Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 11th, 2015

When one plays Drury is there not the risk of losing the club suit as a passed hand? If so, how does one combat that?

Passed Over, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Drury (in which the passed hand response of two clubs to a major-suit opening, showing a maximum pass, and a fit) keeps you low on occasions, and lets you explore for the right game efficiently. You minimize the risk you describe if you stretch to open one club with 11 points and six clubs in first or second chair. With fewer points, pass, then respond one no-trump (or three clubs to show real clubs and no major-suit fit, if necessary).

I know this sounds like a very basic question, but to preempt do I open two or three? I realize that to preempt in clubs I would have to say three, but for the other suits is a preempt bid at the two- or three-level?

Learning Fast, San Antonio, Texas

Please do not apologize for asking questions. The game is hard enough, and if you cannot learn by asking, it is even harder. Both calls are preempts, showing less than opening values; two-level bids show six, three-level bids show seven-card suits.

I never know what to do when partner opens and I have a four-card major with a five-card minor, and 10 points or more. Holding ♠ K-10-4-3,  J-5,  K-6, ♣ A-10-6-4-3, what should I bid in response to an opening bid of one diamond or one heart?

Humble Pie, Madison, Wis.

With four spades and a five-card minor, one tends to bid the major if the hand is not worth a force to game. On stronger hands, as here, bid two clubs then two spades, and plan to force to game. However, if you would be happy to play a 4-3 spade fit (on the example hand shift the club ace into the spades) so that you had a chunky four-card suit, and a weak five-carder in clubs, then you can sensibly respond one spade.

I always read your column daily, but occasionally, like today, I am at a loss to understand the bidding. How in the world can authors keep any credibility by writing a book for beginners and say it is acceptable to jump raise your partner in a major with only nine high cards points? Your question was "After reviewing dummy, what should your plan be?" the plan is obvious. Get a new partner!

Fifth Beatle, Seneca, S.C.

Not all nine-counts are created equal, and while with scattered values and four trumps I'd raise a major to two, the hand in question in the article had soft working trump honors, and a useful four-card side-suit. It was ♠ Q-J-4-2  A-Q-6-3  10-4-2 ♣ 4-3 and was surely not a million miles from a limit raise. And would holding an additional value such as the club jack really make a real difference to you?

Did you watch the junior bridge tournament in Istanbul this summer, live or online? And if so what was your impression of the standard of bridge played?

Keen Spectator, Phoenix, Ariz.

I did watch some of the bridge online at Bridge Base, and I was especially impressed by the under-21 players from Sweden and the USA who played with maturity well beyond their years. I expect to see many of them in Open World Championships, sooner rather than later.

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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgJanuary 25th, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Good morning Mr Wolff,
Here’s a question of a general nature:
We play the vast majority of our Bridge in Club Duplicate pairs, Matchpoints, and a few Team Games scored as BAM.
It is very clear that part-score hands widely outnumber games and slams combined.
Consequently, competing hard and accurately for part-scores is top priority.
Would it make sense to consider building system and agreements in part around a weak no trump? Would this introduce significant other necessary adjustments?

jim2January 25th, 2015 at 4:28 pm


Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 25th, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Bobby is on an errand and has not seen this yet. However, I can speak from the position of 12-14 v. 15-17. Eons ago I played KS (because of the influence of my late husband Norman’s partnership with Edgar Kaplan). At one time they played weak with both vulnerabilities and after Norman went for a number, he gave Edgar the option: WEAK only NV or find a new partner. Edgar acquiesced. When Bobby and I got together (although he protested at first) he finally succumbed to the conservative version and we have enjoyed the advantages — the biggest one is jumping into the auction early and making it more difficult for the enemy to figure out whether or not to compete. Contrary to the modern concepts, we do not play transfers (Bobby’s preference) — and sometimes our opponents find themselves at the three level before making a call. Along with it, we play two-way Stayman. I was opposed to all the nuances, but how do you argue with an eleven time world champion? You don’t. Hope you consider the options.



bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

True, part score hands are more important in pairs scoring, first because, as you suggest, they are probably more frequent than games and certainly slams. Second, yes the competition involved for part scores are legend, especially among the usual winners in the local games.

Third, weak NT (usually 12-14) is a vehicle, for entering the bidding with a preemptive effort which prevents competition at the one level, an important practical advantage.

However we all need to recognize, when playing the lighter version of 1NT, it is a less perfect method for finding 4-4 fits (particularly majors) and catch as catch can tactics are the order of the day. For example, if partner opens a weak NT and his LHO overcalls either a single suit, or makes a bid which shows either 2 suits or an either or combination, a responder to the opening bidder, holding, e.g. s. KJxx, h. xx, d. xx, c. Kxxxx needs to compete to 2 spades (assuming spades is not one of the overcaller’s suits).

A conservative soul (who loves aces and cinches) might ask, wouldn’t double instead of 2 spades be safer and my answer would be, definitly NO, but might be if my Kxxxx was in diamonds not clubs wherein if, after doubling, partner bids 3 clubs (my weak doubleton) but now allowing me to then offer 3 diamonds, getting both my suits in, but both partners realizing that being competitive, not totally accurate, is the necessary emotion.

