Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Could you please comment on the term “masterminding”? I’m assuming that this is a bad thing.

Florida Sunfish, Naples, Fla.

The term is used when the non-captain of the hand overrules his partner without a good reason. Typically, it arises when you make a limit raise or preempt, or even open or rebid in no-trump, but then bid again. Sometimes your partner will make a call that allows you to act again in such auctions, but more commonly when you define your range, you transfer the final decision to your partner.

A week ago in an unopposed auction opener had a strong hand with four hearts and a stiff diamond, so he opened one club and jumped to four diamonds over a one heart response. I always thought that a splinter in this case would be a jump to three diamonds, since a call of two diamonds would be a reverse and therefore forcing. Equally, if four diamonds is the splinter, then what would a three diamond bid mean?

Jump to it, Wilmington, N.C.

Your question opens a can of worms. Yes you should not play three diamonds as natural, but even in sophisticated partnership a jump to three diamonds may remain undefined. Some play it as a splinter that is only forcing as far as three of the major – as good a use as any. So four diamonds guarantees more values.

Can you give me your opinion as to what I should be considering on opening lead if my RHO opens either with a preempt or with a one-level call, and it is passed out? I’m assuming you don’t have an obvious sequence or shortage to lead.

Point of Attack, Dodge City, Kan.

There are two separate questions here. After a preempt is passed out, dummy rates to be strong, and partner rates not to have too much in the unbid major(s). There is little to choose between leading from honor-third or honor-fifth, for example. After a one-level opening is passed out, dummy rates to be weak, declarer strong. So now leading from a king is less attractive than from a queen or jack, everything else being equal. Side suit shortage such as a doubleton will be attractive unless looking at natural trump tricks.

Last week I passed in second seat holding: ♠ Q-4,  A-Q-10-3-2,  8-4-3-2, ♣ K-3. Do you agree? When my partner opened one diamond in third seat, and the next hand overcalled one spade, I seemed to have an embarrassment of choices. What would you recommend?

Catching up, Wheaton, Ill.

Your initial pass was fine (move the spade queen into the diamonds and I might act). Now your first choice might be to bid two hearts, expecting to come again even at the four level. The problem is that if the opponents preempt in spades you may have to guess what to do, when you haven’t yet shown diamond support. Perhaps a fit jump to three hearts (promising four diamonds) might be worth the risk. I won’t let the opponents play undoubled if they compete to three or four spades.

Will you please explain the correct procedure to follow with announcements as opposed to alerts – are the latter now out of date? If not, what are the sequences where you are supposed to speak?

Talk Soup, Waterbury, Conn.

The majority of alertable calls below the level of three no-trump still do indeed require an alert, not an announcement. With a forcing or semi-forcing no-trump response, a transfer response to one no-trump or an opening no-trump, the partner of the bidder should announce what the call means, rather than simply alerting. The idea is simply to save time; but failing to follow the precise requirements won’t cause a problem. Failure to alert a conventional call promptly may cause far more inconvenience though.

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


AviNovember 12th, 2017 at 9:14 am

Hi Bobby

Looks like gremlins at work again.
reading “Catching up”‘s question, something seems amiss.
Either he passed first hand, or his partner opened in 4th seat

Iain ClimieNovember 12th, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I give Florida Sunfish an example of masterminding where both partner and myself were to blame (early in 1979). I opened 1C (Precision) on an unbalanced 18 count or so with long hearts and he bid 1N (8-13). A 2C relay got 2N (11-13) so I bid 6H which makes easily. Partner had a litttle think and bid 6N. I swore under my breath (error), out loud after the hand (rude and unforgivable) and bid 7H (bigger error) thinking 6N couldn’t make. 6N is probably off but 7H gets an Ace cashed at Trick 1. In such instances, just let partner buy the beer (for the rest of the Team as well – it was IMPs) if he / she has done something silly. He was a good player but we just fought and fought so when I got a job 90 miles away after University, the stress levels (and language) for both of us improved.



Bobby WolffNovember 12th, 2017 at 4:56 pm

Hi Avi,

Yes, your perception of 2nd seat rarely being in partnership with 3rd seat (ha ha) somehow came to life and sadly was not caught by, no doubt, my sheer laziness.

However, while many would open that hand, since the five card major held, was bolstered by the valuable 10, it is certainly OK to demand a little more and first decide to pass.

However, in spite of the diamond fit I think it too much of a distortion to not just bid 2 hearts, once the decision to initially pass is made.

Others feel the “need” to treat every bidding decision with no stone left unturned. I do not usually see “perfection” as a major issue, and prefer to just go with the flow. After all my side queen is not with my diamonds, somewhat neutralizing my strength for offense, and, at least to me, accepting my 2 heart intervention instead of some “highfalutin fit showing substitute” which may serve my worthy opponent’s judgment at least as well as it will my partner.

Attempts at perfection, especially at bridge, and at least to me, too often backfire.

Thanks again for your “eagle eye”.

Bobby WolffNovember 12th, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Hi Iain,

While defining a bridge partnership as similar to a marriage, only without the kids (usually), but with even larger doses of ego involved, masterminding, as you have adequately described by example, is accepted (by the high-level bridge community) as the chief cause for divorce.

History has taught us that through the thousands of years when evil not-well intended conquerors squared off, all hell broke loose, but likely not with quite as much intensity as two highly egotistical decent bridge players (or, at least, they think they are) start overruling each other with decisions, born with part egotism and larger, lack of respect, which together justifiably earns the nickname as a “one-man gang”.

Ninety miles are not nearly far enough away, since memories run deep, especially if guns are as easy to own, as they are here, across the pond.

ClarksburgNovember 12th, 2017 at 5:45 pm

1979…38 years ago…clearly a memorable event! 🙂

Iain ClimieNovember 12th, 2017 at 6:42 pm

HI Clarkssburg,

1978-1979 was probably when I really started to play decent bridge including winning a trip to Switzerland to play in the Crans-Sur-Sierre tournament (against Besse, Mari, Perron, Chemla, Sharif and others) and putting the holders out of the English Gold Cup just before Christmas 1978. There are therefore some really intense memories from that time which have engraved themselves in my memory. Unfortunately that was one of the bad ones!

That particular hand was played in January 1979 in Liverpool at the Adelphi Hotel where we did quite well as a four (5th in a field of about 160 I think) playing in a National Swiss Teams event. I also recall some very friendly Liverpludlians helping us push the car out of a snowy car park when it was slithering everywhere and stopping in a rather underheated hotel. Funny what sticks with you! IN less happy mode, just before I went off to Switzeland (and on my 21st birthday) I finally realised that I was never, ever going to be an item with a delightful Welsh girl at university who was one day older than me and whom I liked enormously, That was memorable in a far worse way.

I suspect I have an almost Aspergers-esque memory for bidge hands, dates and numbers in general. This probably explains a lot.



Bobby WolffNovember 12th, 2017 at 7:15 pm

Hi Iain,

Your memory will and likely always, has served your personality well.

However your penchant for older women may do you in.

Iain ClimieNovember 12th, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Hi Bobby,

I learned my lesson. My wife is almost 5 years younger than I am.