Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 27th, 2019

What do you think is the best way to learn how to play bridge? Did you start by playing pairs or team games, or did you learn rubber bridge first? Which would you recommend?

Tyro Tyrone, Worcester, Mass.

Rubber bridge used to be far more common than it is nowadays. I think your chances of learning quickly would be improved by playing in a duplicate club, where you can take classes as well as playing in events. Teams is easier to learn than pairs, I would say. If you can’t find a local club, the American Contract Bridge League will help. Try them at 1-800-264-2743.

The following hand kept me up at night. My partner opened one spade, and I responded with one no-trump, holding ♠ J,  K-10-6-5-4,  K-Q-10-3, ♣ J-3-2. Now my partner bid two clubs, and I could think of nothing intelligent to say. What would you have done?

Curious George, Battle Creek, Mich.

There is no good answer here. Passing may be disastrous facing a good hand with only four (or even three!) clubs, while bidding two no-trump may send you overboard. Correcting to two spades also looks very dangerous, so I’d try two hearts, hoping to end up in a contract where I have more trumps than the opponents.

Please explain what happens when a player makes a slow bid, and his partner seems to take advantage of that unauthorized information? What are the criteria for awarding an adjusted score?

Blinky Bill, Charlottesville, Va.

Say a player’s tempo for a call suggests a particular action, and his partner subsequently takes the action that might have been suggested by that tempo. If so, the director may adjust the result, depending on whether there were logical alternatives to the action chosen. In other words, you can bid as fast or as slow as you like, but your partner must not be influenced by your tempo.

How would you respond to a three-spade pre-empt at unfavorable vulnerability, holding ♠ J-9,  K-10-5-2,  A-J, ♣ A-Q-7-3-2? I elected to raise to game, and though I wasn’t expecting to be facing solid spades, I did expect more than queenseventh of spades and queenfourth of diamonds.

Unimpressed, Seneca S.C.

Pre-empts vary enormously according to position and vulnerability. Your partner appears to have bid considerably below what I might expect for a second-seat pre-empt at unfavorable vulnerability. In first or third chair non-vulnerable, I might even open his hand at the three-level.

I assume you would open one diamond with ♠ A-7-3,  K-J-4-2,  Q-10-5-2, ♣ Q-10. You then hear a two-club overcall, and your partner bids three clubs to show a limit raise or better in diamonds. You sign off in three diamonds, but partner presses on with three hearts. What would you do now?

Marquis of Mirth, Torrance, Calif.

Your partner is looking for a club stopper, and you do not have one. Since his call is forcing, your choice is to raise hearts and hope the 4-3 fit plays well. (Partner could still have four hearts, I suppose.) You could also temporize with three spades, but I’m not sure what that would achieve. So four hearts it is.

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A V Ramana RaoNovember 10th, 2019 at 10:52 am

Hi Dear Mr. Wolff
This may only of academical interest to me but nevertheless
Once the lead is made , normally, declarer can pause for a while for planning the play of the hand. My question is whether RHO is entitled for a similar pause after declarer announces dummy’s card ( whether declarer plays in tempo after the lead or pauses for thinking) Is pause by RHO construed as legal and ethical or is it not permitted

Bobby WolffNovember 10th, 2019 at 3:47 pm


A good question and specifically covered in the rules,

The third player to play, at trick one (partner of the opening leader) may take time to follow suit (or possibly show out of the suit which was led) without it being thought to be a problem (such as a singleton or close to a 100% play).

However, as an addendum, it wouldn’t hurt, although not demanded, to announce that he, the third seat player, is studying the entire hand and not to take inference from his hesitation.

Next, for a player to do that, he should do so on perhaps every hand (or almost) otherwise unauthorized information (UI) may be passed to an alert opening leader, who had become used to his partner quickly following usually, but not then.

IOW, it is left up to the individual players (partnerships) to practice active ethics, which is standard against EVER passing UI and taking pains to make sure he (or she) does not.

Just like many other personal things in life, leeway is given third seat bridge players, but, at least at the higher levels of play where experience is evident, those players, and both sides, know when that privilege is correctly followed and when it isn’t.

