Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 15th, 2018

Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vexed
To add to golden numbers, golden numbers?

Thomas Dekker

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


Today’s deal came up in a recent Common Game duplicate, and while I don’t like South’s concealing his spades, the par contract was reached anyway.

As West, with a blind opening lead, I selected the club eight. Declarer won with dummy’s king and led a spade to the jack and king. Had the jack held, would leading a spade back to the nine have been the right way to go? I’m not sure, but in any event, after winning the spade king, I played a second club. South now cashed the diamond ace-queen, then took the two top spades. I discarded a heart, and declarer cashed all the winners, pitching his spade on the 13th diamond, then guessed the heart queen wrong for down one.

While alternative plays in spades would have generated three tricks, declarer’s line in that suit was perfectly reasonable. It certainly feels right to unblock the spade queen and diamond ace-queen in case the diamond jack or spade 10 falls doubleton, then to cash the remaining spade honor and run diamonds.

But as the last diamond is cashed, East is known to have started with no more than three hearts, West at least four. On purely mathematical grounds, declarer should play West for the heart queen; but there is more to it than that. Consider West’s blind Opening Lead: If West had the heart queen, he would always lead a club. But if he had four or more small hearts, might he not have led a heart instead of a club? So it is even more likely that he has the heart queen.

The only person who has actually shown clubs at this table is East, not your partner. Your partner may have three or four clubs, but leading a club is more likely to cost a trick than gain one, in my opinion. The spade jack looks like a relatively safe lead to me.


♠ J 10 5
 J 5 3
 J 8 3 2
♣ Q 5 2
South West North East
    1 ♣ 1 NT
Pass 2 NT 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


Bill CubleyOctober 29th, 2018 at 4:41 pm


The logic in finding the heart queen is wonderful. Why a club was lead instead of a small heart from xxxx is deeper than this old card pusher usually thinks.

bobbywolffOctober 29th, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Hi Bill,

The thought process which occurs is similar to real detective work which becomes integral to so-called high level bridge, directly so in declarer play and on defense.

Why a specific defender led what he did, or switched suits later, plus the tempo in how long he took to do so. In addition and IMO extremely important to success, a top level player is blessed to begin to get an insight to what his opponents are inclined to do and also their tells or not about their tempo breaks, replete with phony moves, to which they will be trying to throw their adversary (in this case, you) off track.

These mind battles, at least to me, are the essence of the high level game, and the ones who win the most become, in my judgment the best among the best players around.

First, of course, one needs to know what and how an expert thinks, first before his lead but after hearing the bidding, and then his tempo as the play develops. To me, it is not unethical to fight fire with fire, in trying to throw him off, but it is, of course unethical to help partner defend by mannerisms rather than cards played.

One thing likely for sure and that is being sorry that you asked.

Of course today’s hand is an offshoot of my answer, pertaining to visually from the declarer of reconstructing the opponents hands and then, and only then, making the crucial decision.

To say that these mind battles are not challenging is not at all realistic, since they are the reasons that our game, at least IMO, is far and away the greatest mind game ever constructed. The offshoot, of course, in today’s world bridge environment is that burning cheaters at the stake is not strong enough punishment.

Take That, not you, but bridge cheats!!!

jim2October 29th, 2018 at 7:40 pm

I think at the table I would have won the lead in hand and led low towards the QS. This appears to gain when West has singleton or doubleton KS.

If KS is with East and it is covered, I also lose the chance to get a third trick if spades are 3-3. I would have 2S + 2H + 3D + 3C = 10 and need two tricks in the red suits. Thus, I think I’d need to guess right twice.

Guessing wrong only loses one trick, but hard to see how I get the two I need. I might have to concede a spade (hoping for 3-3) then try top diamonds and finesse hearts.

I still think the low spade to QS may be better, but my head is starting to hurt.

Michael BeyroutiOctober 29th, 2018 at 9:15 pm

Jim2, for once TOCM acted in your favor. The SK is with your worthy LHO, he takes it and you have an easy 12 tricks. No more head hurt.

Bobby WolffOctober 29th, 2018 at 11:13 pm

Hi Jim2 & Michael,

You both might be surprised to see how many good West players would duck once declarer leads a low one toward Q9x hoping declarer may see fit to play the 9. However that would occur more often if the contract is only 3NT and the game is IMPs.

The defensive thought behind that bold play by West is that, by playing the king, it must make the contract secure for declarer, otherwise he likely would have started the spades from North.

By ducking the Kx, all declarers (well, most) would suspect the king to lie over the queen so possibly change plans and play for other possible winning spade distributions.

Of course while defending against only 3NT partner may have the ace causing you to make the mistake by rising and therefore catching two low cards instead of one of value.

No doubt when strength plays against strength, bridge benefits, since many hands, instead of just a few, have both declarer and defensive challenges and this card combination may result in one of them.

Finally, I tend to at least come close to agreeing with both of you about leading low to the queen. However, if an expert West is occupying that seat, I am only guessing which line is superior, since, and no doubt, it is difficult to factor in the difference top level defense will enter into the choice.

jim2October 30th, 2018 at 11:11 am

I just realized I was less than clear in my first post.

When I said:

If KS is with East and it is covered, I also lose the chance to get a third trick if spades are 3-3. I would have 2S + 2H + 3D + 3C = 10 and need two tricks in the red suits. Thus, I think I’d need to guess right twice.

I was referring to leading the QS from Board and it getting covered by the KS, and declarer winning AS. In that scenario, declarer has avoided an early spade loser, but not gained a trick not already there by force. Declarer would have to duck the second spade to have a chance at 3-3 spades to have a third spade trick. In other words, I do not see how it gains to have the spade finesse “win.” Thus, why not hope it is “offside” and gain some thereby?

Bobby WolffOctober 30th, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for the “heads up”, but I think I knew what you meant the first time and basically either agreed, or if not 100%, only because my head also hurt and didn’t want to just attempt to try and figure the obscure real percentages.

No doubt, although unable to mathematically confirm, leading low to the queen instead of the queen off the dummy is to me, clearly superior. If any of the bridge mathematicians are out there and at least think they know whether my statement is true or false, let us hear from you.