Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 12th, 2013

How would you deal with the following problem (one I found almost insuperable)? You hold ♠ A-J-7-6-2,  9,  Q-3, ♣ J-9-7-5-4. When you respond one spade to partner's one-heart opening, he naturally rebids two diamonds. What do you do now?

Dilemma's Horns, Jackson, Miss.

You could bid two hearts, giving false preference, or repeat your spades — either of which could backfire badly. A reasonable option is to pass, while the most aggressive call of all is two no-trump, an overbid by about a queen. I have sneaking admiration for a pass to limit the damage, but give me the spade nine instead of the two, and I'd repeat the spades.

Recently I had to interpret a double by my partner. I heard one diamond on my left, and two diamonds (forcing) on my right. Now my LHO bid two hearts, suggesting length and a stopper, and my partner doubled. Was this takeout for the black suits or did it show hearts?

Tea-Leaf Reader, Ames, Iowa

This is definitely and unambiguously hearts. Your partner did not overcall, but he might easily have four or five chunky hearts in an otherwise featureless hand.

With the black suits he must bid initially or introduce a suit (or bid the unusual no-trump) over two hearts.

Is it ever acceptable to make a negative double of an overcall without four cards in the unbid major? If so, when would that be?

Model Citizen, North Bay, Ontario

There are two relatively common positions where you might double with three cards in the unbid major. The first is at a low level without a stopper in the opponent's suit but with four or five cards in the other minor, three in partner's minor and about a nine-count. The second is when the opponents pre-empt and you have a strong hand with no clear direction. In each case you can double and hope partner does have extra shape or can bid no-trump.

I found myself in third seat with ♠ K-8-7-3-2,  J-9-4,  A-K, ♣ A-J-3. My partner passed and my RHO opened one heart.. Would you overcall one spade, or double?

Ready for Action, Hartford, Conn.

I would bid one spade. It used to be the case that overcalls had an upper limit of an opening bid, and that one always doubled first with good hands. No longer; overcalls can go up to a hand this good, while doubling, then bidding a suit, would show a better hand, and a better suit, than this.

I was just wondering if you utilize Eastern or Western cue-bids. As I understand it, the former tends to promise something, the latter tends to ask for help. My partner and I use the Western Cue-bid, and it seems to work for us.

East Meets West, Troy, N.Y.

When the target appears to be to get to three no-trump, but there is a danger suit, then you bid no-trump when you can do so sensibly, and cue-bid the suit with something but with less than a full stop. Only rarely do you cue-bid with a positional stop where no-trump will play better from partner's hand. With nothing at all in the danger suit, you are often better off waiting for partner to bid no-trump or asking you for help, when you will deny it.

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


Iain ClimieMay 26th, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi Bobby,

I was interested in your answer to “Model Citizen” today omn negative doubles without 4 cards in the other major. Last week my partner held SK10x HQ10x D10xx CAJ10x and passed as dealer (pairs love all). LHO passed, I bid 1H (4 cd majors), RHO bid 2D and he was stuck – Dbl, Pass, 2H, 3H and 3C could all misfire.

He eventualy doubled, next hand bid a sporting 3D and I bid 3S on AJxx AJxx Dxx CKQx (we play weak NT and open hands like this 1H intending to bid 2N over 2 of a minor, showing 1+ balanced). Partner tried 4H, which I regarded as a choice of games, so I went back to 4S and things went badly after 3 rounds of diamonds. Hearts were 4-2 and spades 5-1 so either game is in deep trouble, and even 3S is a poor score.

Dbl still seemeed best, until later. As partner was a passed hand, should he bid 3D to show this sort of hand – a maximum pass but with no other good bid? Then I can’t find a good bid of course, but it does get his hand across well. Next time I’m downgrading the wretched thing and opening 1NT, especially at pairs.

Kind Regards,


Iain ClimieMay 26th, 2013 at 9:52 am

Make that 15+ balanced above!

ClarksburgMay 26th, 2013 at 9:57 am

Mr. Wolff,
From a recent game at our Club:
You are in fourth seat. After two passes, your RHO bids 1 Heart.
You hold this freakish 6 0 1 6 black two-suiter:
S AK10952
H void
D 6
With what bid would you enter the auction?

