Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 24th, 2017

What would you do if you were in third seat, holding ♠ Q-9-7-4,  Q-4,  K-7-3-2, ♣ A-6-4? The bidding went: one spade from my partner, two hearts to my right, three hearts from me to show a limit raise, or better, and four clubs from my partner. What should I do now?

High Flier, Kenosha, Wis.

You have no extras for your initial action, but at the same time you have decent controls, and slam is not out of the picture. You should bid four diamonds now and await developments. You hope partner can use Blackwood; your hand is not worth another slam try, since your heart holding is clearly unattractive.

With extras above a regular forcing two-club opener, do I have to bid more at my next turn than a simple call in my long suit? How should I play a jump to the three-level after a negative response?

Upping the Ante, Wichita Falls, Texas

After the two-club opening, there is never any need to “catch up.” In fact, while some people play those jumps as ace-asking, a better usage of space is to play jumps to three of a major as long diamonds and four cards in the bid major. Thus a rebid by opener of three diamonds denies a four-card major. This allows you to untangle strong hands with diamonds effectively.

I held ♠ K-9-7-5-3-2,  Q,  Q-7-2, ♣ A-6-4, and in second seat was not sure what to open. The suit seemed too weak for a pre-empt, and the hand seemed too weak for a one-level opening. So in the end I passed, and the deal was thrown in, with our side having play for nine tricks in spades. Did I do something stupid here?

Playing Possum, Evanston, Ill.

Your heart was in the right place, though I do not agree with your conclusion. With an ace and a king on defense and 11 HCP, notwithstanding that singleton queen, I would open one spade — though with little enthusiasm. For the record, if you do have a good suit, there is no hand that falls into the cracks between one spade and two spades. Open one or the other, or you will never catch up.

I held ♠ J-4,  K-2,  A-Q-3-2, ♣ K-J-9-7-4, and heard one heart on my right. How would you rank the options of an overcall, a double, a natural one no-trump overcall or even an unusual two no-trump? Would you pass if none of these appeals?

Cul-de-Sac, Vancouver, Wash.

I’d hate to pass here, and a two-club overcall on such a weak suit may be the least of all evils. Of the options you mention, double and two no-trump are unacceptable on shape grounds (too few spades, too few minor cards, respectively). A one no-trump overcall — planning to run to two clubs if doubled — is not absurd.

How should I have handled this deal from a recent pairs game? I held ♠ A-5-4-2,  K-Q-7-4-3-2,  4, ♣ A-4. I opened one heart and rebid two spades over my partner’s game-forcing two-diamond call. When my partner bid three spades, I bid four clubs, and my partner bid four diamonds. What would you do now?

Second City, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I don’t think your hand is worth more than four spades now. You have only one trump honor, and facing a singleton heart, you might struggle to set that suit up. You have made your one try for slam; that is enough.

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David WarheitJanuary 7th, 2018 at 9:21 am

High flier: Seems to me that when partner bids 4C and I have the CA, he is telling me he doesn’t have the DA, otherwise he would have bid 4D, the suit where he had the A, so I just bid 4S.

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Hi David,

Since I do not like initial major suit cue bids to represent limit raises or better, of course, in their view, reserving jumps to three of the major to show a preemptive jump, perhaps, s. QJxxx, h. xxx, d. 10xxx, c. x. Therefore I did not offer my opinion on that letter, (for whatever it is worth).

However, I do agree with you in your choice of a simple 4 spades instead of a more encouraging bid of 4 diamonds (1st or 2nd round control of diamonds).

Some top partnerships basically demand partner to cue bid a higher ranking suit with control if holding it, e.g with the hand in question, having: s. AKxxxx, h. A, d. QJ10x, c. Kx and, if so, a victory for their contention, but,
what if the opener instead held: s. AKxxxx, h. A, d. xxx, c. AQx and followed with 4 hearts, should a mere limit raise (no more) then feel compelled to then cue bid his ace of clubs, rather than sign off in 4 spades.

Also, it then follows, that when the responder has extra values, (a GF spade raise) should he override his partner’s sign-off at 4 spades by continuing? Such, at least to me, are the unsolved problems inherent when the original cue bid is not GF, therefore not immediately limited. BTW, the above problem even gets thornier when the opponents, who have already entered the bidding, now get raised and the opener is now deprived of knowing his partner’s overall values.

However, very good bridge minds do endorse that treatment of immediate cue bids showing a limit raise or better, so that in itself is a reason to consider them, but all I can suggest is to tread carefully and then later, after some experience, begin to judge for yourself.

When forming what two people hope to be a formidable bridge partnership, both players need to keep their eyes and ears open and not fall for loosely given rhetoric regarding new treatments or, of course conventions. No doubt, the sauce for the goose, may definitely not be for the gander, as well.

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Hi David,

Errata! Agreeing that very few decks have two aces of clubs, please imagine my AQx of clubs was instead the KQx. Please forgive.

