Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 6th, 2017

All things are full of signs, and it is a wise man who can learn about one thing from another.


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


At matchpoints it looks reasonable to play three no-trump here. After all, the defense have eight hearts between them, as well as eight spades, and a heart lead gives you an easy route to nine tricks.

However, today West has a natural spade lead, and then the spotlight is going to be on East, and specifically on the partnership lead style. West wants to lead the spade king, to have his partner unblock the jack if he has it. After all, (short of some illegal body language) how can East show the jack if all he has is the three and two to encourage with?

It is for that reason that at notrump some partnerships play that the lead of a king shows a very good suit, requesting an unblock of a jack or queen. That makes this defensive problem easy today.

As you can see, if West knows to continue spades, he makes declarer’s task in three no-trump challenging. Declarer must duck two spades, then pitch a club from dummy on the third spade. Now what? The answer is to cross to dummy and lead a diamond toward the king, planning to duck if East plays the queen. When declarer’s king holds, he leads back a diamond. If West carelessly follows with the 10, declarer can duck without a care in the world. If West plays the jack, declarer will have to guess if West started life with two or with three diamonds. I don’t envy him his problem as to whether to win or duck this trick.

This hand comes down to a simple choice: do you rebid one no-trump, limiting the hand but running the risk of losing a club fit (especially since partner’s two club call would be a relay — New Minor not natural)? Or do you bid two clubs, showing this basic pattern, but in the process perhaps emphasizing suit quality? Put me down in the two club camp; get your shape right and the rest will follow.


♠ 9 8
 A 4
 A 8 7 3 2
♣ A 7 4 2
South West North East
1 Pass 1 ♠ 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


Jane AJanuary 20th, 2017 at 2:17 pm

How about leading a low diamond from declarer’s hand and if west doesn’t cover, duck the trick to east. As the cards lie (luck be a lady) this works. Even if west plays the ten or jack, south can play the ace and lead a low diamond back. Up pops the queen. Life is good. Of course if Jim2 were playing the hand, this would never work. Back to lower Slabovia he goes. Is this plan worth a try? On this hand, something good has to happen for sure.

jim2January 20th, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Thanks for the shout-out!

Sadly, West playing the 10D is pretty clear in that sequence, as is East throwing the QD under the AD.

bobby wolffJanuary 20th, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Hi Jane A & Jim2.

Yes to both of you and this bridge theme is one of those not so unusual times when a bridge hand is settled with “poker” type psychology, but only if both sides (West and South) are up to their best efforts.

South must first go to dummy to lead first toward his hand, preventing East from jettisoning his queen. Then after East follows low requiring declarer (South) to rise with his king and lead low back toward dummy, West should play his jack not his ten, trying to making it look like he started with only jack five (if QJ5 then hopeless), not the actual holding including the ten, causing declarer to not making the winning duck, which he would certainly do if only the ten was played.

If West did hold the Q10x he should certainly consider playing the queen, playing partner for jack small, but even then that play could be devastatingly wrong if declarer instead had KJx instead of what he did have Kxx.

No doubt bridge often includes “poker” mind games, while the opposite of poker having elements of bridge do not exist making all evidence proving bridge (for what it is worth), basically a “card” game while poker is not, but instead merely, though, and no doubt, also a great game, played with cards as symbols, but not requiring deft handling or, for that matter, any handling at all.

Iain ClimieJanuary 20th, 2017 at 4:43 pm

Hi Folks,

If Jim2 were playing the hand, west would have led from SKQ10 and easy west would be playing reverse attitude signals. He’d duck the diamond to east who would have the last 2 spades…

Just joking (I hope).


jim2January 20th, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Preach it, Brother Iain! Preach!


bobby wolffJanuary 20th, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

And such Iain are what SJ Simon and especially Victor Mollo made themselves famous with (at least in bridge writing), the final twist.

Hitchcock anyone, not to mention the Sherlock Holmes character, often borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle and turned into a bridge detective.

No doubt, in the years to come, if contract bridge falls totally out of favor, especially in the Western Hemisphere, it will be a grievous loss.

Jeff SJanuary 20th, 2017 at 7:32 pm

The problem with leading first from hand is that when East sees the J appear, he will drop his Q on the first round leaving W with the entry.

I thought about the scenario with the Q and J reversed, but in that situation, E would surely play his J on the first round, wouldn’t he? He knows playing the Q won’t work, but if he has the J, it looks like playing it first round is the only hope. And here it wins the day.

BobliptonJanuary 20th, 2017 at 9:22 pm

It is very rare at the table when all four players can see through the backs of the cards. Hold them up higher.


bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Hi Jeff,

First the good news. You, at least on this site and with this problem, become an excellent analyst, especially with the particular defensive diamond layout. However, and when declaring, a diamond lead toward the dummy may cause a careful but still unknowing defender to somewhat carelessly play a low diamond, while not possessing touching honors.

Although you and I can both testify that, no doubt, the flag is up and waving (like on the rifle range) oft times during a bridge hand, even a usually adept defender sometimes lets his guard down and then, and sometimes only then, can be exploited.

There are, of course, many absolutely wonderful bridge players, especially when the whole world is included. However unless that player, however talented he might be, needs to be on his toes when defending, declaring and also during the bidding, otherwise bridge will make that player sorry, especially when the competition is also among the best.

BTW, in these mind battles often referred to, the declarer often has by far the easier path to what line of play to take than does the defense have to plan. True, because of the declarer’s ability to gaze directly at all of his 26 assets, while as Bob Lipton has suggested, defenders cannot see partner’s hand (unless they are, if you excuse the reference, cheating).

However none of the above is said to keep your comments from coming since “little by little we can do great things” if we can enable
real, but sometimes subtle bridge problems, to be discussed.

bobby wolffJanuary 21st, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Hi Bob,

Amen, the first necessary rule of great players in the future, to learn.

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