Yes, if a third seat player sometimes does play fast, but other times does not, a director call is not only possible, but instead I think mandatory, in order to make it a matter of official and public record, because by doing so it can easily be abused by players, under the name of being legal, but instead, horribly and unethically managed in order to alert his partner that something is up, and whether by intention or not (usually the former).

Bridge, particularly of the higher level, cannot survive, not at the top level, with players seeking an advantage by gaming his competitors, since by doing so, it becomes a big enough advantage which, in turn, will usurp his weaknesses in what may be said (please forgive me) in SPADES!

IOW, no reason to allow such behavior, and it must be stopped or that player (or pair) must be told ASAP or else force them from continue to play.

Finally, all experienced players will know this type of action when they see it and sadly some practice it, but only against others who are relatively new to the game, making a TD call even more relevant when it does occur who merely “feels” that it may be done intentionally to gain advantage.

The above concerns itself with only the third seat defender at trick one and does not directly apply to the then declarer, although, even for him to unduly take time, when his next play or plays are obvious, except those actions may be done, not to notify partner (dummy) but to sometimes confuse his opponents, but other times to just get oriented, a common condition for a relative newbie. If then so, little to nothing, should be said, since no evil notion was likely attempted.

As can be easily understood, bridge ethics (while crucially important) needs to be accomplished, with well intended players leading the way with practical motives for teaching others what and how to perform and thus that to be done by serving as role models.

David WarheitNovember 11th, 2019 at 11:06 am

AVRR: My partner and I always write “We always hesitate at trick one.” on the top of our convention card. The hesitation applies essentially to both declarer and his right-hand opponent. This has the effect of making it difficult to impossible for third hand to convey unauthorized information to his partner, plus it gives opening leader time to analyze the hand so that he can play at fairly uniform speed after trick one.

A V Ramana RaoNovember 11th, 2019 at 11:34 am

So nice of Mr. Wolff for elaborately dwelling on the issue and David: perhaps it is pause and not hesitate . ( Strictly semantic ) Hope you do not mind . Thanks anyway

Iain ClimieNovember 11th, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Hi David,

Sounds good and sensible, avoiding a lot of problems.

Hi Bobby,

To what extent might over-zealous interpretation of UI laws act as a deterrent to new players at a club? How (if at all) is it possible not to deter people, should newbies be cut a certain amount of slack or is this down to bridge teachers to address the problem from an early stage? It is a problem with bridge that most other games (chess, backgammon, perhaps even other card games) don’t seem to encounter. It would be unfortunate if it deterred people from starting to play, although clearly the need for consciously ethical behavior is vital once a player has grasped the basics; there will probably be a few unavoidable glitches early on.



Bobby WolffNovember 11th, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt what you affirm and then discuss the problem with, newbies and the specific ethical strictures which are directly connected to seriously playing our beloved game, are alive and almost always only sometimes handled correctly.

The only answer, at least as I see it, is for a player or players in that community who have credibility among its inhabitants, to take charge and act as sounding boards, and/or go to’s for
advice, while, if possible, including players who want to hear it from that player’s mouth what to do, and extremely important why it is necessary for our game to even exist.

Without that type of education, almost all wannabes im order to be game successful, may be actually confused or instead, worse, not, but pretending to be, in order to take advantage until something horrific happens and embarrassment reigns.

At least IMO, any player who has the talent and again wannabe work ethic, to become a factor (along with his or her partner) will know how and especially why the ethical strictures are so very important to even play our game at all, much less be required, that it must be assumed that player or players are well aware of why this is so, and be prepared to take it from there and guide him (if possible) to the Active Ethics we all talk about and hopefully practice.

Any apparent significant deviance from the above needs to be handled quickly and effectively in order to protect our game against
others, in one way or another, making tournaments in which they play, basically impossible effectively or enjoyably to participate for others.

Finally, my personal advice would be to allow one small deviation with merely a public (necessary for future control) hand slap, but if repeated, announced barred for forever, but, in reality long enough for them to either accept that, or prove to whoever is then in control (no political nor non-bridge lover character) that they are totally serious NEVER to again even consider, practicing their evil art.

And, for what it is worth, since I am in favor of Nathanial Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter, to wear a colorful letter on their chest as well, is not too great a price to pay, if, in fact they are ever let back in.