Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 6th, 2016

I dealt and passed holding: ♠ A-J-5-4-2, Q-9-4-3-2, Q-3, ♣ 10. When my partner opened one club I bid one spade and heard my partner respond one no-trump. Would it be right to rebid two hearts or three hearts now?

Rose Red, Pleasanton, Calif.

It is surely sufficient to bid two hearts here. If you do not have a nine-card fit, your hand will not be nearly as promising as it might initially appear. If your partner raises hearts you will bid on of course. However, that will probably not happen, I admit, since your sequence is not technically a constructive one.

I was in third seat with: ♠ J-4, Q-J-7-2, K-Q-5-4-3, ♣ 10-4 and heard my partner open one diamond. I responded one heart, the next hand doubled, and partner raised to two hearts, with my RHO now bidding two spades. What would you do now?

Raising the Roof, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Without the opponents bidding, three diamonds should be natural and forcing, at least invitational in hearts. You cannot agree one suit then switch to another suit to correct the partscore; this should be a game try. In competition, I might bid three diamonds intending it to be natural, to help partner locate my values, not minding if partner read this to be a slightly better hand.

Recently in your column I have seen experts bidding weak twos on any six-carder, without reference to suit quality, or indeed even on a five-card suit. Does that mean that I should be considering doing the same thing at my club?

Class Clown, Troy, N.Y.

I’d say no. It is important that a partnership preserves some kind of integrity in its standards of preempting. While one can afford to move away from the view that weak-twos require two of the top honors, when you are vulnerable I believe there is a place for discipline — except perhaps in third chair.

I was watching a major championship when I saw two world class players pass over a one club opener, when holding a strong three-suiter with a singleton spade. How good does one have to be to consider action mandatory in this position?

Tom Terrific, Levittown, Pa.

I hate doubling an opening bid with off-shape hands, unless holding at least 17 HCP, the same reaction as the two players who held the hand. After partner bids spades you have to bid no-trump, suggesting 18-20, so you would be misrepresenting your hand by quite a bit to follow this route with less than 17. And it is hard to know how hard to bid on when partner jumps to four spades…

I have a great deal of problems determining whether to lead actively or passively when playing pairs. What determines when to try not to give away a trick, as opposed to leading from honors? Does it depend on the form of scoring, and what about defending to games or slams as opposed to partscores?

Problem Solver, Edmonton, Alberta

Your question is somewhat open-ended. I lead aggressively against small slams and against games, unless it sounds as if suits are not splitting or the opponents are stretching, or if I am leading into a strong hand. Against part-scores I’m less dogmatic. Other than a dislike of leading from ace-fourth (or low from ace-king fourth) at notrump, I have few hard and fast rules.

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ClarksburgNovember 20th, 2016 at 10:06 am

Good morning Mr Wolff
I recall your having touched on this topic previously, but I couldn’t track it down. Could you kindly provide an update.
What defines a hand suitable for a two-level opening in fourth seat, particularly the strength range.

Bobby WolffNovember 20th, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

While I do not remember going public on the answer to your (in bygone days) popular question. it certainly should be discussed among aspiring partnerships.

1. While being an attempt to go plus on what otherwise is a preemptive bid, with the major intent of often making it more difficult for the opponents to begin competing at the two level instead of just one with especially the spade suit so…..

2. A bid of 2 of a major should (may) range from: s. AQJxxx, h. K10xx,, d. Jx, c. x through, s. Ax, h. KQJxxx, d. Jxxx, c. x down to s. AQJ9x, h. x, d. Kxxxx. c. xx, s. xxxx, h. KQJ9x, d. x c. KQx and include: s. 10xxxxx, h. Axx, d. AJx, c.x and s. AKx, h. Qxxxxx, d. Jxx, c. x

3. However, while holding s. KJx, h. KQJ9xx, d. K10x, c. x or, s. QJ9xxx, h. Axx, d. x, c. AJ10 I would merely open a one bid and go positive if partner elected to respond Drury, particularly 4 card Drury, which, incidentally, I recommend heartily.

