Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 20th, 2013

My partner has been trying to persuade me to play suit-preference signals and discards. Where do you stand on attitude as opposed to suit preference?

Up and Down, Trenton, N.J.

In signaling I like attitude as the primary signal. I use count when I think partner knows my attitude — or he has specifically requested it. I do not use attitude on declarer's leads; I may use suit preference, but only if I think partner does not need to know my count. Suit preference in the trump suit IS a useful signal, since count in that suit is so often already established. And once both players know how a suit is divided, suit preference is very useful from the remaining holding.

I assume you would open this hand one diamond without a qualm: ♠ A-Q-3-2,  J-2,  K-Q-10-9-4, ♣ 10-6. But would you overcall two diamonds over one heart — or do you prefer either a pass or double?

Walter Mitty, Wilmington, N.C.

The overcall of two diamonds risks losing spades but pre-empts the opponents; the double risks finding clubs — and regretting it — but puts spades front and center. Much depends on your style of doubling; if you play fast and loose, as I tend to, the double is fine. Doublers who are more disciplined will overcall. Either is better than passing!

Please comment on the best use of five no-trump after asking for aces or for key cards. Does it always show possession of all the key cards, or can it be used to get to the best small slam?

Seasick, Mason City, Iowa

While I admit one would sometimes like to use the call to help in negotiating to the best small slam, that usage comes up too rarely. Better is to play it as looking for a grand slam and asking responder either to bid kings up the line, or to jump to a grand slam with undisclosed extras or a source of tricks.

Facing a two-club opening bid, would you respond two diamonds or two no-trump with ♠ 9-2,  A-10-7-4,  J-6-4, ♣ K-10-6-3? And what is the factor that makes you go one way or the other?

In the Bushes, Tupelo, Miss.

If you play the two-no-trump response as natural (say 8-10), this hand qualifies. My instincts are that the hand will play better your partner's way up, so I'd bid two diamonds and hope to catch up later.

I was watching bridge online when I saw experts do something strange after Stayman was doubled. What would you recommend Average Joes do here?

Fast Learner, Elkhart, Ind.

Make the normal response to Stayman with a club stopper, redouble to show good clubs, and pass without a stopper, when partner's redouble asks for a major again. Now if you want (and can remember), you may use transfers in response to get the hand declared the other way up. Two diamonds would show hearts, two hearts would show spades, and two no-trump denies a major. If that sounds too obscure, just respond as you usually would after the redouble.

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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Mr. Wolff,
In response to the question from In the Bushes, you replied:
“If you play the two-no-trump response as natural (say 8-10), this hand qualifies. My instincts are that the hand will play better your partner’s way up, so I’d bid two diamonds and hope to catch up later.”
My partner and haven’t been using a 2NT response at all, but will now consider it. Would it be correct to say that (without an 8+ constructive bid in a good 5-card suit) one should normally make the 2D waiting bid, except when 2NT provides an accurate description, a limit bid and holdings safe on the lead. For example, would 8+, balanced with one or two Kx holdings be ideal for 2NT?

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Sometimes, (not as often as we would like) there are alternate bids which, at least for the time being in the auction, are both ways of getting the job done. Holding 8 HCP’s in a balanced hand and having partner opening a very strong hand with 2 clubs probably is one of the few times this comes into play.

For example, if partner rebids 2NT (a balanced 22-24) over our 2 diamond choice, merely Stayman (3C), and raise 3 diamonds to only 3NT, but over a 3 heart response (4+ hearts), now bid 3 spades (what should be a 4 1/2 heart raise, inviting a heart slam). The logic revolves around the otherwise uselessness of now using 3 spades to show 5 spades (an immediate 3 heart bid by you over 2NT would be a transfer showing 5+ spades) freeing the now 3 spade bid to show a constructive 4 heart raise.

Partner’s responses to your conventional 3 spade bid would be that 4 hearts is a minimum with no apparent interest in slam, while 4 clubs or 4 diamonds would be a cue bid showing an interest and at least the ace of that suit. A bid of 4 diamonds would also deny the ace of clubs but still tend to show a sound hand for slam. Another slam try by partner would be a jump to 5 hearts which should show extras, controls, but ask for trump quality, which I would accept holding A10xx.

Without spending too much time on the details, it is very important to learn what partner is trying to describe, but only experience will enable a best and brightest relative beginner to the high-level game to begin to develop his judgment to what probably is the most important single quality a would be world class player could possess.

