Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

That monkeys once were men, peers, statesmen, flunkies —
That’s rather hard on unoffending monkeys!

W. S. Gilbert

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


The annual House of Lords versus the House of Commons match features a contest between talented amateurs. As you might expect, the quality of bridge is mixed. But some of the deals have been pre-selected, to give the players the opportunity to shine by demonstrating good technique, knowledge of the laws of probability, or even by revealing sound partnership understandings. It was into that latter class that today’s deal fell.

All roads would seem to lead to three no-trump here, probably via a two no-trump opening. West has a natural lead of the spade 10, especially as no attempt was made to locate a major suit fit. Declarer can count on seven sure tricks – five in clubs and two in spades. Should he put up the spade jack?

Yes indeed; if dummy’s jack holds the first trick, there will be no problem in setting up a trick in diamonds for the ninth trick. But the jack loses to the queen, and declarer wins the king. The natural suit for declarer to turn to is diamonds, and here is where the defenders have to be on their toes. When South advances the diamond king, West must duck. And East must signal his distribution clearly, by following with the seven, suggesting an even number, so that West knows to take his ace at his next turn. The point is that if East has two diamonds, South has four, and a second hold-up would be pointless. If East has four, winning the second diamond trick holds South to just one trick in the suit.

Since introducing a three-card major is verboten, do you respond one no-trump or two clubs? In favor of bidding notrump is that partner will have the majors but may not have real club length, against it is that this call should show 7-10 or so. Your hand surely does not qualify in that category. I go for the suit bid, more because I want partner to be able to trust me the next time I bid no-trump here.


♠ J 4
 J 8 7
 Q J 10 3
♣ 7 5 4 3
South West North East
Pass 1 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


Patrick CheuJuly 12th, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Hi Bobby,Wonder what you would lead from this hand,north,J9 KQ8 8754 9543 against 3N by West,after (Acol) pairs nv,W 1D-E 1S,1N(15-16)-3N. Pard chose a spade on the basis that Iwas likely to have four spades,and that K or QH may cost if dummy has Jxx..I thought doubleton lead may be right if he has points outside..and that I woud have chosen a heart Q for reverse attitude,if I had his hand..maybe I am biased as I held 8753 AJ432 Q 1072,East(dummy),QT64 75 AT63 KQ6 n West AK2 T96 KJ92 AJ8,duly wraps up 11 tricks which seems par of the course in the room apart from one pair-1,and some in a major. Your thoughts would be much appreciated..regards~Patrick.

Iain ClimieJuly 12th, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Hi Patrick, Bobby,

Given that Acol bids 4 card suits “up the line” and uses 4 card majors, there used to be a theory that you lead the middle suit after 1C 1H 1N (lead a diamond) 1D 1S 1N (a heart) at least if the oppo play in NT eventually. This would argue for a H today, probably finding declarer with HAx(x) opposite dummy’s Jxx based on experience!

Any thoughts, though?


Patrick CheuJuly 12th, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Hi Iain,That’s interesting,I look forward to putting this to my pard and seeing his reaction :) the way Iain was there another theory about leading a 4card suit n not a five carder,especially in the minors against 3N?

Patrick CheuJuly 12th, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I meant 54 either minors..

bobbywolffJuly 12th, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Hi Patrick,

At IMPs or rubber bridge it is, at least to me, 100% to lead the king of hearts since that suit offers so much more promise, than any of the others, to set the hand.

However at matchpoints, there is another motive, to me, one that is ugly and worse, nothing available to give the slightest indication of what to expect.

When the responder first bids spades then jumps to 3NT over his partner’s 1NT rebid, it indicates that he is likely to hold only 4 spades and therefore only 3 hearts (maximum), but it doesn’t preclude the opener from holding 4 hearts.

All the above, contributes in no effective answer from me, only despair in how the game of matchpoints differs from the mainstream idea in “real bridge”, trying to defeat the contract.

