Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Can you tell me what the rules are about alerting your own calls, and your partner’s bid? When should you alert a bid if you are not sure if the call is conventional?

Knock Knock, Panama City, Fla.

When your partner makes a conventional call you say “Alert” and (if you have one) wave or tap the Alert card from the bidding box. Your opponent, when it is his turn to speak, can ask if he wants to know. You alert your partner’s calls not your own, and it is better to alert too much than too little. At the end of the auction the declaring side ought to correct any mis-explanation by their partner. The defenders must wait till play is ended to correct any error by their partner.

Are there any married couples who might represent the US as a partnership? Or do most of the strongest women in the US play in the women’s game?

Grampus, Tucson, Ariz.

Michael and Debbie Rosenberg have played separately on recent US open and women’s teams, as have Jill and Bobby Levin. The former play together rather more often than the latter, but unless my memory is letting me down, no married couples have done particularly well in recent trials for US teams.

Reading the ACBL magazine recently I saw an article by Frank Stewart in which he noted a hand in which you overcalled one spade after a one level opening with a holding like K-Q-7-3. Unlike me, Stewart was not a fan of this approach, but I wonder if you remember the hand, and where you stand on the general issue.

Raising Heck, Cartersville, Ga.

I think your good results with four-card overcalls are not by accident, since I have also appeared to have very acceptable returns from such actions when I have the right hand and the right suit — an important caveat. At least to me, bridge bidding choices are based on art rather than science.

If my partner opens with one club and my subsequent responses show that I also have an opening bid, can she use the Gerber four club convention to find out aces or should she use the Blackwood convention? Does it matter if the bid of four clubs is a jump?

Task-master, Washington, D.C.

Only use Gerber when jumping to four clubs following an opening or overcall in no-trump, or after opener’s one no-trump rebid. Gerber is really only relevant when four no-trump would be natural and invitational in notrump. Otherwise the call should be either a cuebid or natural — if it isn’t a jump to show a singleton club in support of partner or with an agreed trump suit.

My partner has seen experts on Vugraph use a jump to two notrump in response to one of a major when holding only three cards in the major suit and 10-11 HCPs. I am dubious of this system, but have only used two no-trump as Jacoby previously. What is your view on that approach – do you have any practical experience of it?

Merchant of Venice, Portland, Ore.

Experts from around the world do use this call in different ways. Some use it only for invitational hands, some for hands at least that strong. And some indeed use it with three trump and a singleton. There is certainly some merit in using the jump to two no-trump as natural and forcing, while a call of two spades over one heart (or three clubs over one spade) is the Jacoby raise.

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


slarJuly 31st, 2016 at 3:58 pm

I hit a new one (for me) while playing in the zip knockouts with the kidz last night. The opponents, when non-vulnerable, bid 1S automatically which then turned into some sort of relay. Being a zip, I didn’t really worry about it and just tried to play bridge but it was a bit unnerving being so used to playing against Standard / 2 over 1 with the occasional Precision pair. I have two questions for the group.

1. Is this system even legal for ACBL play? It would seem to violate both the “relay systems” and “systems designed to destroy the opponent’s methods” clauses of the convention chart.

2. How would you combat such a thing? Given about 60 seconds of preparation, we ended up just bidding like maniacs (which is probably the point).

P.S. Our loss in the match had very little to do with system and everything to do with two game contracts, one not bid by my side and one bid and down 1.

P.P.S. I played in that event because I sponsored it. See the very end of Saturday’s bulletin for details.

ClarksburgJuly 31st, 2016 at 5:10 pm

@ Slar
Thanks for pointing to that Bulletin, as it also contains an article on removal of almost all of the previous arbitrary and vague restrictions on opening 1NT with a singleton.
Thought other readers might be interested (and pleased) to see that.

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Hi Slar,

Although I have not yet turned to read what you suggested and may not be able to for many hours I feel inclined to write about some general thoughts regarding your enigma.

No doubt, crazy stuff about automatic bids showing nothing (but taking up space) shades of the late 1980s when forcing pass with fertilizer attachments (up to now the most perfect name ever to identify the product, particularly so, if one has, so to speak, a nose for it).

To allow such things with no warning, therefore no preparation should be related to a game other than bridge, but in truth is completely opposite for what, at least IMO, bridge stands for. However there are plenty of people (maybe silently more than 1/2 of our membership who compete often, but mostly unsuccessfully) thought by them to give them a better chance to visit the winner’s circle (instead of the sinner’s circle to which I think they are much more entitled).

To me those total distortions without their helpless opponents having no chance to prepare for that poison gas, having no time to buy a mask, need to be checked at the door.

It is, of course, perhaps a scheduled event readily approved and, if so, nothing at this point should be said, decrying that it should not have been allowed.

BTW I do appreciate the fair way you present your side of the story. Never a doubt, at least to me, that you are giving both sides a fair shake, and that is appreciated since it is sort of rare.

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes that long awaited for taking off the gloves opinion about now allowing NT openings to be legally made without rebuff has finally occurred.

Then so to speak, when push comes to shove, we, (old timers), come back to what has been felt and occasionally voiced through the years that what is so very important (with other emotions not even counted) that bridge should be a game where, if all the special ethics associated with, e.g opponents alerted, no poison gas (noted above in my response to Slar), no UI being acted on (rather leaning over backwards against, with no tell tale body language included) then all other legal deceptions are not only allowed, but actually encouraged and other rules of bridge warfare (psyches to which partner will not be privy except by the bridge attachment, bidding and logic) very much to be an integral part of winning and losing (especially when two very good partnerships square off against one another).

