Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Please assess the blame. West opened three spades to my right, and I held 14 points in aces and kings, with two spades, three hearts, and four cards in each minor. I passed, and when my partner let it go with four decent spades and 12 points, it was passed out; down five for 500! Meanwhile, we could have made 660 in three no-trump. Did either of us do anything wrong?

Finger-Pointer, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

If you forced me to act with one of the hands, I would double three spades in the direct seat, aware that this is an overbid but feeling obligated to take the pressure off partner. With the responding hand I would surely pass if three spades came around to me; one can't balance and play partner to hold this much. Nobody did anything silly at your table.

Do you like the idea of signaling suit preference on the suits attacked by your opponents? When if ever should you instead signal count or attitude?

Signal Corps, Rockford, Ill.

Never signal attitude on a suit played by your opponent. You never need to do that – if your opponent has played the wrong suit you should already be doing just fine! Signal count only if you think partner's play in that suit or another suit will depend on the number of cards you hold. Otherwise play up the line as a default, or if you think partner is paying attention, use your small cards for suit preference.

I was confronted with an unusual auction in a recent club match. I opened one club, my LHO doubled, my partner passed, and and my RHO bid one heart. This was passed back to my partner, who doubled. Holding ♠ Q-9-8-3,  J-10,  K-Q-9, ♣ A-Q-5-2, should I pass or bid?

Torn in Two, Levittown, Pa.

Unfortunately, your doubleton heart does not tell you whether partner has scattered values with two or three hearts, or if he has a strong hand with four hearts and is looking for a penalty. Since with the latter hand he might have redoubled on the round before, I will play safely and bid one spade, then apologize later.

At my club, the reigning expert opened three spades against me. I passed, holding two small cards each in spades and hearts, six diamonds to the ace, and three low clubs. My RHO bid three no-trump, and now my partner sacrificed in four clubs. The expert bid four spades, raised to six spades! At favorable vulnerability would you sacrifice when the bidding comes back to you, and if not, what would you lead?

Biting the Bullet, East Brunswick, N.J.

I would never sacrifice here. Even if you are right, you are probably going to get a zero for minus 800. I'd lead the diamond ace. Dummy surely has all the other first-round controls. Maybe I can give my partner a ruff, or cash a second diamond.

I play contract bridge with a group of friends. Recently one of the players mentioned a rule I had never heard of nor could I confirm it in my bridge books. If I open with one in a suit, she said I may not rebid that suit, unless I have six there. Is that sensible advice?

Second Hand Rose, Jackson, Tenn.

This is sensible advice but is not a rule, more a guideline. A better way to put it is that facing a one-level response, you would only rebid a five-card minor if it looked like six and had no viable alternative. But situations sometimes demand it, when you cannot bid one no-trump and have no second suit.

For the record, facing a two-level response, you are often faced with a flawed two no-trump rebid, or the need to repeat a moderate five-carder. In general what you do here is more about style than right or wrong.

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


ClarksburgOctober 28th, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Your answer to the second question above alluded to showing suit preference, with small cards, when following in a suit led by Declarer. How is that done?
More generally on basic signalling, (attitude, count, and first discard) would you suggest anything other than “standard” for intermediate club players?

FOOTNOTE: I re-read the Comments to your 2012 May 7 blog where you wrote, in part:
“….Although I never had my own opinion and still do not, I am willing to take his considerable effort to be valid and so have stuck to what I origionally learned that high is encouraging and an even number and low is discouraging and an odd number, often called standard because, as far as I know, it was the first one suggested perhaps 80+ years ago….”
This mentioned an odd / even approach, but there there seemed to be some text missing, so it was not fully clear as to what’s “standard”.

bobby wolffOctober 28th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

1. Never signal attitude when the declarer starts a suit.

2. Give count when your partner may need to know whether you have an odd or even number in order for him to know when it is right to win the trick, usually being when to isolate the declarer from a potential entryless dummy, but once in a while to just limit his entries to dummy for what may be good for him, which then often, is not good for your side.

3. Give suit preference, if you suspect that either declarer is not paying attention (assuming your partner is) or when it means more to your side than the declarer can gain from it, potentially allowing him to guess an ace queen dilemma which would be a KJ guess for him. Sometimes, when playing against high-level competition it becomes a poker game in psychology.

4. Carrying on with the above thought, sometimes against decent players, but ones who tend to be naive, tend to make your signals opposite from your hand since you have decided that the declarer will try to use your signals to his best advantage.

5. Some of the above, of course, applies to bridge at the semi-top only, because since all very good players are aware of what I have written and many a high-level game of psychology transpires, sometimes without kibitzers or on bridge broadcasts, in the absence of astute commentators realizing it and thus calling attention to it.

6. In regard to my comments on the May 7 ’12 blog, I regard standard discarding and signalling as equal to any other legal system played today, from both my experience and from a comprehensive study done by the late Bobby Goldman, one of the original Aces perhaps 30 years ago whose conclusion was that basically all signalling systems are equal and a partnership could decide their methods by using someone’s social security order of numbers instead, and nothing would be lost.

7. The text probably missing about the odd/even method of signalling (which has since been barred, no small measure because of me), was because, since odd is encouraging and even is not only discouraging but also suit preference with high even and low even serving as such, CANNOT be played ethically since the time taken with many hands to decide on just what even card to play becomes unauthorized information to partner and thus directly conflicts with the very important ethics required for our game to be played fairly.

Obviously that decision is not an universally popular one, but, at least to me and others who I deeply respect, strongly agree and I would like to add that I played (back in 1970) many months playing that method and I hardly ever made a defensive mistake, since my partner’s tempo on his signals could easily be read as to almost exactly what he wanted led and why. The tempo, not the system, is the culprit.

Thanks for your questions.

Jeff HOctober 29th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Regarding the second question, it was not mentioned whether the contract was in a suit or No Trump.

I have reaad articles about using Smith echo against No Trump, where the echo shows attitude regarding the orginal lead.

Against suit contracts, there is a convention called trump suit preference, where one shows suit preference when declarer starts drawing trump.

What are your opinions concerning these methods?

bobby wolffOctober 29th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hi Jeff H,

The methods suggested by you are all worthwhile, including Smith echo, trump suit preference and when important, against NT as well as, versus a suit.

The problem continues to be, as it always has been, both a problem of the two defenders concentrating and, for the game’s sake, a problem of necessary active ethics.

Smith echo is somewhat like odd and even signalling in the defender’s tempo adding unauthorized information to his partner as to how badly he wants the information given to be received. A slow (or, for that matter, fast affirmation or denial of the opening lead suit) can almost always (90+%) be easily determined by an astute partner, but he is not legally allowed to be given that calibration.

Still many players, even very high-level ones, readily take advantage, using the rationalization of, since his equally high-level opponents also do, so why shouldn’t he?

The obvious answer is to bar the use of such conventions, but I already used all my clout to bar the worst offender, complete odd-even signals, and, in spite of much criticism still encountered, they are still not allowed.

Show me a game where Smith echo users do not take, at the very least, some advantage, and I will show you what ones first bridge game will encounter once someone gets lucky and upon leaving this planet, winds up in Heaven.

Enough cynicism expressed, so my advice to you, is for you and your partner to try whatever is now legal, and BTW, good luck!