Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Are you familiar with a convention called "stolen bid"? What are the pluses and minuses of the convention, in which a double and all low-level calls act as transfers?

Gunsmith, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

"Stolen Bid" permits you to keep transfers in play when the opponents come in over your no-trump, an undeniable plus. You can, however, no longer use a takeout double — one of the more important hand-types. While responder at his first turn to speak can bid all the suits efficiently in either scenario, to my mind being able to transfer declarership is worth less than being able to make a negative double.

When you hold a balanced hand such as ♠ K-Q-3,  K-10-8,  J-6-3-2, ♣ A-8-5 do you think there is any argument to be made for opening one club as opposed to one diamond, reserving the one-diamond opening for less balanced hands?

Jumbotron, Rockford, Ill.

What you suggest requires a conventional agreement with your partner (and would make your one club and one diamond bids alertable). That said, yes, if you open one club with all minimum balanced hands, you get much more confidence in the one-diamond opening.

What exactly is a trial bid? When should you use it and how does it work?

Hoppity Bunny, Portland, Ore.

After you agree a suit in nonforcing fashion via a raise of opener's or responder's suit, a call in a new suit shows length and asks for help — typically with a three- or four-card suit to one top honor. It asks the hand that has raised to evaluate whether it is maximum or minimum for the auction thus far. You sign-off with a minimum or an unsuitable holding, and move to game with a maximum, or suitable holding in the critical suit.

My LHO opened one club on my left, and my partner doubled at favorable vulnerability. While I was wondering what to respond with ♠ K-J-9,  J-2,  Q-10-8-7, ♣ K-Q-6-4, my RHO bid one heart. There seemed to be a lot of high cards in the deck, but what would you recommend for me to do? Should I invite game or settle for a part-score in either diamonds or spades?

Lindy Hop, Grenada, Miss.

I agree that this looks like a partscore deal – since in situations where both opponents are bidding, partner probably has shape, not high cards. I'd bid either one no-trump or two diamonds — the former at pairs, the latter at teams.

Should you change your responses to Blackwood when the opponents intervene or double a four-no-trump call or the response to it? If so, what scheme do you use?

Fat Freddy, Durham, N.C.

When a four-no-trump call is doubled, I recommend you ignore it. With any other intervention below the trump suit, use double to show no key cards (or aces if playing regular Blackwood) and pass with one, then step responses thereafter. With higher intervention use double to show zero or two key-cards, pass for one key-card, and step responses with three or four cards.

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


Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2013 at 11:12 am

Hi Bobby, playing pairs on Friday produces more problems than answers?!Holding:KJ3 AJ103 K2 QJ63, I open 1NT(15-17),LHO:2S,Pard:X(lebenshol),I pass for penalty.Pard’s hd:942 764 QJ84 A94.Would u hav x on this?Shd I hav bid 2NT?2SX makes +1. Second hand:I held(North):A42 AK106 Q8742 4,West:1C,North:1D(x better),East:X(neg),South:4D,West:pass,North:pass,East:4S,pass out.All NV.Pard’s hand:Void,Q982 KJ10953 652, I think 5D stands out?4S makes but goes off double dummy.5D n 5H makes too.Best regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2013 at 11:47 am

Hi Bobby, sorry about the typing. There was a third hand.South holds:AQ109875 KQ Q3 82.What should he lead after this auction:E:1NT(12-14),S:2S,W:3C,N:pass,E:3NT?He led QH followed by KH.The full hd-W:4 965 KJ98 AQ654,N:K J1073 10652 10973,E:J632 A842 A74 KJ.As you can see 3NT is unbreakable on any lead.The whole room was in spades of sorts -1.They were the only one in 3NT.Pard was annoyed that I did not throw Ks away,during the play,but irrelevant on this hand.Funny how things go sometimes…Best regards-Patrick.

