Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dear Mr. Wolff:

What is “Italian Cuebidding”? I’ve tried bidding with an Italian accent, but I still don’t do any better when it comes to reaching good slams or avoiding bad ones.

—  Roman Candle, Macon, Ga.


ANSWER: In regular cuebidding, one cuebids aces before second-round controls, while Italian-style cuebidding focuses on always making the most economical cuebid. So bypassing a suit denies any control in that suit, and a repeat cuebid by responder promises a control in all bypassed suits as well as in the suit in which you now make a cuebid.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

At pairs I held K-10-3, 10-4, A-K-3-2, A-8-7-4 and opened one diamond. After a one-spade response, I could not decide whether to raise spades, introduce clubs, or rebid one no-trump. When I chose the last-named bid, we made nine tricks in the no-trump game for a bottom because others made more in spades. (My partner had six bad spades and a balanced opening bid.) Was I right to open diamonds first? Do you have any comments on the subsequent calls?

—  Left in a Bad Place, Nashville, Tenn.


ANSWER: Regardless of which minor I opened, I would raise one spade to two. This hand has decent trumps and a ruffing value, and if no-trump is right, it should be played by partner to protect the hearts. Incidentally, even if your call was not best, your partner made the last and worst mistake when he opted unilaterally for no-trump.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

How should an aspiring tournament player deal with bad results? Is there any point in discussing the result at the table, or should it wait until after the game?

—  Blame Game, North Bay, Ontario

  ANSWER: Never criticize partner for his declarer play — that is his problem, not yours. Likewise, when you mess up as declarer, do not apologize. Your partner probably knows you were not trying to upset him. Bidding foul-ups only merit discussion at the table if you think the accident needs mentioning to avoid having it happen again in the set. The same broadly applies to problems in defense, though in my experience these are the hardest accidents to pass over.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

I picked up K-3, K-Q-5-4, A-J-7-3-2, A-10 and opened one diamond, planning to reverse into two hearts over a one-level response. In fact my LHO overcalled one heart and my partner doubled for takeout. Now came two clubs on my right. What should I have done now?

—  What’s Left? Torrance, Calif.


ANSWER: When you now volunteer a call of two no-trump, you show 18-19, approximately the values you hold. If you had a balanced 12-14 hand, you would simply pass and wait for partner to compete further if he had extras.


Dear Mr. Wolff:

If you could, would you field a team for the United States that did not include a sponsor? Would it make an appreciable difference to our chances of success in world events?

—  Logo a Go-Go, Miami, Fla.


ANSWER: I’m not sure it would make a big difference. (Our women’s teams have been dominant in the last 40 years while our men’s team has shared the limelight with a powerful Italian team.) That said, while sponsorship allows good players to concentrate on bridge and thus to get better, I’d still like to see a system that allows the three best pairs to make up our team.


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


Michael SteinJanuary 3rd, 2011 at 6:19 am

Switching the majors to ♠ 10-4, ♥ K-10-3, ♦ A-K-3-2, ♣ A-8-7-4 and hearing partner respond 1♥, is there more of a case for trying 1NT as opposed to raising hearts? Here, partner has not “denied” spades, whereas he probably did deny hearts in the text example.


bobbywolffJanuary 3rd, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Hi Michael,

You are asking about a favorite subject of mine, having to do with one’s first rebid after opening the bidding.

In almost all cases, I strongly prefer to raise partner’s major with three as long as I am not 4-3-3-3 with my 4 card suit, of course, being my opened minor. Quite simply, the ruffing value (when eventually playing partner’s major response as trump) usually compensates in an extra trick even when the trump suit turns out to be 4-3.

And, the only time we will play the 4-3 is if the bidding now goes all pass, since if partner continues he will not rebid his supported major and give you the choice of other contracts (quite often NT) when the bidding gets higher.

Other advantages to this treatment:

1. If, from the responder’s standpoint, opener rebids 1NT and then the opponents compete the responder can more easily judge the defensive potential of the hand by knowing partner is relatively short in his major.

2. When looking at a 5 card major, but otherwise a balanced (or semi balanced) hand, the responder can pass and not worry about missing a 5-3 major suit fit at the 2 level and settle for 1NT, e.g. Jxxxx, Kx, Axx, xxx. or even Jxx, Qxxxx, and Qxxx leaving a singleton A, K, or Q in partner’s opened minor.

3. Believe it or not, this choice makes your partnership a tougher opponent for good players since they cannot be sure your side always has an 8 card fit (at least) when the bidding could get very competitive at the 2 level.

4. Discussing exceptions, with AQ in the non bid major suit by partner and xxx in his, and with KJxx, Axxx I still think it is the percentage action to support his suit instead of rebidding 1NT, but others may disagree and seem to in bridge literature, which I will chalk up to sometimes hogging dummy in order to be declarer.

5. Another factor to consider is the preemptive effect of the raise rather than rebidding 1NT. Besides playing the 4-3 fit allows the declarer to show off his declarer skills. The above sentence is somewhat misleading since 4-3 fits are not as difficult to play as others have suggested.

Michael, I appreciate your question.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

bruce karlsonJanuary 3rd, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I am happy to say that I support wth 3 of partner’s major but thought I needed 1 or preferably 2 honors. I am now disabused of that thought. Any idea how often partner has 5 rather than 4 of a major when responding. Since you did not mention it, I imagine that IMP/MP scoring is not relevant. True??


bobbywolffJanuary 3rd, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Hi Bruce,

I’ll leave the discussion of probabilities, even common ones in bridge, to the judgment of mathematicians, but my guess is that five cards suits are probably in this bridge context, a little less, perhaps about 35-40% as common as 4 card suits (about 60-65%).

Remember for purposes of this discussion, 6 card or longer suits or even 5 card with enough overall strength of the hand or skewed distribution, to warrant further bidding will continue bidding anyway, rendering our particular subject on those hands, irrelevant.

Regarding IMPs (or rubber bridge) vs. matchpoints, I think it is about the same since, even in IMP’s, the part score battle is more important than many bridge players realize. Of course, in matchpoints, since the necessity of being right is excruciatingly ever present as opposed to the amount of gain which varies in IMPs (and rubber bridges), still my overall feeling is that one should do the same thing in both games, with possibly only a small adjustment for top level board-a-match scoring in events like the Reisinger.

If the truth be known I certainly am sure that the 100% answer is not known by me, but likely is not known by anyone ever and will not, until a computer program, dedicated to bridge, computes and analyzes to need.

Here is hoping that the above has not confused you more than it has educated.