Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dear Mr. Wolff:

I opened one no-trump with a balanced 17-count and raised my partner’s invitation to three no-trump. The problem was that I had three small hearts as did my partner. My LHO had five running hearts and we lost the first six tricks. Should I have had a stopper in all suits?

—  Fatal Flaw, Great Falls, Mont.


ANSWER: Please be reassured: you simply got unlucky. If you wait to open one or two no-trump with balanced hands that have stops in all suits, then you will fix yourself on all the hands with the right HCP that now cannot be described. The only time to worry about stoppers in balanced hands is when the opponents have bid a suit, or when your side has bid three suits and you discover you do not have a stopper in the fourth suit. Hence the use of fourth-suit forcing.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

I was holding A-9, J-9-3-2, 10-3-2, K-Q-7-4 when my partner opened one diamond. The next hand bid two spades. I doubled for takeout, and heard four spades on my left, passed back to me. I doubled, then had to decide what to lead. Any advice?

—  On the Spot, Troy, N.Y.


ANSWER: The most likely way declarer will come to 10 tricks is on a crossruff. Therefore lead the trump ace and plan to continue spades unless the sight of dummy makes that obviously inappropriate.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

From time to time you describe a bid as “balancing.” Please define this term. How does it affect one’s bidding?

—  Gyroscope, Grenada, Miss.


ANSWER: The term “balancing seat” refers to the pass-out or protective position. In other words your call has been preceded by two passes, and if you pass now the auction is over. It is normally used to refer to low-level positions in the early stages of the auction. Balancing actions can be made with less than those made in direct seat, particularly when you are short in the opponents’ suit. Reopening calls by the opener are also influenced by being short in the opponents’ suit.

  Dear Mr. Wolff:

My partner and I play Exclusion Blackwood, with 1430 responses. My partner opened one diamond and I responded one heart. She jumped to three hearts, and I bid five diamonds. Should this be Exclusion? After my call, what does my partner bid with no key-cards? Using 1430 Roman Keycard Blackwood, a bid of five hearts should indicate one (or four) key-cards, shouldn’t it? We wound up in six hearts going down one as a result.

—  Rocking Robert, Bellevue, Wash.


ANSWER: The simple answer for the exact reason you describe is that even if you play 1430 for regular key-card, you need to play Exclusion Blackwood with 3041 responses. It is precisely to cope with the zero response, which is so much more likely over exclusion than key-card. The auction you describe should probably be key-card, I suppose … but I’m not a huge fan of using this method in bid suits.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

You hold Q-9-6-4, 3-2, A-J-10-3-2, K-4. With a weak two-heart call on your right, you have to pass. But what if your partner balances with a call of three clubs? Clearly you need to bid, but what call is best?

—  Bright Spark, Galveston, Texas


ANSWER: The choice is a call of three diamonds (which would not be forcing since you passed at your previous turn) or a cuebid of three hearts. The latter will get you to three no-trump facing a heart stop, or to a 4-4 spade fit if you have one. But it also runs the risk of setting up a game-forcing auction, and it is not clear that you are worth that. Bid three-diamonds, expecting partner to bid again with extra shape or high cards.


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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonAugust 22nd, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Re: “On the Spot” from Troy.

I have learned by bitter experience that if I am not sure what I am to lead, I do not double for penalties.

Further, suppose OTS holds one more spade and one fewer diamond, very likely giving partner one spade at most. Should he then lead a low one hoping to get back in to lead two more. Suspect I would. Good idea??

Bobby WolffAugust 23rd, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your first sentence is well expressed. However sometimes the bidding, plus your hand, suggests that you are almost surely going to set them. It is just a matter of how many.

At least in my judgment, the “On the Spot” hand from Troy is a very close choice between the chosen spade ace and partner’s opening bid suit, diamonds. Having an extra spade, say instead of a low club, would influence me into leading a low spade. While the Ace of spades in either the column letter or the inclusion of a 3rd spade could be the right lead if the declarer would be able to start his assumed cross ruff right away without losing the lead, the little one (in the case of Axx) wins if partner either has the singleton King or 2 spades with the first entry. Of course, with your question of having the 3rd spade and only a doubleton diamond the lead of a spade at all may prevent you from getting a diamond ruff or even establishing partner’s diamond trick(s) before declarer has a side suit of his own to throw away his losers.

John Brown, a famous English bridge author from the 1940’s once wrote that if an average+ player would get off to the right opening lead every time, he would win every World Bridge Championship ever held. 60+ years later I would agree wholeheartedly with his judgment.