Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dear Mr. Wolff:

In standard bidding, if you double and then raise your partner’s response, is that a courtesy action or does it show real game-interest? And does it matter if the auction is competitive?

—  Double Action, Boulder, Colo.

ANSWER: If opener does not re-enter the auction, a raise would be a game-try and promise real extras. If opener rebids his suit or bids a new suit, then the raise by the doubler suggests suitable shape but does not guarantee any extras. With a good hand and support, the doubler must cue-bid or double again.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I held 9, 9-3-2, A-J-10-3-2, K-Q-7-4, and my partner opened two clubs. Our agreement is that two diamonds is a waiting bid, with a suit bid showing length and strength. Is there any upper limit to the two-diamond bid — and what would you do here?

—  The Spin Room, Waterbury, Conn.

ANSWER: No, there is no upper limit. Partner can hardly double-cross you by passing two diamonds, so you can describe your hand accurately later. Your partner may not expect you to have a decent hand, but he will not discount that possibility. I would not bid an immediate three diamonds with this hand, as it pre-empts partner’s description of his hand.

Dear Mr. Wolff:

A recent column showed a bidding sequence that baffled me. I am a novice who doesn’t play tournament bridge, but this one sure took the cake. In response to South’s one-no-trump opening, North bid two hearts with only a low singleton heart and five spades! With eight points in an unbalanced hand, I could understand either a bid of two clubs or two spades, but not two hearts. Do you have a simple answer for me?

—  Stunned, San Ramon, Calif.

  ANSWER: You bring up a delicate issue. As I understand it, most players are now taught Jacoby transfers when they learn the game (hence no footnote for this auction). Bidding a red suit in response to one no-trump SHOWS the major suit one step higher than the bid suit, hearts and spades respectively. In the example here, North’s bid showed spades. Please write to me if you need more help.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

I held A-Q-9-7-4, J-8-2, J-6-2, 9-5. When the opponents bid two clubs over my partner’s opening bid of one diamond, what is my best approach with this hand?

—  Negative Thinker, Ketchikan, Alaska


ANSWER: First things first: Do not bid two spades, which vastly overstates your high-card strength, as it guarantees at least invitational values. One choice is to pass and hope that you get a chance to bid spades later (or not mention them at all). The second choice is to make a negative double. The problem here is that if partner responds two hearts, you do not know whether to pass or correct to two spades. I think I would double. (Give me the diamond queen instead of the jack, and you could sell me on the idea that I could not afford to pass.)


Dear Mr. Wolff:

Up to what level are second-turn doubles by opener for takeout as opposed to penalties? If I open one diamond, my LHO bids one heart, and my RHO bids two no-trump, what should my double mean now?

—  Double, Double, Miami, Fla.


ANSWER: The general rule is that all doubles of suits at your second turn facing a passing partner are takeout. However, sometimes doubles of no-trump bids just show good hands — the sequence you quote is somewhere in between. I’d expect a really good hand for the auction you give — maybe a three-suiter with 17-plus HCP.


If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, e-mail him at Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2009.


bruce karlsonMarch 21st, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Re: Nagative Thinker: When partner’s opening bid is followed by a 2 level bid by RHO, there is frequently a bidding problem. When confronted with a hand similar to NT’s, I always pass as I am confident that parter will double me back in. When I then bid spades, he has a reasonable picture of my hand. Am I in error to expect a double from partner??

Bobby WolffMarch 22nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hi Bruce,

Let me answer realistically, not negatively, nor for that matter positively. To repeat an oft quoted opinion of mine, bridge continues, and has always been, a practiced art rather than a pure science.

With the hand in question, the goal is to describe it as well and as complete as possible. The problem with passing first and then, in response to partner’s hoped for reopening double, to now bid 2 spades is certainly right-on in naming spades, but the problem area concerns itself with how many spades to bid.. If I did pass originally, I would feel duty bound to now jump to 3 spades since to bid only 2 would be the same bid I would make with this distribution, but, of course, with no high cards instead of the 8 I have.

Because of this, my preference is to make a somewhat off center negative double (does not hold, at least 4 of each unbid major) and then convert 2 hearts, if bid by partner, to 2 spades. Now we have shown some values and our conversion indicates at least 5 spades (and fewer than 4 hearts) as well as about what I have in high card points.

