Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 4th, 2018

I’m a near-beginner, and I have heard people talk about jump shifts, jump overcalls and jump raises. I cannot work out if there is a rule to say which sequences are weak and which are strong. Please help!

Fast Learner, Hartford, Conn.

Jump overcalls of the opponents’ opening bids are weak, though jump overcalls of their weak opening bids such as preempts are strong. If our side opens the bidding, a simple way to play is that in a non-competitive auction, jump raises are invitational and jumps in a new suit are strong. However, if the opponents come in, play weak jumps. I’ll cover the subject of jumps by passed hands in another letter later this month.

When my opponents opened a suit, my partner passed and the next hand bid one no-trump (announced as forcing). If I cue-bid their suit here, should this be natural or a Michaels Cue-bid, and is it alertable?

Twofer, Orlando, Fla.

Yes, this should be Michaels showing the majors, or the unbid major plus a minor, as appropriate. After they open a minor, you don’t need to be able to bid that minor naturally, since one opponent has shown that suit and the other implied it by virtue of not having the majors. Even if this does not require an alert (the bid carrying its own alert, so to speak) I would alert as a matter of courtesy.

I was taught not to ask for aces when holding a void or two losers in an unbid suit. However, jumping to slam without an ace-ask may alert the opponents to your void. So would it ever make sense to go through the motions of Blackwood when you are bidding a slam, regardless of the outcome?

Locked-up Louie, Queens, N.Y.

Al Roth, the apostle of sound bidding, once did precisely that, to make his opponents assume he did not have a void in their suit — and thus not to sacrifice. There is a place for psychology in bridge. Of course, this approach may also give the opponents space for a double or further action, so it may be a double-edged sword.

At matchpoints, when you hear your partner open one club and raise your one-spade response to two, would you invite game with ♠ A-Q-6-4-2,  9-2,  Q-7-5, ♣ K-9-3, or would you drive all the way there directly?

Steady Eddie, Manchester, N.H.

Game isn’t necessarily cold here — though many would indeed jump to four spades. If you invite game, there are two ways to go. A help-suit try of three clubs would allow your partner to look at their hand and their club suit. If a rebid of two no-trump is forcing (as some do play), then that call also allows you to find out if partner has three or four trumps, and whether he has a minimum or maximum.

When playing two-over-one, if your partner sets up a game force at his first turn by responding with two of a minor, should you repeat a six-card suit or bid two no-trump at your second turn, or does it depend on suit quality?

Storyteller, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

If you play two-over-one game forcing, then repeat a good suit with an unbalanced hand (or an open suit). Rebid two no-trump with 12-14 or 18-plus HCP and a balanced hand, or a quasi-balanced hand with shortage in partner’s suit and no convenient alternative. A jump to three no-trump suggests a strong no-trump with doubleton support for partner’s first-bid suit. And a new suit at the three-level is extra shape or high cards. A raise is almost undefined in terms of range, though new-suit jumps show shortage.

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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2018 at 2:27 pm

Hi Bobby,

I have a general query today, which I hope will help a friend with whom I played when working away from home in Lancashire. She is a good club player, but the success she craves in tournaments has been rather more elusive, although she’s had some. Obviously the level is a step up but can you give a list of (say) between 10 and 20 factors which you feel really make a difference in taking that step. Naturally the advice may help many others.



ClarksburgFebruary 18th, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Good Morning Bobby
About Ian’s question:
If you run out of “factors” before you get to ten, I personally would like hear your top five or so, in order of importance. 🙂

Bobby WolffFebruary 18th, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Hi Iain,

In attempting to respond positively to your request (IMO very reasonable, not to mention practical), I’ll be honored to help, but while advancing in bridge, one has to keep in mind (to which perhaps every one of my comments may apply), one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.
but understanding that the seriousness of the occasion is real and not to be under stated.

1. When sitting down to play, whether the occasion is primarily only a social get together or the finals of a Bridge World Championship, the game itself requires a total dedication to concentration, similar in scope, but, of course, not in gravity, to a busy surgeon, air traffic controller, or sadly, a deranged serial killer (sporting all kinds of weapons) loose in the building.

2. At least some private discussion with partner about system including attention to detail about the conventions agreed (often KISS, keep it simple, stupid), but also tendencies (bold, conservative, or in between), and, if possible, perceived strengths and admitted weaknesses to be expected.