Add that to the necessary goal of meshing your judgment with that of your regular partner and an enthusiastic twosome is off to the best start possible.

In conclusion, the main reason for not starting with 2NT as an initial response is the 10x held in spades, because if the partnership is unlucky enough to have the strong hand hold only Kx in spades that partnership has wrong sided the hand and could pay a dear price, assuming a low spade lead from an opening leader who does not have the ace of spades against a 3NT contract.

There are other discussable details regarding this layout, but my answer is already too long.

Good luck!

ClarksburgFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Thank you for such an illuminating and highly educational answer, which went well beyond my question. (My question was “general”, not specifically about todays hand).
Have already decided to basically throw the “natural” 2NT response back out of possible use. Better generally 2D, to let Partner complete the description of his hand; and if it turns out to be balanced, e.g. 22-23 or 24-25, those “over-NT” conventional bids are available.
Is this about right? Or is there still a place for a natural 2NT on occasion?

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes there is a place for a natural 2NT bid (a balanced 8-11), but its use should be something consistent and very classic, e.g. s. Q10x, h. K9x, d. Q9xx, c. QJx allowing partner to know what to expect, as you deftly refer, since the (probable) 2nd choice is to “throw 2NT out of possible use” in order to make sure not to wrong side the final contract.

The above types of discussion between would be partners, help to form confidence and assure both of being on the same page in moving forward.

bobby wolffFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

In order to not leave you hanging and to rather complete the discussion, the currently most accepted ranges in the high-level community are 2NT opening 19+-21, with 2 clubs then 2NT 22-24. Therefore, over a 2NT response by partner (to 2 clubs), the opener should raise to 3NT with only either any 22 or what he considers a bland 23 (4–3-3-3 or general lack of intermediates) with, of course, the 2NT bidder having the right to continue on, depending upon his strength. With a good 23 or 24 he should raise to a quantatative 4NT. The responder should then pass with any 8 or a lackluster 9 and raise to 5NT with more, which is slam forcing and asking partner to bid suits up the line (generally referred to as Baron) in order to search out a possible 4-4 fit instead of having to tackle 6NT which generally is at least, slightly harder to make (no ruffing tricks). Of course, both partners continue to bid the next highest 4 card suit they hold until, if ever, a 4-4 fit is discovered. If not, try and make 12 tricks in NT, as the only choice left available, but, after all, the necessary combined points will be held, so the task with reasonable luck (and good play), is often doable.

You now have a relatively simple method (easy for me to say) to remember of possible balanced hand slam bidding and its nuances.

ClarksburgFebruary 3rd, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Your receptive reaction and responses to anyone, from experts raising the daily advanced play-of-the-hand lines / options, to intermediates like myself, just wanting to learn, is absolutely terrific.
Thank you!

Rolene KieslingFebruary 4th, 2013 at 12:15 am

I had the following hand:

Clubs none
Diamonds A K Q J XX
Hearts A 10
Spades A 10 XXX

In first seat, I opened one Diamond, intending to do a “Reverse” into Spades.

LHO bid 4 clubs; my partner bid 4 spades; RHO bid 5 clubs; I bid 6 spades. LHO bid 7 clubs; pass, pass and I doubled; the contract went down 3.

My partner had:

Clubs: none
Diamonds: xxx
Hearts: K J 10 xx
Spades: K Q J xx

We were cold for 7 diamonds or 7 spades but the preempt apparently did “its job”,

With the interference, what should I have bid instead of doubling? 7 spades? I was obviously concerned about the K of hearts.

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 3:20 am

Hi Rolene,

You shouldn’t have bid 7 spades instead of doubling, simply because you should have bid 7 spades the round before.

Your solid diamonds would have taken care of your partner’s losing hearts however many he had, making it only necessary for your partner to hold the king of spades, which he was a huge favorite to have.

Play and learn is my advice to you. Soon, after a few important bridge experiences you’ll soon be the first chosen partner by whatever bridge group in which you play.

Good luck!

bobby wolffFebruary 4th, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

It is very uplifting to me to have bridge knowledge seekers like you and virtually all of our small family of bridge lovers bond together, hoping to contribute, learn and prosper while playing the great, inspirational, but sometimes devilish game, we all love to play.

Add that to your off-the-charts expressed heart felt compliments to me is an experience I will always cherish.

Good and better bridge to all and keep the discussions flowing.