Summing up and also rendering an overall opinion, as one takes up the game and gets deeper and deeper into it, the experience he gleans, if he stays with it and takes it seriously, will be enabling to such a degree that his time in observing and practicing will indelibly lead him to a much higher ground in judgment and eventually to have a chance to break barriers in which, at least up to then, seemed somewhat unlikely to happen. Of course, some arithmetical talent along with the development in the language of games will make his task much easier.

All I can leave you with is that if the above happens, you will take great delight in the wonders learned and much other worthwhile fun bridge and its competition always offers. Learn to play bridge as well as you can and ALWAYS remember and play within the ethical strictures that it demands and, my guess, that in almost 100% of that experience, you will benefit from at least having tried. At least to me, its calling card, “Bridge is the game for a lifetime” is perfectly labeled.

Good luck and thanks for continuing to ask excellent questions.

bruce karlsonMarch 22nd, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Thank you!!! Had not considered the ambiguity of a pass/bid for partner. As is daily demonstrated to me, a significant difference between the wizards and the rest of us is nuance, specifically finding the most accurate bid of many poorer or only slightly poorer choices. As I think about it, I always anticipate a rebid when opening a hand but, too often, do not give sufficient consideration to potential problems for partner as in passing the over call in the referenced hand.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 22nd, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hi Bruce:

I sympathize with your delimma to bid or not to bid (relying upon an optimistic balance by your partner).

Before I met and married Bobby, I was mesmerized by the disciplined rigid system of my late husband, Norman Kay, and his remarkably talented bridge partner, writer and theorist, Edgar Kaplan (co-inventor of the Kaplan Sheinwold System). They played a very strict style and their partnership and team record over a forty-year period was fabulous. What they may have lacked in an aggressive format — they made up for in talent. Being a KS disciple for thirty-some years of my bridge career, my style was safe and conservative. My results were reasonable and I felt rather comfortable sitting on my perch but I had no aspirations of setting the world on fire. Bobby teasingly refers to it as my ‘security blanket.’ But, I got a rude awakening with Bobby’s entrance into my placid bridge domain. He absolutely revolutionized my mind set and style, unlocking the cage and turning me free. As I recently mentioned in another blog, I quickly learned you don’t get good results by sitting there with your teeth in your mouth playing passively. You must jump into the action as soon as possible (of course always taking advantage of favorable vulnerability). I was the most by-the-letter-of-the-law player you ever met. My weak two bids in first and second seat could be no worse than KJ109XX with an outside ace or king — and I also couldn’t open two of one major with three card support in the other. Hogwash — according to Bobby! Now I am loose as a goose and anything goes (non-vulnerable). In fact, every time I make an undisciplined Bobby Wolff two bid with a decrepid suit, I look heavenward and utter under my breath, “Edgar and Norman, please forgive me!” (In fact, at the risk of being corny — Judy prays while Bobby preys!).

But believe me, it works (more times than not). Sometimes you gotta take chances and on occasion they are wrong — but it keeps the partnership in the mix. One more bid by you often goads the opponents into bidding one more time as well — and perhaps gets them overboard. Forgive the rant, but Bobby’s advice to you made me reflect upon my own former radical pussyfooting. I am a ‘new Judy’ and it is a refreshing change. Like they say — so far so good!



bruce karlsonMarch 23rd, 2010 at 10:53 am


Thank you for taking the time to respond. A strong partnership is, I suspect, a required ingredient for an aggressive bidding style. One is less likely to be aggressive if one does not want to hear it from partner when things inevitably go wrong. This is most obvious in club and sectional games as too many partials go undoubled or “unpushed”. I frequently pull in my horns with certain partners as I simply do not want to hear it if things go wrong.

Michael BeyroutiMarch 24th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Dr Mr Wolff,

as a follow up on the above discussion, i would like to ask the following question:

As South I held: S. 9 H. A985 D. J6 C. AQJ10xx

The Auction: W N E S

1D P 2C

2S 3C 3S Dbl

My Double was followed by three Passes at lightening speed and disaster struck. My partner thinks it’s unequivocally for penalty, whereas I thought i was making a takeout (Negative) Double showing the four Hearts I had… Can I say that if I wanted a Penalty Double all I had to do is pass and wait for my partner’s “automatic” Double… Or am I in a lost cause here? Thanks,


P.S. Judy, she who “prays while Bobby preys”, may also answer.

Michael BeyroutiMarch 24th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

— 1D P 2C

2S 3C 3S Dble


Bobby WolffMarch 24th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Hi Michael,

A disadvantage to bridge blogging might be thought to be that, in the absence of being able to strike difficult bidding theories down logically, the beast (as he may be thought to be) can, (and Al Roth comes to mind) just categorically say that this means that and that means this, resulting in pure gobbledygook. Such is not the case and (at least I hope) that we will never resort to such blasphemy.

