Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 29th, 2018

What are your favorite cities for the national and regional tournaments in the U.S.? I have decided to try to play seriously, but am not sure where to get my feet wet.

Pizza Man, Bristol, Va.

You just missed out on Philadelphia, a great venue and a city my wife loves. Hawaii this fall is an atypical venue, but a great locale nonetheless. Seattle and Vancouver for West Coast fans are certainly worth considering. And New Orleans (if not in midsummer) has much to recommend it because of the food and music.

I always have assumed that when a card becomes visible to the whole table, you have to play it. Is that right for both declarer and defenders?

Penang Lawyer, Corpus Christi, Texas

The defenders are held to higher standards than declarer because their partner may receive unauthorized information from a half-played card. If your partner could see the card, it must be played. Declarer’s card will be deemed played when declarer deliberately plays a card that either touches or nearly touches the table. There may be some ambiguity if a card is detached but the play of the card is not complete.

Can you give me a general approach to responding to a strong no-trump with an 8-count and zero, one or two majors? Should you invite game — and does it matter whether you use Stayman or raise to two no-trump?

High Heels, Torrance, Calif.

I try to avoid using Stayman to invite game without a major. It gives so much information to the hand on lead that I tend to pass with 8 and drive to game with a decent 9-count. With both majors, using Stayman has three upsides: finding a fit in either suit or reaching game facing a maximum. With only one major, especially at pairs, I tend to pass unless short in clubs. In that case, I could pass and play diamonds or the 4-3 fit in the other major.

What is your view on opening two diamonds, holding: ♠ 10-8,  Q-7-4-2,  A-J-9-5-3-2, ♣ 4? Does your opinion change depending on whether you are in first, second or third seat, and does the vulnerability matter?

Silent Speaker, Twin Falls, Idaho

My arbitrary cut-off point for opening a weak two with a side four-card major is Q-10-3-2. I would not want to lose a fit with a side suit that good, but if I did conceal the major, my minor suit would have to be a good one. That means either two top honors or one honor with great intermediates. This applies in any seat or at any vulnerability, but the expected high-card point count in second seat, or vulnerable, is slightly higher.

I’m confused by responsive doubles, when the opponents have bid and raised a suit around a double from my partner. What does the call say about bid and unbid majors? I’m especially flummoxed by what happens when the opponents bid and raise spades.

Muddling Through, Lakeland, Fla.

After a minor is bid and raised, you play natural methods, and that includes two no-trump. After hearts are bid and raised, double typically shows both majors, all calls including two no-trump are natural. After spades are bid and raised, bid hearts if you have them, using a direct call of three hearts as a mild invitation, and double for the minors (or a purely competitive hand with hearts). You can, if you want, consider using two no-trump as artificial when the majors are bid and raised. This would be an extension of the Lebensohl concept. I’ll go into that next month.

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.
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ClarksburgAugust 12th, 2018 at 4:06 pm

The Expert Bell Ringers
As per discussion a while back, (Iain, Bobby and Clarksburg) I ran my “card-play Pairs” on Friday, with local experts chiming in after the game, rather than “ringing the bell” at the Table.
Here’s one Board:
N 104 653 QJ108 AKQ9
E KQJ95 AKQ8 52 J7
S 83 J42 K76 106543
W A762 1097 A943 82
The reference auction (South Dealer) provided was:
P P 1D 1S P 2D P 4S
In all the plays, South led a Diamond (Partner’s bid suit) handing Declarer an 11th trick (a Club goes away on fourth Heart).
Here’s what our local top Player had to say, as a rationale for steering away from the Diamond lead:

“…This hand requires a club lead for NS to succeed on defence. Again, the lead of an unsupported King is the culprit here. Your partner did open a diamond, but that opening bid did not promise the A. The diamonds were not repeated by partner so he/she likely showed a balanced minimum hand. I personally like a club lead from the 5 card suit, partner may be short, or may have a good Club suit, planning to bid it after diamonds (also, from bidding you know partner is clearly short in spades, and has at most 4 hearts)…”

So that’s an example of the modified “bell ringer” approach in action.