Opening NT with a singleton never had any type of stigma (among the experienced players) not even the hint of one, except, of course, if the one who did it, signaled stealthily to his partner and that is a different discussion for some other time.

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Hi Slar,

Receiving your prompt I went to it and happily learned more about you and your family, particularly your recently deceased grandmother.

Are your initials JY? If so. it is good to get to know you up close and personal. “This may be the middle of a good relationship”. The last lines of the famous movie “Casablanca” however not verbatim.

slarJuly 31st, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Yes that is me. My user name here is a mispronunciation of my last name invented by my friends years ago.

Regarding NT openings, I was happy to see that too. I am happy with the new definition.

Regarding the forced 1S players, at least I had the presence of mind to ask whether they played anything unusual. I would have been happier if they had a written defense to it. Given some time to think about it, I think something like the following might be reasonable:

double: weak NT or good hand (18+)
1NT: strong NT
2X: Natural, unbalanced
2NT: ???
3C thru 4D: preemptive / very light

What does the crowd think?

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Hi Slar,

Most anything which comes to mind is OK together with since the 1 Spade bid takes up almost no bidding space, by the use of doubles meaning something the defense gains more than the convention gleans, and in addition that defense is deprived of a natural 1 spade bid which could, if not playing it that way, be a valuable tool to compete or at least to get a spade lead.

Consequently, as a result of a possible complaining partnership about it, that is what a committee should determine along with it not being a good idea to try and just intimidate new players by subjecting them to something that they have not experienced before and unlikely will not later,

BTW, I would not recommend any preemptive bids over the 1 spade bid since it will only be used (or should be) when holding a poor hand so it becomes unnecessary to preempt 4th seat players, between two bidders and having partner already having passed.

Peter PengJuly 31st, 2016 at 8:42 pm

Hi Bobby

V vs NV, partner opened 1NT

After two passes, LHO bid 2C, partner passed and RHO bid 2H.

After 2 passes, partner reopened with a double.

I had 3-2-4-4 distribution, Qx in H and Kxxx in clubs, all spots other cards.

I was not sure what the double was.

I thought as follows.

1. Partner knew I had no suit, or would have transferred.

2. Partner knew I had no points, or could have balanced in 2NT.

3. We were V x NV

4. I had already passed twice.

5. If partner had a suit he could have bid over 2C still at the 2 level, if only for lead directing and exploring a fit.

6. The 1NT bid already described the hand well.

I thought that the only option was a penalty double, and I passed.

It was not. Partner had Ax in H, nothing else, declarer had a 7 card suit. She easily made it.

We got an absolutely round Zero.


1. What other thoughts I could have had?

2. Does this qualify as masterminding on the part of either of us?

thanks for your considerations

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Hi Peter,

I assume that the reopening of 2 clubs just showed clubs since you didn’t alert (me).

Therefore the 2 heart bid by your RHO was behind your partner, the 1NT bidder, lessening his defensive trump strength. It then follows that doubles should only mean, I have a little better than I have promised, in this case close to a maximum 1NT and expect you to DSIS*.

Therefore you should either bid 2NT or 3 diamonds to which I would choose 2NT since the heart bidder is on lead, and both your meager assets are in the opponent’s suits, but if holding 4 Spades I would certainly choose 2 spades.

Sometimes in bridge one has to use common sense and try and move away from defending the opponent’s best contract, in this case definitely 2 hearts.

BTW I did not disclose what that 4th letter in what your partner’s dbl is likely to mean, but then simply let your imagination figure it out.

Bridge does not always invoke love between partners and the kind of hand you described is one of the reasons why.

*do something intelligent (blank)

Patrick CheuJuly 31st, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Hi Bobby,Does the one no-trump bidder not guarantee 4S by doubling 2H,if so is there a case for 2S though with only three? regards~Patrick.

bobbywolffJuly 31st, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Hi Patrick,

Maybe guarantee is an overbid, but yes he is likely to hold 4 spades. While bidding 2 spades with only 3 is certainly in the ballpark, 2NT has an advantage of likely holding 4 diamonds allowing partner to slip out of NT and into the 4-4 fit.

No doubt these kinds of auctions become slippery slopes, but sometimes not allowing oneself to be fixed (defending 2 hearts) good things may happen either in making something or at least pushing the opponents to a one down somewhere.

Frank StewartAugust 1st, 2016 at 2:25 am

Dear Bobby,
The article “Raising Heck” refers to appeared in the September 2015 Bridge Bulletin. My text cited you as one of the ablest practicers of four-card overcalls, with a knack for making such a call at just the right moment. The suit on which you overcalled, not vulnerable, was AJ109.
Kindest regards to you and Judy.
Frank Stewart

bobbywolffAugust 1st, 2016 at 4:48 am

Hi Frank,

Thanks for the plug.

As I am sure you have learned, like I have, to just be mostly a kibitzer in both the National and World bridge scene, the past appears further and further away,

However, thanks for reminding me of previous years where playing bridge created one high after another. You have done such a marvelous job with everything family and bridge, that your life is everything a role model should be. Plenty to be very proud of, and thanks for including me among your huge bridge audience.

Best to your whole family and from Judy.