Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Holding: ♠ 9-2, 10-9-6-5-2, J-2, ♣ K-7-4-3 how would you respond to a two no-trump opening bid? Would you pass, or settle for partscore in hearts, or drive to game – and if so which?

Level Best, Cartersville, Ga.

I think it would be trying to land on the head of a pin to pass two no-trump or to transfer to hearts and stop in three. I think one should transfer to hearts and bid three no-trump. Partner can pick which game he wants to play in. Although you have a little extra shape, you cannot insist on playing hearts unless partner produces a fit. Let him make the call.

I was faced with an auction recently where my partner heard me double one heart. The next hand redoubled, and my partner jumped to three clubs, telling me later that he meant this as weak rather than based on high cards. Is this a normal approach – since the call would surely have been invitational without the redouble?

Upping the Ante, Westhampton, N.Y.

You can certainly argue that if the first three hands all show approximately opening values, the fourth hand cannot be strong. So while a jump by fourth hand would indeed be invitational over everything but third hand’s redouble, it is reasonable to play than in this one sequence the jump should be based more on shape than high cards. I might have a five- or six-card suit and 5-8 points, perhaps.

I read your column online and have a question. I held ♠ A-3, A-Q-9-7-4-2, K-J-3, ♣ A-7. My partner dealt and opened one club and rebid two clubs over my one heart response. What is the right way to create a forcing auction now? At the table I bid two spades, my partner raised, and a convoluted auction ended in four no-trump, making seven.

Strong-arm Tactics, Frankfurt, Germany

A plausible auction would see you bid two diamonds over two clubs, and when your partner jumps to three no-trump you might close your eyes and bid six no-trump. A new suit by you is forcing for one round at your second turn, and two diamonds saves space while encouraging partner to support you economically. Incidentally, I can’t imagine on what hand your partner would raise spades at his third turn if he couldn’t bid them at his second turn!

Holding: ♠ Q-7-2, Q-4, A-J-9-3-2, ♣ K-4-3 I opened one diamond and heard my partner respond one spade. The next hand bid two hearts; is it right for me to pass or bid two spades now?

Raiser’s Edge, Waterbury, Conn.

With a minimum hand and only three trumps, particularly where your heart holding sounds to have gotten worse from the auction, pass is the discreet action, though bidding two spades is not terrible. But surely if you can make anything, your partner will have enough to bid again. Incidentally, support doubles (which show a three-card raise here) are becoming more and more popular. If you play this style, then you would have no good reason not to double.

I’m interested in your views as to when shape trumps high cards. Holding: ♠ J-6 Q-2, A-K-10-8-7-4, ♣ 1-0-9-3 do you consider this a one diamond opening? If you don’t open one diamond would you pass rather than showing a weak hand with a two diamond preempt?

Princess Pushy, Twin Falls, Idaho

Wolff’s first laws of preempting: Never pass a hand with a good suit. Open one, two, or three, but don’t pass. Here I’d open two diamonds anywhere except in first seat non-vulnerable — where I might consider opening one diamond. Make the club 10 the jack and I open one diamond, in all seats, except in second seat vulnerable.

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clarksburgAugust 23rd, 2015 at 11:05 am

Mr. Wolff,
Further to Level Best’s question and your reply:
Level’s hand seems, at a glance at least, to be a bit skimpy to be aiming for game opposite a 20-21 2NT.
Your reply indicates that, over the long run, either game, 3NT or 4H, will likely be a better contract than either part-score, 2NT or 3H.
Could you kindly expand a bit on your rationale, i.e. hand evaluation, bidding strategy and tactics, and whether your advice applies at Matchpoints as well as IMPs.

bobby wolffAugust 23rd, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

All worthwhile questions with the answers, though by logic very subjective, still during my own experience, I’ve tied my own judgment in favor of following:

1. Lowered an opening 2NT to 19+-21+, thus reserving 2C first, followed by 2NT to 22-24).

2. Examples being: s. Axx, h. KJ9x, d. Q8x, c. AKQ to only 1 diamond (or 1 club)
but, s. K10x, h. KQx, d. Qx, c. AKQxx an easy 2NT. and likewise s. QJx, h. Kx, d. A10, c. AKJxxx still 2NT.