Having said the above and realizing that competitive doubles among the high-level players are coming into greater and greater use and therefore utility we now need to directly address what probably are the most logical treatments and, of course, why. In your specific sequence, since it is certainly possible that you could have a hand which would justify a penalty double and, more importantly your real hand can be shown by merely bidding 4 hearts, which should show a 4 carder and the ability to make a contract at that level it should (hopefully) restore the possibility of being able to double for penalties, therefore returning the double to what it use to mean, PENALTIES!

Going still a little deeper, suppose you held the following hypothetical hand on that very sequence: Axx, Axxx, x, AJxxx, my suggestion would be to double for penalties, but by the very nature of the competitiveness of all four players bidding (with the two opponents supporting each other) the penalty nature of your offering is manifested by your shortness in partner’s original suit, your control of spades, and your lack of a great primary suit. In other words, your partner has now being appointed captain with declarative powers of choice. Most masters are provided for since the range of favorable results from your side going from bidding and making a slam (probably clubs) to getting a substantial penalty through ruffs and top tricks, and at the same time allow for a possible (but unlikely) heart fit.

Notice that by your choice of doubling with your offensive prospects (mainly your great club suit already having been supported) but also by your singleton spade and, of course, the Ace of hearts which could serve mightily if your partner has solid diamonds (to eventually throw your losing hearts away), you created a point of no return in which your partnership suffered.

As Shakespeare may have said your result did not signify nothing since it allowed us and now you and your partner (if you haven’t already divorced) to talk and get on the same wave length.

Thanks for listening and please continue to find and distribute potential problems in search of solutions.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 24th, 2010 at 5:28 pm


Thanks for responding to my tale of woe and the adjustment neccessary to change systems. Fortunately, I don’t have the problems of most. At my age, though retired, life is hectic as I take time and great pains to blog but still afford myself the pleasure of bi-weekly duplicates — with Bobby only. That way I don’t have the problem of remembering what I play with whom — as there is only one “whom” in my life. Lucky me!

However, Bobby likes to “mention things” at the table which I find very disconcerting and hard to move on to the next hand. I am willing to discuss anything at home over a drink when my head is clear and I dont’ have to concern myself with time restraints for the next round. We don’t always see eye to eye as our systems and styles were a planet apart, but I have become resigned to converting most of my earlier training in order to accommodate him — and no doubt it does work pretty successfully on most occasions. However, it is amazing how many situations arise which have never came up before and I just have to roll with the punches and hope to avoid a disaster.

I never worried in the past about pulling in my horns. I believe things should be out in the open and discussed to avoid the possibility of future poor results or horrendous diasters. By choice, I have played with very few people in my life on a regular basis. Unfortunately, my regular partner, Jane Segal (from my hometown of Philadelphia) whom I adore is (like yours truly) getting up in years and travel is no longer a piece of cake Since the Wolves have not gone to a national in two years, I have missed the last six NABCs with her– so I am resigned (with delight) to be playing with Bobby here at home what I consider social (but serious) bridge at the club level and always striving to be as good as I can be. It is a huge challenge for me to live up to his expectations and on a bad day I can be a terrible disappointment. But, as Joe E. Brown, has been known to say: “Nobody’s Perfect!”

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 24th, 2010 at 5:41 pm


How kind of you to include me in your analysis! However, words (not numbers and perentages) are my bag.

I leave the tough stuff to Bobby — and besides, after six years (though I try), it is very hard to win a bridge argument with (or change the viewpoint of) an eleven-time world champion — and who am I to try. I just say, “Yes, dear!” It works well and we have a marvelous marriage. I am truly twice blessed.



Michael BeyroutiMarch 24th, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Thank you Mr Wolff.

Just when i think I got it, I goof! (I have already asked you at least 4 questions of this type!) Thanks for helping me consolidate my knowledge in this area.

AND JUDY: Thanks for your replies. Thou shall remain Bobby’s Numero Uno PR person. I am just a follower who has been reading his articles and advice religiously every day for the last twenty five years or so. Bobby Wolff is indeed a great Bridge Persona, a great deal more than what his 11 world titles can tell. To think that he makes himself available so humbly, so patiently and so generously should make his readers grateful. I know I am. He is doing the best and the most for our pastime. Heeere’s to the Wolves!