Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 24th, 2015

I am often puzzled as to whether it is better to pass information to partner at the risk of helping declarer out. For instance where do you stand on ‘coded nines and 10’s’ against no-trump? In this scenario a jack denies a higher honor. What about whether to lead from a four-card suit with the small card the two, making it clear you had just four cards, as opposed to a four-card suit with the small card the three or four?

Full Marks, Detroit, Mich.

I’m not prejudiced against but rather in favor of leading deuces. The reason is that at least my partner won’t wrongly continue the suit, playing me for five when I only have four. But I prefer not to lead coded nines and 10s at trick one. I do find them too revealing, but when dummy is visible, the risks of the coded leads diminishes greatly.

I have seen you mention in passing that one should apply a different minimum standard for a vulnerable preempt, as opposed to what is required at favorable vulnerability. Could you discuss this a little further?

Minnie Mouse, Raleigh, N.C.

Non-vulnerable preempts in third or even first seat my standards are low. I don’t like to preempt on bad suits either with side defense or with a good second suit, but other than that, anything goes. By contrast, when vulnerable in second seat my preempts are by the book. I might allow myself a little more latitude in other seats vulnerable, or in second seat non-vulnerable – when I have only one opponent to worry about.

Do you have any predictions for the success of the US men, women and seniors in the next world championships?

Nostradamus, San Antonio, Texas

The USA women and seniors are always going to be in serious contention for the gold medal. They rate to be about even money for a gold or silver medal. The open team is pretty much a crap-shoot. I’d guess we are favorites for a bronze medal, an outsider for the gold or silver medal, because so many teams are truly at the top level, and playing full-time these days.

I was in second chair with: ♠ A-7-4-2, K-Q-3, 4, ♣ K-Q-10-8-4, and doubled my LHO’s one diamond call. My partner jumped to two hearts and the next hand bid three diamonds. Do you agree with my decision to pass now, and to pass my partner’s double of three diamonds? This was not a success!

Missing Link, Fredericksburg, Va.

With only three trumps you should not raise hearts. Your partner will expect you to have four trumps to raise here. I have to admit that I would pass the double just like you did, and wonder whether maybe my partner was at fault here for his double.

With ♠ A-Q-6-4-3, Q-4, A-Q-7-4 ♣ J-4 I assume you would overcall one spade over one club rather than doubling? If you do that, your LHO bids one no-trump and the auction is passed back to you. Do you bid or pass now?

It Takes Two to Tango, Little Rock, Ark.

Rightly or wrongly I would not pass at my second turn. I’d guess to bid two diamonds, conscious that I have no guarantee of a fit, but feeling that I have too many high cards to pass. I admit this could easily be wrong.

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ClarksburgJune 7th, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Quiet here today! So…
From a recent local Club game.
As West, at Fav Vul, you hold:
S KQ108764
H J6
C 853
North is Declaring 3C. In the auction, North opened 1C, your Partner (East) overcalled 1D , South bid 1NT, you (rightly or wrongly) bid only 2S, passed around to South, who called 3C passed out (again, rightly or wrongly). NS are a strong Pair, and are known to occasionally play an aggressive game of poker in the auctions.
Partner leads the DA, and Dummy comes down with:
S A9
H A42
D 9742
C 9762
Partner continues with the DK and you will discard a Heart…but which one…the Jack or the 6 ?
Recognizing that there could be various agreements for any given Pair, could you give us your views on the messages conveyed by the Heart J and the H6 respectively in this context.

bobby wolffJune 7th, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, your questions, at least IMO, go to the heart of the matter (please excuse the intended pun) and make it much easier to get whatever point I have to make.

Yes signalling is important, but a good rule to try and follow is that when faced with a choice, never risk losing a natural trick by tossing what could be a critical card in developing a defensive trick. Since the jack of hearts could be the subject and if it is decided to throw a heart, make it the six, definitely not the jack.

Now if partner continues with the Queen of diamonds we need to try and reconstruct what is the likely distribution around the table. A possible conclusion will be that it was wrong to throw either heart at trick two, but that is another story for another time.

