Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 17th, 2019

In a club duplicate, with both sides non-vulnerable, you hold ♠ A-K-4,  K-5,  J-8-2, ♣ A-K-10-7-4. You open one club in second seat, and your left-hand opponent bids three diamonds, passed back to you. What do you bid?

Put to It, Duluth, Minn.

While passing might work, I’m inclined to bid — since surely our side has more than half the deck! Will I gamble with a bid of three no-trump, or double and hope something good happens? I’ll try the latter, assuming that my left-hand opponent is relatively unlikely to have solid diamonds for his pre-emptive call, but I wouldn’t want to wager much cash on my decision.

After a pre-empt of three diamonds to your left and a double from partner, what do you bid with ♠ 10-4,  K-J-9-7,  Q-9, ♣ Q-J-9-8-2 when your right-hand opponent passes? What action do you take if your right-hand opponent raises to four diamonds? Would doubling be appropriate?

Howard the Stuck, Fayetteville, N.C,

I’d bid four hearts if my RHO passes, but would double four diamonds, initially takeout for the majors. A four heart call would also be possible of course, but if you are facing a doubleton diamond or longer, maybe you will get richer defending — or defending will be your only way to go plus. You can convert a four spade response to five clubs, perhaps suggesting this pattern.

When you have a balanced hand in the 15-17 range with a five-card major suit, when should you open the suit and when should you open one no-trump? Does any factor such as position or quality of the suit affect the decision?

On the Horns, Anchorage, Alaska

It is simplest to upgrade any 17-count with a five-card major, unless the suit has no top honor or some significant devaluing factor such as a doubleton double-honor. With 16, always open one no-trump unless your honor structure is really skewed. With a strong five-card major in an average 15-count, you should consider opening the suit.

My partner wants me to hold opening values to overcall when we are vulnerable. I agree with that when overcalling at the two-level, but not at the one-level, as it seems to me that too many opportunities would be lost. Should there also be a minimum suit quality requirement for a one-level action?

Barney Bridge, Greenwich, Conn.

Overcalls should focus primarily on offensive strength; hence at the two-level, we require both tricks and a long suit. Conversely, at the one-level, there is virtually no 9-count with a good five-carder that I wouldn’t overcall with facing a passed hand. Additionally, the more space a one-level overcall consumes, the more latitude you have to intervene.

My wife and I used to play a lot of bridge before I had to earn a living and raise a family. Now that we are empty nesters, can you recommend a book or two to get us back into the swing of modern bidding?

Back to It, Midland, Mich.

Eric Rodwell and Audrey Grant’s book on two-over-one might be set at the right level. “25 Bridge Conventions” by Seagram and Smith could also be helpful. For a more entertaining read, you cannot beat Eddie Kantar, and Mike Lawrence is always educational and informative.

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.
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Tim QuigleyDecember 2nd, 2019 at 3:23 am

Dear Mr. Wolff: What are your thoughts on leading an unsupported ace against a slam in a suit? In a recent game, the eventual declarer at six spades had made a control bid suggesting either a void or singleton in clubs. I had five clubs to the ace but did not lead the ace. My partner was critical, taking the position that you should always lead an ace against a slam.

Iain ClimieDecember 2nd, 2019 at 10:16 am

HI Tim,

I think your partner is being wise after the event. If you’d led the Ace, seen it ruffed and dummy had (say) KQxx in that suit, I think there might have been a squawk of “didn’t you listen to the bidding?” Bobby will give you a better answer but “it depends” is a fair assessment. If the opponents look to have tricks to burn (e.g. with a good side suit after 1S 3D 3S 4S 4N etc) then cashing an Ace may well be right. If they appear to be more balanced or have little to spare then picking up 2 small cards with your opening lead may not be the best choice.



Bobby WolffDecember 2nd, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Hi Tim and Iain,

Your experience, your partner’s admonition, Iain’s specific discussion, your choice and, of course the ultimate result should all be factored in, keeping in mind no one is close to 100% correct (bridge never allows that) but not named other factors could also be present.

First of all, the game you were playing, matchpoints or IMPs and rubber bridge need to be factored in and as Iain mentioned, sometimes, when the field is good in matchpoints if an ace is not led, the declarer may score his slam up, with a crucial overtrick, momentous in that form of scoring, but, most times, not even to be a tiny consideration at the other games.

However, some kind of knowledge about your opponents might help, whether they are perhaps on thin ground (then as Iain mentioned you will catch small cards from them, sometimes a slam changing result, on your ace lead instead of waiting to a more constructive defensive time, to fashion your ace).

John Brown, a famous long ago English bridge author once said that if a very average player would always get off to the right opening lead as a defender he would win EVERY bridge world championship. Perhaps, I thought it to be a significant exaggeration at the time, but since, 60+ years later, I now agree with him.

IOW, I, myself do not have enough information to risk an important answer to your very good challenge, not knowing the exact hands, the specific bidding and any knowledge of those opponents. However, perhaps unknown to me, that excuse may just be a weakness of mine, but since opening leads are a bit like “blind flying” I’ll let others give the answer, since all generalizations are false, including this one.

Good luck and thanks for your question and more so, your interest in such an important subject.