Footnote: The 1D opening by North was done to match standard approach with 4-4 Minors. Bobby, I suspect you would strongly prefer opening the Clubs which are “right there in front of North’s face” and in this case the lead direction is right on.

bobbywolffAugust 12th, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Sometimes the truth can be too brutal, but where ever I wind up in the next life, I will prefer to accept and practice that type of brutality to otherwise, BS.

The bell ringer (mentor) IMO is as far off as any bridge player, talented or not, can be. In truth, if partner would have opened 1 club, my choice, yours, and my guess, 100% of the whole top level community (that is except those who would like to open a preemptive weak NT as South, if playing it). The important question could have been if partner did, in fact open 1 club, I would possibly, after raising in the bidding to 2 or 3 (if preemptive), then at least consider leading a diamond vs. 4 spades, (since I had a major high card there), although if I was sitting on Pinnochio’s (masquerading as South) shoulder I would at least try to talk him out of it, leaving me with the suggestion of not leading a diamond (when he did open it) totally non-plussed to happily lead my 3rd best diamond (2nd choice, king of diamonds).

Being better at bridge than someone else (while not at all, meaning smarter, since that cannot be proven, besides which I sincerely do not think it is necessarily so, or even strong evidence to that effect). only covers thinking from experience how and why percentages need usually to be followed, making leading what partner opened (particularly in 3rd position) almost already stamped paid.

When we originally talked about the process, I feared that picking out the so-called players who rang the bell will be difficult indeed.

The reason for my suspicions is many will happily accept that position who are, down deep, no where near qualified, and even if they are, they will not necessarily use that experience to benefit their mentee, but rather to disagree with accepted practice in order to (what they think) gather respect for their contrary opinion.

It is indeed a difficult road we lead when first we practice (and hope) to succeed.

Good luck and please do not risk losing, what otherwise may be a good player, over this event.

I would be happy, if you had the time and energy to write the major questions down and I (or someone deemed qualified by me) will both answer it, but also delve into the various reasons and possible exceptions which should pass through the subject player’s mind.

Little by little we can do great things, but not before having rocky moments along the Yellow Brick Road bound for the Emerald City.

Good luck and keep chugging!

Strong letter will not follow!

bobbywolffAugust 12th, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Hi Clarksburg (again),

I meant North, not South since he had a possible weak NT.

Iain ClimieAugust 12th, 2018 at 5:30 pm

HI Clarksburg,

Delighted to see that you tried the idea but always interesting to see how much of expert opinion is arguably based on hindsight and/or a view of all 52 cards. If the 1D opener had DAQJx (say) and weaker clubs, of course, then what? Crucially, though, did the players who were exposed to the process enjoy it and feel it was worthwhile? Ideally both. but one will do!



ClarksburgAugust 12th, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Thanks Bobby
Strong following letter not required; your medium-strength material did the job.
The top local player did not play in the game; agreed to provide comments after by e-mail. Her comments have not been conveyed to my players as yet. I will figure out a skillful diplomatic way to recognize her attempt to help, but get your comments to my players, who all made the percentage lead you recommend!!
Thanks for your offer. In future I will send you a few hands; I run this game on only once every second month.

This was the third “card-play” game I’ve run. In the first, a few players didn’t like it at all, but some of them came back. I have improved the preparation and provision of the “reference-auction” material. After Friday’s game I got some very positive comments, and I expect the game to catch on and flourish. Interestingly, the Pair who scored the worst consider it a great concept, and have attended all three games!!

Iain ClimieAugust 12th, 2018 at 9:22 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Thanks for that and keep it up. The weak pair obviously appreciate your effoets to help them improve.


AviAugust 13th, 2018 at 8:04 am

Hi Bobby

Bidding question from a recent match point game.
All VUL, you hold 2nd seat:

RHO opens 3c.
1. do you bid or pass?
2. if you passed, and partner bids 3 spades, how do you proceed?


bobbywolffAugust 13th, 2018 at 9:12 pm

Hi Avi,

Briefly I will make my responses:

Question 1: 3 Diamonds=100, Pass=80

Question 2: 4S=100, 4C=20, 4D=10

Both questions have to do with different
numbers than above., but only your main
questions from above.

Obviously from your questions and my answers, I have taken a more aggressive stance than you expected.

To me, it is every bit as dangerous to be conservative as it is not to be, consequently when partner bids I prefer giving him as much
room as possible.

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