A sad realization “jumps out” at your matchpoint result, almost average, which proves other matchpoint players didn’t see fit to lead a heart on essentially the same bidding or close.

Sorry for my abstention, but I do so in good conscience. Other than a possible heart, I would choose a club since if safety is important (and it often is, if only to save an overtrick) I might cop out and choose a club (unbid) since the J of spades may lose a spade trick if the offense had the combination of AK10 between the hands together with the four (or sometimes five mediocre, together with a balanced hand) which are almost sure to be in dummy.

Sorry for my feeble response, but these kinds of subjects do not feature the so many other more enthusiastic, varied and great challenges our marvelous game (even matchpoints) provide for us.

Patrick CheuJuly 12th, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Hi Bobby,Thanks for sharing your observations with us,I am sure my pard will feel better for it..:)

bobbywolffJuly 12th, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Hi Iain,

While playing against Acol bidders (mainly distinctive because of often 4 card majors), but also responding in 4+ card suits up the line your middle suit leading against, of course, makes some logical sense.

However, today with 5 card majors and diamond suits (over 1 club openings) often skipped to instead offer 4 card major suits immediately, defensive probabilities undoubtedly have changed along with it.

Somehow I think that Axx in declarer’s hand opposite Jxx in dummy is somehow over feared and somewhat illusional, but I have no statistics, computer or not, to prove or even justify my suspicion.

Lacking that, I guess I need to fly Over the Rainbow, straight to the Emerald City, searching out the wizard for the “real” answer to Patrick’s question.

If and when ,I’ll report back his answer, although we will all risk Frank Morgan in plain clothes (and a mighty voice) behind the drapes, while running for reelection, with the issues being somewhere between bridge, Brexit, and combating terrorism.

jim2July 12th, 2016 at 4:42 pm

A technique question/note.

At the table, especially in a team game, I might play out the club suit before any red suit play. Here, West must guess which red honor(s) can be blanked. Even if the player is likely to get it right, mistakes do happen.

Alternatively, declarer could lead the small diamond at the second trick (from Kxx). West is likely to duck, and then declarer leads a small club to his AKJ10, before leading the KD to attempt to force an entry for a club finesse.

bobbywolffJuly 12th, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Hi Jim2,

Both of your paragraphs are very worthy of poignant thoughts.

Against better players (perhaps not instead, best players) I do not agree you will elicit mistakes by first playing out the clubs. Reason is that both defenders will be concentrating on legally signalling what is necessary with discards on clubs, knowing to separate the wheat from the chaff and at the same time allowing the defense to know that he has 5 club tricks. To be specific in this hand, that East has four diamonds (which should immediately enter first East’s mind to convey and for West to receive). Also, although not really important on this hand, the declarer does not hold the ace of diamonds, but rather only the king, but possibly not either. Against that ilk (top ten % of the club players, or partnerships, but still a solid distance from much better than that, their weakness may be being a little more mistake prone than others which in turn, and over a full session of play will cause an error or two.

Conversely, your next paragraph appeals to me, by actively creating deception, and, at the same time, hiding your Prince Albert club suit from view. Then when, after winning the first diamond in dummy lead a club to the queen, rather than the king, before laying down the now lonesome king of diamonds.

However, while playing against a much tougher defense, do not expect to succeed since they will have already had a chance to show the diamond length by East.

However your plan is indeed ingenuous and well worthy of choice, even though your result may not (and, I think, will not) succeed against some.

Finally, some awful news. Guess what? West was dealt the singleton ace of diamonds and your TOCM TM had rigged in this hand just to remind you who is BOSS!

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Iain ClimieJuly 12th, 2016 at 6:16 pm

Hi Patrick,

There is apparently a growing view that a passive lead from xxx in a major vs 1N passed out makes more sense than a minor suit lead from Jxxx or even Q9xx. So I took the idea on board and led a spade (a heart was 2nd choice) after 1N 3N from Jxx 10xx xxxx Jxx. Dummy had a 16 ct with 4225 and, had I led a diamond, I’d have started crashing dummy’s DKJ with declarer’s DAQ at T1. Aaaaargh!

