Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Is it right to play “system on” over a no-trump overcall, using the same methods as over a notrump opening bid? If not, what would you recommend? And what about the sequences after we double the opponent’s weak notrump for penalty?

Night of the Hunter, Palm Springs, Calif.

For ease of memory it seems logical to me to try to play the same methods in as many positions as is feasible. While you could tinker with your methods because the opponents have bid a suit, it is really not worth it. Any method you know completely is better than a superior method about which you are less than confident.

You just ran a deal where a balanced 19-count opened a minor and got to four spades from the weaker hand, when it would have been easier his way up. Are there some patented methods you would be prepared to divulge to get the strong hand as declarer with the balanced 18-19 counts?

Protect the Field, Vancouver, British Columbia

A current expert trend seems to be that pairs play one of the opening bids of two clubs or two diamonds as a balanced hand of 18-19HCP. I am not sure the gains outweigh the losses for this approach. I think the way to go in the future may be to use transfer responses to a potentially short one club opener. (The one club bid shows a balanced 12-14 or 1819, or just a regular hand with short clubs). You can read more here.

I’ve been playing keycard Blackwood with some success, but am a little vague about jumps to four no-trump when no suit is explicitly agreed. Are there exceptions to the rule that it should be played as agreeing the last-bid suit?

Dick Dastardly, Ketchikan, Alaska

What you stated is a good simple rule – not best but simple. One exception might come when the auction gets high fast – such as the unopposed sequence: one spade – two diamonds – three clubs. Here you should raise before using keycard, since a direct jump to four no-trump should be quantitative, a better hand than a three no-trump bid.

Why do computer deals always seem to produce freak hands? Do the authorities eliminate the balanced hands from the sets they use?

Don’t Fear the Reaper, Raleigh, N.C.

It can be demonstrated conclusively that computers are set up to produce hands precisely in accordance with the mathematical percentages. Individual sets may look odd, but that isn’t the point. It is poor manual shuffling that exposes you to flatter hands than you should be receiving. In other words, it is your perception that is at fault, not the computer.

If you play an opening bid of one no-trump to show 12-14 points, as we do, having been born in the UK, when we rebid one no-trump to show 15-17 points, should we alert it?

Following the Rules, Bremerton, Wash.

Yes, I think you should. The meaning will be unexpected to those who would assume it to be 12-14 points, unless you specifically tell them. Any time you make a conventional call, or a natural call with an unexpected meaning, it can hardly do any harm to alert your opponents to what it means. Too many alerts are better than too few.

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Paul GoldfingerMarch 6th, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Regarding key card Blackwood when no suit has been agreed upon:

My partners and I play that if no suit has been agreed — such as after a 2 club opening and a positive response — 4NT is regular Blackwood for aces only.

As an example, I once opened 2 clubs with only 17 points! I had 8 hearts with all the honors and AK in another suit and thus 10 tricks with hearts as trump. I also had a singleton and doubleton so I only needed to know how aces my partner had and, if he held 2, whether he had a king in which case 7NT would be cold.

bobbywolffMarch 6th, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Hi Paul,

You are suggesting a practical application of what possibly works best. However when faced with a worthless doubleton “your 2 club opening” Blackwood or ace asking of any kind is not appropriate because of the possibility of having two quick losers.

In that event after opening 2 clubs, hearing partner’s response it might be a good idea after hearts are agreed to cue bid controls making sure that with your worthless doubleton your partner has at least 2nd round control.

Possibly not as simple as you had believed, but worth moving up in status to at least attempt to reach the right contract. Very little about playing good bridge has to do with slam dunks but rather with developing a slam bidding partnership which works.

However the main idea is to enjoy while you play and science can be discussed later. Also sometimes you make a slam you shouldn’t when the opening lead is favorable for you.

All in a day’s work!

Paul GoldfingerMarch 7th, 2016 at 5:07 am

When the hand with 17 points and 10 winners came up, my partner and I were playing the Jacoby step response to a 2 club opener. My partner bid 3 diamonds to show 16-18 points — that’s what I call a great partner.

So you are right that jumping to 4NT would be taking a risk without cue bidding controls. But in this case I knew that we couldn’t be off 2 aces.

bobbywolffMarch 7th, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Hi Paul,

And I suppose you also mean that by his point count your partnership couldn’t be off two immediate tricks in the same suit. In other words, with you having 17 hcps and partner promising 16-18 it might be possible, only holding 33 hcps between you, it does seem barely possible, but certainly not likely that you are off an AK.

However that treatment is what you get when you write to a nerdy (but numerate) wise guy, who probably thinks he is a good bridge player, but, in reality, seems to specialize in scrutinizing your every word. Not much chance of that, but who knows for sure?

I also agree with your definition of likely defining a good partner as being resourceful, compassionate, knowledge of system, ethical, and alert but a great one, a consistent winner with you as his partner.

No doubt a practical application, similar to you being able to jump to 4NT immediately after hearing his initial response to your forcing bid.

Paul, I would no doubt, fear you if we ever played against one another in rubber bridge, simply because from what I heard above, your side will hold most of the high cards.

I wish you continued good luck.

slarMarch 8th, 2016 at 2:55 am

Inept shuffling drives me crazy. I always try to give my cards a legitimate seven shuffles but sometimes my peers are doing good to get past 4. I wish there were shuffling machines to produce boards for us, but I guess that isn’t feasible at the regional level with so many tables in action. It is hard to win a Swiss event when you have a lot of flat hands.

On the flip side, it does appear to me that hands are wilder in higher rated pairs events than normal club games. I feel that there are more hands with more ways to go wrong. It is hard to qualify but it sure feels like there is something there. Fine by me – I think these situations give me an advantage.

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2016 at 5:17 am

Hi Slar,

Methinks you are subject to some illusions. No doubt, I have no way to prove it, nor do I think your thinking brings any bad fortune or habits to you or your opponents, but logically, computer dealt hands will follow the normal patterns more closely, simply because there is no human error.

Sure, every once in a while, some board from a previous session does not get shuffled and here it comes again, but even after only one riffle, the cards are scattered enough to not make a difference in any form of strategy planned.

However, I am not an expert, nor have any greater understanding of probabilities than anyone else, but I simply do not think that anyone is in control or even makes a dent as long as it is not specifically planned to “set up’ someone or some team.