ClarksburgJanuary 7th, 2018 at 5:32 pm

I like “automatic” control bids (first or second round control) and “serious 3NT:
Once in a known GF auction, with trump suit known, next player to call automatically bids a control. So fast arrival to game says “I have two fast losers in all three side suits”
Or, if next Player to call had strong interest in slam, the call is 3NT saying “Partner I have extras and am seriously exploring, so please show your lowest-ranking control”
In both cases the auction just flows from there onward, where continuing control bidding past Partner’s skipped suit shows a control there; and with a key-card ask available to find out how many of Partner’s controls were key cards.
I think at least some of this is consistent with your reply to David.

I have been trying to get some Partners to play it this way. They are all “afraid” that “Partner may think I have an Ace”. (we are all just Intermediate Club Players).

Any comments / advice?


Chris ClauticeJanuary 7th, 2018 at 8:23 pm

Dear Mr Wolff
Your partner opens 1 club. Opponent passes. you have 5 diamonds 4 spades,2-2 in the other suits, and 10 hcp. Do you bid 1D and wait for opener to show a 4 card major, or do you bypass the 5 Diamonds and bid 1 spades\?

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2018 at 10:50 pm

To David and Clarksburg,

Still another oversight have I committed when I did not answer David’s comment about denying the ace of diamonds (1st round control) since I usually cue bid lower ranking 2nd round controls first.

Many top players and without even attempting to single out individuals, likely feel at least slightly different about the order of cue bidding, and (what goes with) the necessity of not cue bidding, even when to do so is, so to speak, on the table.

While one (and to assume I am speaking about very serious players, not just ones who like to win, but do little to insure it happening) who may either cue bid or not, depending on whether he has real interest in slam, always in relation to his previous calls, so as to get a consistent feel, along with partner, as to the approximate valuation he guesses he has at any specific moment during the auction.

That looseness, of course, would not apply if partner has taken charge, based on the auction, making the role of his partner just an information giver (otherwise known as the puppet in this auction).

Although, and no doubt, science is needed in many slam auctions since, what trumps and sometimes how many are jointly held, source of tricks, not two immediate losers in any one suit, and even on not so rare occasions who should be declarer (if a choice still remains available, sometimes, because of positioning, even including NT).

While very little has been written, or possibly better said, about the strategy of when and how to initiate a cue bidding sequence, most serious partnerships adjust it to their mutual satisfaction, one in which they can both live (and thrive) with, and most importantly, get to know each other’s consistencies.

The fairly new (last 30 years or so) addition of serious 3NT to cover some of the ambiguities seemingly always present, helps many partnerships close the gap for success, but, IMO, because of the vast variety of hand types and specific auctions (certainly including interference) my guess is that nothing will ever come along to take the place of solid judgment to which both partners will make fewer mistakes and then what follows, simply winning.

Finally and no doubt, much more than the above could and should be discussed, but for now, I, if involved with teaching, would separate this room into partnerships with a list on the board as to what to discuss (mandatory cue bids, when and if they occur, informational cue bids directed toward either suits or often asking for specific stopper(s) for NT, only general cue bids which are usually directed toward saying I have some interesting features about my hand not yet communicated and now is the time to exchange that information.

My guess is that if this particular exercise was to be attempted, it might be as confusing to sum it all up as was the first meeting after the Tower of Babel conclave a few years ago. Yes there would be many languages spoken, some agreed, others argued, but at the very least, all conundrums would be exposed, narrowing the necessary topics to be thoroughly discussed.

Whether anything definite and 100% would ever emerge is anybody’s guess, but, at the very least, the common denominator would show, at least IMO, that it is realistically impossible to cover anywhere near all the bases. However, my guess, is what separates the likely top players from each other, not technique (to which they are all expert), but just their being born (like many physical athletes) to an inner sense as to what to do.

bobbywolffJanuary 7th, 2018 at 11:07 pm

Hi Chris,

First and foremost. On behalf of all our regular posters, welcome to the AOB site and please, when you have time, do not neglect coming back.

With 4-2-5-2 distribution and about 10 hcps it is correct to bid one diamond and then over 1 heart then bid 1 spade (showing 4) and forcing for one round only. With 13+ and wanting to force, but without 4 spades, jump to 2 spades instead, which technically shows fewer than 4 spades but is a general game force. However if you can just place a game contract instead, just do that to end the auction.

However if you are a significantly better declarer than is your partner you can then, without much loss (if any), respond 1 spade instead and then, even if raised to 2 spades then possibly either pass with a bad 10 or bid 2NT which shows exactly 4 spades and an invitational hand (it would help to have a heart stop).

IOW, either 1 diamond (best) or 1 spade (strategic) are OK responses, and if excellent bridge is your goal then choose 1 diamond, but, as mentioned above, you have another option, if you so choose.

I may deny what I have said if you send some bridge policeman or policewoman after me, for giving the above advice. However if you do, I’ll simply deny it and have my wife Judy, if you will excuse my description, deal with you.

Yes, you will definitely need a sense of humor to join us. However, we sincerely hope you do.