3. No social discussion (distraction) during the entire session, unless trying to ease partner’s anxiety about a misplay or “fix” especially, if playing against someone, one or both of you, might be embarrassed. Also, and, of course, no mention of a significant “gaffe” at the time it was made, assuming that sometime after the game, if partner wants to bring it up, then it is OK in private to discuss it.

4. For that matter, the fewer words exchanged during the session, will usually mean a higher than usual finish, but, in any case, both minds should be focused on the next hand, whatever might have happened on the just finished one.

5. Hands, with both good and bad results, should be noted in one’s scorecard (assuming both of you are keeping one, although it is OK not to), to be discussed after the session, not necessarily for errors, but for learning experiences, especially attuned to judgment decisions, with the opportunity to learn from each other how the other one both “feels” and then “reacts”.

6. While it is better than not to be somewhat gracious to one’s opponents, do not use one’s emotions to gather or just keep, friends, but rather to guard against any excuse to not be fully concentrated on every future hand, at least in that session, to be played.

7. Catering to the adage of one of my favorite quotes, “Better to be thought a fool, rather than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” verily applies to playing bridge, especially with analysis (proven so often by all of us, certainly including me, with imperfect (kind way of phrasing it) suggestions. First, think it out, and then before advising, think again, before one finally and respectfully speaks.

8. When in doubt during the bidding, defense and declarer’s play take middle roads when faced with close choices. DO NOT try and win the tournament or money on any one hand, but rather attempt and achieve normal results and rely on the opponents for enough gifts to do much better. Believe me, the game of bridge is difficult enough so that no one player, much less players, have ever mastered it, in spite of what some may try and make you believe. My guess is that if both partners avoid both errors and misunderstandings, but only play for average results, that combination will win most any session of bridge, whatever the competition. Obviously that statement will not be true all the time, but it definitely will produce a consistently winning partnership, which, after all, is the overall goal.

9. Now to the understated assets needed to move up the ladder:

A. Get to know your individual opponents, their strong and weak areas and then become consistent in taking advantage of those secrets, both in the bidding and the play.

B. Always appear confident and in sync with your partner, not allowing your opponents to intimidate, nor ever to have psychological control of the table.

C. Take pride in being an active ethical partnership, if for no other reason than to set a necessary standard for all to emulate. However that does not extend over to playing the game with legal deception and sophisticated cunning.

D. Do not make excuses for bids which go awry nor “pure” guesses (in the play or bidding) which do not work. Only remain silent and think and perhaps discuss them after the session for what someone you respect has to say. Always stay away from players you do not respect as to either their ego and/or their bridge acumen.

E. One’s most important asset, at least to me, is a sense of humor and no where more important than with a bridge player. The ability to laugh at oneself is a necessity in dealing with both Dame Fortune and the game itself which, at more times than one would care to admit, rears its ugly head.

10. Finally, a list of qualities better to be born with, but even if not, can, at the very least, attempt to acquire as many as possible in order to move up the ladder even to the level of just adequate.

A. Numeracy-the definition of the word applies to the quantitative thought of numbers, which in bridge effect means primarily the simple counting, often to thirteen, but on every hand and for the other three players with one being the dummy.

B. Competitive desire-As a famous late and great American football coach, Vince Lombardi once said “Winning isn’t everything, its the only thing”.

C. Greatest Mind Game-Although some may choose chess for that designation, bridge, because of its many variables, which require so much knowledge of human thought and strategies to overcome, at least for my concern win that battle, with perhaps chess winning the award for best pure game (no luck involved).

To me the luck involved in bridge is all about making the right percentage play, a more difficult and challenging task than making the purist move.

D. Other attributes which coincide with success in real life are ever present in bridge, such as problem solving, speaking in legal code with partner (bidding and defense), cunning, clear thinking under pressure, probabilities not certainties, different strategies against different opponents, and important, all within certain accepted social graces.

Good Luck-haven’t proof read it, but too worn out!



Bobby WolffFebruary 18th, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Just read your request and will ask you to sort what you think are the top five and I’ll respond.

Whether you think yourself qualified to so do, I sincerely believe that you, rather than I, are better qualified, if only because you are now out there among bridge enthusiasts of all types, something which, because of time, has eluded me for the last too many years.

Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for that, greatly brightening a grey Sunday over here.



Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Hi Bobby,

I’m passing it on and thanks again but there is also luck at chess (and similar games like Go and Shogi), contrary to popular belief. If I make a mistake and my opponent fails to spot the killing reply, I’ve got lucky; he isn’t unlucky mind, he’s just returned my error, so it is a strange situation there. Obviously there can also be luck in a tournament based on who you play against, but that applies in any game or sport.



