Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Any government is free to the people under it where the laws rule and the people are a party to the laws.

William Penn

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


With 17 points and a chunky five-carder South has too much to open one no-trump. A competitive auction sees him show his extras and reach three no-trump, on a low heart lead to the king. East shifts to the club 10, covered by the jack and queen. West reverts to hearts, and the defenders clear the suit.

South now needs to run the diamonds to make his game. If he has to give up a diamond, he will go down like a stone. The problem is whether to lead out the diamond ace and king in the hope of dropping the queen, or to take a finesse through East.

The general rule here is “Eight ever, nine never” meaning: play for the drop missing four cards. However West is known to have at least a five-card club suit. Moreover, West is also heavy favorite to have started with four hearts. This leaves room for only four cards in spades and diamonds combined. Rules have their place, but they are no substitute for rational thought.

South can afford to take one high diamond but then must run the three top spades, to find out the rest of West’s shape. When West follows to three rounds of spades and one diamond, it is clear that the rest of his cards are clubs and hearts. Declarer therefore finesses through East for the diamond queen.

If West had followed to only two rounds of spades, it would have been a guess as to whether he had a second diamond or a sixth club.

Playing two over one, how do you show your extras? The answer is that a jump to three no-trump would be a strong no-trump equivalent; but you are too slammish for that. Bid two no-trump and when partner raises to three no-trump bid four no-trump, a quantitative sequence to show precisely this sort of values.


♠ K J 9
 Q 8
 A K 10 9 4
♣ K J 6
South West North East
  Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 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


David WarheitFebruary 15th, 2017 at 9:19 am

After winning the third H, why not lead the DJ? Sure, E should play low without hesitation, in which case proceed as you say, but you never know.

Shantanu RastogiFebruary 15th, 2017 at 9:41 am

Hello Mr Wolff

How should one tackle diamonds on club 8 lead asuming east plays 10 and declarer has to win first trick ? The declarer play is then a bit more challenging. To keep east off declater should finesse but west can have diamond queen and east may have heart entry to play a club. West has done well not to double diamond opening as then diamond play is a give away.

Best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Iain ClimieFebruary 15th, 2017 at 1:26 pm

HI Bobby,

Back in the old days, wouldn’t BWTA have gone 1H – 3D (16+) – 3H – 3N? Sometimes old methods can still work nicely. There again, I’ve always had a primitive streak and much prefer the play of the hand.



bobby wolffFebruary 15th, 2017 at 4:56 pm

Hi David,

True, one never knows, and while playing at the local club, at an old folks home, or a cut around novice game there is, as you infer, what have you got to lose?

However, by so doing, it is somewhat of an insult to a proud East. Granted, in a competitive game, anything legal is allowed, and no doubt to lead the jack of diamonds from dummy is altogether legal, but to do so, leave it to Mr. Smug of SJ Simon fame, Mrs. Brash, courtesy of Easley Blackwood, or any win at any cost, bridge rogue.

FWIIW, (and defensively on this bidding) I wouldn’t cover the jack even holding Qx for fear of a singleton king in partner’s hand, much less any longer diamond holding.

IOW’s, bridge is still (in spite of its recent worldwide cheating reverses) a game for gentlemen and ladies and despite my doing such things (and probably worse) in my youth (going way back) the word respect still reverberates while discussing and playing our great mind game and I, for one, would like to keep it that way.

However, since I probably am offering a minority view, will shut up, but thanks for bringing up this subject since others may find it worthwhile to chime in. Yes, there are other much more subtle situations (like overcalling a 3 spade bid with 3NT while holding AK10xxx(x) in a side suit and a spade stop, where I might lead the J from dummy friom Jxx, but that is simply bridge, not insulting, at least to me, in any way).

“nuff said, and probably already, too much”.

bobby wolffFebruary 15th, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Hi Shantanu,

When West overcalls, (either a suit or of course, a TO double) the odds switch to fairly heavy in favor (in this case) of no 2-2 diamond break (perhaps from about 50% from not bidding to around 33%, if) and since a random queen especially in the opening bidder’s suit is not, nor should not, be valued at the same level as a queen in another suit, the effect is for an experienced declarer to usually play his defensive partner for that card, if and when it becomes important, especially when critical.

Every hand seems to be different, but keep in mind, the more that the opponent’s bid before subsiding, the more likely other suits will not divide evenly.

bobby wolffFebruary 15th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you have captured a very old time bidding sequence, where values are shown immediately, even at the risk of losing valuable bidding space, in order to insure reaching at least game, but at the same time keeping possible slams available in the bidding mix.

Call it primitive, or anything else, but it did have something recommending it, surely including a mere raise of 3NT to 4NT to always being quantitative rather than than ace asking.

No matter, primitive or not, enjoying the play more than the bidding, the love of the game itself is more important than either of the above imposters.

IMO if 8 of the best worldwide players would square off against each other in a medium length bridge match (say 128 boards) it would be IMO unlikely that the new up-to-date bidding system would have more than a very small advantage of winning.

Seemingly in bridge the more things change the more they stay the same. Again only my opinion, but while basically retired, I still try and keep up with what is new and what is sometimes heralded as “cannot live without”, until it becomes passe’.

Mircea1February 15th, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Hi Bobby,

Following Shantanu’s question, is declarer’s life more difficult on a club lead? West’s hand could easily be:

5 3 2
A 9 5
Q 2
A Q 9 8 7

If I remember well, your advice was that lacking any other clues it is better on average to lead the forth best from your longest and strongest suit against NT.

bobby wolffFebruary 15th, 2017 at 11:09 pm

Hi Mircea1,

When the game of bridge, as we in the twenty first century can attest, came into being the opening lead advantage went to the defense.

However that opening thrust, based only on the bidding, was determined to be a mixed blessing since no cards were exposed until the lead was made.

Hence my later advice….if it goes 1NT P 3NT all pass 4th best leads at least become normally the percentage attempt to defeat the contract.


1. Having 5 to lead from instead of 4 is a significant advantage as is leading from sequences QJ10 an KQJ or modestly the QJ9 and the KQ10.

2. Of course avoiding what figures to be an opponent’s longest suit (or close) is another caveat worth considering.

3. Obviously the bidding might overrule the normal lead, and in these days of 5 card major opening bids together with short minor suit requirements also move up the list with things to think about.

4. In the absence of either positive nor negative inferences, most opening leaders should (must) enter a guessing game, whether he likes it or not.

5. Finally, yes, with your example hand, even though clubs were overcalled, I would still lead my 4th best (the 8) just in case the layout of the outstanding clubs were similar to the column hand.

6. “You pays your money, you takes your chances”.