Patrick CheuMay 26th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hi Iain and Bobby,how do you play 3D doubled by North,after 2D doubled by South?A minimum or max hand n 4spades?or a max 15+ and no 4spades?If u had open 1NT and 2D by East,is double by your pard- stayman or Lebenshol or transfer and how would the auction go after 2H by North?Maybe its a question too far,depends on partnership agreement?!Does 3D not show a full raise in hearts for a pass hand?Is there a case for South to pass and over North’s(forced) reopening double to bid 3D here,showing this sort of hand?This hand belongs to one of those bidding challenge quiz,how to stop in a partial,or doubling the opps in 3D for penalties…I feel a headache coming on…;0) regards-Patrick.

Bobby WolffMay 26th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Hi Iain,

Your example hand was just the type of nightmare hand, which when it (or something similar) appears, all a player can do is do the best he can (and first a heart opening, playing 4 card majors) followed by a negative double by partner with 10 points + all four tens is clearly the way to go, searching out usually 4 hearts or 3NT as a resting place. Neither worked, although 4 of a major had a play, but to not bid a game is unthinkable.

As has been said many times, bridge is NOT an exact science and, at least on this hand, and on the bidding, 3NT would have been impossible because of no diamond stop and 4 of a major needed a lucky holding in the major you selected and good guesses by the declarer.

Chalk that hand up to bridge fate and soldier on. It eventually will happen to all of us, unless we are unlucky enough to not play much bridge and thus be out of reach of the law of averages.

Incidentally, while playing 4 card majors, instead of 5, the negative doubles need to be made more often, with therefore looser requirements for their use. With your partner’s hand and playing 4 card majors I approve of his negative double and prefer it to the ubiquitous use of a cue bid.

Remember 4 of either major does have a play, so just because both majors broke badly, and worse your partnership happened to choose the lesser breaking one, does not mean that either of you did one thing wrong, but the patient did die.

You are not the first victim, nor will you be the last, but stay undismayed.

Bobby WolffMay 26th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Playing the system which I play, where a Michaels cue bid shows the other major and always clubs, instead of normal Michaels which shows the other major and one of the minors, but not a specific one, I would suggest immediately bidding two hearts so that partner will know my two suits in case, which is likely, your LHO now raising or jumping to 4 hearts. Partner knowing which specific suits you have will then enable you, the next round to bid 4 spades, being secure in your mind that partner will know to take a preference to clubs if his clubs are better (longer) than his spades.

If your partnership either plays normal Michaels (described above) or no Michaels at all, then a simple 1 spade would be my choice, hoping to later get spade support and then be in a good position to eventually get doubled at some high level spade contract and almost surely make that contract.

It is just such hands like these which cause me to prefer specific suit Michaels (clubs rather than either) so that partner will immediately know how to evaluate his hand and what to do, when and if the opponents are able to compete to a high level in their suit. However, most partnerships play regular Michaels so do not expect your partner to embrace what I am suggesting, without a discussion.

Another possibility is to overcall 2 clubs first, knowing that there will be further bidding and then over 3 or 4 hearts by the opponents then bid spades, but that has the disadvantage of partner thinking that you have more clubs than spades and never suspecting that your secondary suit, spades, is as strong as it is.

The hand you presented is indeed an exciting one, and contributes mightily to the poker element in bridge, and this time you have the great playing hand which, if timed right, should produce an excellent result, unless your partner has very long diamonds and no more than 2-2 in the blacks.

One more caveat is that after bidding Michaels (showing the black suits) your partner doubles 4 hearts, DO NOT take it out since he will have a stack of good hearts and once you tell him your specific suits you must support his decision to double them.

Bobby WolffMay 26th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hi Patrick,

I understand the headache coming on, but I do not subscribe to passing first if I was the partner of the opening bidder, since partner, in no way is obligated to keep the bidding open and, except for not having 4 of the other major, the responder’s hand fits the other qualifications of a negative double with a certain fallback if that partnership is playing 5 card majors. Also, in that case, a jump to 3 hearts would be acceptable, since I do not subscribe to the ubiquitous use of a cue bid to show a limit raise, but prefer cue bids to be forcing to game unless made by a passed hand, which was present in Iain’s example, but even then I prefer a negative double to get across the balanced nature of that hand, especially while playing 4 card majors.

Close can also apply to bridge bidding as well as it applies to playing horseshoes, and a negative double fits the bill.

Do not let one exasperating result influence the overall objective of bid early and let the opponents sleep in the street, even though this time you and partner are relegated to that uncomfortable ending.

My guess is that the major difficulty of steadily rising in bridge ability are hands like this one which came up with Iain, which in turn sometimes is quite a blow to one’s confidence, particularly early in his bridge career, when he is vulnerable to such thoughts. Sluff it off, like an unimportant over trick on the way to the Emerald City, and is just some poisoned flowers on the way which need to be overcome. Those hands are rare and not to be worried about.

