Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 15th, 2015

What is your view on which card to lead from three, four or five small — and do circumstances alter cases as to what to lead?

Small Fry, Grand Junction, Colo.

At trick one I low from three or four small in partner’s suit if he might read a high card as shortness. I’d lead the highest card I could afford if I had bid the suit or supported partner. I hate leading middle from three cards. From four or five small cards I normally lead fourth, unless I’d already shown my length, or could see that partner might need to shift to another suit, in which I had a good holding. Second highest might then be the indicated choice.

When I opened one heart holding: ♠ 10-3, K-Q-7-5-3, K-2, ♣ A-Q-3-2, my partner responder with a call of one no-trump. Naturally I rebid two clubs and my partner now emerged with two spades. After the deal was over he told me this could not be natural, and must be a club raise – but why not simply raise clubs with that hand?

Striking Out, Anchorage, AK.

As your partner did not respond one spade initially, two spades can be used to show a club raise with a maximum in high cards. That allows a direct raise to three clubs to be based on distribution not high cards – say five trumps and 6-8 HCP.

I had a rebid problem when I dealt myself: ♠ 9-3, Q-3, K-Q-8-2, ♣ A-10-7-3-2. I passed and heard my partner bid one heart at favorable vulnerability, over which my RHO overcalled one spade. I made a negative double, and my LHO jumped to three spades, passed back to me. Should I pass, perhaps playing my partner to be light or even subminimum for his initial action?

Hubble Bubble, Monterey Calif.

A double of three spades implies this sort of shape and values. You might bring home 10 tricks in any one of your side’s possible fits — and you can only make allowances for your partner just so far! He could have quite a good hand and still be unwilling to commit to the four-level, since you do have an ace more than you have yet shown.

I was playing with my rubber bridge group and made a three heart response to a one club opening with seven hearts and a nine-count. We played in a somewhat hopeless game as my partner did not understand what I was trying to tell her, namely that I had 7-11 points and a proper seven-card heart suit — a preemptive response. Everyone at the table said I could not make such a bid — preempts were for opening bids only.

Flown the Coop, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

You are right and your colleagues are wrong. But typically the range for a preempt would be 4-8 points, so not invitational except facing extras and a fit. With nine or 10 points I’d bid one heart then jump in hearts and mean it as invitational, not forcing.

I picked up: ♠ 3, A-Q-4-3, A-Q-9-5-3-2, ♣ K-J, and opened one diamond. What would you recommend as the rebid after partner responds one no-trump? I considered passing, and also various bids in either of my long suits, or even raising no-trumps, and could not make up my mind.

Groundling, Miami, Fla.

Passing does not look right — the hand has potential for game, but one no-trump might go down on a bad day! I’d recommend a simple call of two hearts, intending to rebid three diamonds. A perfectly reasonable alternative would be to jump to three diamonds, ignoring the hearts, to get across your invitational values.

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


David WarheitMarch 29th, 2015 at 9:44 am

In one of your recent columns, S had AKxx Kxx A AKJ9x and opened 2C. While he had points and quick tricks galore, the game is, after all, about tricks, and S seems to be rather lacking in them. I can see that opening 1C might not result in the best contract, but I believe that opening 2C is much more likely to lead to a bad contract. What do you think?

Also, as you described it, the bidding went 2C-2D, 3C-3D and then S bid 3S. S got lucky and found his partner with 4 spades, but if his partner had not had 4S, either they would have wound up in a very poor spot or partner would have bid 3NT which of course would then be played from the wrong side. I would think S should have bid 3NT over 3D. What do you think?

bobby wolffMarch 29th, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Hi David,

Since AOB on Sunday is dedicated to letters and therefore queries from readers, you have, as you so often do, embraced a controversial bridge subject.

My take on the answer will go like this:

1. You are on target with your direct question and the answer needs to be carefully explained.

2. No doubt, the referred hand mentioned is a close to perfect example of the problem you suspect, a powerhouse in both high cards and togetherness of honors, but often taking several rounds of back and forth bidding to explore the right final best contract, strain and how high.

3. Forcing club systems are designed for just such hands, a full extra round of bidding for description, often making a gigantic difference in improving the result.

4. However IMO anytime a player picks up 21 or more HCP’s and opens 1 NF one level bid, he runs a risk that since there are only 19 HCP’s left in the deck, if partner has 5 or fewer (not an unlikely scenario), there is a certain compelling logic to, at the very least, consider passing.

5. For those who blithely then state, “Oh, I always will lean over backwards to keep the bidding open with only 4 or 5 (or even fewer) HCPs just in case partner has such a monstrous hand, but considered too awkward to open a forcing artificial 2 clubs”.

