Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 11th, 2019

Taste does not come by chance: It is a long and laborious task to acquire it.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

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


Manipulating a trump suit that includes the ace, queen and jack (with or without the 10 and nine) has many possibilities. Sometimes even the eight and seven play a role in determining best practice. Take a look at today’s deal.

With no violently bad breaks in the side suits, a four-heart contract appears to hinge on either the spade finesse or trumps playing for no loser. After a top club lead from West, there is no reason for declarer to delay going after trumps. What is his best approach to play the suit for no loser, in case the spade finesse fails?

As we have already seen this week, there are positions in which you should lead low to the 10, guarding against the singleton king with East. But that is not the case here; declarer must worry about the three small singletons with West as opposed to the singleton king with East.

To guard against the more likely case, declarer must first run the trump queen or jack from dummy. When it holds, he must repeat the finesse by leading the other top honor from the board. Leading to the 10 on the second round of trumps would leave East with a sure trump trick today.

When East covers on the second round of trumps, declarer wins in hand, discovering the bad break, then knocks out the diamond ace and wins the club return to pitch a spade from dummy. He can take a third trump finesse and lead the spade queen from hand, losing to the king, but virtually ensuring he can take the rest of the tricks.

It would be nice if a double here were for penalties, but it isn’t. A double here would be for take-out. (Switch the diamonds and spades to produce a minimum example.) Generally, low-level doubles — especially those early in the auction and under the trumps — are more for take-out than penalty. I guess I’d pass; defending against two diamonds undoubled looks like our best possible result.


♠ 8 7 5
 K 9 7 2
 A 9 6 2
♣ Q 6
South West North East
    1 ♣ Pass
1 2 Pass Pass

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Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2019 at 12:11 pm

To everyone,

Since I do not expect any, nor many, comments about today’s hand, following an exhaustive array of slightly different card combinations surrounding trumps and other suits. An example today being a luckier choice of opening lead being a small club rather than the jack, at least on this hand resulting in at least threatening declarer by not wasting a better end situation for the defense,

Which leads me to my reason for writing.
Oft times, blind opening leads sometimes hit the mark, with other choices not. That together with the delicate procedure of cue bidding, again on the way to bidding a good slam or possibly not.

To anyone who thinks the greatest honest partnerships ever in the world are on target anywhere close to 100% is about at least 20%+ too optimistic.

While our great game thrives on well schooled, many talented, very experienced, great bridge players in partnership, the game itself just doesn’t lend itself to such overwhelmingly good efforts, nailing the right contract more times than the above suggests.

Why? very simply the game with its limited code language (bidding and with its fierce aggressive opponents sometimes competing)) just cannot differentiate the many various exact holdings from each willing, but not always able partnership, to cover all the bases.

However, that sad fact sometimes is overcome by the blind opening lead by an opponent or a splendidly played hand by declarer, both in technique and for the right reason for guessing (from the evidence) where “key” cards might happen to be in those worthy opponent’s hands.

IOW, all partnerships, inexperienced, worthy or great are often tested with, of course, the better and best of them being correct more often than others.

Such is our game, different than the purer game of chess, but rather than using the word purer to imply better, my judgment tends to describe it, as both less exciting and testing, since the luck element in bridge often, over the course of time, makes a partnership stronger by handling adversity (always in the equation with bridge) and very much like life, a better and tougher challenge to overcome.

The above is just my thought, different than many others, but I think worth discussing, while at the same time, realizing that a down game or an unlucky slam or opening lead, doesn’t define that partnership’s talent nor ability, only some poisoned flowers or wicked witches on the way to the Emerald City (with of course a real and kind wizard in control, not Frank Morgan, behind drapes).

Iain ClimieJanuary 25th, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Hi Bobby,

BWTA is particularly frustrating as partner’s failure to raise hearts or to double for TO (or as a support double) strongly suggests he has something in diamonds plus a minimal heart fit. Back in the good / bad / indifferent old days, of course, double would be penalty here and East would have been twitching unhappily with 200 or 300 at pairs quite likely, and no risk of doubling 2D into game at teams either. Oh well, back to the modern world!

