Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 9th, 2016

You recently raised the issue of the many names given to various modern doubles. Isn’t the first requirement to agree when Penalty Doubles apply? Beyond that, any double that is not a conventional alertable call, should not even need a name — partner can simply work out what it must mean in the context of the auction.

Monkee Mike, Fayetteville, N.C.

Up to a point, I agree. But some doubles (Snapdragon doubles to show the fourth suit) may be counter-intuitive, so do require detailed agreement. Even the simple responsive double isn’t entirely straightforward. A relatively modern expression of “you’ll recognize it when you hear it” is otherwise not too far from the truth.

I was reading about the ‘Vanderbilt Trophy’ recently. Was the donor connected to the Commodore of the same name?

Lost Louis, Springfield, Mass.

Harold Vanderbilt was a famous bridge player, and a great grandson of the Commodore. He devised and codified the rules of bridge, 100 years ago, and presented the trophy that bears his name as well as playing the game at the top level. He lived to a ripe old age and died less than 50 years ago.

When partner sets up a game force with the fourth suit, which takes precedence, raising partner or bidding no-trump? when I held ♠ A-Q-3-2, Q-5-3, K-10, ♣ J-9-4-2 I opened one club and responded one spade to my partner’s one diamond call. Now he bid two hearts, and I wasn’t sure what to focus on next.

Pigling Bland, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

First things first: I might have bid one no-trump at my second turn, knowing partner either didn’t have spades or would bid them at his next turn. That said, I’d definitely bid two notrump next. Diamonds can wait, and when in doubt the more economical action leaves more room to explore.

Where do you stand on the appropriate number of cards to hold when preempting? I’m often torn between a three-level action on a six-card suit, or even the occasional five-card weak two in third seat. If you feel the same urges, when if ever do you give in to them?

Cave Man, Dodge City, Kan.

For sure a three-club opener may be six (since you have no other preempt available). Hands with high offence and low defense (say, a suit of KQJxxx especially when accompanied by some side-suit shape) might more closely resemble a three-level preempt than a two-level action. The same occasionally applies to a five-card two-level preempt; but they are the exception.

I wasn’t sure how to advance this hand from a recent duplicate pairs tournament at our club. I responded one no-trump to one spade, and when my partner bid two hearts I gave preference to two spades with ♠ J-4, K-8, A-5-3-2, ♣ Q-10-5-3-2. Now my partner bid three hearts and I thought I had to go to game but wasn’t sure whether to pick spades hearts or no-trump. What would you recommend?

Direction Finder, Albuquerque, N.M.

Since you are clearly not in a game-forcing auction you can bid four of a minor to get partner to pick a game if you think that appropriate and partner would understand this. I suppose your partner could technically be 6-5 either way round, but I imagine if he had a strong hand with 5-6 in the majors he would have opened one heart, planning to reverse into spades. So my best guess would be to bid four spades now rather than three no-trump.

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


ClarksburgOctober 23rd, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Hello Mr Wolff
In the Blog of yesterday, Fri Oct 22, your comments touched on the merits of Flannery, and also on the use of 2H for Flannery reserving 2D for what you described as strong random 4441 hands.
In our local Clubs, most players are playing 2D as either weak or Flannery but few or none have conventions or precise agreements to show 4441 hands. One experienced strong player likes mini Roman (11-15 with 4441 or 5440 hand shape) but I don’t believe she is currently playing it with any Partners.
For those of us Intermediates playing 5-card Majors, 15-17 1NT, 2/1 GF, who don’t have a strong artificial Opening other than 2C, who like Flannery but are willing to give up the weak 2H to show the “Flannery hands” what would recommend the 2D opening be used to show.
I hope my rambling question is sufficiently clear!

jim2October 23rd, 2016 at 8:55 pm

I am not Our Host, but here is one method:

ClarksburgOctober 23rd, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Thanks Jim 2
Looks like the 2D there is a big strong cousin of the mini-Roman referred to in my initial question, with perhaps more latitude as to where the singleton is.
One of the (unstated directly) points of my question was what to do with Opener’s hand of 5H and 4S too strong for Flannery so that Responder doesn’t conceal four Spades. Does it require an artificial strong opening call?

Mr. Wolff: I hope I haven’t opened up a voluminous can of worms here. I’m just looking for some first- cut guidance for Intermediates like myself. If it’s simply “don’t go there” I’m good with that!!

jim2October 23rd, 2016 at 10:51 pm

The Precision System I played many moons ago used 2D for the 4-4-1-4 openers NOT strong enough to open 1C (16 HCPs).

The bid was necessary because the system used 5-card majors and 2C required a good 5-card suit. With the singleton in any suit but diamonds, a simple 1D call was available. Thus, the only problem holding was the 4-4-1-4, and the 2D bid covered that hole exactly.

jim2October 23rd, 2016 at 11:10 pm

The url I gave you seems to be about the same as what I played then. It is only 11 – 15 HCPs.

Why do you call that “big strong?” Did you want a weak bid even though the hand lacks a suit?

ClarksburgOctober 23rd, 2016 at 11:39 pm

Sorry Jim2
I was winging it by memory and had a few neurons firing in the wrong direction. I crossed up what your url actually said (11-15) with what Mr Wolff said yesterday:
“…to allow my partnership to put a 2 diamond opening to what we thought was a better use, (strong and random 4-4-4-1’s, not Precision)….”

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2016 at 12:08 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Perhaps the reason for me not reading further than your question for my answer is not wise, but nevertheless that is what I choose to do, in order to give you only my opinion and not be politically influenced by artificially trying to please anyone, but instead just tell it like I think it is.

No doubt, I do like Flannery and also am convinced that a weak two heart bid is valuable, particularly when played against lesser experienced players. The idea for advantage is to, when faced with a choice, make the opponents use their judgment by preempting (the best description for the whole concept of weak two bids).

Obviously then, I am suggesting playing weak two bids (both spades and hearts) as well as Flannery two diamonds. There I said it, and doing so, but keep in mind that all bridge players have their own opinions and since I fit into all, I definitely believe in my advice even if it contradicts some very good ones.

Finally, when playing 2 diamonds as a strong (17+) and random 4-4-4-1 (any singleton) Bob Hamman and I had a number of very good results, but as you can guess, the frequency of that type of hand is small and therefore only worth considering if high-level IMPs is your target. A weak two diamond bid does not have much appeal to me, since its preemptive value is diminished by its level with possibly the best reason to choose it would be to receive a diamond lead rather than pass in third chair after two prior passes. I will usually now, if holding that hand and NV open three diamonds with s. xxx, h. x, d. KJ9xxx, c, Axx. and let the chips fall where they may. Change the king of diamonds for the queen and most of the time I will still open three diamonds in 3rd chair.

If you agree, but have trouble with certain partners to do so, merely tell them “it is just too dangerous not to, giving those nasty opponents all that room to get to the right contract”.

bobby wolffOctober 24th, 2016 at 12:22 am

Hi again Clarksburg and thanks Jim2 for trying to be helpful and, AFAIK succeeding,

The prompt was totally directed to explaining the specialized Precision club 2 diamond opening with short diamonds and only the specific distributions mentioned.

BTW, I have always thought that for the 99%+ players who do not aspire to play great bridge, I do believe that if a club system is preferred, that it be Precision since it appears to be the most simple and direct forcing club system currently out there and being played.

Souped up Precision is another matter, with many complications, but that is for players who want to get there from here and have plenty of time to devote to it (and a partner to boot).