Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 12th, 2017

When is it right to signal count on the first round of a suit that partner leads? What about on subsequent rounds, after you have played third hand high on your first turn, thus partner does not know about your length?

Number Cruncher, Selma, Ala.

At trick one, signal count when you can’t beat a jack or lower card played from dummy, or when your partner knows that you like the lead because his card will hold the trick, marking you with the missing high cards. Subsequently, if giving count, look at your remaining cards (not your original holding) and play high-low from even, low from odd. Sometimes, though, suit-preference may be more important in these positions; that is a thorny question.

If you held ♠ A-9-4,  Q-J-3-2,  K-J-3-2, ♣ 5-3, what would you lead against the unopposed sequence of one no-trump to your right, passed out, or one no-trump – three no-trump?

Opening Night, Fayetteville, N.C.

A top heart might work if both the ace and king are to your right and declarer or dummy has the 10. But a low heart will generally work better in almost every other case, so I would go with the heart two.

Please give your readers some idea of how you would mentally prepare for a tournament. Likewise, how did you physically prepare?

Red Setter, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Mentally: Other than staying fit and rested, try not to eat too much before the game or between sessions. Try to get rest before the second session. Don’t go through the hands till after the game. Drink minimally, even after the game. Physically: I was never one for exercising too much. Read the system notes!

I assume you would double a one-diamond opening to your right in pretty much every position and vulnerability with ♠ A-3-2,  K-J-5-3,  9-4, ♣ K-J-8-2. If you do so, your partner cue-bids two diamonds and the next hand doubles. Do you have any partnership agreements about how to proceed in terms of showing majors, or whether bids are a maximum or minimum?

House Martin, Black Oak, Ark.

I’d bid a cheap major if I could, unless I thought there was a real positional gain to be had from making partner declarer. There could be here! So, to me, pass suggests a hand where I want partner to be declarer or I do not have a major. I realize that if they re-raise diamonds, I might regret my choice.

At a recent event, I was declarer, and we were down to the last three cards when my RHO put his cards away, which I assumed meant I had the rest. So I did the same. But my LHO argued the claim, and the tournament director told me that both opponents have to concede the tricks. Isn’t there an ethical issue if an opponent with no chance for tricks could inform his partner he had nothing, to help him defend?

Stickleback, Fredericksburg, Va.

You are right about most aspects of this. The concession is not binding on a defender’s partner, but it does give unauthorized information. Indeed, one defender might indeed learn the position of a card from his partner’s concession. In case of doubt, any trick in dispute goes to the non-offender here.

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Iain ClimieNovember 26th, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Hi Bobby,

On House Martin’s query, what (if anything) can be inferred about relative major suit lengths from pass e.g. does it make sense to always bid the longer major if having a typical double? In similar vein, what is tthe best use for Redouble? Xtras, partivcularly defensive strength, I would asssume. With a more forward going hand doubler could always bid 3D here.

Any thoughts (apart from a less than perfect agreement still beating a mix-up)?



Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, to about all your assumptions.

In the absence of having what may be thought of as an off-center agreement, two unfamiliar players sitting down in a rubber bridge game as partners should treat these types of situations as normal bridge, where pass shows a minimum and bidding shows some kind of reason to.

Especially here, where the player in question, the TO doubler, has 4 hearts, but not 4 spades, thereby expecting partner, when holding 4-4 to bid hearts first and if only a minimum, just the lowest amount, therefore NF.

Somewhat strangely, if passed back to the cue bidder, if he had 4 hearts, but 4 better spades and decided to bid 2 spades instead, it would, at least to me, show inexperience and require the subject to be the first order of business when next that would be partnership, was in communication.

IOW to pass in competition with the doublers hand should first show a minimum and if having 4 spades but not 4 hearts would then convert partners eventual heart response to spades at his next turn.

And, of course, all your other suggestions would apply, redouble showing extras, particularly better defense, and, as you suggest to bid out immediately, at least slightly more offense as well as an extra trick, such as a singleton diamond. To now cue bid, should be thought of as a GF, not necessary to have a great hand but possibly some random 5-4-3-1 minimum hcps but not sub-minimum or in quacks, but instead, at least the usual amount, of aces and kings and or, togetherness of honors.

To first pass and then raise, would still be only a maximum minimum, but likely presently surprised by your partner’s latest suit of TO.

And although this subject should be universally agreed, it is still worth discussing, particularly for newer aspiring players, who need to learn these common treatments, in order to file them away, never in the future, having to discuss.

