Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 31st, 2016

Holding ♠ Q-7-3, Q-4, K-Q-9-6-3, ♣ K-10-3, I heard my partner open one club and the next hand overcalled one spade. I bid two diamonds, and my partner joined in with two hearts. Is that a reverse, showing real extras, or does it not define my partner’s range? In any event, what should I bid now?

Vexed Question, Mason City, Iowa

This is not a reverse; it shows clubs and hearts but it might be only 4-4 and minimum. The fact that your partner bids hearts here under pressure just says he has four (he might simply have planned to bid one heart over one diamond). So I’d just bid two no-trump now and not be too concerned if partner passes…even if your side has 25 HCP you have not made game yet – or even two no-trump!

In second seat, vulnerable against not at Matchpoint Pairs, you hold: ♠ —, 4-3, Q-J-10-6-5, ♣ A-K-10-8-4-2. When RHO opens one spade do you bid the unusual no-trump or overcall with two clubs? Would your view change if your diamonds were weaker – or if you had 0-1-5-7 pattern?

Dumbledore, New Haven, Conn.

On your actual hand two no-trump seems right, but with weaker diamonds I would bid clubs at whatever level you think appropriate. With the 5-7 pattern would five clubs be overly aggressive? Possibly yes, I admit!

I was dealt ♠ A-Q-7-3, 2, K-J-6, ♣ K-10-9-7-3, and after a pass from my partner I heard an opener of one heart to my right. I imagine it is right to double, but when that was redoubled and passed back to me am I supposed to sit it out? If I run, what should I bid?

Call to Action, Boise, Idaho

Your partner’s pass has been described graphically as the Pontius Pilate pass; “You got us into this, you get us out of it”. Start by escaping to one spade and gauging the severity with which this gets doubled! You can always remove yourself to two clubs – but running to two clubs at once is less flexible.

One of my partners, with whom I qualified as life master, had a question on one of our bidding sequences. Holding ♠ A-J-7-5-2, 5-4-3, K-Q-6, ♣ A-4 I opened one spade of course. My LHO over called two clubs and my partner bid two diamonds, which I raised to three diamonds. Now my partner bid three hearts; what would you do now?

Close Harmony, Vancouver, British Columbia

When the suit orders are inconvenient, as here, I’d read partner’s call as a try for three no-trump — so with a club stopper I would bid three no-trump now. Of course partner could be 5-6 in the red suits, but then I’d expect him to bid on, knowing I didn’t bid two no-trump at my second turn.

Your readers know of your passionate belief that bridge should be included in North American school curricula. This raises a question of how bridge could or should be presented for students just starting out. Obviously the mechanics of how it works and maybe even the scoring is a must. What are your thoughts?

Problem Solver, Monterey, Calif.

Beginning with mini-bridge, whereby the bidding is far less important than the play, is a good start. I think learning by experience is the right way to go. Answering the players’ questions and giving a few suggestions is enough to start with.

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


David WarheitAugust 14th, 2016 at 11:54 am

You tell Call to Action that a bid of 2C is less flexible than your recommended bid of 1S. I disagree. Your takeout double virtually guaranteed 4 spades (if not, you probably have more than a minimum hand for your bid), so a bid of 2C tells partner that you have 5 clubs and almost certainly 4 spades. Otherwise, partner may well hold 3-4-3-3 distribution (or some other things, like 2-4-4-3) and will, of course, have no idea that clubs is our best suit.

jim2August 14th, 2016 at 1:02 pm

David –

I do not know what is best, but I know I also would bid 2C for just the reasons you cited. The last thing I want is to play in a Moysian fit with the long hand getting tapped in hearts from the start.

Bill CubleyAugust 14th, 2016 at 3:45 pm


Re Dumbledore and 2 suited hands. I tell my partners when I bid both suits of a 2 suited call separately rather than Michaels or the Unusual NT it means there is at least a two card disparity in the suit lengths. Partner should think 6-4, 7-4 hand patterns, n0t 7-6 or 5-4.

I think this is sound. But I am still learning after all these many, many years. Your thoughts correcting me are welcome. Even more welcome are your thoughts agreeing with me. 😉

bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Hi David and Jim2,

While I do not disagree with either of your overall assessments as to the wisdom of seeking out an eight card fit as opposed to a seven card one, the bidding has taken a “slightly, but not necessarily dangerous turn”.