Shantanu RastogiMarch 10th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

This has reference to Linda Hop question. With opening bids going lighter in modern bridge – sometimes even opening light in first or second seat if rule of 20 works , dont you think there should be firm partnership agreement on how to deal with such situations ? In the hand in question if LHO has opened with S Q x x x H x D K x C A J 10 9 x x and partner has doubled with S A 10 x x H K Q x x D A J x x C x we would miss sitter 3 NT if we just bid 2 D or 1 NT as RHO would bid 1 H on double as he holds A 10 9 x x x hearts.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

ClarksburgMarch 10th, 2013 at 1:26 pm

About the “trial bid” question and answer:
Is there a distinction between “trial bid” and “help-suit ask”?
My understanding of “help-suit ask” is that you could be holding, say, xxx and are asking Partner whether we can avoid three quick losers there. Partner could accept with say KQx, but also with no strength there, but adequate coverage, e.g. x, xx.

bobbywolffMarch 10th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Hi Patrick,

I’ll attempt to answer your real life questions in the order of presentation the best I can, keeping in mind: 1. not playing results, 2. personal preferences, 3. bridge in the trenches, like war, tends to be as real as it gets, 4. perhaps getting a little personal and maybe even nostalgic about differences in the past compared with the more scientific choices now available, compared with before.

First a philosophical note about a 70 year trend, which has certainly seen a basically positive, toward a comfort zone (5 card majors is the best example along with certain specific conventions, support doubles, jack denies on defense, and various types of Lebensohl being 3 which, at least on the surface, helps partner’s judgment, but in the long run and on average, tends to help the opponents even more.

On your first example, partner’s penalty double is a bit hungry, if, in fact, he meant it for penalties. A simple competitive 2NT, of course, not playing Lebensohl would be the former bid of choice, slightly pushy, but competitive and not merely passing, which makes that player feel as if he is not being pushed around and at the same time fairly closely describing his hand. Also a double by the partner of a 1NT bidder and after an overcall today should merely show cards and ask for the NT bidder to best describe his hand which would, of course, would result in him either bidding 2NT or 3 hearts, to which his hand lended itself to either, with probably 2NT being a more practical choice considering his spade holding, although there are many hands (with partner being relatively short in spades) when a suit bid easily wins the day, at least on this hand. The combination of a penalty type meaning, certainly forcing partner to pass, especially considering KJx in spades and assuming against an adequate declarer, just asks for what your side directly got, a horrible result, brought on by greed, poor judgment, and by overrating what Lebensohl brings to the table, mainly not being able to bid a simple competitive 2NT and be done with it.

Moving on to hand #2, I think your second seat bid should definitely have bid double, not a simple 1 diamond overcall. Through the years I, like you, tended to make TO doubles less often, waiting for “picture hands” (two 4 card majors preferably) before choosing that bid as against an overcall, thinking I’ll have a chance to make up for it later. Somehow later doesn’t come as often as we would like and so consequently I now think it best to double 1 club with: Axx, Kxx, QJxx, Kxx or even, Axx, Kxx, Qxx, Axxx. To announce to partner earlier instead of later (or more likely never) that “hey, my hand needs to be bid now”, in order to rule out being overlooked later seems to work much more often than thought, back in bridge’s stone age, led by practicing incorrect bidding tactics.

You show me a player who passes a borderline opportunity first with the idea of possibly bidding later, and I’ll show you a horse which is left at the gate in his latest race. However
while I definitely think your hand warranted first a TO double, I think your partner’s jump to only 4 diamonds was extremely pusillanimous considering his void in spades which together with his LHO’s opening bid of 1 club, your eschewing to either bid or show spades, allowing the detective work in analyzing RHO’s hand is probably 6 spades in length, very short in diamonds and overall a good playing hand which will, most importantly, likely be a very good fit with partner when he now bids 4 spades. Partner should bid 5 diamonds, but in his absence in doing so, should nevertheless get you to raise to 5 diamonds, based on your controls, your singleton club and your good playing hand. Your LHO’s decision to not bid 1 spade, instead choosing to make a negative double does not appeal to me, although the combination of circumstances certainly make his decision look good.

Finally, on the 3rd hand, your side just got fixed, (amazing that declarer did not win the first heart and hope for the queen of diamonds to be swallowed later, but to each his own and he turned out to be as safe for not winning the first heart as being in his mother’s arms.

There is not much culpability here except for EW’s overbidding which next time will see 6 spades immediately run off by the defense, or at the very least the queen of diamonds being in your partner’s hand, instead of yours, not enabling a ninth trick to be secured. I guess your partner was referring to when dummy’s 5th club was being played you could discard the spade monarch, but by then you already knew what declarer, having the KJ of clubs, aces of hearts and diamonds could not now have the spade king.