6. To those players, I will challenge them that what if, after your response your LHO gets the bidding up much higher with some kind of preempt (usually an effective defensive tool if dealt the right hand)? Shouldn’t your beloved partner have the right to expect, at the very least, a slightly to much better eventual dummy to come down for him or even if it is his deprived monster who then eventually has to become the dummy.

7. What then is the answer? I do not know for sure, but after close to 70 years of playing the game, my choice is, when playing a normal relatively common system, I prefer to pass 1 bids with fewer than 6 points, although when close and, of course, having a decent fit for partner’s primary major suit (three of them) I will hedge a bit to keep the bidding open. Opposite a minor, I tend to prefer what partner wants to do, but neither bidding nor passing works much more than 50%, so be prepared to not get good results a relatively large percentage of the time.

In any event, being aware of the problem and the far less than hoped for right decision, at least some might think (and I would grudgingly agree) that opening 2 clubs with the subject hand is as good as any. Pray (if it is deemed critically important) that one’s partner will either support clubs or spades or be able to show 5+ cards in hearts and lacking that, not be passed 3NT, although even that contract would need some kind of help from partner to even come close to making. For all those experienced bridge addicts, they have undoubtedly been victimized by having to lead away from their strong hand too many times, rather than the far better feeling of always leading toward something potentially valuable.

Don’t ever be conned into thinking that even our best bridge players never go set as everyone who has ever played our beautiful game have plenty of scars to remember.

8. For those thoughtful practitioners who then ask, “Why shouldn’t the proponents of forcing club systems also fear that type of interference”? They do, but they start one level lower and, at least, they have the advantage of already showing an above average opening bid, although their best suit has yet to be disclosed. Also when their unlucky opponents do not have a preempt available, they will have more room (often critical) to be able to use that extra space for finding the perfect contract, rather than have to guess their way to success.

Sorry for my wishy washy answer, but to do otherwise might create false optimism.

ClarksburgMarch 29th, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Hi Mr Wolff,
Could you suggest an approach for reacting over opponents’s three-level pre-empt (assume it’s sound suit, little elsewhere, not worth a 1 Opener).

Requirements for Overcall?
Should Double be Penalty, TO, or Conventional (if Conventional, what Convention (s)?)
Any other Conventional bids?
How might / does this all depend upon their specific suit?

George KMarch 29th, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Since I know that you were considered the grandiose authority on Appeals and Charges being named upon retirement, the Chairman Emeritus of the WBF Appeals and Charges Committee, what do you think of the current status of the ACBL Appeals and Charges process and, for that matter, the World Bridge scene as well?

bobby wolffMarch 29th, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

When the opponent’s preempt, they immediately reach their goal, one in which they attempt to make it tougher for your side.

Therefore, the following caveats will be suggested by me:

1. When faced with a choice be aggressive, with the vulnerability, caliber of the opponents including penalty doubling proclivities, whether matchpoints, IMPs, or rubber bridge all involved.

2. Assuming the opponents open with a 3 diamond preempt:

A. With s. AJ, h. xxxx, d. QJX, c. AQxx, pass but with s. AJxx, h. xxxx, d. x, c. AKxx double

B. With s. AJ, h. KQ10xx, d. xxx, c. Qxx, pass but with s. AJ, h. KQ10xxx, d. xx, c. Qxx overcall 3 hearts.

C. With s. AJ, h. Kxxx, d. Axx, c. Qxxx, pass, but with s. AJ, h. Qx, d. KJx. c. AJ10xxx overcall 3NT.

D. With s. AJ, h, Qx, d. Axx c. QJxxxx pass, but with s. AJx, Kxx, d. x, c. KQ10xxx overcall 4 clubs.

5. With s. AJ, h. xxx, d. K, c. AKQxxxx overcall 3NT always if the opponents (good or not) are NV based on the winning strategy of either partner will have my 1/2 diamond stop covered or else something good will still happen. (further bidding or miss guessed defense)

Remember bridge is not a pure game where winning action is always assured but rather a percentage game where intelligent gambles need to be taken if winning is the only )or, at least, primary goal.

