Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 5th, 2015

We play two over one, and recently I was criticized for my handling of this collection. I held: ♠ 10-7-2,  Q-8-3,  A-K-J-7-3-2, ♣ Q, and responded with a forcing one no-trump to one spade, then jumped to three spades over my partner’s two club call. I was told later that I should force to game with 12 points – but the comical denouement to this deal is that with trumps 4-1 the limit of the hand was eight tricks. Down one was a shared top!

Yellow-Bellied Sap-Sucker, Dayton, Ohio

I think you used good judgment not to force to game, since the bad trump and singleton honor make this worth less than the high cards suggest. At teams I might drive the hand to game notwithstanding that, but at pairs use your judgment, and assume your partner will understand, even if he doesn’t agree.

With what range hands should one make a splinter-raise of one’s partner? This question applies both to responder to an opening bid, and by opener to his partner’s response.

Love Lorn, Spartanburg, S.C.

In the absence of complex agreements a splinter in response to an opening shows the equivalent of an opening bid. One should not do it with a really strong hand but should start with a Jacoby Two no-trump or the equivalent. As opener, splinter in response to a one-level response with 17+, shortness, and four-card trump support. In rebidding after a one-level opening and two-level response, assuming you are already in a game force, you do not need real extras to make a splinter-bid.

Can you tell me what are the rules relating to played cards by the defenders or declarer (or dummy for that matter)? The two common issues that seem to create problems are dropped cards, or cards called by declarer then retracted.

Legal Seagull, Richmond, Va.

Taking your second question first: a card called for declarer but retracted in the same breath can be changed. The director should make that a high hurdle to cross, though. A dropped card – one that was clearly not intended to be played — should be retracted without penalty, though a defender may create unauthorized information for his partner in the process. Finally: to simplify what the laws says, a card held by a defender such that it can be seen by his partner should be deemed played, whereas a card is played by declarer when it touches the table.

Do you like the use of coded nines and tens in suit or no-trump play by the defense? By this I mean that both on opening lead and in mid-play, tens and nines show zero or two high honors.

Rosetta Stone, Levittown, Pa.

On opening lead my experience has been that declarer gains more from these methods than third hand. Conversely, in mid-play a defender should be able to work out when not to give away unnecessary information to declarer, so that their use makes reasonable sense.

How can I differentiate between the times to overcall in a moderate five-card suit and when to double or pass? The hand that triggered this issue was that I held: ♠ K-10-3,  K-9-6-5,  K-10-9-8-5, ♣ 3, and was not sure what to do over an opening call of one club on my right.

Wonder Woman, Durham, N.C.

Your hand poses an awkward problem. With minimum values and a five-card suit, I am happy to overcall, especially in a major. But with five diamonds and 4-3 in the other suits I would lean towards doubling if I had another queen. Action here is surely right; get in while you can – the quick and dirty approach is safest and most effective.

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


clarksburgApril 19th, 2015 at 9:49 am

Further to Yellow-bellied’s question:
If the Heart and Diamond holdings were interchanged, should the hand be bid any differently?

Bobby WolffApril 19th, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, with AKJxxx in hearts, instead of a minor suit, the hand should probably be a game force over a one spade opening bid by partner.

Does that mean it so 100%? Most emphatically no. However that change would, IMO, likely make a 10 trick contract for game more available, instead of 11 available (for minor suits) with only the 10x doubleton support (with Qx sensational from partner (and also sometimes just xx) a critical difference.

Such are the imperfections always present in hand evaluation, which should be constant reminders to theorists that bridge requires deft variable judgment rather than anything close to exact science in order to achieve lofty goals.

Like many other endeavors, especially constructed IQ tests would no doubt determine a person’s natural inclination to be able to advance deep into the wonders of playing excellent bridge, but as of up to now, that test either still remains on the drawing board or rather, somewhat sadly, has not been yet considered.

Perhaps that exercise will soon appear where bridge is being taught in the school systems and, if so, the word numeracy (where constant streams of numbers dominate thinking) will be the central theme.

The above is attempting to categorize thought processes indigenous to playing bridge, rather than to pinpoint your specific question.