The bidding has merely reached, at this point, a psychological turn in the road, where from our point, yes we want to be careful, but by doing so we strongly prefer to not get doubled, if in fact partner has a Yarborough and in addition we do not have an eight card fit (possible).

In order to maximize the chance of our receiving a “get out of jail card” we want to make it as difficult as possible for our worthy opponents to realize their defensive potential and thus to so do, we likely need to test our first possible seven card fit at the one level wherein perhaps the opponents have a 3-3 holding and thus because of that and our still being only at the one level. they do not opt for an attempt to “road kill” merely because neither one of them is long enough in trumps with both of them worrying that the other one has only two, which, if so, would usually be a mistake (by doubling they would be suggesting a very decent four card holding or stronger., especially when only at the one level since defense being more difficult than declarer’s play, is often less than perfect, starting with the blind opening lead).

The strategy, of course, if one of them would double (and of course adding being at the table and the assessment of those particular possible blood thirsty opponents and their habits) would be to run to 2 clubs, which then would, of course alert our partner that we only had 4 spades and were now bidding a five card one, otherwise an SOS redouble would be preferable. especially if we were 4-1-4-4 and already knew that our partner did not hold 4 spades (by his failure to originally bid them).

IOW and attempting to sum up these defensive positions which sometimes arrive unannounced and more times than one may expect turn out to not be an emergency is to maximize (both in reality and bluff, “poker” style) our “staying alive” to fight another day.

Partner could be distributed 3-3-5-2 (and, of course, weak) and, if so, very well have passed, employing the same wait and see doctrine of seeking out low level safety and fearing only a doubleton diamond opposite, not step out with 2 diamonds immediately but rather give the opponents a chance to not do the right thing (which also, as indicated above, happens more often that thought, but only while playing against wily opponents like yourselves who give it a chance to occur).

Finally if holding s. AQJx, h. xx, d. Kx, c. KJxxx and having RHO open one heart, I prefer a simple 1 spade overcall, rather than double (probably the majority choice among experienced players) for many of the same reasons we are now having this discussion.

No doubt a one spade overcall is a distortion, but I firmlly believe a better choice (for defensive reasons) since I prefer to deal with that distributional aberration later than face the too ugly (at least for me) possibility of partner being very disappointed in what he finds in trumps when he voluntarily bids diamonds.

In truth the good things which sometimes happen with the one spade overcall (catching partner long in spades) puts our partnership in better stead when, our opponents stumble by doing the wrong thing either in the bidding, on opening lead, or later even on defense.

At least to me, the so-called poker element in bridge is perhaps the most underused and underestimated talent available since when technical ability is mostly quite even at the top in bridge (and IMO it is), being a tougher minded partnership (and unpredictable by opponents, not partner) often is the deciding factor. Yes, sometimes it backfires, but obviously to me it is worth the risk.

Finally, since the above topic is rarely discussed, the Sunday problems used, particularly over the years, have now graduated to what could be thought to be proper strategies rather than just technical differences which to many are already thoroughly known, at least by the real bridge lovers.

bobbywolffAugust 14th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hi Bill,

Yes, I am always in need of attempting to give good bridge advice, irrespective of agreeing or not, but at the same time, not going over the top with disagreement for two reasons:

1. I may either be wrong or just perhaps slightly different, the person(s) I am addressing have modeled their game(s) along different lines and radically changing that thinking, is just to them, too grizzly to contemplate and I sincerely feel, who can blame them? They are certainly entitled to Godspeed without having to worry who they happen to please.

2. The need to follow Miss Manners advice is indeed compelling since in this now IMO too fast paced world, social intercourse has taken a world view since not only the customs of the home country are becoming more varied, but then add in the huge cultural differences, with strong different worldwide opinions featured, and at least some distinct and professed ugliness is sure to be perceived.

If, in fact, the above is agreed to be happening, then the choice is clearly defined, the subject being worth the hard feelings (at least at the beginning) or better passed over and left "up for grabs"?

The choice is not mine to make, since when you or any of my other internet friends is involved it is difficult to impossible to predict and thus cater, to that honest reaction.