Yes, rising in bridge requires both knowledge (acumen), practicality involving the scoring system (only 50 a trick NV), and a disdain for risk, just as dangerous (perhaps more so) to be conservative and a lust for giving the opponents a right to the jaw.

Yes, they will often counter punch, but the winner will be the one standing with a good board at the end and, my experience, is that the more aggressive partnership usually becomes the one left standing.

So much for life in the trenches and one in which playing a Weak NT often provides.

Good luck and after some experience I would like you (probably an excellent chronicler) to relate what happened. I am not so sure of myself to know whether I am right or wrong, but others joining in, is a good way to find out.

Finally, including a weak NT in your agreements might or might not be a worthwhile experiment. One thing for sure, it would toughen up the mindset of those who do.

Iain ClimieJanuary 25th, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Can I add a quick word (based more on my experience with 12-14, rather than anywhere near reaching Judy and Bobby’s level of expertise) about weak NT. This side of the pond, 12-14 NT at all vulnerabilities has been almost standard, especially at pairs, for years although some stronger players are definitely moving away from it vulnerable. In my youth I even used to play a 10-12 NT with compulsory redoubles (1N X P P obliges XX either for penalties or as part of an escape route, although occasinally it is just -1600; these things happen at pairs) although that was NOT really sane. I think it is all a question of how well partner copes when the opening bid gets clouted for a number, and how many other pairs are playing it.

In a strong NT field at pairs (or similar oppo at BAM) I think you’ll get more pluses (or smaller minuses) more often but can your partner cope with writing down -800 occasionally against all the -450s? Some level of tact can still be applied, mind you – after P P, grotty 12 counts can be passed or even opened one of something else, intending to pass partner’s reply. I’d like to claim that I’ve been playing 12-14 NT most of my bridge life (true) and it hasn’t done me much harm (Hmmmm, maybe) but best of luck regardless. I think there is a case for 12-14 NT NV only, although I’m enough of a front row lemming to generally play it throughout unless partner really objects. In erratic strength fields where most people play it, I think it is well worth it, though.

Hope you (and our hosts) don’t mind the trip own memory lane.



bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Hi Iain and other interested observers,

No doubt, you have effectively stated reality in discussing good and not so benefits of WNT.

Summing up your thoughts and education is clearly beneficial to those who contemplate change. Playing WNT will complicate your worthy (and especially borderline or below) opponents life as your adversaries. It will make them use their judgment, a process which has often been more foe to them than friend.

It also, as Iain suggests, will toughen up your side’s mental acuity to withstand very poor results at times, in order to profit probably more often than previously.

Pairs is not a good game to play conservatively, since without opponents often making mistakes, winning games are difficult to impossible to obtain.

Therefore, since attempted perfection is not a winning philosophy, creating legal roadblocks in the form of tacks in the highway is more likely to ring the bell.

Many will succeed, some will fail, but in any event there will be very few dull moments during the game and it is not unlike going to the carnival with the first stop the roller coaster ride.

Good luck in whatever you choose.

Thanks Iain for your, as always, apt description.

ClarksburgFebruary 1st, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Update, one week later Feb 01:
It’s very likely I am going to give it a try, with one of my Partners, at least for a while as an experiment. We are already compiling “metrics” to quantify what’s working for us, and would certainly apply this to any WNT experiment.

In last weeks discussion about WNT as above:

Judy said, in part:
“…Contrary to the modern concepts, we do not play transfers (Bobby’s preference) — and sometimes our opponents find themselves at the three level before making a call. Along with it, we play two-way Stayman. ..”

And Bobby said, in part:
“…However we all need to recognize, when playing the lighter version of 1NT, it is a less perfect method for finding 4-4 fits (particularly majors) and catch as catch can tactics are the order of the day…”

Would it be possible to get a bit of guidance on absolutely essential adjustments to be made. Any book / document / website as a reference? Just to point us in the right direction…. so we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, taking too much time, and suffering broken axles on the way
Many thanks.

bobby wolffFebruary 1st, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Very simply, when WNT’s are played one starts with 1NT not one of a minor. Therefore any time that the other three hands are basically balanced (or almost) and fairly equally divided in strength, 1NT or sometimes in competitive sequences 2NT is the final contract, but since the 1 level was lost the possible 4-4 major suit fit will also be. Therefore usually the best percentage part score is history and thus the declarer will be left with having to make up for it (especially in pairs) with producing an extra trick or being lucky in the scoring (and what happens at the other tables). Also sometimes while defending against NT instead of a suit, a wilder lead (such as leading away from an ace) will allow an extra trick to be scored in NT.

Do not worry about things beyond your control and base your hopes on just being better players than your competitors which has been a tried and true method and furthermore, it essentially works.

At the risk of appearing gruesome it is similar to trench fighting in war, thus just staying alive is the goal and as long as you continue to play duplicate bridge means just that and your results, though somewhat different in nature, will ultimately give you enough reward so that you figure to continue to play till you reach my age.

It can’t be all that bad.