Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 27th, 2017

After some overbidding, you reach a contract where you need to play your nine-card fit for no losers. In dummy you have ace-jack-sixth and queen-third in hand. You are missing the nine and 10 but have the eight. What play gives declarer the best chance of playing the suit if there are no entry problems? And how should you play the suit for one loser?

Bob’s Your Uncle, East Rutherford, N.J.

You must finesse the jack then cash the ace. Of the potentially winning distributions, you lose only to the bare king offside. Give yourself the nine and you would probably play the same way unless the hand over the ace had suggested shortness in this suit, when you might run the queen then repeat the finesse if the queen was covered. Incidentally, you should run the queen if you can afford one loser – that lets you play the suit for one loser against one of the 4-0 splits.

On an unopposed auction you hear RHO bid one spade, LHO bids two diamonds, then raises two no-trump to three. Holding ♠ J-9,  K-6-5-3,  10-4-2, ♣ Q-5-4-2 which suit is better to lead and why? Is there a preference or a general guideline for leading away from a king or a queen?

First Footer, Edmonton, Alberta

I think there is a slight edge for leading the unbid major no matter which way round your honors are. The logic is that declarer surely won’t hold hearts, and dummy is not favorite to do so. Meanwhile either declarer or dummy could hold four clubs, even if neither hand is especially favorite to do so. In abstract, there is really nothing to choose between the two holdings – the better the intermediates, the more attractive the lead.

If you lowered your opening bid standards to open one diamond with the following hand, what would you rebid over the response of a major suit? ♠ A-10,  J-3,  K-J-73-2, ♣ K-9-5-3, and would it matter whether partner bid hearts or spades as to what you did next?

Rear Gunner, Columbia, S.C.

This hand is a perfectly respectable opening bid, I believe. I hew to Terence Reese’s dictum that 5422 is a hand more appropriate for suit play than no-trump, and rebidding two clubs does not in any way suggest extras. Having said that, bidding 1 NT over a one heart response is not even a misdemeanor, whereas doing so over one spade might be a felony.

Recently in your column you recommended passing on a decent hand with a minimum opening bid, with four spades and four clubs, after hearing one diamond to your left and one heart to your right. You suggested doubling two of either red suit on the second round at your next turn. If the double stands, and the opponents make two hearts, won’t that finish up much worse for you?

Doppelganger, Eau Claire, Wis.

Double would not be for penalty here. When the opponents have agreed a suit at a low level, double should be for take-out. In fact I play almost no penalty doubles facing a passing partner (and especially when the opponents have implicitly or explicitly agreed a suit).

With both sides vulnerable, would you overcall one spade with ♠ 10-9-8-7-2,  Q-2,  K-3, ♣ K-Q-9-4? The hand and suit seem too weak to me; but if you agree, where does the threshold move from unacceptable to marginal?

Taxi Driver, Olympia, Wash.

This does not look like an overcall to me though I would balance with this hand happily enough. If you put a gun to my head, I would overcall one spade if the heart queen were the king. And of course my standards decline a little if non-vulnerable, maybe to a point where I would act with our example hand – even if I didn’t advocate that action for others.

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 2017. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgSeptember 10th, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Hello Bobby
In yesterdays BLOG (Sept 9) you advice re the BWTA item was:

“…The philosophy of responding to one club is not a matter of right or wrong. I believe with limited hands one bids a major (no matter what quality) in front of a four- or five-card diamond suit. Here I bid one heart, since my partner would bypass a four-card heart suit in a balanced hand if I responded one diamond…”

If Responder has a hand worth two bids (or even GF) and a very good diamond suit, presumably the response would then be 1D not 1H. Is that correct ??
If so, then since Opener may have four Hearts (but not shown) presumably Responder should then show the Hearts over 1S or 1NT? Correct ??
How should Responder show GF strength versus Invitational?

ClarksburgSeptember 10th, 2017 at 11:43 pm

To possibly make it less work for you to answer my question, I should say I have recently become familiar (recent book) with “XYZ” where after bids in three suits ending at the one-level, then Responder’s 2C and 2D are both artificial (Invitational and GF respectively) asking for more info from Opener.
ps you might be pleased to know that the author of the book is also recommending two-way Stayman.

Bobby WolffSeptember 11th, 2017 at 5:30 am

Hi Clarksburg,

I’ve had a full busy day, so please forgive me for being late to your questions.

Your whole subject is basically answered by individual preferences by different partnerships.