Point taken about opening leads, though. How often does a look at the hand records show that a seemingly madcap lead form Qx, Kx in a side suit (or even one of the opponents suits) could have been the killer. Perhaps this is the area that would most repay computer simulation and analysis; I believe that such efforts suggest that a spade is best when leading vs (say) a 12-14 NT passed out from 87x Q10xx K9xx Jx, at least at pairs. I’m leading a heart like the rest of the sheep in the flock!


Iain Climie

jim2January 25th, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Since this hand was clearly lifted from the 2014 LS Slush Cup Open Pairs, I might as well relate what happened at our table.

South, a notorious Hog-Wannabe, bid 3N (choice of games) at his second turn. Long-suffering North (who later confessed that he had hoped to hear a spade cue so that HE could bid NT first) simply passed in defeat.

Pard could have led JC, I guess, but I could hardly fault him terribly for tracking his 4th spade. (See our Dear Host’s lead remarks)

You probably know what happened next.

Scoring up another bottom was painful enough, but that rapturous snorting still resonates in my ears.

Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Hi Iain,

Truer words have not likely been spoken.

Yes, I remember when SJ (Skippy) Simon was teaching South to double for penalties even though that 4th diamond was either a 4th spade or a third club. Also, when defensive values are pretty well equally divided between the two hands it is both more fluid and usually effective since the defense is harder to be thrown in toward the end, sometimes costing the defense a crucial trick.

And what you say about opening leads is also true (at least IMO). In a vacuum and when the defensive hands are both balanced, it is consistently better to play 2nd and 4th to tricks than 1st and 3rd in the suits to which honors are held by the leader.

When the bridge trend setters changed those doubles from penalty to TO, it was in fact only because of what is thought to be frequency of occurrence. The good news is that, since table ethics have improved (at least it says here) loud doubles instead of soft do not at least seem to be passed more often for penalties.

In any event, thanks for your valid pointers. Just call your last sentence about sheep the reason: FLOCKED AGAIN!

Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2019 at 4:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes in LS, especially in matchpoint events, the cadre of NT bidders is never in short supply. Combined eight card major lovers restrict their major suit games rather than NT to when one player or the other has at least seven or possibly all eight himself.

Therefore the opening leads against these many 3NT transgressions need to be directly on target, making little difference who has the length of those long defensive suits, just making sure they get led.

In order to accomplish such a demand often requires certain uneven tempos by the weaker hand side. And when natural shivers pass unnoticed when slush is all around, “well Watson it is time to notice”.

The result therefore does not bode well for the very cold contract of 3NT, even when it is recommended. It takes fire to both warm the players up, and/or win bridge tournaments, especially the “Slush Cup Open Pairs”.

Joe1January 25th, 2019 at 11:54 pm

I for one say that this week’s “experiment” on the theme of 8 combined trump cards missing the king was a great success. I hope this teaching method for other combos is repeated in the future. Understanding subtle differences is probably best understood if taught in this manner. The next time I am faced with this problem, I hopefully will be less likely to err.

Bobby WolffJanuary 26th, 2019 at 1:36 am

Hi Joe1,

First of all, thanks for both your endorsement and especially your enthusiasm.

When first we heard of discussing (likely a more apt word in bridge than teaching) our game in a specialized way, the thought sort of went hollow. However, a little known but rather a disciplined instructor suggested the art of special plays which get one’s attention.

From there we categorized basic card combinations and presented them as a group, allowing a student of the game to concentrate on a single subject, not the enormous seeming strategy often necessary to get all the way there from here.

Perhaps some players reject, while others thrive, but to hear what you have said, no doubt gladdens the soul and just in itself, makes it all worth while.

I would be stringing many along if I said categorically that a large percentage of players are capable of bridge magic. However and no doubt, more certainly are, than are shown in the ultra positive bridge playing statistics.

Of course, there is no way one partnership can carry a team, and very difficult for even two world class partnerships to overcome a relative single novice and his results, while of course, playing against three very good, but possibly a step below the best, but able to hold their own most of the time.

The idea is always for everyone on a team to get better with age, whether that means gaining more discipline, adjusting to his own bridge system, or merely always being ready to play his or her best. Whatever it takes is the way to try and then the feeling which goes with, will, if just left alone, be enough to veritably climb mountains.

Most everyone who tries, then succeeds, will echo the above.

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