Iain ClimieApril 19th, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

On the subject of pwork and family eople playing, I heard a slightly different view form a bridge teacher I met the other day. Although he felt that getting people interested at a young age was good, there were two extra possible routes to the game to keep numbers up. Firstly, there might be those who had played at college but then stopped (or played much less) due to work and family commitments, but who could then go back to the game later in life. The second option would be to also target those who’ve never learned but are part of a growing retired population looking for an enjoyable means to spend their time. I still agree about the need for more youngsters, especially as the game can help bridge the gap between generations (pun accidental, honestly) but the other areas are also worth pursuing, especially given the social benefits of the game and even the possibility that the thought processes needed can even act against mental decay.

Does this give you any more cause for optimism?



ClarksburgApril 19th, 2015 at 7:26 pm

Iain and Bobby,
A few strategic thoughts:
Totally agree with Iain’s identification of those two target markets. Success there would increase general participation / exposure, and increase revenue to ACBL or whatever organizations.
Next step: Somehow influence ACBL, or whomever, to apply some of that increased revenue to youth, and to recognition / celebration of excellence (as opposed to overly catering to those aging recreational players).
Pipe dream? Gotta try though.
OK, that was just my “straight-man” intro. Now to the real deal. Some members of our Meaford Club recently took part in a not-bridge-related fund raiser fun night. We took the opportunity to perform a recruitment song penned by yours truly specially for the occasion. Here it is (to the tune of Bridge Over Trouble Waters; with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel !!)

“…Heard you’ve played some Bridge
but seldom do
Come to our friendly Club
We’ll welcome you
We’re on you side
Oh, when deals are rough
And good hands hard to find,
We’ll still play by the Meaford waters
And lay our Dummies down
We play Bridge by the Meaford waters
Hope you’ll drop around.

Sorry about this…couldn’t resist !! 🙂

Bobby WolffApril 19th, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for your original input about the possibility of keeping bridge, at least this side of the Atlantic, from becoming a victim of genocide (an ugly but probably apt modern description). What now follows is my answer to your question about cause for optimism.

To my mind, there is only one way to prevent such a holocaust and that is not to cater to the “High Card Wins” (HCW) crowd of bridge players, a very respectable group of bridge enthusiasts, but ones who only enjoy participating in a social way, whether rubber or tournament, and leave the serious part to those both with the talent to do so, the desire to learn it, and then improve exponentially, and cultivate it to a way of life.

While I have nothing at all against the HCW crowd, that type of bridge itself will never achieve either the electricity necessary to both raise eyebrows and therefore hero worship, create enough positive worldwide reaction, nor be thought of as important enough to ever be required learning anywhere, much less to be taught as an accredited course in our public school system.

In other words, I think it close to a crime/felony that our office in Horn Lake, MS doesn’t attempt moving heaven and earth to so secure a hallowed spot in our school curriculua, such as has been achieved in double digit countries in Europe as well as all of China (200,000,000 students) with only rave notices from both pupils and teachers, to form a 6 to 9 year learning process.

Horn Lake, along with the current ACBL BODs, seems to have adopted a brief (perhaps 10-20+ year) attempt at prolonging the HCW form of bridge, which in the long run will just accelerate our beautiful high-level game to fade into certain obscurity.

When and if the above is not seriously understood, our game, at least in the Western Hemisphere, will vanish with the morning light and only because the keepers of the bridge faith (ACBL) will have allowed it to do so, without even an enormous effort to save its immense, but up to now, not recognized, educational and practical worth.

Suggesting gloom and doom is never enjoyed, but writing anything different would just be condoning ridiculous propaganda.

Praying for Cheers,


Bobby WolffApril 19th, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

ACBL does spend some money on Junior bridge, but their agenda is basically focused (almost entirely) on themselves and perpetuation as long as is possible. And do not ever forget that target keeps the doors open and their jobs secure.

Instead, they need to do everything possible to perpetuate the high-level game, the one which differentiates positively the superiority of our mind sport over other competitors and more importantly gets bridge taught in schools like other much more forward thinking countries, but my guess, is that endeavor would be taking too many chances with their own form of self-preservation.