The basic rules for players is about what you would expect, bid one heart over one club, bypassing a longer diamond suit if one’s hand is not worth two forward going bids. This is especially true if an opener’s rebid is 1NT, if holding a four card major or even two) he could have instead, chosen.

Since I doubt I can add much value to further discussion, I will digress and suggest what I think are the major factors in choosing what to do.

1. Overlooking a much better diamond suit, usually at least 5 and even sometimes 6, (with an honor or two) to bid 1 heart (with only 4 and sometimes with nary an honor) has an advantage in both getting favorable leads (mostly from inexperienced opponents) and even inferior later defense, since lesser traveled players do not automatically learn various forms of deception practiced by what would be valid to call “palooka killers”.

2. Since that situation occurs more often than does constructive bidding, (when partner is looking at a very strong opening one bid and almost by definition would prefer his partner (you) to bid your distribution in the proper order (length first) so that he would be better placed to help determine both strain and level.

Therefore my answer is no answer at all, since far be it from me to declare war on “palooka killers” or, for that matter anyone else who enjoys playing bridge.

No doubt, the aesthetic solution is to bid longer suit first and then, when and if partner rebids 1 spade, just do not bid the longer diamond suit then, but rather bid NT (usually only one, but sometimes two or even three).

So I guess I am recommending catering to what your partner prefers, which is 1. be very straight forward, or 2. create smoke screens with the idea of bidding, at the very best, a chance taking exercise, so while on the Yellow Brick Road to bridge success, do you want to get there by winning more than others by throwing tacks in the road to your opponents or do you prefer the longer route by learning the basic tenets of high-level bidding when both strain and value are usually legitimate.

Finally while holding, s. Kx, h. Jxxx, d. KJxxxx, c. x, wnen and if partner opens 1 club and you bid first 1 heart and then 1NT over partner’s rebid of 1 spade it is OK and to be expected, but if you instead respond 1 diamond to 1 club (the old textbook suggestion) then over 1 spade rebid 2 diamonds you figure to be in a better contract than 1 NT but you will often get a better defense to 2 diamonds than you might to 1NT since you have distorted the auction and never bid your longest suit.

However, if your partner held s. Axxx, h. x, d. AQx, c. Axxxx he will (and probably should) pass 1NT, but certainly not pass the other action, knowing you had length in diamonds and even on very good days get to 5 or 6 diamonds and at the least 3NT, and will be treated to a good result particularly at IMPs.

In any event, good luck in deciding what direction to go, both on this subject and many other choices which every partnership rising in the up elevator to recognition, need to take in stride.

bobby wolffSeptember 11th, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

In my rush to answer your queries, I, as usually happens with bridge and me, left out some important sidelights.

If and when the bidding goes by only one partnership, 1 club, 1 heart, 1 spade, 1NT can (and should) be bid while holding: s. xxx, h. KQxxx, d. Kxx, c. Qx, making it necessary for the opener while holding a minimum 4-3-1-5 hand, e.g. AQxx, h. Jxx, d. Q, c. AJxxx to now bid 2 hearts.

The trouble with the stages of progressing through the ranks to bridge improvement, is that one often loses perspective to what I would call, “the real game of bridge” which is only attempting to define how to react to different types of bridge problems with the real goal of a bridge partnership at least making every effort to come together with their thinking.

No one will ever master our beautiful game wherein a player will always (or even almost) make every bid to coincide with his partner’s holding. However, the best policy is just to bid one’s own hand, trying to find a trump fit, if possible, while also keeping in mind the variety of hands partner may still have, particularly at the low levels and in the earlier rounds of bidding.

As you can see, or should, now bidding 2 hearts instead of passing 1NT (with the above example hand) may cause that partnership to play a difficult contract (if partner has 4 not so good hearts), subject to going down a couple of tricks, but the fault would not then lie with the 4-3-1-5 hand, but instead the skipping of diamonds by the original responder. Merely making an excuse of, “All I was doing was playing our system” is better left unsaid, but perhaps, without much emotion to merely discuss with partner what both partners will then think of how they should proceed, when faced with that conundrum.

No book promoting Walsh would ever give the above as an example hand, and because of that, I will always have a bone to pick with bridge authors who do not fully discuss (or almost) the weaknesses as well as the strengths of all they include. However some will argue with that, since their focus starts and ends with them wanting to win the day, even if, by so doing, their bridge partnership retrogresses.

Of course, the same emotion is ever present whenever conventions are promoted and/or just discussed.

Sadly, this above fact has made it so very difficult for the player, not overly endowed at birth with a bridge mind, to understand that bridge is only a game, subject to percentages, often not to the player’s liking, with the end result.