However, with 4 good and experienced players around the table my guess is that on average, at least one defender will be able to call off his partner’s distribution no later than trick 3, sometimes not until trick 4, but more often than one might think, at trick 2.

Of course live bidding, but sometimes just pass helps accomplish this thought to be a magic act, but in reality the rhythm of the bidding and, unfortunately sometimes the tempo of both the declarer and the defenders also adds to thinking this thought to be magic.

Without going any further, your job, if you accept this project (no, not exactly Mission Impossible) is to now try, when next you play under the above conditions, to practice doing the above and see if soon you will not know exactly to what I refer.

Summing up the specific question you asked (which up to now has not been addressed directly, or has it?). Some practice evidence is, did the opener almost want to bid over your pusillanimous 2 spades or was he quite content to pass and finally did he accept willingly the responders return to 3 clubs or might he have considered something additional.

When you get this process down, you’ll find defense about 50%+ easier than before. Possibly I am insulting you by even bringing up this subject, meaning that you have been doing this for years, and if you have, I sincerely apologize.

Later we may even discuss the disadvantage of signalling, since again “Loose lips sink ships” and the opponents may be advantaged by both your signal and the tempo in which you made it much more than will your partner.

If possible, play and defend in a herky-jurky manner to not be stereotyped by clever foes.

See what a possible innocent Sunday question may reap?

Iain ClimieJune 7th, 2015 at 11:49 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

In result merchant mode, can you give us the full hand, please? I must admit I’d have bid 3S on the first opportunity, but then I always lacked subtlety!



ClarksburgJune 8th, 2015 at 12:18 am

Once again this Sunday, as last, thanks for your interest.
The full deal was:




If East switches to a Heart at trick three, away goes one of their six defensive tricks.
Is it plausible for EW to find a Double of 3C?
And yes EW are cold for 4 Spades.

Lee McGovernJune 10th, 2015 at 12:05 am

What is your opinion of fantunes system?

bobby wolffJune 10th, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Hi Lee,

Although it has been a number of years since I played against them, and when I did, it was not in a World Championship, I am not in a prime position to judge.

However their system certainly advocates a different agenda than does the modern style, suggested by around the world younger possible world class partnerships.

Fantunes apparently seems to concentrate more on partnership accuracy than on making life difficult for their worthy opponents. Their higher level openings are based on better hands rather than accenting preemption.

Since my favorite personal system was a combination of 4 card majors and a forcing club with control showing responses, I favored immediate preemption, reserving scientific exploration via more room available for game and slam bidding.

Because of 1. a bias in favor of the above and 2. lack of critical experience of “feeling at the table” while personally confronting them, I would tend to devalue my being an adequate judge.

In conclusion and only from the gallery, while I personally think that value for opening bids at the one level have sunk below what is safe and narrowly descriptive, therefore best, the modern responsive bidding of one under the suit shown will definitely create more bidding room for exploration, which, in turn, should lead to better final contracts.

Overall, time and experimentation will lead to better, but it still has a way to go since bridge, perhaps more than any other known mental competition or even physical, relies on experience even more than innate talent.

There is no such thing as a child protege in bridge compared to music, art and sports and IMO there never will be.

Lee McGovernJune 10th, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Appreciate that response, thank you

Cowboy SethJune 12th, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Hi Bobby… I hope I found the right channel to contact you about the play of a hand…

Q x
A 10 x x K J 9 x x
x x

South miraculously got to 3NT with one suit glaringly unprotected in our game. Opening lead in the West hand was a low heart (the suit in this case), declarer played low from the dummy and East won the trick with the Jack. East then returned the King with South and West playing low and the Q falling from the dummy. East then returned a low heart and West was able to get his Ace and Ten of hearts but East had no other entries to cash the 5th heart and the contract was made. How should the hearts have been played to allow east west to defeat the contract.

Not enough heart to beat the contract.

You may publish this in the Dallas Morning News if you choose…

Thanks in advance

Cowboy Seth