4. Yes 5 card suits (but good ones) often fit the bill rather than allow the opponents to get in at the one level (over) hearts but also at the two level over either major: Therefore I would also open 2 hearts with: s. AJx, h. KQJ9x, d. J10xx, c. x. or even 2 spades with s. QJ109x, h. x, d. Ax, c. Kxxxx.

All of the above examples are intended to buy the hand at the two level rather than be pushed to the three level, with the idea of giving up exploring for another suit as allowing the opponents more freedom to enter cheaply.

Yes, the vulnerbility and the class of opponents does enter the choice, but above all, I am interested in buying the hand as cheaply as possible at the risk of a misfit or the ability to test out other suits.

Going along with this method is playing with a partner who is not shy about opening most 12 hcp balanced hands since otherwise there could be a conflict between constructive bidding with a fit against either stealing an occasional hand which belongs to the opponents or, in actuality, allowing our partnership to play it at the two level rather than the much less effective three level where going down one is exponentially increased.

Finally, all of the above applies even more so as 3rd hand rather than 4th. Weak two bids are rightfully intended to obstruct opponents rather than bid constructively, with again the theme of being a “tough opponent” rather than a “by the book” predictable partnership.

slarNovember 20th, 2016 at 10:22 pm

My attempt to simplify the above: look for about 6 playing tricks and a suit strong enough to play opposite a small singleton. Hands with 5 playing tricks should be considered as well, especially non-vulnerable. (The last thing you want to do is go -200 on a hand you could have passed out.) Anything stronger is generally not a candidate.

Our host will undoubtedly call this an over-simplification but it should at least get you in the ballpark.

ClarksburgNovember 21st, 2016 at 12:33 am

Actually I was already on my way into the ballpark with a reasonably well-informed group of local Intermediate Club Players. We just weren’t quite sure in which section we should sit.
Mr. Wolff’s response informed us of the style of the experts and strong Players in the Box Seats, and helped us get our bearings to find the right Section for us.
Where we hang out, in Section IC, we are a bit more conservative:
The base case is roughly what would be a top-of-the-range weak two, or a minimum opener with which our rebid would be two of that suit. Our suits (usually 6-long)have quality tops.
With Spades, the hand would normally satisfy rule of fifteen for those who like to rely on that. With Hearts, ignoring such a rule is OK.
We set the upper limit of playing strength at roughly 14+. With time and experience, and to challenge ourselves more in the play, we’ll be more aggressive in future.
Hopefully this approach will not get us ejected from the Ballpark 🙂

Bobby WolffNovember 21st, 2016 at 6:15 am

Hi Slar,

No one has shown me the chutzpah to only have a small singleton in my suit while passing my weak two bid made in the fourth seat after three passes.

If somehow the once in a million unknown event comes to pass, and on a midnight clear, when partner (I) have opened a WTB in the 4th chair (or maybe even 3rd), he has only a small singleton what is to be trump for me, I, as the lord protector, will have six to the KQJ10.

And that does not come from reading many bridge books, it is only common horse sense.

And now everyone now knows how to win because being a good partner has little to do with good play or certainly even good manners, not to mention being dressed properly, but rather everything to do with having the right hand for partner, especially when he needs me to have it.

Anything less is culpable and subject to a serious enough penalty to never let it happen once, let alone more.

slarNovember 22nd, 2016 at 1:41 am

I’m not concerned here. If partner has a small singleton then spades are breaking 3-3. Surely the opponents would have found a bid if one of them had four spades!

This reminds me of the comment on the table cards “The best skill you can have at the bridge table is to be a good partner”.

Bobby WolffNovember 22nd, 2016 at 2:49 am

Hi Slar,

Agreed on all three counts, but one minor add-on, being a good partner is nice, even special, especially if he or she never makes a bridge mistake.