Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 8th, 2019

Our ship of state, which recent storms have threatened to destroy, has come safely to harbor at last.


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

*Two key-cards, no trump queen


All the deals this week have something in common. Each includes the theme that declarer has to tackle a suit in which he has the ace, king and jack. With holdings of this sort, there are multiple issues that might arise. You may need to keep one defender off lead (a concept generally summed up as “avoidance”). Alternatively, you may simply need to maximize your trick potential. Finally, as in today’s deal, you may be looking at a safety play, where you are prepared to invest a trick in order to ensure that you do not lose two.

When the opponents lead the diamond 10 against your club slam, you count three tricks in diamonds, bringing your total outside the trump suit to nine tricks. So you need only three club tricks to make your slam — in other words, the focus should be on avoiding two trump losers. (It’s true that if both clubs and spades fail to break, you might not have 12 top tricks, but a 4-1 trump break is far more likely than a combination of foul splits.)

The simplest route to making your slam is to win the diamond lead cheaply in hand and avoid the knee-jerk reaction of leading a club to the ace and a club back toward the king-jack. Instead, cash the club king and play toward the ace-nine, planning to put in the nine if West follows with a small card. If West plays the 10 or queen, you take the trick; but if he shows out, you win the ace and lead toward your jack. After that, it is smooth sailing.

When declarer is likely to have four cards in the suit you lead, as would be the case for an attack on clubs here, a low card is better than leading from a sequence. Imagine partner with the doubleton ace of clubs and declarer with the guarded king, for example.


♠ J 8 7 2
 10 4
 K 7 5
♣ Q J 3 2
South West North East
  1 Pass 1
Pass 1 ♠ Pass 1 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieApril 22nd, 2019 at 9:20 am

Hi Bobby,

You could have mentioned another minor possibility with this trump holding. If South is in 7C (PARTNER – !!!, even if South manages only to think it, not say it), there is an extra chance play which is counter-intuitive. Declarer needs to take a first round club finesse (or try to). If clubs are 3-2 and the queen is onside, it makes no difference but very occasionally East will have CQ alone when West’s 108xx gets caught.

Again the column today is a lovely example of the need to do homework so as not to have to waste effort at the table.



jim2April 22nd, 2019 at 11:39 am

This column features a well-known safety play, but one that would be tough to invent at the table.

That is, (as Iain Climie posted) it is one of the things players should know well enough to be able to recognize.

It is analogous in chess to knowing book openings and defenses.

Michael BeyroutiApril 22nd, 2019 at 11:41 am

Can’t help but think “poor Jim2″…

jim2April 22nd, 2019 at 11:43 am

In LWTA, I would lead the 10H.

West had two chances to raise and did not. East had a chance to rebid it, and did not.

South holds only two – suggesting strongly that pard has five or more – and South has at least one more very likely entry to be able to lead them a second time.

Michael BeyroutiApril 22nd, 2019 at 11:46 am

Sorry Jim2, our posts appeared almost simultaneously.
I was not referring to your comment. I was referring to TOCM.

David WarheitApril 22nd, 2019 at 1:09 pm

If N should have the C8 instead of the C9, the correct line of play is more difficult to see, but it’s the same, being necessary if E has singleton 9 or 10.

bobbywolffApril 22nd, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Hi Iain, Jim2, Michael and David,

Good bridge and learning how to be both fierce and competitive is often a team effort, and AOB is blessed with many “real experts”. All four of the above posters representing today’s example.

First, Iain suggests doing one’s homework, eg, reading about standard safety plays (club combination while playing a small slam and after the favorable opening lead being able to safety play the trump suit) and even an additional tip (leading the first club from the dummy), if instead playing a club grand slam while needing good luck, but not quite as much.

Next, Jim2 comparing learning standard safety plays in bridge with book openings in chess in order to quickly know what becomes necessary on today’s hand in bridge by making a well enough known safety play in trump together with a different lead,suggested by him, with the LWTA and, at least in his opinion for the reader to ponder, and a very good reason to do so.

