Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

A knockdown argument: ’Tis but a word and a blow.

John Dryden

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


On this deal from last year’s Blue Ribbon Pairs, Dan Jacob reached a delicate three no-trump after a sporting raise by his partner. Then the world-class defenders had a couple of chances to beat him, none of which was easy. See what you think.

West contemplated doubling the final contract but eventually passed and led the spade ace, shifting to the heart seven in response to East’s suit-preference spade 10. East was hoping his side could establish a third heart trick before declarer knocked out his partner’s spade king.

East took his heart king and might have contended that West’s failure to make a negative double suggested declarer had 1=4=3=5 shape. If so, only a club exit would avoid handing declarer a finesse. On East’s actual choice of the heart jack, South won his heart queen and cashed four clubs, ending in dummy.

Declarer then advanced the diamond 10, covered all around. Next came the last club winner, forcing East to pitch his spade. The heart 10 exit saw East cash two tricks, but he finally had to concede the last two tricks to the split diamond tenace.

If East had passively shifted to the club 10 at trick three, declarer would have been unable to play effectively on both red suits. He probably would have crossed to dummy in clubs to play a heart to the jack and queen. East could then throw a diamond on the last club to avoid the strip-squeeze, or pitch a spade and exit with a diamond honor at trick 11.

Two clubs. For most partnerships, a one-no-trump advance to a take-out double promises some values. Here, you must bid two clubs and hope you are not doubled or called on to take another action. In my opinion, the range for the one no-trump call is 5-9 or so.


♠ Q J 3 2
 9 8
 10 9 2
♣ 9 8 7 5
South West North East
  1 ♠ Dbl. 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


A V Ramana RaoDecember 11th, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Hi Dear Mr Wolff
Had West trusted his partner and led his isuit i.e initial diamond, declarer certainly would have gone down . South can try a heart from dummy after running four clubs but East wins, leads spade ( too obvious by this time,) West wins and returns another diamond and it would be curtains

Iain ClimieDecember 11th, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Hi Bobby, AVRR,

Funny how West held the D43 alone today and yesterday and it was a potentially killing lead in each case.



bobbywolffDecember 11th, 2019 at 4:10 pm


Yes, and all you say is true. After all the held point count total was dead even, each side with 20 with the declaring side not having a suit worth more five tricks itself, a combination not lending itself to take 9 out of 13 tricks.

However West, because of the optimistic NS bidding, might have suspected partner to have a very light opener, and then led his 4th highest spade. That decision alone could have eventually enabled declarer to score up his ill gotten game, but IMO that simple raise by North, with next to nothing of value, did not deserve a successful fate.

bobbywolffDecember 11th, 2019 at 4:16 pm

Hi Iain,

Of course, and certain evidence of why all bridge players should tune into Aces on bridge to learn, when holding specifically the 43 of a suit to always lead from that magic combination and your worthy or not opponents will never make their contract.

A V Ramana RaoDecember 11th, 2019 at 4:48 pm

And always lead A of spades against opponent’s grandslam ( the famous Hamman quote if I am right)

Bryce KarlsonDecember 11th, 2019 at 5:02 pm

BWTA… vaguely similar situation: holding xxx, xx, xxxx, AKxx, Lho opens1C, partner 1H, RHO 2C passed back to P who doubled, probably ill advised but…there I was and took the plunge to 2NT as I had to bid. Disaster followed naturally. Any thoughts?

bobbywolffDecember 11th, 2019 at 6:22 pm


Since leading the right ace while defending a grand slam can be a problem, mainly because an opponent, not one’s partner, needs to do the signalling. Then, one must consider, in order to get the truth from that opponent, how much would it cost to bribe him?

Yes, it is true, during that moment in time, Valkenburg, Holland, 1980, since I was then his partner.

Time passes, but unlikely causes moments like that, not to be remembered. However, I am sad to report that if it were I on lead, while holding his cards, I would have also led the wrong ace.

Unlucky, he didn’t have three of them, giving him a better shot at still defeating that contract, if he indeed, led the wrong one.

Before others may correct me, perhaps while holding three aces, one should then lead a trump, but even that lead may not be foolproof (and I use that adjective objectively).

Iain ClimieDecember 12th, 2019 at 1:18 am

HI Bobby,

If it isn’t too painful could you give us the relevant hand and bidding so we can fall into the same trap or get lucky (it was tails, partner).



bobbywolffDecember 12th, 2019 at 2:06 am

Hi Iaiin,

While I do not know where my WC books are located, I can only give you an approximation of the bidding. while playing against the French:
Bob Paul Chemla Me
1D 2D (Majors) 2H (cue bid) 4Spades (NV with 5 spades to the queen and some minor heart honor)
5D 5S 6C P
6D 6S 7D Pass
Pass Dbl (all pass)

Bob’s Hand s. AKxxx, h. A109xx void c. xxx Or close. He led the Ace of hearts and Chemla was s. x, h. void d. honor 5th, c. AQJ10xxx.

