Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 30th, 2018

We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.

Karl Popper

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


In today’s deal, you appear to have nine tricks ready to run once clubs have been established. So what is the danger? Clearly, the defenders might be able to run the spades. If you win the spade king, then arrange to finesse in clubs, West may get in with the club king and lead a spade through dummy’s remaining 10-third of spades. Now East-West can cash out for down one.

So your target is to hold up or protect your spade stopper. You can accomplish this by the somewhat unnatural move of ducking the spade at trick one.

The defense will almost certainly clear spades. If East does not play a third and fourth round of the suit, you will have tricks to burn. But if he does, then after taking his spade trick, declarer should take the club finesse, confident that West will be out of spades when he gains the lead in clubs.

The holdup is correct because you know that it is only West (the safe hand) who can gain the lead in clubs. If the clubs honors were reversed, with the ace in dummy, winning the spade king at once would be correct, since East couldn’t play spades without setting up dummy’s 10. And if you are missing the club ace instead of the king, it is a blind guess as to whether to win or duck the first trick.

Strangely, if North declares three no-trump on a low spade lead, the winning play of ducking at trick one becomes even harder to find, doesn’t it?

Your partner rates to have four spades and four hearts, perhaps with a 4=4=2=3 pattern. So I can see the logic in leading a heart to try to set up tricks there. If you need to set up a slow spade winner, there may still be time, but this might be your last chance to lead hearts through declarer.


♠ Q 9 8 4
 8 5 4
 Q 7 3 2
♣ J 5
South West North East
  1 Dbl. Pass
1 ♠ Pass Pass 2 ♣
Pass Pass 2 ♠ Pass
Pass 3 ♣ 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


David WarheitAugust 13th, 2018 at 9:05 am

If N declares 3NT on a low S lead and S plays the K, the winning play of unblocking the J also becomes hard to find, doesn’t it?

Iain ClimieAugust 13th, 2018 at 9:19 am

Hi Bobby, David,

If East leads the S8 vs 3N by North, it is surely not from QJ98 so West is marked with Qx or Jx (or even a singleton honour). Ducking is still counter-intuitive but stopping to think at TRick 1 should find it.



Iain ClimieAugust 13th, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Hi again,

The above also assumes that East isn’t a comedian with (say) SAQ98 only and West hasn’t got the CK when declarer will have a hard luck story about a mad opponent perpetrating a Grosvenor coup. Still, dining out on hard luck stories is one reason I (and I suspect many others) prefer bridge to chess. There is still good luck in chess though e.g. if I make a mistake allowing my opponent a strong reply which he promptly misses, this is my good fortune.



Ken MooreAugust 13th, 2018 at 2:56 pm


At it’s base, this is a simple hold up play that is hidden by our impulse to make the KS good.

One of the things that you continually preach is the value of high spot cards. In this case, the spade 10 becomes crucial if spades split 4-3. You would lose only 3 spades (because of the 10) and the club king.

bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Hi David,


What you are suggesting is what keeps many otherwise well-suited players, with strong bridge playing aptitudes, from reaching their high levels, until they begin to understand
that strange and perplexing blocking propensity which appears often, while declaring and, this time, defending close contracts.

Therefore no very young bridge proteges, nor relatively consistent bridge learners to much higher levels in almost no time at all.

Of course, today, when and if East’s 4th highest spade (8) is led, it should be a warning (like today’s quot4e) to seek freedom of the majesty of success by unceremoniously jettisoning the jack. No doubt, the rule of eleven, should enable West’s necessary judgment.

Fancy words for fancy plays and always thanks for submitting your provocative puzzles.

bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you have a remarkable talent, like Victor Mollo (Russian) and Skippy (SJ) Simon (English) for imagining what seems to occur often to both in the menagerie and, of course British bridge clubs.

However we need to accept those non-percentage occurrences with good cheer in order to reach the greater good of winning our share. “Discretion being the better part of valor” applies mostly to war rather than to the bridge table where fate, though sometimes cruel (dedicated to Jim2), allows unlucky bridge players to live on for other opportunities to shine.

However, learning to positively wrestle with hard luck is fundamental for anyone who intends to rise to prominence in our great game.

Thanks Iain,. for reminding us what might occur. Forewarned is forearmed!

bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Hi Ken,

Yes, you are capturing bridge as it is, rather than the (excuse the expression) “slam dunk” some optimistic players seem to think it is.

No doubt that high intermediates (10s and 9s and sometimes even lower) play crucial roles in success or failure, with an added impetus for those cards together and, of course, added on the bottom to higher sequences.

However and what Culbertson, Goren and all the unsung heroes of earlier bridge learning gleaned early, there is no real intelligible way of giving those cards the recognition they sometimes earn, since often they become merely worthless pips.

While reading Darvas’ (Hungarian) great book, “Right Through the Pack” and at an early age to the reader, got the above message voiced loud and clear, together with the huge advantage more trump means, to whichever player were blessed with them.

