Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

I’ve been reading your columns to try to learn a little about the game of bridge. I am thinking of trying a book that will teach me the basics. I’d like to learn, but I want to read up a little before starting completely cold.

Novelty Gifts, Holland, Mich.

You could try a big bridge bookseller like Baron Barclay (www. or by telephone at 1-800-274-2221). They will know just what you need. If you want to try a bridge computer program, the ACBL at is a good place to start.

When you hear your right-hand opponent open one diamond, what should be your policy about overcalling on a 5-5 hand with one good suit and one bad? I had ♠ J-9-8-4-3,  A-2,  10, ♣ A-Q-6-5-4. The clubs are the suit you want partner to lead, but if you bid them first, you may lose the spades altogether.

Quality Street, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

These days, it is almost mandatory to play some form of two-suited overcalls, focusing on the majors, while the unusual no-trump allows you to bid club or heart two-suiters. But if you have the wrong two-suiter for a Michaels Cue-bid or Unusual No-trump, just bid spades and let the chips fall where they may. There may be time for clubs later.

In a recent question, one hand heard one club to his left, and one heart from his partner. He bid one no-trump and then heard his partner bid the opponent’s suit. If the first call of one no-trump shows a club stopper, doesn’t your partner’s second call show a genuine club suit rather than being an artificial cue-bid?

Jake the Fake, Chicago, Ill.

Many bridge players normally make the assumption that you cannot play in the opponents’ suit, unless you have a specific agreement that such a call is natural. That rule applies here: A two-club call simply shows a good hand. It sounds as if your partner is looking for heart support or maybe a four-card spade suit. I’d say if and only if the one-club opener is two or more cards, then you can bid the suit naturally at your first or second turn.

When a partnership has advanced to the four-level and slam may be in the picture, how can you let your partner know you want to stop at four no-trump and are not asking for aces?

Nervous Breakdown, Vancouver, Wash.

Four no-trump is normally Blackwood. A common exception is when the last call of the four-no-trump bidder was in no-trump, and no major fit exists. Similarly, when no fit has been found, then if the previous call was a cue-bid or fourth suit, a jump to four no-trump should be quantitative and invitational. Furthermore, after Stayman, you can often set the bid major as trump; if so, a jump to four no-trump should be quantitative.

Our excellent bridge club has superb players and pairs who frequently score high, plus a middle group and a bottom third, all in the open game. More often than I would expect, dark horse pairs in the bottom third come in top or close to it. Since bridge is significantly a game of skill, how is it that the less-skilled do well more often than expected?

I Am Curious Green, Dallas, Texas

I’m not sure how to answer, but you could reasonably think of the results of an event as a normal curve. Luck is never eliminated entirely from bridge (we need our opponents not to be perfect), so my experience at the local club has been that anything can happen. At higher levels, there are far fewer presents for everyone, so your mistakes tend to be really expensive.

I am often torn as opener about taking a second call in competition when holding extra shape but minimum high cards. Specifically, I was recently faced with this problem when I held ♠ Q-3,  Q-7-4,  A-Q-9-7-6-2, ♣ K-3. I opened one diamond and heard one heart to my left, one spade from partner and two hearts to my right. Should I pass or bid three diamonds now?

Humble Pie, Muncie. Ind.

This 13-count is poorly put together with wasted heart cards. If partner is short in hearts, he will almost certainly act again, assuming he has the other high cards. So I would pass now, but I would be much more tempted to bid again with three small hearts and, say, ace-king-jack-sixth of diamonds.

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 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgJune 16th, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Good afternoon Bobby
Further to the observation and question from I am Curious:
Your answer covered it in overall terms, i.e. normal variability, luck and the giving of gifts.
I have also observed what “I am Curious” has, and have some long-held thoughts on more-specific reasons why sometimes the ranking are close to upside down. Occasionally there may be a set of Boards that contain many potential traps for strong players, but are straightforward for those who bid simply and cautiously and play their cards by cookbook rules. Also when Directors run a not-nearly full movement (e.g. 13 Tables, 8 Rounds x 3 Boards, or a 6 Table Howell with only 8 Rounds) the rankings become a total crapshoot. Every Pair will not play several Boardsets and may not face the strongest Pairs on the other side of the field.

bobbywolffJune 16th, 2019 at 8:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

No doubt I could add many not said words and thoughts which enter the discussion.