Bobby WolffFebruary 18th, 2018 at 6:50 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, your interpretation of luck certainly applies in the greatest interest to the highest number, the very lucky game of “life” itself.

What, discounting the obvious, are the chances of any one person being born? Add that to the parlaying of enormous odds of where one happens to be when some event happens, such as meeting one’s mate, or being exposed to some activity which then determines the rest of a person’s life, yatta, yatta, yatta!

When I was young (and believe it or not to especially me, I was) and seeing, usually in a movie (yes, talkee. not silent) a very old person with a long stick and a gray beard on a mountaintop being consulted for advice, I immediately thought, what poppycock?

But now, I think quite differently since, no question a journey through time to long life, does produce, at the very least, a cursory experience of been there, done that, which can produce either an exaggerated opinion of knowledge, or possibly, of an experience to either avoid or encourage and, if true, make the expression of, “too soon old and too late smart” come to light.

Another likeable definition of luck could be “when preparation meets opportunity”, but we are all creatures of our own design, leaving me to ask, whats the problem?

ClarksburgFebruary 18th, 2018 at 8:09 pm

OK, I’ll take a shot at it.
Just so your readers know where this is coming from, I have been playing for about ten years, and am an average Club player at best. Most of my worthwhile learning has been on this Blog, and through careful observation of what actually takes place at the Table and in Club games.

1) Never say, do, or imply by body language, anything that might embarrass Partner at the Table. Always aim to get the best out of Partner. Talk / learn later.
2) Discuss and agree the foundation of your “system” with particular attention to Captaincy and Forcing Principles, and such details as the meaning of your Doubles, in auction context. Keeping it simple is just fine, to minimize helping your opponents, and to avoid bidding wrecks (i.e. “Oops, I forgot”) via “artificial” calls.
3)If you find a Partner with whom styles mesh, who wants to improve, and who has a sense of Humour, keep that Partner.
4) If you are not blessed with a natural gift of numeracy, focus and concentration, work hard at COUNTING to at least be the best you can be.
5) Make sure you give as much (or more) attention to card play (particularly co-operative defensive play) as you do to your bidding system and agreements.

Iain ClimieFebruary 18th, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Looks pretty good to me and I used to play many tournaments in the late 70s and early 80s. I’d have been a better player and person if I’d taken item 1 on board!


Bobby WolffFebruary 18th, 2018 at 9:31 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, thanks for accepting my overall plan of attack. Your background, although not perfect
for having a gigantically successful bridge career, can be a big help for you to be a big time high-finisher and winner of many tournaments. Your obvious smarts, great attitude, and work ethic will get you, at least that.

Now for your list:

1. Excellent for the bridge community, since your presence will continue to set a positive example for how to act and allow you to be very well respected as you continue, as time goes by, to be on the “up escalator” to success.

2. True, and well-defined. Both Captaincy and the significant difference between forcing responses (usually past the first round of all auctions) and non-forcing ones is extremely necessary for both partners to have no doubt as to which, while your definition of bids like double in context ring from authenticity and your experience with different partners.

3. Yes, no doubt, same style players, almost like a marriage, make the best partnerships, and have the best chance of being successful.

4. Without your opinion here fulfilled, the higher ceiling to expect would not be achieved. The big three, numeracy, focus and concentration together with the absolute requirement of COUNTING every hand and therefore having a vivid recollection of the up to then closed hands is indeed a condition precedent to the success you deserve.

5. Yes, but believe it or not, neither is as nearly important as in the previous paragraph, and your bidding system and agreements once your partnership or partnerships take form, will become basically second nature to you, allowing you to spend more time discussing partnership defense with how to play your legal signals. Sometimes those signals come up differently, making them difficult to not give unauthorized information to partner, so I suggest you and partner discuss how to keep that from happening.

Not to say that every bridge partnership (even high-level) follows the same strictures that yours will, but in time, if bridge gets included with USA schools, and it continues to grow, as it will in China and Europe, all aspiring above average players will learn to respect their ethical responsibilities.

Of course, neither you nor your partner, should worry about such things as the above now, only something to set a standard for in the expert community to make our beautiful game even more attractive.

Finally, I am hoping that you will achieve the level of play you may, wherein you will cherish it for a lifetime.

Good luck!

Warm regards,