Third, sympathy for Jim2 from Michael and all others who feel victimized by TOCM TM (theory of card migration which would likely cause spades to be 5-1 and/or the diamond finesse offside with and of course, no diamond lead. That thought may cause others to at least attempt to think how to play the hand with those against the odds break.

Finally, David’s significant contribution as to the additional club holding the defense may possess which will then lead to more confidence in wanting to dig deeper to better understand possible card combinations, an attribute necessary to mightily achieve.

Bridge is definitely not subject to a chef’s lament of “too many cooks in the kitchen” since the possibilities never cease to be immense, especially when a delicate hand appears which sometimes needs very high level care to succeed.

Finally, yes, the above is a commercial for someone, high up in our bridge organization to initiate a concerted effort to get our National Educational Department (in the USA) to at least attempt to get bridge in our public school curriculum like China has done plus eleven countries in Europe have also followed suit by doing so and all to rave notices by both the teachers and students, and to cap it off, even more so by the parents of those students.

Thank you for listening, assuming you have made it this far.

BobApril 22nd, 2019 at 3:11 pm

The last time I used this safety play, they found their ruff. Down 1.


jim2April 22nd, 2019 at 3:36 pm

On TOCM ™, I have long supposed there must be some player with consistently amazing good luck who is unknowingly my other half of the “it all balances out” paradigm.

Victor Mollo’s Karapet had the Rueful Rabbit. I oft wonder who that individual is for me …

Bobby WolffApril 22nd, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Although my knowledge of fictional, though popular characters, is more limited than others may suspect. my vote to whom that person may be would be Easley R Blackwood’s, Mr. Dale character in Bridge Humanics who, although not brilliant seemed always to choose the right line of play, get off to the winning opening lead, and make trash overcalls which seemed to have a positive effect in keeping the opponents out of the right final contract.

He also, unlike again Victor Mollo’s Hideous Hog, was instead well liked, always getting the best effort from partner, characteristics which might even allow you to win a time or two, defying the horrible luck which always has shadowed you.

In truth, with your overall super expert bridge knowledge, could be a sensational bridge teacher, unless your TOCM TM might force on you to receive the wrong address to where the bridge lesson was to take place.

In any event you are a major factor in the bridge world and invaluable for showing up every year at the Slush Bridge Tournament in Lower Slobbovia, at least attempting to make those extraordinary “cold” contracts.

Bob LiptonApril 22nd, 2019 at 8:58 pm

In today’s LTWA, I agree with jim2 — always a dangerous thing — for much the same reasons. The contracting side has between 5 and 8 trumps — declarer has 4 or 5, opener has 1,2, or 3, leaving partner with an average of 5 hearts. While the club 2 is the normal 4th-from-longest-and-strongest lead, my partners know that I like to try to find their suit, and my honors are likely to be poorly placed for getting back in.

As for today’s safety play, I know it and use it at money or IMPs, although TOCM always winds up allowing opponents to find and execute their 3rd round ruffs at lower levels. Were I to play this one, East would have the the CQ doubleton and 7 diamonds and I would have to explain to partner and any team mates why the opponents who have just won $101 or 14 IMPs are idiots.

Bob LiptonApril 22nd, 2019 at 9:02 pm

Excuse me. It would be only $94. Somehow, I don’t think the $7 would make that much difference.


TedApril 23rd, 2019 at 12:16 am

I also agree with Jim2 that partner likely has 5 Hearts and initially thought to lead the H10, but then I wondered why partner with probably 10-12 HCP didn’t overcall the 1D bid. I wouldn’t be shocked if declarer turned out to be 3415 (though he might have passed 1S then). Several hours later, I still haven’t lead.

Bobby WolffApril 23rd, 2019 at 12:47 am

Hi Bob & Ted,

Now Bob, you know why the general caveat after results are in, is to let the winner explain. Since he is the proud possessor of either a pocket full of money or IMPs, it seems only fitting and it takes the losing focus away from you.

And Ted, even though several hours have passed since the last played card was quitted, you can continue thinking and set a record, or go ahead and play then, depending on the result, let it be known that it takes you that long to be thought of as finally getting it right or if not, your partner asking you, When did you learn to play bridge? I know it was today, but what time today?