Please, for my sake and especially for yours, do not ever make excuses about how unlucky one can be for not taking winning aggressive action. If you have a hand to do it, you ONLY are the one responsible for a failure to act and should be judged so. A time to be angry with partner is when he meekly passes when he shouldn’t and is right because of you not having what he needed. The reason being is that he, instead now of feeling proud of what he has done, is now chided for what he needs to be doing next time.


bobby wolffMarch 29th, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Hi George,

In reverse order, although out of touch for awhile, I respect the WBF process since the TDs there have been instrumental in getting well versed in what should be called high-level schooling in what it takes to be both a high-level player and also the judicial process which conforms to mostly equity in what is expected. In other words, consider the following scenario: the high-level player (and mostly from there) — concentrating upward instead of sideways. Or .. perish the thought, moving down the staircase to essentially novice or “high card wins” type player who need to move up at least one long notch before even beginning to learn the sophisticated special laws which embrace both the specific laws, but even just as importantly, the ethical restrictions.

In other words, the leading TDs mostly from Europe, but also, although in lesser numbers from all around the globe, are slowly but surely, at least up to a couple of years ago, when I basically checked out because of my lack of hearing, were rapidly beginning to understand the need, along with all the appeals committee (picked very selectively) from mostly retired top players and well informed very bridge intelligent TDs who had been there, done that and always enthusiastically talked over both real and hypothetical cases by comparing notes and insisting on precedents and accountability across the board. As far as I know that special group of people have even progressed from there in the search for consistency, tranquility and accountability to override bias, (especially nationalism), politics and self-service. Finally I totally endorse the European style of, in the case of bridge, the chairman of the committee being allowed to investigate the case, after learning the basic facts. We should embrace that procedure over here.

And so I’ll bridge this subject across the Atlantic to the USA, but before leaving I’ll wish them God speed and total success in rendering which could be event changing decisions that MUST stand up to the scrutiny of every top level player who one day hopes to represent his or her country (particularly one who has a chance to triumph) with the idea of maintaining the integrity of our great game, so that winning a World Championship can stand up to all who doubt the sacred nature of the laws which must govern such a hallowed event.

Now returning to the lesser importance (my take as a WBF patriot) to our national USA scene run by the ACBL. I am disappointed to say the least, in what has happened in my own country with our inconsistent and haphazard attention to our appeals process and to a lesser extent, but still important, training, or lack thereof, of our TD staff. That failing has visibly taken it’s toll on our game here in the States.

Above all (keeping my answer short of a tome), bridge equity should rank side by side with the laws in application. Edgar Kaplan, who would be every knowing older person’s choice as our leader on this subject (before his death in 1997) wrote, or at least, was vitally involved in the interpretation of our bridge laws. The only law in which I was in disagreement was with 12C3 which is in the WBF lawbook and is applied by that organization, which gives the TD legal permission to inject equity in any way that he sees fit in the interpretation of whatever law is involved.

At the time and through the years, Edgar did not have much confidence in random TDs ability to determine what equity was involved and, while agreeing (sort of) to his concern still thought it necessary for the TD to call it to the attention of others who were better versed and did understand — since without that, the TDs decision can be made and, although not just, would not surface for others to counsel on what should have been done. Although no one should be able to now talk for Edgar, I will only say that his opinion was likely right on in the early days of bridge jurisprudence, but probably not now, at least with the WBF, but perhaps not with the ACBL.

Trying to sum it up, the ACBL TDs need to get better educated on how to rule and why — taking into consideration what game they are directing and a host of other extraneous but still key factors.

Within the ACBL today when, after a controversial TD ruling, committees are then formed to handle appeals from that ruling.

Unfortunately, to say that those committees, although usually formed by very intelligent, experienced bridge players (at least the ones available and willing to give of their personal time) start out primarily because of built in bias, often caused by bridge professionalism among well playing pros who are aligned with different sponsors, and often look to each other for future business. That together with the probability, when searching for good committee members, to first prefer finding well known players, which in turn tends to lead to what is mentioned above. Then, when other than top players are selected, leading local administrators may be next in line, creating the problem of them wanting to agree with the TDs, particularly the chief TD, since, after all, those TDs were often the ones chosen by the officials who are putting on the tournament. Huge conflict of interest!

All of the above contributes to politics running the show, even exacerbated by individual tournament workers, not knowing (or claiming to be well versed) enough about bridge, still not wanting that fact to be widely circulated.

Worse still, those pitfalls have strongly influenced our whole tournament scene
right up to and through our Nationals. The result has been that I have not agreed with so many of the recent decisions published which, at least to me, represented bridge judgment at its worst and to tell the truth, totally embarrassing to me and other long time experienced devotees to the game.

The decisions in the last few Nationals before New Orleans, involving the upset of the Monaco team in a fairly early Vanderbilt match last year and the one involving the Chinese and American ladies in the premier women’s event during the Summer nationals were, to me, as bad as it possibly can get, and so totally floored me, that, since I couldn’t do anything about it, tried to just get it out of my mind to keep my stomach from getting upset.

