Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

My RHO pre-empted to two diamonds and I held ♠ A-Q-7-3,  K-4-2,  K-4, ♣ A-Q-3-2. I chose to double rather than to bid two no-trump, and raised my partner's two-spade response to three spades, but he passed, and we missed game. Should I have done more?

Hanging Back, San Francisco, California

Your initial double was better than a two-no-trump call (even a 4-3 major-suit fit could be best here). After your partner responds two spades, which tends to have an upper limit of 8 HCP, your choice is to pass, which would be a little pessimistic, to rebid two no-trump (which you might do over a two-heart response) or to raise to three spades. There is certainly no case for doing more.

Is there an unambiguous rule as to when to respond in a major as opposed to a minor, or even when to bypass a four-card suit in response to an opening bid of one club?

Miss Manners, Orlando, Fla.

With a four-card major and less than invitational values, you should generally bid it, rather than diamonds. One exception comes if the major suit is very weak and you have an absolutely flat hand with honors in each of the other suits and about 8-10 points, when bidding one no-trump in response to one club makes sense. You can also bypass a major if the second hand doubles, though. Incidentally, with game-forcing values, I tend to bid my best suit first, if holding four cards in diamonds and a major.

I was dealt ♠ A-Q-7-6-5,  Q-4,  Q-7-3-2, ♣ 9-4, and made a one-spade overcall over my opponent's one-heart opening bid. My partner bid two hearts, which I took as asking me to describe my hand, so I bid three diamonds. When we got too high, my partner told me I should have rebid my spades. Is that right with only a five-card suit? If so, how do I show extras?

Busy Bee, Albany, Ga.

A cuebid in response to an overcall implies values and support for partner. So, with a minimum overcall, just repeat your suit, rather than taking the auction up an extra level. If your partner simply has a good hand with a suit of his own, he will make a descriptive call next. Bid three diamonds with the diamond king instead of the two.

In third seat, when I picked up ♠ A-J-4-3-2,  Q-J-7-3,  Q-J-2, ♣ 5, I elected to jump to four spades facing a one-spade opener. My partner held a 5-4 pattern with 16 points and four little clubs so slam was where we belonged. He said I was too strong, while I thought with three aces he owed me a bid. Who is right?

Stumbling by the Wayside, Portland, Maine

I am sorry to say that your partner was right. Typically, when you hold game-going values with a big trump fit and side-shortage as you did, the modern technique is to jump to a new suit at the four-level — though your hand is dead minimum for this action. This is called a splinter bid, and that would let your partner judge if he had the right hand to stay low or aim high. Today, he'd know what to do.

What are the restrictions on the use of the support double? Which players can use a double to show three-card support, and how late in the auction do such doubles apply?

Backbones, Seneca, S.C.

To clarify the question, if support doubles are in use, then at opener's second turn to speak, in a contested auction, his double shows precisely three-card support for his partner's suit. The conditions are rigid: the bidding must be at or below two of partner's suit, and it applies only to opener at his second turn to call. For higher intervention, opener's double tends simply to be real extra values.

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


ClarksburgJanuary 6th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Mr Wolff
As per your answer to the last item, the support double applies only in very specific auction context, and has a very specific conventional meaning.
Moving away from the support double, and expanding the scope a bit: Could it be there are too many names for some doubles that mean the same thing. Specifically, “optional”, “competitive”, “co-operative”, “card-showing”, and as Cohen puts it “DSIP” (do something intelligent partner).
Seems to me the message is simply “Partner, we’re not going to let them play there undoubled; I have some extra but have no descriptive bid; your call”. If so, such doubles are essentially “natural” and hardly need any name, let alone several!!
Any comment /clarification / suggestions?

Jane AJanuary 6th, 2013 at 4:44 pm

The answer to the first question puzzles me a little. If partner only bids two spades in this auction, he could be bidding a three card suit and may have very few points. I thought a two NT call after partner responds at the two level would show a bigger hand also. Only one diamond stopper is risky. I like the double rather than bidding two NT originally, but then is it wise to raise partner? Seems like when I choose to do this, my partner holds the three card spade suit to the nothing, and his only four card suit would be diamonds. I know it depends on partnership agreement also. Who really holds what, etc.