While that incredible selfishness, in this selfie time of our existence, is not terribly abnormal, it should be expected by a group of employees, many of which do not even play bridge.

I think the ACBL BOD’s should rise as one against this type of behavior, since to not do so, is, at least to me, directly against what they are elected to so do.

Leadership, where have you disappeared to, exactly when so many of us desperately need you? Hey, there. Are you not seeing things so clear, are you to confused to hear, is it all going in one ear, and out the other?

Raising the dues to $39! Charging our most important events extra, which, although requiring screens, are the difference between what bridge has always stood for and all at the same time while losing millions of dollars on what can only be explained as at the very least, terrible judgment and incompetence.

Our beloved game, by some of us, is directly related to practical MIND EXCELLENCE and not a battle between high card wins, but rather a great competitive clash which, IMO, has never been surpassed as the best ever competitive mind sport. Both the king and queen of hearts are probably, at this time, very sad.

Best wishes to your attempted bridge game promotion together with your song writing.

Iain ClimieApril 19th, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Many thanks for the kind comments and the amusing ballad – if it boosts numbers I’m not knocking it. I’ll post something for Bobby tomorrow as it is near midnight here and I’m into the 2nd week of a new job which is 230 miles from home, so the Sunday night drive is a bit tiring. There are a couple of pitfalls I need to bring up on raising standards, including a modern day male Myrtle Bennett!



Iain ClimieApril 20th, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

As promised, a few more thoughts. I’ve just started a new job and found a friendly if a bit HCW club nearby. They told me about a married couple from a nearby club who had a slightly fractious relationship. They had a huge row over a hand at the club, it obviously continued later and the husband is now doing life for murder!!

In gentler mode, there are concerns in English bridge. Entries for top level congresses and the Gold Cup (KO) have been steadily falling, no fear events are more popular and many clubs run simple systems evenings. The club I noted above does so, emphasises a relaxed approach and has seen its membership soar. So how do we best address the need for new players and also the need to encourage vigorous competition? I believe the answer is a mixture of encouragement for new players, especially youngsters, and also old fashioned courtesy.

One of the joys and frustrations of bridge is that lions can be savaged by rabbits and that lousy bids or plays occasionally come off. Normally stronger teams beat (or even trounce) weaker ones but there is an art (and even an obligation) to winning gracefully. At the same time, fixes are inevitable but should be accepted as part of the game and should be tolerated (along with partner’s goofs) as an occupational hazard. I wince at how aggressive I used to be at the table, but had a lovely indirect compliment a while back. I’d played for 12 months at a moderate but determinedly friendly club where I’d been made very welcome. After I left I kept in touch, and the chairman told me that one of the weaker pairs, having been clobbered by a stronger pair who had gloated, said “Iain would never have treated us like that”.

I was hugely flattered (although they were fooling themselves) but perhaps this is crucial – no matter how much a bad result may cause you to want to scream, add a laxative to pard’s coffee or to wish assorted plagues on the oppo (one curse is may she mate with a ghost, give birth to a kitten and may it get the mange) keep a sense of humour and perspective. The sinking of a ship in the Mediterranean sea this week (it was carrying hundreds of desperate economic migrants keen to reach Europe) should be enough to put things in perspective. Bridge is wonderful but there are worse things out there decking a cold contract!


Bobby WolffApril 20th, 2015 at 10:54 pm

Hi Iain,

First, Amen!

Yes, I did read about the huge boatload of migrants escaping what must be the horrors of post Khadafi Libya (although the past version left much to be desired) only to be lost at sea leaves all of us with even the thought of such a disaster, pale with sadness.

With all the horrific happenings, even Chlorine poison gas, the product of WWI has somehow emerged back on the scene in Syria.

Maybe only either losing a finesse or worse, being a victim of TOCM, should not, in comparison, even raise a whimper. Also in what was said by an old friend of yours at the bridge club about wishing you were back playing with them, instead of the new discourteous invaders, must have been nice to hear.

In any case, enjoy what you can, while you still can.