Seriously, though, computer simulations have apparently been run vs hands with an opening NT passed out which suggest there may be something in the idea. I’m not overly convinced, but perhaps at pairs there is more of a case for going passive in such a case.


bobbywolffJuly 12th, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Hi Iain,

I can almost overhear the rhetoric sure to follow your not leading your only 4 card suit against 3NT.

“Dame Fortune” takes the opportunity to deal you four of them and you defiantly do not respond.

Patrick CheuJuly 12th, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Hi Bobby,This hand left us bemused:north AKQ A3 AKQJ532 6 and south JT62 KQJT864 T Q.Dealer E(all nv).E pass S pass(1H or 3H?) W pass N 4N(after thinktank),E pass S 5C W pass N 5D pass out.5D +1 or 6H.Please give us a sensible auction to 6H or 6D.I venture to say that had North open 2C-2D,3D-4H gives a fair description of my hand,hearts can play opp a void.Pard can then bid 6H..All said perhaps,I should have bid 6H over 5D? This hand reminded me of Terence Reese foreword to Do You Really Want To Win At Bridge?:Reese was driving with Pierre Beguin to the championship at Montreux in 1954.Pierre Beguin pointed to a distant area of the countryside and said:’In the war I used to patrol that border,alone on horseback.My orders were to report,and repel,any German invasion’.

Iain ClimieJuly 12th, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Hi Bobby,

I was lucky in my choice of partner (at pairs) – he was philosophical about the result.



Iain ClimieJuly 12th, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Hi Patrick,

If South does pass (instead of 3 or even 4H) and north opens 2C then a reply of 4H surely makes sense. You will never catch up after replying 2D. I think passing on the first round with those hearts does something similar though; after all, the hand is nothing to be ashamed of. 3H 6H works for me (or 3H 6D if the partnership preempts on bad suits but with something outside).

Bobby’s view will be more sensible, mind you. I’m notoriously erratic!


bobbywolffJuly 13th, 2016 at 12:29 am

Hi Patrick,

To me with the 4-7-1-1, 2nd seat NV player after pass by RHO simply 4 hearts, P 4NT, P 5D (one key card) P 6H all pass, with no other choices in the ballpark. All actions are, at least to me, classic with no 2nd choices.

If anyone has any questions I’ll be happy to oblige, but since I view all bids made above to stand alone by themselves, I refuse to see any argument.

bobbywolffJuly 13th, 2016 at 12:35 am

Hi Iain,

Opening 4 of a major should have no real restrictions, just a long, hopefully at least semi-solid suit and depending on the vulnerability about 61/2 to 7 1/2 tricks.

One only chooses 1 of that major when there could be a void in something and perhaps more bidding room is necessary to make sure the value (or not) of that particular void, but singletons are altogether different (because aces can then be determined).

To me, much ado about not much, but the theory of the above needs to be known.

Patrick CheuJuly 13th, 2016 at 6:17 am

Hi Bobby and Iain,Many thanks for your helpful suggestions~Best Regards~Patrick.

bobbywolffJuly 13th, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Hi Patrick.

You are certainly very welcome and what is more, Terence Reese must have thought Pierre Beguin and his horse being alone, felt just a slightly bit inadequate to be able to follow his orders and repel the Germans, similar to playing against a very tough European bridge team in an important tournament when the Germans would be sighted closing in to the border near Montreux while during the war.

However, since the stakes are much higher in the bridge tournament with only two lives to be lost (Pierre and his horse) as compared to the horrible indignity and disgrace of losing the bridge match, proving defeat in bridge is much worse than dying since losing in bridge will be likely to occur again while the other would not.

Furthermore, Pierre can hope the Germans do not show up, while in bridge the other team seems to always do so.

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