Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

At matchpoint pairs I am often tempted to open one no-trump and bid again in competition when I have a five-carder. What are the pros and cons of this approach?

Come Again, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In a sense the no-trump opener passes captaincy to his partner after he opens, but there are so many variations of strength and shape that you should never feel restrained about acting again — especially by reopening with a takeout double after intervention, when you have a small doubleton in their suit. I do normally compete again by bidding a decent five-card suit when I can get it in. Even if the opponents can catch me, they don't always know that.

When my partner opened two clubs, I had almost an opening bid. I held ♠ A-4,  K-7-5-2,  Q-9-8-5-3, ♣ K-10 and responded two no-trump to keep the bidding lower than it would have been after a three-diamond response. After the deal my partner suggested that I might have lied with a two-diamond response, to hear what he had to say. What do you think?

String Theory, Staten Island, N.Y.

I can see where your partner was coming from. The problem hands in response to a two-club opening come when you don't know whether to go to slam. Here you know you will end in slam, so you don't have to show your values yet. Turn the heart king into a small one and I can see why you might bid two no-trump to get your values across.

My partner opened three clubs, the next hand doubled, and I bid three hearts with four small clubs and four hearts to the ace-queen, thinking I wanted a heart lead. When the next hand jumped to four spades, my partner bid five hearts with jack-third of hearts and we played six clubs doubled — down one trick too many! Was he na├»ve to trust me here?

Fool Me Once, Salinas, Calif.

He was right to bid on, but wrong to bid five hearts. In this auction, which in my book definitely promises club tolerance, he can bid five clubs with a partial club fit and four no-trump with a real heart fit, letting you pick the strain.

You are in third chair with ♠ Q-9-3-2,  A-4,  7-6-5-2, ♣ Q-5-3. Your partner opens one heart, and the next hand doubles. What would you do?

Head Cook, Panama City, Fla.

This hand is too good to pass and back in. I'd prefer a straightforward call of one no-trump, burying the spades on the grounds that we may not want to find a fit even if we have one. This call shows the upper range for the action in a noncompetitive sequence, say a good seven to 10 points, and it leaves partner well placed for bidding on if necessary.

One of the problems I have at no-trump is that after my lead is taken by declarer, who switches to his suit, I do not know what signals my partnership and I should use at this trick. Do we use attitude, count, or suit-preference?

Wigwagger, Detroit, Mich.

Never signal attitude on declarer's leads. You do not need to announce that declarer has made a mistake. If he has erred, you will already be ahead of the field. Signal count only if you think partner needs to know (he often will). Otherwise, your carding should be suit preference, but a useful signal to have up your sleeve is the Smith Echo, which in cases of doubt suggests to partner whether to lead your suit back or shift. More on that anon; details can be found here.

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David WarheitJune 17th, 2012 at 10:25 am

In response to Fool Me Once, you speak of “a partial club fit”. I am certain you meant “a partial heart fit”. Can’t fool me (sorry, I couldn’t resist that).

bobby wolffJune 17th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Hi David,

In preparation to answer this comment I reread the Sunday’s column and winced when I read what you are referring to.

Yes, it was a gaffe and inexcusable, in spite of being easily caught by you, but certainly not by lesser experienced readers who I undoubtedly confused.

For a great number of years (almost exactly 30 with my byline, but 42 in total) there have always been at least 3 people, and usually 4, (at various stages of bridge expertise) who at least help with the proof reading and that, together with these columns having been done 6 months+ ago, take my memory away, but make no mistake, I am the one responsible for the product, and should be accorded all blame.

Jeff HJune 18th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Regarding your response to String Theory, I can’t remember the last time I played 2D as purely negative. I have either played it as waiting/negative or game forcing (with 2H negative). With either of these methods I would be inclined to bid 2D as a suit bid would show a much better suit that any that ST held and I don’t have to take away the entire two level with a 2NT bid when I would really like to find a red suit fit.

bobby wolffJune 19th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Hi Jeff H,

Yes, at least at the top level or close to, 2 diamonds is used as “a coat of many colors”, and is (just as you say) a waiting bid which is hoping to find a fit early in the auction and then announce it to partner so that the partnership will be on firm ground in eventually determining level.

However, in spite of the good intentions of the above paragraph, there are still potential problems which often surround having to make up to partner about your up to now unannounced strength. Overall, your approach is basically accepted, but make no mistake about the superiority of original forcing club and/or artificial relay systems when it comes to bidding hands which start in the slam zone and need experienced care and nurture to find the percentage high-level contract.

The above is not often discussed, especially in bridge books, for fear of losing the reader in a morass of artificiality and therefore inexperience doubt, but, in truth, they do exist and ambitious partnerships must eventually, if not immediately, learn to (if you excuse the pun) deal with them.

I, for one, am happy that your comment has brought this controversial and difficult subject to the attention it should deserve.