Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 29th, 2012

What are the merits of odd-even discards as opposed to standard discards?

Gadgets Galore, Olympia, Wash.

A case can be made against standard discards — in the wrong hands. Too many people throw away winners to tell partner what they have, so any method (be it reverse signals or suit-preference discards) that encourages beginning players to keep their high cards is not a totally bad idea.

Playing Standard American, I was involved in the following auction. North, holding ♠ K-4,  A,  A-J-10-2, ♣ A-J-10-8-7-6, opened one club. After a one-spade overcall, his partner, with ♠ 4,  K-Q-10-6-2,  K-Q-7-5-3-2, ♣ 3, bid two diamonds, and the next hand raised to two spades. How should the auction have proceeded?

Sky Diver, Jackson, Miss.

Since, at his second turn, three hearts by North would be natural and forcing, a four-heart call by him would be a splinter. That implies heart shortage and a diamond fit. South can risk a spade cuebid despite his heart wastage (or even bid Blackwood himself next), and the partnership will get to slam now.

I've read your negative opinions on MUD leads from time to time. Are there any other conventions in bidding or play that you strongly dislike?

Nay-Sayer, Danville, Ill.

I'm a very tolerant man — as my wife and all my friends would attest to. Having said that, I don't like playing new suits as nonforcing facing an opening bid in competition. But I'm even less in favor of playing two-over-one as game-forcing in competition. Go for the happy medium of playing a new suit as forcing but, even at the two-level, does not guarantee a rebid.

I ran into a problem with this classic strong no-trump. I opened one no-trump holding ♠ K-J-5-4,  6-2,  A-K-2, ♣ A-J-9-4. My partner transferred into hearts, then bid three clubs. We play this as natural and forcing; should I simply bid three no-trump or look for higher things?

Excelsior, Waterbury, Conn.

It looks simple to bid three no-trump now, but consider that you could be laydown for slam facing as little as five hearts to the A-K and five good clubs. Bid three diamonds, then support clubs, suggesting a hand of this nature. At pairs you might want to leave three no-trump in the picture, but at teams five clubs really should be safe enough.

Earlier this month you discussed how to calculate the chances of a 3-1 break. How do you extrapolate from that 50 percent number to work out the chances of the 4-1 break missing five cards?

Count M. Upp, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Breaks of 4-1 can be derived from the chance of the 3-1 break missing four cards (that's fifty percent) with the fifth card going to the length. Add to that the chance of the 4-0 break (10 percent) with the fifth card going to the shortage. I'll leave you to work out the precise numbers, but you should get a total of 28 percent, or 14 percent for each defender.

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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


clarksburgAugust 12th, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Mr. Wolff
“Go for the happy medium of playing a new suit as forcing but, even at the two-level, does not guarantee a rebid.”
Not promising a second bid seems at odds with much intermediate-level instruction where responder’s two-level bid may be temporizing. Also, opener, who may have further description to do, loses the comfort-level / confidence that responder will bid again.
Could you expand on this a bit..rationale…relevant scenarios..etc?

clarksburgAugust 12th, 2012 at 7:10 pm

ps: sorry, I missed the “in competition” context, so my question above doesn’t make any sense.

Iain ClimieAugust 12th, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I know this isn’t really strictly relevant to today’s column but could I highlight one of the USA’s Olympic competitors as an example worth following should partner, teamates or even yourself ever be having a bad day at the bridge table. Many American competitors (and plenty of those from other nations, as well as our own representatives) have really captured the imagination over here and performed magnificently in the Olympics, while several US commentators like Michael Johnson have been excellent on the BBC. I am also sure those bridge players giving their all currently in the world championships are worthy of great admiration. One of your track & field boys, however, beats the lot.

Could I highlight Manteo Mantell as an example of how to perform whether at physical or mind sports. He finished the second half of the 1st leg of the 400m relay semi with a broken leg – he didn’t want to let his teamates down! He only got a silver as the US finished 2nd in the final but he deserves platinum.

(Only slightly) sorry for the digression!


Iain Climie

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Carrying the discussion a bit further, when the opponents enter the bidding, particularly so when they tend to take significant space away from the opening bidder’s side, e.g 1C 1S, if holding: xx, KQ10xx, Axx, xxx it would seem much more fluid to now bid 2 hearts, but if partner merely returns to 3 clubs or rebids 2NT I think a pass by this hand is quite proper. Another way to handle it, is to first make a negative double, which if now left to our own devices would enable me to bid 2 hearts next over a normal partner rebid, but what if my LHO now bids 2 spades or worse, 3 spades passed around to me, my choices are all flawed, with both passing (too wimpy), bidding 3 hearts (too risky), and doubling again (likely to not giving the right information to partner, particularly the strength of my heart suit).

No one (who has played our game a long time) will ever say that bridge (particularly competitive bidding) is ever an exact science or even close.

Thanks for writing.

bobby wolffAugust 12th, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Hi Iain,

Be thankful, rather than apologize, for calling attention to such magnificent bravery from someone who is probably mostly unknown to most (to me for one), but never again will his name not recall the majesty of his effort.

Grantland Rice, a long ago American sportswriter, turned poet, once said, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the Game”.

Thanks for creating the reporting, and the emotional nostalgia necessary, for all of us to fully appreciate what Manteo Mantell did, if for no other reason than to show the selflessness from an obviously very special person.

Regardless of the general topic expected, in this case bridge, all of us have the time and mindset to appreciate an heroic moment.

Although not necessary to be said, our hero might as well have been a citizen of the world, since, regardless of our specific nationality, we are all brothers and sisters.

Iain ClimieAugust 13th, 2012 at 10:31 am

Ooips, I should apologize for finger trouble – it was Manteo Mitchell. I was putting the blog entry in just before the closing ceremony.

He’s still an inspiration, even if my powers of concentration are not.