Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, July 22nd, 2019

It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the windows of a castle, and to see the battle and the adventures thereof below.

Francis Bacon

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


Last summer, the U.S. National tournament was held in Atlanta. The major event at the championships was the Spingold Trophy. This is a knockout tournament featuring the best teams from around the world. The top 16 are typically as strong as a major world championship, with teams from every corner of the world assembled.

In the second round of that event, Bruce Rogoff was faced with a touch-and-go grand slam on this deal. He and Alex Ornstein were playing against John Hurd and Joel Wooldridge.

The slightly sporting jump to five no-trump by Ornstein was the grand slam force, asking Rogoff to bid seven with two of the top three trump honors. Rogoff may have had a minimum opening bid, but he wasn’t being asked if he had extras.

When Hurd led the deceptive club jack, Rogoff gave serious thought to letting it run to his king. Eventually, he decided against risking the embarrassment of going down in a laydown grand slam at trick one. So he ruffed the club, played the spade ace and spade king, ruffed a spade high, then crossed to a top trump and ruffed the fourth spade high. That let him draw the trumps, reaching a four-card ending where Wooldridge had three hearts and the club ace.

The play of the last spade squeezed Wooldridge in hearts and clubs. He discarded his club ace to keep hearts protected, and declarer had his 13th trick in the form of the club king.

Since your partner clearly has a smattering of values but didn’t act, he probably has no more than two spades, so leading a spade feels more likely to cost a trick than set up the suit. Your choice seems to be whether to go passive with a heart or active with the lead of a diamond – in which case the jack might unblock the suit. I would go passive by leading the heart nine.


♠ A 10 6 3 2
 9 8
 K J 2
♣ 10 5 2
South West North East
    Pass 1 ♣
1 ♠ Dbl. Pass 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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieAugust 5th, 2019 at 9:47 am

Hi Bobby,

Unfortunate for East who probably assumed that West had led from CKJ10xxxx when he can afford to let the CA go. I suppose it is possible that West is up to no good with AJ10xxx(x) given that North clearly has a void club, but what happens on the standard lead of a trump? To what extent (if any) does this mess up the timing. There is always the option of the H finesse right until the end although that would suggest West has a 4-3-0-6 shape which seems odds against. If he only has Qx, the column line works anyway.

Good point on LWTA – the oppo have 23-24 pts, so partner has values and it seems best to let them do their own work; any time I try the DJ or similar in such a position, dummy has A9xx and declarer Q10x or similar.



Jeff SAugust 5th, 2019 at 2:47 pm

Hi Iain,

I usually get this stuff wrong, but if West leads a trump – take it in dummy, lead three spades as before trumping the third one high. Now, lead a club and trump it. Aren’t we now back to the column line?


Iain ClimieAugust 5th, 2019 at 4:17 pm

Hi Jeff,

Looks like it; I didn’t give the line too much thought this morning I must admit. Last time I tried a “clever” lead against a grand slam I didn’t lead a trump but the unbid suit (specifically the 9) from CK9x. It went round to declarer’s CAQJ10xx which he hadn’t mentioned in the bidding (the auction started 1S 2H) but mercifully dummy had a singleton club which meant the clubs could be ruffed out anyway. Still stung, though!



bobbywolffAugust 5th, 2019 at 5:57 pm

Hi Iain & Jeff S,

While I have always been a fan of bids like 5NT (a very long time ago grand slam force, dating back to the days of Ely Culbertson, simply asking for two of the three top honors of a determined or inferred trump suit in partner’s hand, though, in this case, risking his having neither).

Reason being that while intending to find more about partner’s opening bid, it often is virtually impossible to obtain (such as three little spades with no discard available) so, by being immediately brash (no further reliable information to the opponents) partner may get lucky and either get a favorable lead, or, at the very least, make their discarding much more troublesome, sometimes allowing an almost impossible make to occur. Here something in between did happen, as East could have unprotected his queen of hearts, but perhaps declarer may not then have “guessed it”.

While, no doubt, the auction made this hand quite exciting and, of course, in a crucial IMP match (or when money is at stake at rubber bridge) the less those wily opponents are granted by more intelligent bidding, may make an enormous and therefore, a most favorable result.

Add the above to what a veteran top bridge player needs to know about our chosen game, it hardly ever is a game of aces and cinches, thus turning it into an episode of “all’s fair in love, war and bridge” can add to the excitement, eg. as long as proper bridge ethics are maintained.

Then, also sometimes it becomes psychology, not just technical ability, which grabs victory from the jaws of defeat (or unfortunately too often, the opposite).

In any event it is fun to write about and hopefully it is also pleasant to read and better yet, to discuss with those who enjoy doing so if, of course. the reader was not the victim.

Brandon TaylorAugust 6th, 2019 at 12:55 am

Hi Bobby,

I have a couple of plausible calls I can make with this hand and the bidding thus far:
C A K Q 10 4
D 6
H K Q 9 7 3 2
S 4

North: Pass
East: 1 Diamond
South: ???

One possibility is a takeout double, even though I am equally short in spades as diamonds, but there’s also 3 hearts. Which way should I go with this?

bobbywolffAugust 7th, 2019 at 3:28 am

Hi Brandon,

And welcome to Aces on Bridge.

Believe it or not, I think that on balance, there is only one call to make and that is a simple 1 heart.

Because of your distribution and only 14 hcps there will very likely be at least one more bid, before it gets back to you, and likely more than one. Of course, unless you get immediately supported in hearts (to which you will bid at least game) you will arrive at 4 hearts with your opponents unaware of your strength, making them subject to err, often in the form of a double.

A conventional alternative would be an immediate jump to 2NT which almost all experienced players is a decent distributional hand plus, of course, the two lowest unbid suits (hearts and clubs) to which your hand fits perfectly.

However, in spite of that perfection, I think it necessary to not clarify your strength to the opponents so that they will likely double you in a later round of bidding (to which you should make at least 10 tricks. The poker element in bridge is much greater than others may think.

Of course, nothing is certain, but the above is simply my choice of handling this hand with nothing even remotely close to that choice.

Good luck to you and feel free to chime into our site any time which suits your convenience.