Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dear Mr. Wolff:

Recently you ran a deal quoting two lines of play where the odds as I calculated them differed by over 10 percent. What do you believe to be the minimum difference in probabilities before you consider one line to be significantly better than the other? How many experts would get that sort of problem right?

—  Professor Challenger, West Palm Beach, Fla.


ANSWER: I’d expect really top players to know 90 percent of the basic positions, to be able to extrapolate to the right answer on most of the rest, and guess right half the remaining time, giving them the right answer 99 percent of the time. But almost all hands involve more-complex suit issues than a single suit-combination. Hence all the mistakes, or wrong views.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

What would you open with A, A-K-Q-J-8-3, A-K-Q-3, K-J? How would you plan your rebids over a negative response?

—  Lucky Lou, Danville, Ill.


ANSWER: Would you please deal ME that hand? I would open two clubs and plan to rebid a forcing two hearts over my partner’s two-diamond response. My methods allow my partner to show a really weak hand now by bidding three clubs, the lower minor. If he did that, I would bid three diamonds and try to find the best fit for slam. Opposite anything else, I would probably drive to slam in the appropriate suit.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

If you overcall, the next hand makes a negative double, and partner redoubles, what does that show? Does it ask for rescue, show support, or just announce high cards?

—  Great Pretender, Grand Junction, Colo.

  ANSWER: Best is to play the redouble as card-showing, suggesting that your side has more than half the deck. It does not set up a forcing pass, but tends to have at best secondary support for your suit, else some other call agreeing your suit would generally be more appropriate.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

In a recent letter you showed a deal where one player held K-Q, A-9-7-3, 7-3, K-J-7-4-3 and heard his RHO open one club. How would you rate an overcall of two clubs?

—  Jam Packer, Midland, Mich.


ANSWER: I’m not a big fan of overcalling at the two-level on five-card suits, even less on broken five-card suits. And when the opponents have suggested (though not promised) length in that suit, it becomes even more dangerous. In this scenario there is another reason for not taking that action: Tournament players tend to use the direct cue-bid as artificial, showing both majors, not natural.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

I have been playing bridge since I graduated from college, about 50 years ago. I read your bridge column in the newspaper and books on bidding and play. Yet, I don’t seem to be able to break average. Maybe I am too timid in my bidding. Any ideas?

—  Timorous Tyro, Trenton, N.J.


ANSWER: As regards your basic system, you don’t want to overload memory, but maybe Eric Rodwell’s new book on two-over-one might help. Marc Smith and Barbara Seagram’s book on 25 conventions fills in the gaps. As to play technique, Klinger has written on bridge memory, and anything by Kelsey or Reese on play have a lot to offer. One aspect about matchpoint play: it is not like teams — you have to go for the throat. Kit Woolsey on pairs bridge might help.


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


bruce karlsonJuly 18th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Re: Jam Packer

I believe that 75% of the time, a 1C opener holds 4 or more, which, even absent the conventional prohibition, would cause me to decline a 2 C overcall. I would pass in tempo and hope to be given the opportunity to get back into the auction. Minors by RHO in this situation are the most dangerous as partner can usually be forgiven for passing the hand out.

After hearing 1D or 1S from partner, I now bid 1NT, or perhaps 2 NT, and the hand is right sided.

If, on the other hand, the hand is passed out for a bad board, I get the opportunity to discover partner’s tolerance for my bidding methods.

Bobby WolffJuly 18th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Hi Bruce,

There are very few bidding or playing opportunities in tournament bridge where, when the bidding is over and before the play, one can feel confident his partnership is a huge favorite to score a high percentage of the matchpoints, but perhaps Jam Packer’s letter concerning overcalling clubs once RHO has opened one club might be one of them.

Not necessarily while in 2d seat, hearing RHO open 1 club and, of course, now passing. It would then become one of the above, however, if your pass would be followed by two more passes.

To prove that point, merely check the vulnerability and the bridge scoring system concerning part score scoring and defensive down tricks. When one decides to defend, their partnership will receive either 50 or 100 per trick, but when declarer, they will receive only 20 per trick in a minor suit, plus the 50 given for a part score contract made.

Although discussing the scoring system is usually somewhat boring, all high-level players plus experienced tournament players are well aware of what is in store. Everything being equal, defending a scrambing contract almost always favors the defense rather than having to play that hand as declarer, at least as far as the scoring system is concerned.

This type of discussion is usually only interesting to those few who are concerned with the arithmetical side of the game, but in order to reach certain player goals, at least some expert knowledge of what it is all about, is probably necessary.