Summing up, and at least to me, my appreciation of the early bridge giants (particularly the communicators) were not so much their selected opinions as to how to both judge and play our game, but rather just the unequaled thrill of being there, doing that, think for yourself, and above all, consider oneself lucky to have that opportunity.

Believe me, at least up to now in my lifetime, no one has come close to perfecting the method of what to bid, play or defend, but just exposing oneself to the real life logic of what seems to work best, applies to us all, player or not, and is ever present almost every day for everyone.

Bruce KarlsonAugust 13th, 2018 at 5:29 pm

Another example why wizards such As our host, like playing against their peers. If half th room is taking the club finessse which the bidding slightly favors, … TOCM will too often put the K under the A (lol) and Sylvia et al. then opine that their bidding needs to be more aggressive as the slam is there.

bruce karlsonAugust 13th, 2018 at 5:30 pm

If half the non wizard room.. sorry

bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2018 at 7:10 pm

Hii Bruce,

Of course, my first order of business is to thank you for your very kind words. However since Frank Morgan, the fake Wizard of Oz, and behind those drapes and all, doesn’t necessarily speak well of wizards in general, but nevertheless your meaningful intention is what counts.

And speaking of what counts, how about the dilemma of while playing matchpoints, whether to make that spectacular duck in spades at trick one, or not, then doing it, since our beautiful game itself basically demands such plays, and then finding that if we would have won the first trick, that the Jack of Diamonds is also with the Queen with East as well, resulting in taking all thirteen tricks (last one on a spade diamond squeeze) when cashing the hearts and clubs first winding in the dummy and then leading the last good club at trick nine then getting to see your worst enemy, sitting East, grimace when as he has to sign his own death certificate while holding the ace of spades and the QJx of diamonds, having to discard.

First an impossible choice as declarer and then, depending on that pick, either feeling awful if wrong and destined to pay off to Sylvia and all of her cronies, or rather instead only acknowledge to yourself that you are right and all the other players are wrong when you wind up with two or fewer matchpoints for making only ten tricks.

Where is bridge justice when you need it?

David WarheitAugust 13th, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Iain: Speaking of comedy, suppose E does have SAQ98 but his partner has CK. Now ducking the opening lead leads to down one. What could be funnier?

bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2018 at 12:45 am

Hi David,

No doubt, but most of the humorous instances in bridge are enjoyed more by the ones who benefit.

Nothing eye-opening about that.

Ken MooreAugust 14th, 2018 at 2:58 am


Most of what (little) I know about bridge came from Charle Goren – both books and his columns. I loved the Standard America system as the Precision and Sheinwold methods seemed artificial. If I begin to get serious again, I will need to update to modern bidding systems.

It must have been very rewarding to spend time with them. So much of the game is “getting the feel” of what to do.

DaveAugust 14th, 2018 at 5:56 am

In the “Lead with the Aces” section, aren’t you leading hearts through dummy, not declarer?

Iain ClimieAugust 14th, 2018 at 8:41 am

Hi David (W),

My point exactly, but only 2 out of 4 (or dummy at a pinch) are going to get the joke. I fell foul of something similar the other week when the auction started 1H by me (1S) X (P) 2C (2D) and I wound up in 3C. Clearly my LHO had 5-4 as a minimum in the pointed suits, and I played accordingly. No, LHO was 4-3-4-2, vulnerable with a pile of rubbish. I’ll know better next time but obviously they thought they’d paid their table money and hadn’t come out to pass.


bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2018 at 6:08 pm

Hi Ken,

Definitely Yes, getting a feel for whatever bidding system one adjusts to, is critical to a smooth and successful transition to what will govern your soon to be, topical bidding judgment.

No doubt that Charles Goren contributed greatly to America’s love for bridge during his heyday from the mid-1930’s up to 1960 and beyond. However, whatever bidding system which attracts you and your partner most should be the one selected, and at least IMO there is not that much to choose between most popular systems which are out there.

Only your enthusiasm and work ethic in getting it going will likely effect your interest and thus results.

Good luck to you in all your future bridge adventures.

bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Hi Dave,

Since partner made a TO double of a minor suit he should have length (at least 4) in both major suits. Add to that hearing the opening bidder’s partner later bid 2 clubs tends to verify partner being likely to hold heart strength over the opening bidder who figures to be longer in hearts (or at least no less than the same length) making the heart lead more likely to be useful than a spade to which both defenders had bid showing fewer hearts held by the eventual bidders.

Just a little bridge logic above, not always what one expects it to be, but still likely to be so.

bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Hi Iain, et ux,

Typical example of getting a desired invitation to a party, only to find out that rascals had invaded intent on poking fun over what was expected to be a disciplined exercise.

Perhaps disrespectful, maybe only provocative, but nevertheless somewhat irritating, and thoroughly unexpected. Figuring out whether to join in another’s frolic or just bowing out of being there, seem to be the only two choices left and whichever one taken should be never thought of as ugly and/or certainly not rude.

Good luck and proving that raining on another’s parade should never be a choice by the offending party whether bridge is the subject or not. Likely just grinning and bearing it, will get the kindest response and, more important for you, be the fastest way to restore the status quo.