Just last week, I heard the decision about your team playing another and heard what happened to you and no doubt, would have been interested in some of the details but on the surface found it hard to believe that a match changing decision could be based on the facts which I heard were argued.

I certainly cannot begin to prove, at this time, any sure bias, but, at least to me, when an eight to ten second pause was made, with your team claiming less than eight seconds and no one really disputing that, would then allow after the result (could have gone either way) of what happened changed, it somehow defies my imagination, but since I wasn’t there I cannot prove or even allege that bias which I talk about, was present. I do know how ethical you and your partner (whom I know very well) are, and that fact alone tends to point to your total innocence, but as I said before, I, at this time, am in no position to prove what you (and I) think did happen. Suffice it to say that if I held your hand (void in the opponents suit, spades) I would have likely bid 5 hearts since, if partner doubled likely, aggressive opponents, particularly professionals would take us to an unknowing committee, a position to which I have had exasperating results in the past, witness the unfortunate Oh Shit case to which I was a victim.

Until most of the honest top players insist on getting it right, instead of trying to take advantage of this chaos and be able to often fall back on our jurisprudence system (and of course help from biased friends) for positive adjustment, and if no bridge angel comes along to insist on it, we are in a no win proposition.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 30th, 2015 at 12:58 am


Believe it or not, Bobby’s rendering above was with tongue in cheek. I kid you not! There was so much more he could have expounded upon with reference to our judicial bridge system and the countless personal injustices (mostly international) that he and his teammates suffered for over four decades. When my late husband Norman Kay (a paragon of talent and honor) was getting ‘done in’ beginning overseas in the sixties, I suddenly awoke to what had been transpiring although it was talked about in hushed tones. Thus, for fear of lawsuits and bridge scandals, it was swept under the carpet and closed eyes and taped mouths were the prevailing order of the day .. although ethics today has taken the higher road for the most part, but it is not perfect. In retrospect (and easier said than done), Zone 2 should have withdrawn from International Competition as it was common knowledge what was transpiring … with many other countries aware of the blatant fearless cheating to which they were subjected. That was over a period of some sixty years ago .. and some of it still goes on.

We are not totally rid of all the culprits with evil intent (even over here). So, don’t let your guard down as all that glitters is not gold)!! I have been on the scene longer than I care to admit. My exposure to our so-called jurisprudence protocol (or non-protocol which is more descriptive of that era) began over fifty years ago. Believe me, I am not paranoid .. but rather prefer to remain a cautious observer.

In addition to cheating (or lesser charges of ‘helping’ your partner), there is another cancer that appears on the home front ..and that is the flaws of ruling the game today. The Harry Goldwaters, Al Sobels, Maury Braunsteins, Phil Merrys and their many confederates were not star players but were endowed with knowledge, respect, senses of humor and all else that were intended to uphold the dignity and honor of our pastime. The attitudes of their staffs were dignified, considerate of the players’ feelings and revered what was once our wonderful game. Today, it seems favoritism plays a big part. Correct me if I am wrong, but I heard open book tests were still in vogue. If so, that and two bucks (used to be a quarter) will get you a cup of coffee. So much for training .. which brings me to chief directors and floor people (not all of whom are unworthy of being at the helm). I am directing this to the tournament level. Without naming names, I can assure that some directors and individuals who serve on advisory councils and as directors and appeals committee members don’t necessarily go into court with clean hands. These are the individuals who have their own crosses to bear .. personal professional ties and not wanting to cut off their noses for fear of losing clients, potential clients, referrals or dishonoring politicos knowing where their bread is buttered … and so on.

George, forgive my tirade, but I am privy to more of these unholy alliances than you could fathom. In fact, I was involved in one when I appealed a preposterous Appeal Without Merit Warning which was denied for fifteen months and not until I advised them I had contacted my attorney, did they succumb to meet with us. Actually I had the option, but was never so advised. Finally they reconsidered and condescended to an appeal with Bobby representing my partnership. We were exonerated immediately. BUT the Board lost no time in immediately abolishing the right to be heard on an APPEAL WITHOUT MERIT WARNING. WHAT A DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION. Anything to protect their butts!

After I read your comment to Bobby, I did some pussyfooting and learned the names of some of the individuals involved in resolving your appeal (and their wavering reasoning), but nothing surprises me. In today’s coterie of directors, there are some fantastic ones and others that won’t win any popularity or judgmental bridge contests. You just have to get lucky to fall heir to one who is fair, knowledgeable and strictly objective to what serves bridge best!