Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dear Mr. Wolff:

Recently in “Bid with the Aces” you posed a problem hand where the auction around the table had gone: one diamond – one heart – one no-trump. As fourth hand I would not be clear why the auction was a tip-off to a possible bad heart break. Since you as fourth hand have four small hearts, and partner presumably has five or more, that would leave four hearts between the other two hands. How badly can the hearts be breaking?

—  Math Maven, Richmond, Va.


ANSWER: Your RHO’s decision to bid no-trump does not always deliver a second heart stop, but it frequently does. If a game contract our way depended on trumps splitting 2-2 or on a finesse through the opening bidder for the trump queen or king, I would not fancy your chances, would you?


Dear Mr. Wolff:

My partner held K-J-9-7-3, Q-J-2, 10-3-2, 8-2. He raised my opening of one spade to two, and over my game-try of three clubs he signed off in three spades. I passed, with 16 points and a 5-1-3-4 pattern, and we made game comfortably enough. Who was to blame?

—  Ray of Sunshine, Houston, Texas


ANSWER: Your partner might have done more than raise one spade to two – some would invite, some would drive to four spades here as a two-way shot. After your sensible game-try, your partner must bid game. Like it or not, he knows he has spectacular trumps, and the right doubleton, which should be almost enough on its own. You were correct, in theory, to pass the sign-off. When you consult partner, you must trust him.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

When would you risk a contract to play for an overtrick? What odds would you need in your favor? And what about settling for one down instead of playing to make a contract and risking going two down?

—  Handicapper, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

  ANSWER: Matchpoints is the only form of the game where safety plays are unattractive. At pairs, in a normal contract, if all other factors are equal (though they rarely are), one follows the line offering the best chance of taking the most tricks. This could be a 60 percent line that might lead to an overtrick if it succeeds or might risk going down if it fails. Bear in mind that one sometimes needs to risk a contract to get back to par on a deal after a bad guess by you or a good lead by the opponents.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

My LHO opened one no-trump. My RHO held J-9-7-4, A-Q-7-3-2, K-8, 9-6, but instead of transferring into hearts, he bid Stayman and then three spades! His side still reached a heart game, but I had no idea how (or why) they did it.

—  Lost in Space, Wichita, Texas


ANSWER: Your opponents were playing a convention called Smolen, whereby a jump in a major after a two-diamond response to Stayman shows both majors, with four in the bid suit and five in the other major. This acts as a transfer to get the strong hand to be declarer if theew is a 5-3 fit. Note that when your opponents announce a conventional bid, if you ask, they must explain it to you. If you still don’t understand, just ask them to explain it further and don’t feel embarrassed about that.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

In a duplicate match my partner and I were doubled in four hearts, and made it. Another team bid three hearts, were also doubled, and made an overtrick. They received 930 points while we received 790. Since we bid game and they didn’t, we shouldn’t we have received the same number of points? Someone told me they were doubled into game, but I don’t understand that concept. Could you please explain the 140-point difference.

—  Short-Changed, Woodland Hills, Calif.


ANSWER: When a contract of three hearts (worth 90 points) is doubled, it becomes worth 180 and thus scores as game, since any contract scoring more than 100 carries the game bonus. Doubled overtricks are worth 100 nonvulnerable, or 200 when vulnerable. The 140 discrepancy comes from the difference between a doubled vulnerable overtrick of 200 and a doubled trick of 30, worth 60. Which is more embarrassing: to double opponents (who can make 10 tricks) at the three-level or four-level? The former, I’d say — hence it should cost more!


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