Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Recently I sat in third chair with ♠ J-9-3,  J-8-7,  K-J-9-4, ♣ A-5-4 and heard two spades from partner and three clubs on my right. I raised to three spades, the call I would have made without the opponents having intervened, and my partner said he would have passed with my hand and let well enough alone. Both three-level-contracts would have gone down a trick.

Sadder but Wiser, Charleston, S.C.

Your decision to compete was right on all fronts. The main reason for bidding is to take space from the opponents. Why shouldn't they find their heart fit if you leave them space?

My partner asked me if I played "Unusual versus Unusual" and I had no idea what he meant. Could you help me out please?

Unusual Suspect, Nashville, Tenn.

When the opponents overcall with a two-suiter like Michaels, Ghestem, or the unusual no-trump, this gives responder at least one clear cue-bid. If RHO has shown a specific two-suiter, a cue-bid of the lower suit can be used to show the fourth suit with a decent hand, while the cue-bid of the higher suit shows a limit raise in partner's suit. Consequently, raising partner or bidding the fourth suit is purely competitive. If there is only one known suit, or one cue-bid below three of partner's suit, use that cue-bid as the limit-raise.

I'm out of touch with the way players in your column seem to bid all the time. Why are jump raises of partner weak, not strong, and how do you ever get to show a good hand?

Nostalgic, Orlando, Fla.

The modern approach is that, particularly in competitive auctions, jump raises tend toward distributional rather than high-card values — though many take a good thing too far. Undeniably, though, you need to be able to show a good hand. The key is to start with a cue-bid, which promises limit values or better and support.

Last night my partner passed in second chair over one heart. Subsequently, though, he balanced with a double at his second turn after a raise to two hearts. I held an uninspiring collection: ♠ J-3-2,  10-4,  A-Q-5-4-3, ♣ 10-7-2. I gambled by biddingtwo spades, trying to keep the auction low, and played in a 3-3 fit with a nine-card diamond fit available. Was I wrong to expect at least four spades from my partner?

Sadly Lacking, Corpus Christi, Texas

This is an auction where partner might even balance into a four-card spade suit if he had one, so finding him with only three spades is not entirely surprising. When I am asked to bid a suit and hold a five-carder, I bid it and let the chips fall where they may — whether it is a minor or a major.

I got some grief from my partner when I held this hand: ♠ J-4,  7-4,  K-J-9-5-4, ♣ Q-J-7-2. My partner opened one spade, and my RHO bid one no-trump. I chose to try two diamonds – was this unreasonable?

Indecently Exposed, Chicago, Ill.

Acting in this position typically shows a six-card suit (though a decent five-carder will suffice in a pinch) and a hand in the range of six to nine points, since with more you would probably double the opponents in one no-trump. On this occasion two diamonds was somewhat aggressive, but far from absurd. With the diamond 10 instead of the four, I admit I would surely have done the same.

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


AviJune 29th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff
Holding K982, KJT, AQ3, J54, I opened 1C in first seat, followed by a X.
My partner bid 1d, which in our system denies 4 card major, and asks me to bid 1NT, thereby promising 4+ cards in at least one of the minors.
RHO then bid 1NT passed out.
What would your opening bid be, and why?

AviJune 29th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

and I forgot to mention, he is limited at 4-8 points

Bobby WolffJune 29th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Hi Avi,

I would try and remain passive and give away as little as possible by starting proceedings with a club lead (you indicated that partner is as likely as not to have 4+ cards in clubs rather than diamonds.

Both majors almost figure to lose a trick by leading and my AQ of diamonds may be sitting over the isolated K held by declarer.

Therefore, it appears that clubs are the way to go, although leading from Jxx is no bargain either.

However, do not fret about whatever you decided to do, since no one short of cheating could possibly guess right much of the time since anything could be right or wrong.

When defending against a low part score, it is usually more effective to remain passive and let the other side lead 1st and 3rd to tricks rather than 2nd and 4th (especially in a blind opening lead scenario).

David WarheitJune 30th, 2013 at 12:26 am

Bobby: Avi’s question was what would your opening BID be, not your opening lead. I eagerly await your answer. As for me, with 8 losers and less than 3 quick tricks, wild horses couldn’t get me to open in first or second seat, and probably not in fourth seat either.

Bobby WolffJune 30th, 2013 at 5:23 am

Hi David & Ari,

Sorry for my reading gaffe.

I would tend to open 1 club, not 1 diamond since I prefer to rarely open 3 card diamond suits, and give up some lead direction in order to satisfy my diamond fetish.

In spite of others strongly preferring one suit or the other, my feeling is that it rarely makes a difference and when it does, it is not predictable.

All of the above is to encourage concentrating on what does matter, fewer mistakes, being ready to play, partnership harmony, and treating every hand with care.

So practice all of the above and little things will not mean a lot.

AviJune 30th, 2013 at 8:12 am

sorry, I was a bit tired when writing, so this is my mistake.
I did mean what the opening LEAD will be.
thanks for the response

Bobby WolffJune 30th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hi Avi & David,

Thanks Avi for taking the time to clarify and to David, please consider the following.

When one opens the bidding, he is only doing the equivalent in poker of anteing up to comply with the rules of the game.

There is no even half way intelligent way of evaluating the assets (HCPs, intermediates, combinations of cards (KJ10, K98’s, AQ instead of those two cards being in different suits), against the negative 4-3-3-3 distribution featuring no ruffing trick opportunities.

Therefore, the opening bid is only a message to partner that I have more than, in general but perhaps maybe slightly different, my average share of high cards (10) so the evaluation is about to begin and although I have offered at least a 3 card minor as a possible trump suit, we are still too early in the auction to have it mean much.

Harold Vanderbilt who invented the process of contract bridge, which had auction and whist as its father and grandfather, together with some brilliant unknowns, were truly genius’ in what they eventually concocted since, and I am reasonably sure you will agree with me, the expert game, as we now know it, is off the charts positive for all the productive mind exercises which it creates.

From the beginning of opening the bidding, bridge science with its very limited vocabulary has the facility, in the hands and minds of creative thinkers, to be able to become a challenging science, which, with marked improvement through the years, is surely the best mind game ever, together with a very exciting, non-violent (usually) competition which is both mind developing and extremely stimulating causing its participants sometimes joy but often frustration, dating back to what the inventors of it, possibly foresaw.

My advice to you is to not take opening bids too seriously in their original valuation and comply with what is now in vogue, open anything which breathes, as long as the partnership is aware of what it is doing and no secrets are kept from their opponents.

The well kept secret begins with the advantages accruing to the original bidders in the descriptions offered as against laying in wait by more conservative players who are sometimes left at the gate and by the time they are ready to enter, the auction has gotten too high for them to risk it.

For a bibliography, one only needs to go back to see what has happened to the Roth-Stone players since they were riding high, not that many years ago.