Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Dear Mr Wolff:

What are the merits of using Minor-Suit Stayman over one- or two no-trump openings, as opposed to using four-suit transfers?

— Milky Way, Vancouver, British Columbia

ANSWER: In response to one no-trump, it seems easier to use two spades and two no-trump as transfers to clubs and diamonds respectively. (At his second turn, opener can then announce how well his hand fits by completing the transfer or using the intermediate step.) In response to two no-trump, three spades can be played equally well as Minor-Suit Stayman or as a transfer to three no-trump to initiate one- or two-suited minor-based slam tries.

Dear Mr Wolff:

If I am holding SPADES K-9-3, HEARTS Q-J-3-2, DIAMONDS A-6, CLUBS Q-8-6-2, it looks normal to open one club and rebid one no-trump over the one-spade response, doesn’t it? My partner, an expert with whom I had only limited partnership discussion, now perplexed me by jumping to four clubs. Shouldn’t that be a good hand with clubs, or is it ace-asking?

— Simple Minds, Tucson, Ariz.

ANSWER: This cannot be clubs. With clubs, one would set up a forcing auction by bidding the new minor, then supporting clubs. Many people would play this jump as Gerber, while others would play any jump to the four-level in an auction of this sort as a self-agreeing splinter with spades as trump (maybe 6-3-3-1 with an 18-count), after which you have an extremely good hand and could cue-bid four diamonds.

Dear Mr Wolff:

Are all artificial defenses against strong-club systems permitted?

— Bucket List, Tupelo, Miss.

ANSWER: You can play anything you like against a strong club except what might be regarded as licensed psyches (e.g., “automatic” one-spade bids). I’d recommend the British version of CRASH — using the majors and one no-trump for two suiters of the same color, rank or shape. Double and one diamond are for hearts and spades respectively, while two-level actions show the suit above or the other two suits.

  Dear Mr Wolff:

I was in fourth chair with SPADES A-J-7-3-2, HEARTS Q-8-2, DIAMONDS K-5-4, CLUBS J-10. In an unopposed auction my partner opened one diamond and rebid two clubs over my one-spade response. What are my options now?

— Options Trader, Houston, Texas

ANSWER: Spade bids (whether a weak rebid of two spades or an invitational jump to three spades) are out of the question. Likewise, a simple rebid of two diamonds is a huge underbid. That leaves two hearts as game-forcing fourth suit — an overbid, though not a terrible one — or the two invitational sequences of two no-trump and three diamonds. If you play that your partner can’t be 4-5 for his auction, then three diamonds is acceptable, but two no-trump looks like the normal limiting action.

Dear Mr Wolff:

You have referred a few times to the concept of “system on” when you make a one-no-trump overcall and the next hand bids again. Does this apply to any intervention third hand produces?

— All Systems Go, Pueblo, Colo.

ANSWER: With one possible exception, yes. I believe if third hand bids a new suit, one can sensibly play penalty doubles, not takeout doubles. But if the opponents bid and raise a suit, a double remains takeout since a fit has been found.


If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, e-mail him at Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2011.


MikeAugust 15th, 2011 at 3:01 am

Re: 1x – 1N – 2y auction. If y = x, double should be TO, because the 1N bid could have been made on Kx up to AQJT, so how can partner of 1N bidder to making a penalty X now? OTOH, if y does not = x, you can’t expect 1N bidder to have every suit in the universe, so X needs to be penalty. This has nothing to do with system on or not.

Bobby WolffAugust 15th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Hi Mike,

Your brief comment involving bridge bidding strategy, expressed in Algebraic language, is sophisticated and certainly worth discussing so let us start to delve.

At least up to now, doubles of no trump (NT) interference (when NT was meant to play NT and not meant to be artificial for different suit combinations) has always been for penalties and not takeout.

While the Stayman-Mitchell convention is the only popular one I can think of, involving once partner’s minor suit opening bid at the one level, has been overcalled with a strong NT, then a simple raise of partner’s minor is artificial, showing length in both major suits and is, of course, for takeout e.g. s. KJxxx, h. QJxxx, d. xx, c. x.

Otherwise a double is meant to imply that the NT overcaller has made a mistake by making that bid and will be penalized by their opponents.

Even today and after living throughout my bridge career with the above caveat, I cannot think of a better way

to improve its meaning. However and against wily and dangerous opponents, if holding: s. Jxx, KJx, KQx, 10xxx and hearing partner open 1 spade followed by a 1NT overcall showing presumably 16-18 high card points (HCP), should we double them?

If we do and partner holds, s. KQ10xxx, AQx, Axx, x and, of course, locks in with me with my decision, could not RHO turn up with Ax, xxx, xx, AKQJxx and as sure as the night usually follows the day will take his 7 tricks for his making doubled contract while my side can make 11 tricks in spades and be an easy one, most of the time, to bid to 4 spades?

ALL top players have had experiences similar to the example hand, and from being both the clever one scoring up 1NT doubled and unfortunately also sometimes, the dunce.

What is the solution many may ask? The only one I can think of is, since Dame Fortune in bridge is (and will always be) the master of creating temptation and then results, be careful before doubling an experienced and shrewd declarer when he overcalls 1NT since he (in baseball terms) he has been given a fielder’s choice, wherein he can stand for the double or run out to a long suit (if he has one) fully knowing of what may happen if he stands pat for the double.

A final word of advice is that if you are invited to play in a bridge game (for high-stakes) and that you hear has a pigeon among its four players, ripe for the plucking, and you also hear that the other three are all terrific card players you then have your answer, ” beware, for you are the flying one”.

Thanks Mike, for your inquiring mind, without which, many will not acquire the savvy to think like a bridge expert, long before they have had the experience of having their little wings clipped.

MikeAugust 16th, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for the encouragement. So I guess the lesson is if the 1N overcaller sits your double, don’t lead partner’s suit. If overcaller sits because he has nowhere to run, the tempo loss due to not leading partner’s suit is unlikely to be an issue. If he sits with A in partner’s suit and a running suit, he will be wide open in the other two.

Related to this is that both responder and opener should have ways to show strong unbalanced hands other than doubling and passing the double respectively.

Bobby WolffAugust 16th, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Hi Mike,

Nothing as convoluted as I may have made it appear. Since you will be playing against mostly less than really dangerous opponents, just play naturally and not worry about it, including leading your partner’s suit when it seems logical.

My advice is just to give you something to think about and provide the experience you will need to compete against above average opponents.

Finally, keep on doubling the opponents when you suspect that there will be no surprises, but do not double if you have a distributional hand worth naming your suit and do not be afraid to jump the bidding to inform partner that in spite of an opponent having a good balanced hand there still may be game in our cards, depending if we can find a fit.