Happy New Year!

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You ask an important question for a simple reason, likely many social and even serious occasional bridge players would like to know a definition of what these “relatively new kids on the block” really are.

When they were first coming into popularity I was dealt something like: xx, AJx, AKJxx, Axx and heard the bidding go 1 diamond by me, 1 spade by my LHO, double (negative) by partner followed by a raise to 2 spades by my RHO.

What to do? My hand was too strong for a 15-17 opening 1NT, no new suits to bid, 3 diamonds by me should show longer diamonds and a lesser hand, no trump tricks or length for a penalty double which always runs the risk of the opponents having a terrific fit and even making 9 tricks in spades and finally, no spade stop for NT.

All the above lends itself to Larry Cohen’s descriptive DSIP. Whether this action was called any of the particular names you mention it still should be regarded as a catch-all asking partner to now better describe, if possible his negative double. He easily could have a 5 card unbid suit without a good enough hand to bid it outright: x, Kxxxx, Qxx, Kxxx or even interchanging a heart for a 5th club making a game in either minor suit (especially diamonds) good. If partner with the original example hand above now bids 3 hearts I will raise to 4, but, instead, if he now bids 3 clubs I will rebid 3 spades, getting belated diamond support and then probably bid 5 diamonds but if he rebids 4 clubs with, x, Kxxx, Qx, QJxxxx I will raise that suit to game.

Since then I have heard this action double (still another name which is used) called all of your above choices. BTW, hardly ever, once an opponent’s suit has been overcalled and supported will an opening bidder have a trump stack warranting a penalty double, especially at a low level of bidding.

Thank you for addressing this oft occurring subject and its many names.

ClarksburgJanuary 6th, 2013 at 5:49 pm

The term “action double” itself strongly suggests that Partner is definitely expected to bid on. And indeed with your discussed example (the auction, your hand and partner’s possible hands) leaving that two-level double in makes no sense.
But I assume that in more general contexts, partner always has the option to leave it in? Correct?

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Hi Jane,

And a Happy New Year right back at you.

Pessimism should have its limits, meaning one cannot play winning bridge, hiding in the fear of partner not having an unbid 4 card suit or, maybe worse, a total Yarborough with very few or no high card points in response to a preemptive bid by his LHO and a TO dbl by you.

If the above does happen and it surely occurs once in a while, we must simply grin and bear it. By raising to 3 spades (my choice) we do not figure to get doubled, but if so and a calamity happens, just chalk it up to the nature of the game and try and play well on the immediate hands which follow.

After all, the opponents deserve some credit by playing weak two bids which was the catalyst for their super result and they just won the lottery, but by legitimate and time honored pressure on the opponents.

My advice follows from a bridge viewpoint Teddy Roosevelt’s suggested quote of “bid softly, with intelligent logic, hoped for good results, but with confidence and carry an ego large enough to withstand occasional poor luck”. Next time you will “stick” it to the opponents.

bobbywolffJanuary 6th, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Hi Clarskburg,

Obviously, leaving the double in, is by bridge law permissible, however a warning (like what is required on prescription drugs), to do so, without an adequate trump holding in the contracted suit, leaves one open to what also Larry Cohen (the fairly recent father of “The law of total tricks) dictates.

When one side (in this case the opponents) hold large numbers of trumps (9+) the defending side is subject to the way dame fortune (sometimes not such a lucky lady, who definitely can, at times, be very contrite) constructs the distribution. When she has set a trap for the not so wary opponents they need to avoid it and the best way to do that is not to leave in meant to be take out doubles with the wrong (short) trump holdings.

Another caveat: Many of the top bridge players do not see this danger as strongly as I do and consequently will take their chances much more often than I, but when a partnership doubles their opponents into game and they make it, more is lost than just that one hand in the way of confidence and positive karma with partner and, at the same moment tend to lionize their opponent’s dreams as to their ability to win this particular match against you.

Forearmed is forewarned!