TedMay 26th, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Hi Bobby,

This seems to be a day for negative double questions.

In a team game last night partner opened 1C and RHO overcalled 2H (opponents passed therafter). I made a negative double holding

KJ952 9 J84 Q1082

Partner bid 2NT. We were playing wk NT (11-14) so he presumably had about 15-18. I bid 3C thinking I was expressing doubt about NT, offering an alternative place to play, and if he still wanted to be in game he could now show a Spade fragment since he’d denied 4.

Partner bid 3NT, I passed, and he went down 3. 4S has a play; he had 3 to the A.

Partner thought my negative double denied 5 Spades, and anyway I should have bid 3S over his 2NT.

How should this auction have gone?

Iain ClimieMay 26th, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Hi again Bobby,

Thanks for the helpful advice (as ever) but a question on Michaels with clubs. If RHO opens 1H. (Say) and you have a fair hand with spades and diamonds, do you double, bid spades and wait or trot out 3C (Ghestem) showing the other 2 suits but losing a natural JO? Also, would your answer be different in 4th position, an approach I’ve also seen suggested (with Ghestem in 2nd)?

Thanks to Patrick and Clarksburg for raising topics which I should agree with my partners but seem never to get around to doing so!



Bobby WolffMay 26th, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Hi Ted,

Exactly like you suggested it might have, except for your optimism that your partner will bid a spade fragment over your 3 club bid.

However, the hand you sent should be a powerful learning experience, since, by playing weak NT (which I do NV with my wife, Judy) partner, holding a strong NT, usually suggests his best minor as an opening bid with strong NT strength.

Since possibly the most important knowledge in bridge is being practical with what one expects from his partner, you absolutely needed to bid 3 spades over his 2NT takeout which shows his strong NY opening, although he could have something like:

s. Q or even: s. 10xxx
h. AQ10 h. KQ10x
d. Kxx d. Ax
c. AJxxxx c. AKx

the above hands both being described as normal strong NT values but on the first hand with a flaw (singleton spade). Of course, when you rebid 3 spades he will convert the first hand to 3NT, but on the 2nd one, raise to 4 spades.

Bridge, at all levels, forces its players to compromise, especially during the bidding and make the best bid available, which is not always what partner is going to expect.

Sure, partner could have bid a spade fragment, but he might have hearts pretty well stopped and wanted to exercise that option of strongly suggesting 3NT instead of what you desperately wanted him to do.

Many players upon being admonished, might think to themselves that bridge is just too difficult, but I can assure you that once you can compromise some of your expectations and understand the limited communication problems you will immediately progress to the next highest level.

Good luck and wishing you plenty of blue skies and green lights as you progress.

Patrick CheuMay 26th, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Hi Iain,thanks for bringing up such a hand that most of us have difficulty with due to the lack of partnership discussion,cos of time factor and different partners do not always agree on the methods.At least we now know better what to do,thanks to our host!Regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuMay 26th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Hi Bobby,thanks again for your helpful and encouraging comments,I will treat such hands as a fact of bridge to be overcome and on to the next case!Best Regards-Patrick.

Bobby WolffMay 26th, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Hi Iain,

While I am familiar with playing against Ghestem, I have never played it myself, so am not qualified to give an opinion as to its worth, however I might simply suggest that when holding spades and diamonds bid both of them (just like they kill elephants, “one at a time”) eventually unless, of course the bidding gets too high, (keeping a close eye on the vulnerability).

One tip, possibly worth noting that if one has:

s. x
h. KQJ9x
d. KQ109xx
c. A

and hear RHO open 1 spade, I would probably choose to overcall 2 hearts (in order to not take any chances of not getting that major into the auction early) but then hear 4 spades by my LHO passed back around to me, it is important to now bid 4NT and convert 5 clubs by partner to 5 diamonds which is a convention to tell partner that one’s second suit is longer than his first, therefore with 6 hearts and 5 diamonds (could be only 5-5) a simple but immediate 5 diamond call by us over the opponents 4 spades would ask for a normal preference.

The little improvement above can save literally thousands of points if one gets doubled and partner has 10x of heart and Jx of diamonds.

However to be honest, during my 26 year partnership with Bob Hamman it only came up one time and sadly the opponents then went on to 5 spades and made the damn contract, but since Bob held a doubleton in both red suits it would have allowed us to play the less dangerous 6-2 fit instead of the explosive 5-2.

What did Shakespeare write? I think it was “Much Ado About Nothing”.