Chalk these hands up as learning experiences,

1. The disadvantage of Lebensohl of losing a natural 2NT (both over opening NT bids and also very important over those who play it as a weak two bid response to partner’s double to artificially usually show a very poor hand).

2. Of not using TO doubles more often at one’s first opportunity even though it seems to some that TO doubles can wait until later.

3. Pulling punches in not preempting to the highest point your hand may warrant plus the lack of excellent experienced judgment in realizing a mammoth fit is on its way by the original defensive bidder.

4. The difficulty of defending when fate has destroyed the natural ability for the defense to get what they would normally be entitiled to adding up to a horrible fix for the defense.

A big emotional price to pay for these few reported hands, but, if viewed properly will serve your partnership well in now making some adjustments to your judgment (and perhaps your choice of conventions). As Donald Duck might have said if he would have learned bridge. “Some of these wonder bids are not what they are quacked up to be”.

Thanks for your honest rendering and always remember, your approach to the game is A+ and if continued, will eventually lead you to many wins and a lot more fun than the hands now reported.

Jane AMarch 10th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Hi Bobby,

Would a responsive double work in the Lindy Hop question? Would a responsive double promise four spades? Seems like it would show tolerance for the unbid suits and some values, but not sure if it promises four spades or not. Shantanu is on the right track with his idea that RHO is probably bidding with long but weak hearts. Why not? We are still at the one level. The bidding does not have to end either after partner makes a bid.

Thanks, as always.

bobbywolffMarch 10th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Hi Shantanu,

No doubt, under the circumstances you relate a 3NT game is as cold as it can be. It is only a question of who is overbidding and who is not. By all means, if your partner is very sound, it would definitely be right to jump to 2NT instead of the very conservative 2 diamonds or 1NT.

The poker element is definitely in full bloom with competitive auctions in bridge and good judgment is also necessary to succeed.

Bid em up and be prepared to go to the winner’s circle, but also do not discount sometimes getting too high and having your partner bluster “Why didn’t you listen to the bidding before you decided to bid so much”.

bobbywolffMarch 10th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your definition of “help suit” is every bit as descriptive as “trial bid’. In some expert corners, the would be declarer sometimes psyches the suit he bids in order to hope for a more favorable lead from his adversary on lead. And so it goes, with the whole subject discussed very close in results to random.

Just do something and hope for lady luck to come to your aid. I leave little stock in the scientific method of finding out what needs to be known before the dummy is exposed.

BTW, you are correct that a singleton is probably about the best possible holding for a trial bid to be encouraging to bid game

bobbywolffMarch 10th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Hi Jane,

Right on all counts, but it then depends on what contract is reached and how the 26 card layout, together with the defense, enables whatever number of tricks to be eventually taken. “You pays your money, you takes your chances” but overall the victor usually goes to the bold, but not always, especially in matchpoints where it is more important to be right in being either conservative or aggressive.

Patrick CheuMarch 10th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Hi Bobby, Words fail me 🙂 but here goes,my very sincere thanks for your revealing insight and, above all, your encouragement in the pursuit of truth and excellence.Normally the double in the lebenshol is a full raise to 2NT and penalty orientated,but perhaps over a natural 2H n 2S one can double for take-out, and pass is forcing opener to reopen with a double which we can pass for penalty or take-out if not a penalty double. Does that have any merit or is it too risky?Therefore, if we double on the stated hand, opener can rebid 2NT,with his spade holding.To be honest,I would have passed,rightly or wrongly,with his seven count and no spade stop.Very Best Regards-Patrick.

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2013 at 1:02 am

Hi Patrick,

It is always somewhat amusing, not denigrating, but only amusing, when I hear about others playing some doubles this way, that way, or maybe even penalties, when the truth is that those same players, drift with the wind generated by their recent experiences and/or what their partners prefer. In turn their partner’s are constantly changing, probably unbeknownst to them, since they too, probably forgot what last they played.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but to try and perfect a system is nothing short of extremely difficult simply because it all depends on what the 52 cards on that hand lended itself to for both their bidding and also, just as important, for their worthy opponents.

What would help would be for would be partners to take a designed bridge aptitude test just to see if they see things the same way, which in turn might suggest if they have a chance to do well as a partnership.

At a lower level, none of the above is important since the social aspects of the game rule and the expertise is only imagined.

Thanks for the kind words and if the truth be known, you are special and worth trying to jump tall buildings in order to clarify or whatever is necessary to enlighten the subject.