First, how can anyone intelligently rate a field of players upon ability when there are so many variables involved? One pair may be inexperienced, but wise and aggressive enough to pick up winning, or for that matter, losing tendencies which, in turn, whether they come up in that session or not, is strictly decided by lady luck.

Next, success in tournament bridge is often determined by how the chemistry operates between the partnership. One may correctly surmise that neither two aggressive players nor two conservative players while playing as a partnership figure to reach the winner’s circle,
since there will likely not be the proper mix between them for either bidding too high, nor not pushing their opponents to contracts they cannot make.

And to make matters worse, luck (to some degree) enters almost every hand played, not only in the bidding, but the opening lead, plus on a fair percentage of hands the particular level of expertise necessary for each player (or partnership) to possess eg. using winning judgment in all areas necessary, but not so strong in other areas which do not arise.

The sad truth is that some players show improvement from week to week, while others languish at the same level for months, mainly because of time spent studying the game and constantly being excited about the wonders of our glorious competition.

In short, both numeracy and what Steven Potter has named his two famous books, “Gamesmanship” and “Oneupsmanship” are equally necessary to travel the fast track to greater success.

Numeracy is just another name
for counting every hand as declarer or defender, without which it is probably impossible to rise above a level to which most all players strive. And Potter’s realism expressed in his popular writing is merely the application of the opposite of the so-called Golden Rule, being “do unto others before they do unto you”.

The above is meant by me to be serious talk, but the reader can do with it what he likes, since no one is watching.

Finally, regarding those Director choices as to Mtchell or Howell movements, it seems very selfish on their part to deprive those players from playing a much fairer movement, which would be 13 rounds of two boards with a Mitchell and either a 6 table Mitchell with a bye stand and 5 boards a round or even a 6 table Mitchell with a skip round, both having two winners. If a 6 table Howell, it seems right to play 32 boards rather than 24 to attempt to make it slightly fairer, offsetting the 4 pairs each partnership does not face. BTW if done the way your 6 table Howell is arranged, it would be thoughtful, though extra effort, if some kind of seeding should be figured out so that the stronger pairs would not miss their share of the other so-called more experienced partnerships.

BTW, in the case of a scrambled Mitchell, should one be used, the seeding becomes critical to get right, likely a fact many club directors had not considered.

Sorry for my too lengthy tome.

No doubt, fairness to the competitors should always trump convenience to the tournament directors.

slarJune 17th, 2019 at 1:47 pm

After hitting the scenario identified by Quality Street far too often, one of my partners stumbled into a convention where 2NT over a minor shows the other minor and a major. A cue bid (rather than being a non-specific one-round force) asks for the major. A direct advance of a major is single-suited. I think this is a reasonable, though somewhat unusual, treatment.

slarJune 17th, 2019 at 1:49 pm

Web Movement for the win! It takes a little longer to set up but it is worth it.
When we don’t play the winning team in a matchpoints event, I make sure to note that they finished first because they didn’t play us.

bobbywolffJune 18th, 2019 at 12:40 am

Hi Slar,

It is often very difficult to evaluate new conventions or even new treatments, without a complete and total description of what all the relevant bids mean. Then, of course, whatever the various bids mean (by both partners) need to be carefully screened against what those specific methods give up (and it is 100% that they give up something and usually a significant amount).

Having said the above, I am not casting any aspersions for or against any new (or for that matter, old) treatments until it is 100% known what all the bids mean.

Yes, a web movement could be the answer, but again, the specifics for exactly how many partnerships entered would likely determine what movement would not only be best, but the key answer is most practical for the players, which would be slanted to create the highest priority for the pair who played the best to finish at the top or near.

Good luck in the future for so determining.