Reason being, that the newbie needs to not overlook normal treatments, only for the reason that he, at this point, has the eventual talent to get there from here, but not the experience yet, of automatically just taking it in stride.

Joe1November 26th, 2017 at 6:06 pm

I am hoping for more explanation of “togetherness of honors”. How much added value? In more general terms, raised on 4-3-2-1 points for bidding, based on individual cards, I have learned that pairs, sequences, or patterns, are worth more, or less. Mr. Goren did the game a great service for newbies, but….thanks for your insights.

Bobby WolffNovember 26th, 2017 at 7:44 pm

Hi Joe1,

While Charles Goren did great things in popularizing bridge for many years (late 1930’s-1960s) and was even on the cover of Time magazine in 1958, writing bridge columns for the very popular Sports Illustrated for years, his point count, followed by many beginning advocates for our beloved game, his attempt is thought to be by players who are deemed better positioned to know, as having more commercial appeal than realistic and only a rough guide to proper evaluation, particularly so for suit contracts than for NT bidding.

The togetherness of honors was originally brought to us (before Goren) by Ely Culbertson, another great bridge hero, before Goren and was called honor count, which featured an AK as 2 honor count, evaluating the king as much as the A and an AQ as 1 1/2 honor count, a seemingly much more accurate evaluation (to which I, for one, agree).

Therein honor count, at least to me is a better tool, although it too can be tricky and, like every other valuation gauge has its sometimes flaws.

Can anyone with a hopefully clear conscience, deny that a QJx is more valuable than an isolated Q and J? And how about K or Q ten nine more useful than either honor without the supporting card(s)?

Yes sometimes Joe, it becomes necessary to acknowledge reality, instead of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And also yes, it won’t matter whether one does or not, unless he wants to take bridge seriously, like our contingent here likes to do.

ClarksburgNovember 26th, 2017 at 8:34 pm

Astonishingly, there are some very strong and experienced “card players” in our local Clubs who absolutely live and die by High Card Points.
To them, upgrading or downgrading by even 1 point, is considered “lying to your Partner”.
To them, AK1098 AK109 xx xx and 65432 5432 AK AK, on first picking them up, are both “14 Points”.

One of them urges Partners thus: “if I open 2C make sure we get to slam if you have “8 points”. So I ask: “even if I’m 4333 with a lonely Queen in each suit?” YES!

Joe, thankfully I took the cure for “Point-count-itis” in the first year I played.

Iain ClimieNovember 26th, 2017 at 9:55 pm

HI Clarksburg,

Terence Reese once said “The player who says I had so many points so I had to bid such-and-such is beyond hope”. It is possible to construct combined 36 counts (and possibly even more) where you can’t make game let alone slam although bad breaks are naturallinvolved e.g. AK QJ AJxxx Kxxx opposite QJ AK Kxxx AJxxx with both minor suits 4-0 the wrong way so even 3NT is off. Pointgs, schmointz as somebody said.



Judy Kay-WolffNovember 26th, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Sorry to resort to the old cliche .. but Marty Bergen said it best via Points, Schmoints!

Bobby WolffNovember 27th, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You are living proof that the sooner one learns what is fake (hcp values, especially quacks, but shades of current politics) the sooner one moves up in quality.

And, no doubt, there are bridge players who live and die by counting points and teaching partner what to do. Consequently too many find how difficult it then becomes, to rise in quality.

However, in truth, although difficult to accept, it is better for them to still choose to play bridge, if only for social reasons, than never to approach playing the game.

Unfortunately some of them, because of pleasing personalities, do add some human qualities in spite of their lack of bridge playing ability. They will never learn nor probably even suspect just how educational, challenging and beautiful the real game of bridge really is.

In retrospect, perhaps the above is descriptive of life itself, while traveling the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City we all (or almost) have a chance to separate the wheat from the chaff, therein making important decisions which greatly influence both the productivity and ultimate quality of our lives.

Bobby WolffNovember 27th, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Hi Iain,

That somebody is Marty Bergen, who wrote a book, (I think) entitiled Points, Schmoints.

I love (and have never seen nor imagined) such a hand with a combined 36 (out of a total of 40) HCPS, which could not produce a NT game with double stops in all suits and, not to mention, besides, two 9 card fits.

Producing huge HCP disasters is relatively easy (and do occur) when cross ruffs absolutely destroy declarer’s trick taking ability, but your example is special and will be remembered by me for quite a while (at least I hope).

Your bridge repertoire concerning unusual occurrences is as good (or, at least, as full) as it gets and speaks of a life full of humor and self-deprecation (qualities to which most everyone becomes enchanted).