3. Continuing valuation, with s. AQx, h. Axx, d. AKx, c. A9xx only 2NT but with, s. Kxx, h. Qx, AKQxx, c. AKx, 2 clubs.

4. Flaws such as Qx or Jx and even xx (especially in a minor) should be overlooked for evaluation, concentrating on the trick taking and not worrying about what I deem as low percentage bad luck. Winning bridge is about optimism but, of course, when poor luck does arrive, thick skin or sometimes yet to be, lack of solid credibility, does bring on undue (at least IMO) for those who are heading to, but not yet arrived, at least for public consumption, stardom.

5. Back at the ranch, and with the example: s. 92, h. 109652, d. J2, c. K743 I would transfer to 3 hearts playing the above style, pass my partner’s 3 heart response, but expect him to jump to 4 hearts with, s. Axx, h. KQJ, D. KQ10x, C. AJ10. Note the off the charts value of both the jack of hearts and the 10 of diamonds and, of course, I inserted them for promotional value (10 tricks in hearts are about 90+% safe except perhaps for Jim2).

6. However, when broad brushing valuation across the huge population of the bridge unwashed it is just too difficult and thus inadequate to trust deft high level bridge judgment to all forms of players, leaving us with promoting rather than at least attempting to distinguish why and when.

7. The above, at least IMO, is principally the reason why there has not been, nor ever will be, child geniuses in bridge, simply because experience not individual born with, intuition rules. The key is that partner while holding s. AKQ, h. Ax, Qxxxx, c. AQx should be doubtful of liking his hand for hearts and, of course only respond 3 hearts (to the transfer) in fear of the responder holding only: s. xx, h. xxxxxx, d. xx, c. xxx.

8. The occasional poisioned flowers hand where opponents enter the bidding, e.g very rare, but nevertheless, possible, and then partner makes a penalty double but catches you with a good 6 card minor and, to which of course, the overcaller is void, is always lurking (are you listening Jim 2), so sometimes wicked witches have their day, but partner, depending on who the overcaller happens to be, should often give him his due, and thus be careful about doubling him.

9. Enough spoon feeding and now ready to better understand that bridge has always been a stressful enterprise, no one always right, but nothing but worthwhile challenges and most of all, high-level experience always the huge favorite.


ClarksburgAugust 24th, 2015 at 1:01 am

Actually my question was more about the evaluation of the Responder hand…but you covered that by recommending transfer-and-pass over your style of 2NT opening.
However your words “Let him make the call” inspired a further thought / query. Presumably, on occasion, even though not seeking to get to game, Responder might elect to pass the Captain’s hat back to the 2NT Opener, judging that committing for an extra trick is a price worth paying simply to find the best strain. Is that way of thinking sensible?….or reckless?

bobby wolffAugust 24th, 2015 at 4:42 am

Hi Clarksburg,

1. Bridge bidding is FAR from a perfect exercise and that condition must forever be remembered, particularly when post-morteming a result.

2. At a certain high-level of play, by far the most important quality, is that of consistency.

3. If both partners are disciplined and therefore consistent, that partnership will see success and as their experience will allow greater knowledge in the up elevator, the ceiling for that partnership will rise geometrically.

4. All that to be learned about 2NT openings and their usual responses is that both partner’s together are making a decision. Sure the opening 2NT bidder after transferring to 3 of a major may occasionally have s. xxx, h. Jxxxx, d. xx, c. Jxx and partner will jump to 4 hearts over the 3 diamond transfer. He will figure to go down about 1 trick, therefore doing the wrong thing that time. However, to not jump to 4 hearts with s. KQ10x, h. KQ10x, d. AJx, c. KQ should just be thought to be unlucky.

Dealing with victory and defeat and playing exactly the same way on the next hand is a good example of dealing correctly with discipline.

No discussion between the partners of why anyone did what he did, weak hand not passing 2NT or the strong hand jumping to game.

Finally the difference between the two words you chose, sensible or reckless is simply when a contract makes it is sensible, but when it doesn’t, one or both are reckless.

Partnership confidence should not inure from results, but rather for knowing what to expect and partner obliging.

The above is just another sensational quality of our great game, and why other smarter countries than the USA, have been successful in getting bridge into their primary and secondary schools.

Incidentally you asked about the difference betwen matchpoints and IMPs and this specific subject is involved with that difference since, the rewards of amount of gain suggest bidding “recklessly” at IMPs, but “sensibly” at matchpoints where frequency rules.