Not exact, but pretty close. His cue bid was legitimate (bidding the void ahead of the singleton, but his 7 diamond bid was probably partly because he was afraid we would make 6 spades.

1980, Valkenburg, Holland, World Team Olympiad, Finals. We lost by less than this swing (by about 15 IMPs) and their team (Chemla, Mari, Lebel, Perron, Svarc, Soulet), played great and deserved to win. Our team, Soloway, I. Rubin, M. Passall, Hamilton, Hamman, Wolff)

bobbywolffDecember 12th, 2019 at 2:17 am

Hi again Iain,

In my haste I made a mess of the bidding meaning it went by Perron 1D, Bob 2D, Chemla 2H inferential cue bid, me 4S. 5D, 5S, 6C, P, 6D, 6S, 7D, P, P, Dbl. all pass.

A V Ramana RaoDecember 12th, 2019 at 6:03 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
My post certainly was not meant to rake up unpleasant memories but it appears that even most brilliant players ( Hamman certainly is) are not immune from the vagaries of fortune( It was a difficult guess indeed) and this also highlights the sportsmanship of the great player. I vaguely remember that after Hamman led the wrong Ace and France walked away with the Olympiad trophy, when a reporter asked him for a bridge advice at the banquet time, Hamman Quipped in a lighter vein : Always lead A of spades against opponents Grandslam. The gentlemanly game of Bridge thrives on people like You and Hamman for whom I have utmost respect
Best Regards

A V Ramana RaoDecember 12th, 2019 at 6:53 am

And I googled for the hand and found that Hamman as east Held
S: A K J 8 7 6
H: A 10 7 6 3 2
D: —
C: 2
S: Q 9 5 3 2
H : J 8 5 4
D: Q 64
North :
S: 10
H: K Q 9
D: A 10 9 8 3 2
C: K 9 8
S: 4
H: —
D: K J 7 5
C: A Q J 10 6 5 4 3
Quite a freaky hand which can result in a swing for either side

Iain ClimieDecember 12th, 2019 at 11:52 am

Hi Bobby, AVR,

Many thanks for that and I have the horrible feeling I’d have led the HA too. I also recall a USA vs Pakistan Bermuda Bowl final where the right lead vs 3N Redoubled gets it 5 or 6 off while the wrong lead lets it make with overtricks – all a question of finding partner’s Ace for a switch through declarer’s stopper in the opening leaders long suit. Of such hands are nightmares made!



bobbywolffDecember 12th, 2019 at 2:57 pm

Hi AVRR & Iain,

Thanks to both of you for your research and views on “incredible” hands which either were the difference in victory and defeat at the highest level, or at the very least, contributed greatly to making our sensational game not only the best mind game ever conceived, but one which also lends itself to psychological situations as well as occasionally just pure mental analysis based on identifiable evidence.

The USA vs Pakistan Bermuda Bowl final, referred to, occurred in 1981, Rye, NY, which in addition to Iain’s recollection of the above hand also was responsible for one of the few major scoring changes in bridge (in the last almost 100 years) where doubled non vulnerable undertricks were changed from 100, 300, 500, 700, 900 etc. to 100, 300, 500, 800, 1100, 1400, 1700, 2000, 2300 etc when Jeff Meckstroth took advantage of the original scoring system to go down ONLY ten when he bid seven spades over his opponents cold vulnerable seven hearts (2210) to go down only 10 tricks (1900) picking up 310 points (7 IMPS) when holding only Q10xxxx in spades and seven losers, taking three trump tricks. instead of what would be today, (2600) losing 9 IMPS.

BTW, IMO, if further scoring changes would also be correctly made, a slight increase to undoubled and doubled down tricks, at least to me, it would accomplish a major improvement of raising the risk element of brazenly entering the bidding (especially NV) in order to basically with less risk (because of our current 50-100, or 100-200 NV-V) and also encourage better defensive play to be learned in order to glean higher rewards for that area of bridge play,, leading to increasing the risk disadvantage in preempting with horrible suits (J10xxxx and such), while possibly taking away some of the excitement, it would allow more rewards to partnerships which would not be subject to some of those “louse preempts” (and certainly “fertilizer systems”) of dubious value except to sometimes not allow beautiful bdding sequences (all bids, made for the right reason, coming together to glean a perfect result).

However, it is deemed by a considerable some, just too dangerous to change since the original scoring system is so ingrained with players of random abilities the world over, possibly discouraging them from continuing to play the game, because of the complications of changing what they have been playing for so many years (IMO a good argument, but subject to very important likely superior judgment in order to make our game the best it can be).

Unless I find a way to improve my longevity, I may not be around in about the year 2500 to which I greatly prefer our off-the-charts greatest game to still being around, teaching our worldwide youngsters all about every day logic, numbers, learning code language, sportsmanlike and ethical behavior, general clear and positive thinking, as well as correctly learning to solve thorny problems, while always following all aspects of the both written and unwritten laws and rules of the game.