarer to duck the first spade, he surely cannot and will not have only a singleton spade, since the crass bidding would not have allowed the declarer to not check on aces before jumping to slam. He, of course, should have anyway, but the bidding (his partner’s opening bid) indicated to him that surely partner had at ;east one ace to open the bidding, so it may be better strategy for him to not allow East to double a minor suit, particularly the one which showed one ace to either double that suit, or beg for the lead of the unbid minor by playing the part of the dog which did not bark in not doubling the wrong minor (usually the defense will not lead a suit bid and rebid by dummy merely because it hardly ever is the answer to setting that slam.

Therefore an experienced EW should play suit preference at trick one, not because that is often done, it probably has seldom been, but in bridge, unlike most intelligent games, it is never right (oops!) to say never.

Therefore the seven not the eight should be played by East and if declarer than follows with the nine West, will have to decide whether the declarer was falsecarding with the 98 or the 95.

If declarer does not falsecard and merely follows suit with the five, the seven by East then would be telltale for a club switch not a diamond, but if he did, then East would have to decide who is doing what to whom. No doubt, assuming declarer is up to the spade falsecard, EW are indeed unlucky to be subject to a confusing legal signal with the distribution of the spade spots, but perhaps next time this deal is dealt, that defense will be more easily become the deadly one for declarer.

Above all, this deal (with your keen analysis) is a great example of how world class defenders may legally communicate with each other in order to best defend.

Our beautiful game continues to offer new ways to solve difficult problems with code language, often varied with different methods, foist on them, by various extraneous truths.

In the above way, world class participants will find answers to not usual questions which fit what their wily opponents are trying to conceal.

Here the clear intent for the defense is what to switch to, so suit preference, by inference, must be assumed.

Finally, at least to me, it is significantly appropriate that we will never know what West would have switched to at trick two, only that he must switch to his partner’s (almost sure) cashable ace so against superior declarer’s play (the spade nine falsecard) his choice is a guess instead of a “slam dunk”.

jim2June 17th, 2016 at 12:56 pm

I think a club shift would be odds-on.

If declarer had a spade singleton (swap the black 6’s of East and South), then the contract was cold on opening lead. (AS, ruff, 8H, ruff, 6H, ruff, etc)

If declarer eschewed Blackwood due to a void, then a diamond shift can kill the defense but a club cannot (swap East’s JD for declarer’s 5C). West’s club sequence protects against a similar diamond void.

Nonetheless, I see no other lines for declarer on that opening lead other than to win and play back a second spade, or to hope West started with 5 spades and East with something like AQJ of clubs.

bobby wolffJune 17th, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, in most ways I agree with you, likely including this one if South follows with the nine of spades, complicating the suit preference attempt by East.

But, what if, declarer had exactly the same spade and heart holding but instead, a small diamond and Ax in clubs, instead of the other way around in the minors.

True, in a total vacuum your reasoning makes good sense and because of what might be thought of as extraneous factors, West’s club holding etc. tends West to try clubs. It would be next to impossible for declarer to have a singleton spade, but if some bridge genius may be able to construct a hand where it is the right play, let me know. (or maybe for my ego’s sake do not).

Thanks for your post.

Mircea1June 17th, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

Is this a fair agreement that against slams, unless otherwise obvious, the signal at trick one should be suit preference? Or is this too wide?

TedJune 17th, 2016 at 11:16 pm

Hi Bobby,

This hand looks like one of my bridge nightmares.

As West, I lead the club Q and partner plays the 7. Seeing the potential squeeze, I shift to the spade K to kill the entrance. Declarer smiles, ruffs a spade (he has the hand Jim2 mentioned with the black 6’s exchanged), and proceeds to establish the 5th spade to pitch his second club.

Partner, meanwhile is asking why I ignored his encouraging 7 at trick 1.

bobby wolffJune 18th, 2016 at 1:49 am

Hi Mircea1,

If I had a one word answer, the answer would have to be no.

However, there are a number of varieties, largely depending on the bidding and even with the choice of opening lead.

Here it may be obvious that, if declarer has at least two spades, partner might get it, so if true, he would welcome a choice of what suit to continue. However if for example, partner doesn’t figure to get in, the last thing East would want to signal is what suit he prefers, since it may come down to a declarer guess (playing East for an ace or queen or something similar).

Obviously it all depends on how the defense is viewed, but here is where experience becomes mighty, not only between you and partner, but how and when to tell the truth or instead obfuscate.

As the former owner of the Oakland Raiders use to say, Just win, baby!

BTW, no physical coffee housing nor other poison gas gimmicks, but rather just normal tempo should ever appear.

bobby wolffJune 18th, 2016 at 1:53 am

Hi Ted,

Everything you say is relevant and becomes important except the post mortem.

Furthermore, if comments like that then occur, chalk it up to the person doing the talking being a loser who will never get the best from whoever happens to suffer as his partner.

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