In any event I will give you my opinion in your discussion surrounding Dumbledore and 2 suited hands. With only equal or one card separating their length -5-5, 5-6 try the unusual NT for minors (2NT over 1 of a major, etc) however the longer suit, with only some very rare exceptions, should always be the lower ranking suit (perhaps J10xxxx, AKQ10x might be that exception). Having a normal 6-5 then would suggest, at least to me a simple 2 diamond overcall followed later, if indeed not too high, by clubs (certainly through and including the five level). Should we then call it?: "In bridge leave no suit behind even if it means Mt. Everest heights, since missing a big trump fit just WILL NOT be acceptable if one expects to compete in high level bridge".

With a two card difference (usually 4-6 or possible 5-6 (Jxxxx, AKJxxx) overcall the longer suit then back in with NT if strong enough to show the higher ranking minor is in the game but is shorter. Example being s. x, h. xx, d. AQ10x, c. AKJ10xx with RHO opening a major then a simple 2 club overcall followed by a raise of the major by LHO to either 2 or 3, followed by two passes then a minimum NT (either 2 or 3) would show a 2 card discrepancy but at least get the other minor into the game, a necessity if partner held something like a major suit ace and perhaps 5 or 6 diamonds to something, together with a singleton club. where the minor suit diamond game is a real possibility.

What have we learned, if anything? Not too much for most, except the evolution of our superlative game to cover as many bases as possible, in order to use our specific code language, (bridge bidding) to its best advantage.

IOW, rather than just asking what and why to better be equipped socially to play with friends, use that information as a vehicle to understand that many of us are still equipped with the ability to make quantum leaps forward in becoming quite proficient in the game we love, you certainly, being one of those which automatically doesn't make one qualified to win World Championships, but rather instead to receive a great satisfaction for really beginning to understand what a great game we are blessed to be able to not only play, but to be able to understand and converse about it with all levels of players.

slarAugust 15th, 2016 at 2:36 am

Interesting questions here. On (1H)X(XX) I think I would be inclined to go straight to 2C. Sure it is less flexible but I’d like to think that if your partner wanted to play 1S he would have bid it. When I need to overcall with the minors, I usually play 2NT as weak or strong and bid out my pattern if I have a normal opener. I wonder if I should change my tune and use it for full openers only when vulnerable. I have been using it for sound preempts but that is a relatively rare hand – that is a small needle to thread.

Of course the best way to play is a way such that partner will respond properly, whatever that takes within the rules.

bobbywolffAugust 15th, 2016 at 4:37 am

Hi Slar,

Yes you are in good company with David and Jim2 in selecting as a run out 2 clubs rather than 1 spade. So would many other good players, and all I was doing was expounding what I thought to be a better strategy to emerge from this situation without getting doubled.

Sure, like the three of you and I must say, many other very good players would retreat immediately to 2 clubs, which is unlikely to be criticized even if doubled and in spite of finding 3 clubs with partner still go down more than the opponents can make.

It was mentioned that your partner possibly had a 3-4-3-3 Yarborough and well he might, but I tried to explain by stopping off in 1 spade before running there is a strong likelihood that since the opponents may have 8 hearts between them they will not stop off to double us at the one level and instead, just bid their game and, of course expect to make it.

At all levels of bridge, the only group which hardly ever does the wrong thing are the cheaters with stealthy signals and hopefully soon and worldwide they will all be gone (possibly wishful thinking). However the honest ones will often eschew a very low level double, particularly if they expect and hold an 8 card major suit fit, and even when they do not they often just chug into 3NT. Trying to defeat a one level contract 3+ doubled tricks require them to take 9 tricks as defenders, usually a difficult task when the declarer is a good player and they have to defend rather than declare when they are allowed to see all their 26 assets in front of them, especially when confronted on defense with a blind opening lead to boot.

None of the above will prevent me from running from one spade doubled when and if it happens.

Therefore, since that strategy, though not often mentioned, could be considered by those who seem to have closed minds to varying tactics which take advantage of both the scoring system and also good player’s tendencies which by my experience is passed on to our group.

However, I do not get a commission from anyone for taking a stab at one spade for the reasons given above. Yes, there are no guarantees whatever the TO doubler does once the redouble threatens your partnership and I am not one to just accept a very bad result without looking for ways to (I think) improve one’s chances.