Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I am a beginner who has heard the term “tenace” but do not understand it. Will you please explain it?

— Tenacity, Great Falls, Mont.

ANSWER: A tenace (from the Spanish word for “pincers”) refers to a suit-holding that is missing one card from a sequence. The common feature of a tenace is that if your opponents lead that suit, the number of sure tricks you are able to take increases, whereas if you play it yourself, you may get fewer. A-Q or K-J are two prime examples, but a holding of A-K-J also meets the requirements.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I held 10-8, Q-10-8-4, K-9-5, A-K-10-7 and opened one club. My LHO overcalled one heart, and when my partner doubled, I naturally bid one no-trump. My LHO competed again with two diamonds, doubled by my partner, and a retreat on my right to two hearts. Should I now double, pass, or bid two no-trump? (At the table we made two no-trump, but two hearts would have been down three.)

— Tough Choices, Albany, Ga.

ANSWER: I would have doubled because I think my hearts and diamonds are more useful in defense than partner might expect. That fourth trump was by no means a guarantee from partner’s perspective.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I enjoyed the letter in your weekly column about playing bridge with your wife. Personally, I think you should review all your good boards to determine if you benefited from a poor declarer, a poor defender, or your good bidding and play.

— Auditor, West Palm Beach, Fla.

ANSWER: Somebody recently proposed to me a useful variation on this theme, namely, the “Car Key Rule.” When you are heading home but do not have the car keys, then you have to be quiet about partner’s less-than-perfect bridge. This also applies to all other bridge partners.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I was in fourth position with A-Q-4-3, 9-7-4-3-2, J, K-6-4 and heard a weak three-diamond call on my left, a double from partner, and a raise to four diamonds. What should I have done next? And what would be right if the raise had been to five diamonds?

— Firefighter, Doylestown, Pa.

ANSWER: Most experts play responsive doubles here. When partner doubles for takeout, then your double of the suit they have raised should be takeout also. So here I would double four diamonds, though I think if I had ace-queen-fifth of spades and four small hearts, I might guess to bid four spades. If they raise to five diamonds, double again. But here partner will only remove with real extra shape.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

Does opening with a strong two-bid demand that your side get to game? If not, under what circumstances can a pair stay out of game?

— Meeting Demand, Galveston, Texas

ANSWER: A strong two-bid is forcing for one round but NOT to game. Equally, opener must bid again facing a negative response; but if opener limits his hand by repeating his suit, or responder gives a minimum preference back to opener’s suit, those bids CAN be passed. A new suit by responder to the two-bid sets up an unequivocal game force.

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 2009. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonMay 3rd, 2009 at 8:47 pm

I thought this was worth a mention insofar as counting and concentration, of lack thereof, are the keys to better bridge: Your columns almost always have all relevant information available to make or break a contract; too many of us fail to use it!!

Anyway, while partnered with a PhD statistician (always interesting), I miscounted a suit, which was cause for a bad board. Insofar as “quant” courses have always been trouble for me, I pointed out that I was “mathematically challenged”. Said he curtly: “It is not math, it is arithmetic!!!” Case closed…


Bobby WolffMay 4th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Yes, sometimes the term mathematics is a forbidding term, implying great mathematical ability required, but in reality, bridge usually just requires adding up to thirteen. However, the twist in bridge is the concentration involved, which more often than not requires the arithmetical adding up of the different suits in the other hands making sure the end result is exactly thirteen in each (not the not so small mistake of twelve or fourteen).

Formidable (probably at first), impossible (definitely NOT), similar to learning to ride a bicycle, once learned, never forgotten, and soon learned to flow naturally.

Necessary for success? YOU BET IT IS, since without doing it, that player is born dead.