Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 23rd, 2018

By wire and wireless, in a score of bad translations,
They give their simple message to the world of man.

W.H. Auden

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


A regular reader of this column is Jacques Guertin, formerly of Canada, but now a resident of California. He asked me how to solve a specific defensive problem, but to properly address it for my readers, I will have to run two deals that appear very similar at first glance.

Let’s look at the possibly simpler of the two examples and postulate that West leads the spade six against three no-trump. Declarer wins the queen as East follows with his lowest spade, discouraging and specifically denying possession of the jack (as well as the ace and king, of course). Now declarer plays the club king, West giving count with the two. When dummy has no entries, West must let East know how many clubs he has, so that East will hold his ace until the right moment.

When, as here, West gives count at his first turn, he must use his second card as suit preference. So when he follows with the club nine (clearly the higher of his remaining clubs) on the second round of clubs, East knows to continue with spades to try to run that suit on defense rather than shifting to diamonds.

Having raised the issue of signaling on defense, it seems like a good moment to discuss the Smith Echo, a defensive signal against no-trump. As we shall see tomorrow, the defenders may be able to signal like or dislike about the opening lead by how they follow to declarer’s lead. Specifically, the opening leader can suggest a shift, and third hand can encourage the opening lead. More on this tomorrow.

Declarer will be weak with four or five spades, dummy is likely to put down a strong 3=1=5=4. My instincts are to try to get clubs going before declarer builds discards from the diamond suit to neutralize my trump tricks. I would lead a count club card, the three, since anything else might be too hard for my partner to read.


♠ J 8 7 4
 A Q 5 2
 9 2
♣ 8 6 3
South West North East
  1 Pass 1 ♠
Pass 2 ♣ Pass 2
Pass 2 ♠ All 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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieMay 7th, 2018 at 10:27 am

Hi Bobby,

Another way to address this was Attitude leads vs NT which seem to have gone out of fashion. From AJ9xx you’d lead lowest but witb ( say) J9632 you’d probably lead the 6. Any thoughts on whether these were worthwhile?



bobbywolffMay 7th, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, of course, attitude leads vs. 4th highest leads have their merits, although depending on knowledge (too often to be determined randomly) by what turns out to be slightly important all the way to critical for 3rd seat to either at trick one or sometimes later, judge.

Delving deeper, 4th best sometimes allows the 3rd seat defender to know which suit to either continue or whether to switch to another suit, in catering to the overall goal of defeating the contract (much more often at IMP or rubber bridge scoring) or to sometimes only restrict overtrick(s) instead while crucially defending at matchpoints where they are so important.

Furthermore, an artificial duck doesn’t usually come down from the ceiling to beforehand inform the opening leader what to lead, like it sometimes did on Groucho Marx’s famous TV show, (not involved with bridge) “You Bet Your Life” many years ago.

Therefore, and very bridge like, an enthusiastic partnership must decide which method to play (as you alluded to) before a problem, more easily solved with one or the other method used, in an untimely opportunity of “I am either glad to be playing attitude or 4th best, as the case may be”.

4th best emphasizes the sometimes important “rule of eleven” rather than the simpler (but sometimes more effective) good or not so, strength of my overall holding, then allowing a greater insight for partner to decide what to return.

Both are very decent ways to play, with the built in problem, of before looking at the defensive cards deciding which method to rely on.

Finally, being an old dog, while not experiencing enough new tricks, I still prefer 4th best, but one opinion does not a winner make. but only to conclude: In order for 4th best to work, that “rule of eleven” needs to be fully understood. Simply put, the third seat player looks at his own hand and sees the dummy (after the lead from partner). He then adds up the cards he can see in dummy and in his own hand that are higher than partner’s lead. Then, after subtracting that number from 11 (whatever that number becomes) are the number of cards the unseen declarer has started with which are also higher than the specific opening lead,

Sometimes it matters not, other times it slightly helps and in a few episodes it becomes critical by allowing 3rd chair to then know what to do on defense to defeat the hand (or, at least take more trick(s)) while defending). However I will leave it up to you or others to glorify leading low from strength and not so much from middle type spot cards.

However, the difficult downside, sometimes evident while playing our beautiful game, is often lurking, ready to turn carefully gathered information into not so good results, by still having to use winning judgment (in addition to useful information) to merely succeed.

Please excuse this too long rant, but often to stop short is not doing a favor to those with high aspirations.

Iain ClimieMay 7th, 2018 at 3:02 pm

HI Bobby,

Many thanks for that, much appreciated. Next time a major competition comes round on BBO and there is the chance to look at top pairs cards, I think a look at their lead styles might be educational.



bobbywolffMay 7th, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Hi Iain,

Exactly, however if perfection is attempted (and, in truth rarely achieved), except by both strong determination and often knowledge of particular players tendencies one, IMO, has to follow the choice(s) of players more attuned to styles similar to the partnership preferences since there are significant differences between partnerships who want every i dotted and t crossed, as against those
who are not so inclined, almost always to keep it as simple as possible.

Bill CubleyMay 7th, 2018 at 6:11 pm


This is off point but it set a personal record for me on trump support.
I held S Axxx H AKxx D — C Kxxxx. By now you have guessed the trump suit.

The auction was Partner opened 5 Diamonds nv pass to me. I thought 3 quick tricks were adequate support so I raised to 6 diamonds with my void.

Now the rest of the story as Paul Harvey often said. The king of spades was led. Partner won the ace, cashed the high hearts and led a spade to her queen! Yes it was ruffed. But the guy with Jxxx of trump had just allowed the contract to make. We got most of the matchpoints.

bobbywolffMay 7th, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Hi Bill,

While I would not have raised to 6, simply because partner may not have (and obviously did not) a suit worthy of such a bid, he meant it, before hearing from you, to be a significant preempt and keep the opponent’s from bidding something he thought they might make, but, of course (because of your hand and not having passed originally) could not,

However a Paul Harvey type of “Rest of the Story” always had a catchy ending, provoking 2nd guessing.

Here the second guessing could only mean, “all of us, if winning the duplicate was our goal, would strongly prefer to play against those opponents”

Most of the matchpoints is not enough to score up a small slam with those distributions at large. Heck, I wouldn’t even settle for a clear top, showing my greed for wanting more, but giving away my normal uncontrolled optimism.