Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, January 5th, 2017

The highest intellects, like the tops of mountains, are the first to catch and reflect the dawn.

Lord Macaulay

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


This is a hand where it is necessary to plan ahead, to envisage what might go wrong, and how to circumnavigate the problems.

When West led the club queen against four hearts, South was optimistic that the lead had solved one of his problems. But since there was a chance that the opening lead was a singleton, declarer won in hand and set about trump immediately, finding he had a loser there. Next he played a diamond. East captured the king with the ace and switched to a spade, to the king and ace. West cashed the master trump, then got off play safely with a diamond. Now there was no way for South to avoid a second spade loser, and that proved to be the setting trick.

If South had taken the club queen lead on trust, and assumed he had no loser in that suit, he could have succeeded by playing on diamonds at trick two, before touching trump. East will naturally capture dummy’s king with the ace, and probably return a spade. (Note that if East can give West a club ruff, the defense will be trumping a loser).

Assume West wins the spade ace and exits in diamonds. South ruffs, and plays his top hearts, discovering he has a loser there. But he can next eliminate clubs, and West will be endplayed in trump, sooner or later. Now that player is forced to lead round to South’s spade tenace, or give a ruff and discard.

This same sequence of plays is available after a club play at trick four.

Your partner’s double is between optional and takeout; you are expected to remove the double with any hand where you might hope to make your contract. Since your values, such as they are, are in the right place, you should act. Rather than guess at the best suit to play in, bid four no-trump, showing a two-suiter, and asking partner to pick his better minor. You will correct five diamonds to five hearts.


♠ 6 4 3
 10 9 7 6
 K 4
♣ K 10 6 3
South West North East
      3 ♠
Pass 4 ♠ 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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieJanuary 19th, 2017 at 10:25 am

Hi Bobby,

Any case for cashing one top trump early on then playing a diamond? Probably no difference but it somehow feels right (although so does having a beer too many until the alcohol gets into the system).



Shantanu RastogiJanuary 19th, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Heĺlo Mr Wolff

Shouldnt Vulnerability be one of the factor for making bid or pass decision in BWTA. Also if partner has doubled with 0544 shouldnt we be playing 5 hearts instead of 5 clubs.

Best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Mircea1January 19th, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Hi Bobby,

I know this is far fetched, but is there a way for E-W to bid to 5D? It looks like it’s going down only 2 tricks. I think a t/o double with West’s hand is out of the question but how about a 3D bid by East? How big of a gamble is that? Is this utter non-sense?

bobby wolffJanuary 19th, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, there is a small case for playing a high trump early, but sometimes not allowing the opponents to know declarer has the Ace King makes it a little tougher for them to defend.

However, at least, especially after already having a few before, the alcohol dulls the pain of bad breaks, enabling a faster fix (this hand being an example). Having said that, what if the ace of diamonds is onside and West then continues with a low club, If declarer finesses the 10 (and who wouldn’t?) finds East with jack third but hearts originally 2-2 and spades manageable for only one loser (percentage favoring and not even necessary since the king of diamonds provides a spade discard), South will then need more alcohol and fast.

The mark which separates the best players from only the extremely good is often a tougher spine, since bridge often lends itself to such unexpected experiences.

However, even the above doesn’t make leading one trump first a bad play, only, as sometimes is the result, this time drawing all the trumps first, wins the day.

bobby wolffJanuary 19th, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Yes it would, and my vote, though not the modern treatment is simply to pass with most balanced weak hands (including this one) but, I will play devil’s advocate and suggest partner holding: s. void, h. Axx, d. AQJxx, c. QJxxx with 4NT usually a two suiter but what if partner has 5 or 6 hearts (and a poor hand), it then would be necessary to introduce hearts as still a valid trump suit to be sought. Furthermore with any hand containing defensive tricks as well as potentially dynamic on offense it well may be wrong to insist on offense without giving partner a chance to pass with a relatively weak balanced hand and accept a usual small penalty, although sadly sometimes a make, but avoiding a relatively significant set.

Finally a retreat to 5 clubs still keeps hearts in the game if clubs are not shared by the doubler, since if partner takes out to 5 diamonds then 5 hearts will then be bid by responder and with confidence to receive excellent support.

bobby wolffJanuary 19th, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Although overcalling 3 diamonds, though being vulnerable and already hearing partner pass over LHO’s one heart opening, may and more often than some might think, work in either challenging NS competitively, securing an eventual diamond lead should and when the opponents buy the contract, it, IMO, should not be made with so little strength.

1. Partner can and will bid too much, thinking your action has far more values (both offensively and even defensively).

2. At the least, and in the future of that partnership, partner will change his bidding judgment to, when faced with a choice, be too conservative in respecting what it takes for you, to come in vulnerable at the three level.

3. Almost never double for penalties, even aggressive opponents, for fear of your bidding habits which he has then experienced. Also sometimes when defending, deciding that you must hold a certain key card to justify your previous bid, but alas you do not.

4. In spite of the above admonitions one should try and come in to the opponents auction, especially when they have already found a fit (this case in hearts) but the minimum standard is just higher than the above, but perhaps with a side king added I would endorse such an overcall if non-vulnerable, but at least an ace more if vulnerable.

However, every hand is different, including the tendencies of those particular opponents and since the highest level of bridge has many thought to be, poker situations, of judgment the coming into the auction instead of not, is certainly one of the more common challenges and being too wimpy neither wins fair lady, nor high-level bridge matches.

Result being, subtract utter from your description but sadly (because of being vulnerable) keep the word following.