Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 30th, 2012

I see the use of the term "cue-bid" in your columns, but frequently the player making the call has no control in the opponent's suit at all! Has the meaning of the term suffered from inflation the same way my pension has?

Harry Lime, Olympia, Wash.

In slam-going auctions, cuebids still show controls in the suits bid — though nowadays they may show first- or second-round control. In contested auctions, the ubiquity of weak jump raises forces players to cuebid as an indication of high cards, unlinked to values in the opponents' suit bid. Equally, when you are in a game-force, such cuebids — especially if they are below three no-trump — often ask rather than tell. That is the easiest way to reach no-trump when it is correct.

My partner and I have been discussing the purpose of a discarding system. Should we be using our signals or discards as instructions or should we be describing what is in our hand and letting partner take it from there?

Descriptive or Prescriptive?, Santa Monica, Calif.

I'm strongly of the opinion that the best methods of discarding are informative, not issuing commands. Frequently, though, discards involve telling partner which suits not to play. And if you do send a strong signal to play a suit, it is generally because you know what is right. Count and suit-preference signals tend to be more discreet messages, advisory, not prescriptive.

Recently we had a disaster where I reopened over an opening of one heart with a double, and my LHO reraised himself to two hearts. When my partner doubled, he meant it as penalty, but I thought he was asking me to bid a suit. Can you recommend a treatment for us in future and provide a rationale for why one method is better than the other?

Shoeless Joe, Edmonton, Alberta

I'm glad you are not apportioning blame here, since both treatments make sense. On balance I think you will have the responsive double more often, and the key is that when you DO have the trump stack, you may still catch the opponents when the balancing hand has enough for a second takeout double.

When you are playing pairs, what is the right way to treat eight-counts or nine-counts facing a strong no-trump? Do you invite on all eight-counts, and do you drive to game with all nines?

Hope Springs, Laredo, Texas

Balanced eight-counts without two majors should probably be passed, unless the intermediates are very good. Similarly, do not drive a nine-count to game unless there is a source of tricks. Going plus at pairs is vital, and Stayman gives the opponents a lot of information to work with — so be chary of betraying too much without a good reason.

Here is a problem my opponents had last week. (I might have fallen into the same trap.) My RHO held ♠ 5,  Q-10-4-3,  A-Q-8-5-4, ♣ A-K-2. He doubled one spade and heard me raise to four spades, doubled by his partner. He had no special agreements here. Would you think it right to bid or pass, and if you do bid, what would you say?

Spruce Goose, Dayton, Ohio

Unless at unfavorable vulnerability, I'd bid four no-trump, suggesting a two-suited hand and planning to correct a five-club response to five diamonds to show the red suits. I play my partner's double as suggesting that I defend unless I have extra shape — and I think this hand just about qualifies as being worth a bid. One should not double four spades on a weak hand with a trump stack. Wait for partner to reopen with a double.

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Patrick CheuJanuary 13th, 2013 at 10:36 am

Hi Bobby,playing pairs E/W vul,west opens three spades,pard doubles for take out,pass and holding 1054 QJ7 K93 J985, I bid 4clubs LHO doubles,-500,pard’s hand:Q A852 AQJ72 A42. What would you bid playing pairs or teams? Pass was the winning result,as 3S went minus one for 200.Based on the law of total tricks,4333 shape and points,pass has a lot going for it.Best Regards-Patrick.

bobbywolffJanuary 13th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Hi Patrick,

Although pass by you in the example sequence would get many votes in a bidding contest, I would not opt for it, but rather bid 4 clubs, as you did. However, partner, under these circumstances might be better advised to, after the double, assume bad club distribution and retreat to 4 diamonds and hope.

Chances are that 4 diamonds would go down 1, but you might not get doubled since your opponents poor diamond holding might talk them out of it.

Obviously, when the opponents preempt, that particular hand gets very competitive and good judgment rules the day. At least to me, you have a poor hand and nothing in their trump suit but 10xx, so my hopes for defeating 3 spades (taking 5 tricks) is totally dependent on partner producing most (probably at least 4) of those tricks. This time he (or her) does, but on balance it is like going bear hunting with a switch, the odds favor the bear.

I agree that your offensive potential is not much better, if any, but when faced with a bridge dilemma, bid or pass and defend, my experience is that more good things happen when bidding is chosen. First, it makes the opponents have to use good judgment and that does not always happen, second, your side does not have to grin and bear it which usually just consists of hoping for unusually good luck, rather than solid evidence of passing (in this case) and wishing for a minor miracle to enable the defense to conjure up enough defensive tricks (5) to survive a certain zero. Even your partner’s great defensive hand, with all three of his aces, would not have been enough if the opponents hands were not balanced enough to have the appropriate (for your side) number of losers.

No doubt, preempting against you (or against anyone) is oft times a difficult task to overcome, but bidding, rather than throwing up the white flag (even in pairs), because of my experience, is usually my choice.

Good luck on your next opportunity and remind your partner that it is not necessarily bad bridge for him to rescue you in some situations and this (after the penalty double) looks and feels like, though not without risk, be one of them.

Patrick CheuJanuary 13th, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi Bobby, Thanks sincerely for your advice. This is the complete hand: West:AJ87632 4 10865 Q, North;1054 QJ7 K93 J985, East:K9 K10963 4 K10763, South:Q A852 AQJ72 A42.West:3s P P X-P 4C X Pass out. As you say,four diamonds has more play to go -1.Whereas 3s just about goes -1.Very Best Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieJanuary 13th, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff and Patric,

Just a thought but where did West find that double? He didn’t know that the hand on his left wasn’t rather stronger and was about to bid 5C.



Iain ClimieJanuary 13th, 2013 at 11:19 pm

OK, sorry that I’m picking up on something trivial – it was RHO doubling (on the club stack) in the first comment. I think maybe I’d have redoubled 4C to show I really wasn’t that happy anyway, although obviously this might be pouring fuel on the fire if 4D or 4H were no better.

bobbywolffJanuary 14th, 2013 at 6:19 am

Hi Iain,

Almost surely, it was the long clubs who doubled, although with the LHO description, it gets a little confusing to sort out.

To now redouble, as long as partner interprets it as S.O.S, has much to recommend it, but it usually comes up in a different manner to what you are suggesting since with long and very decent clubs e.g. KQJ9xx and just short of a jump to 5 clubs some might attest to the redouble meaning as business, so please partner, do not run.

However, it is a partnership matter and needs to be discussed, otherwise disaster awaits.

None of what you wrote is anywhere close to just wrong, controversial?, perhaps, but impractical or trivial, certainly not.

Patrick CheuJanuary 14th, 2013 at 8:07 am

Hi Bobby and Iain, sorry about my typing, and thanks to you both for looking at the hand from a different perspective.Partnership agreement is all important, the more one plays this game especially with different partners.Best regards-Patrick.