Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 18th, 2013

My wife and I have started playing duplicate after a long break and have found that times have changed — but we have not. We focus on evaluating our hands only by counting points but do not do a complete evaluation of our combined hands. Can you recommend any reading material that would help us evaluate our hands better?

Little Learning, Wichita Falls, Texas

Hand evaluation is truly one of the more complex areas of the game.

Evaluating trumps is well discussed by Larry Cohen in”The Law of Total Tricks.” “The Secrets of Winning Bridge” by Jeff Rubens is also very thought provoking. Mike Lawrence on hand evaluation is also good. (See the Wikipedia article on hand evaluation for further suggestions.)

I had a powerhouse: ♠ A-Q-4,  A-K-Q-6,  J-5, ♣ A-Q-4-3. I opened two clubs and heard an overcall of two diamonds on my left. My partner passed, suggesting scattered values, and my RHO raised to three diamonds. What would a double from me mean now? If it is takeout, should I make that call?

Wheel of Fortune, Portland, Ore.

I like the idea of passing with a takeout-oriented hand and doubling with a balanced hand, open to defending if partner is also balanced. So yes, I would pass and expect partner to show a four-card major.

Is a jump-shift by opener game-forcing? With ♠ A-5,  K-Q-7-4-3,  4, ♣ A-K-10-5-4, I opened one heart, and over my partner's response of one spade, I jumped to three clubs. When he rebid three hearts, I passed, thinking he had a bad hand. Was I wrong?

Out of Gas, Bellevue, Wash.

The jump to three clubs sets up an unequivocal game force, so you cannot pass three hearts. However, it might have been better for you to rebid two clubs; then over partner's two hearts you can bid three clubs, showing 5-5 and extras. This consults your partner on whether to stay low, or in which game to play.

When is it right to bid spades in response to a one-heart opening? Holding ♠ K-Q-7-5-3,  9-4-2,  Q-4-3, ♣ J-2, I responded one spade to one heart, then gave preference to two hearts over my partner's two-club rebid. My partner thought I should have raised directly. What do you say?

Piglet, Nashville, Tenn.

Your choice of introducing spades when you hold a good suit and poor hearts makes perfect sense. It will help partner to appreciate whether his cards fit yours. With better hearts or worse spades, a direct raise might be preferred.

When my partner has bid a major suit and has been overcalled in no-trump, should I lead his suit? My belief is that the no-trump bidder usually has two stoppers, and I have been burned a few times — whether I guess to lead that suit or not. I have come to the conclusion to lead his suit only when I have no better option. What do you think?

Robin Hood, Hartford, Conn.

I would always tend to lead a suit overcalled at the two-level — which should be a good one. I'd also be more inclined to lead his suit when you yourself are weak, and perhaps also if his overcall was a cheap one (as opposed to bidding one spade over a minor to mess up the opponents). Unbid suits should be led when you have a clear lead of that suit or if your opponents bid to no-trump confidently. But when in doubt, keep partner happy.

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


bruce karlsonSeptember 1st, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Re: “Out of gas”: As responder in the sequence 1H/1S/2C, holding K10xx, xx, Qxx, Kxxx, I would be inclined to pass. Your response suggests that the 2C is a one round force. The question then is whether a new suit by opener is an absolute force.

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Hi Bruce,

A jump shift by opener after he has opened the bidding with one of a suit and gotten a response from partner is unequivocally a GF. The reason is, of course, (using Goren’s point count) it takes about 20 points (high cards + distribution) to jump shift after opening the bidding and getting a response (at least 6 points). And until a fit is established (not so in this example hand) that 20 points needs to be made up of either a blockbuster distribution; Example: s. Ax, h. KQ10xxx, d. void, c. AQ10xx or 20 hcp’s. If, instead, my Ax would have been in diamonds, not spades (partner’s response) I would have then only rebid 2 clubs, because of the lesser chance of having a fit. I know full well that partner may have Jxxx in spades and the king of diamonds, but good bidding is partly based on mature judgment and percentages. not aces and cinches.

An unseen (by many) advantage in a forcing club system (Precision comes to mind) that in the absence of opening 1 club therein limiting one’s hand to less than 16 or 17 you could jump shift with your hand since your partner will know you cannot have more because of your failure to open 1 club.

However, in a standard system, a change of suit (2 clubs in this case), is in no way forcing on partner.

I also agree with you about passing 2 clubs with your example hand, but since 5 clubs needs 29 points to make game, I will take my chances and stay low in order to make my part score rather than chase rainbows in search of greater results.

Bridge is NOT an exact science and we need to know that, if for no other reason, than not to have great expectations dashed so often.

ClarksburgSeptember 1st, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Mr. Wolff
You responded in part:”…However, in a standard system, a change of suit (2 clubs in this case), is in no way forcing on partner….”
Some of the intermediate teaching (standard) suggests that although opener’s new suit is not forcing, responder should always strain to bid again with any plausible reason (because partner could have 18 / 19).
Any further comment / guidance on how both opener and responder can best deal with this “gap” in Standard?

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, you have spotted an inconsistency with a standard system, which is now and has been for some time, the system of choice in the USA, or for that matter. in the Western Hemisphere.

Any further sincere advice I would continue to offer, would be to switch to a forcing club system, which then has to deal with a much easier, more exact, method of both bidding strong hands, and as a bonus adds constructive tactics to lesser openings, which because of their maximum limit enables immediate jumps to game to have much higher maximums because of not having to worry about missing a slam.

This, in turn, makes it more risky for borderline good hands of the opponents to sometimes, before the auction has even gotten to them, (originally to the right of the dealer and thus 4th hand to speak) for the bidding to have gotten high very fast.

The only material disadvantage with forcing clubs is that since a suit has not been bid originally (an artificial one club opening) sometimes the strong hand is preempted before he has named his best suit and by the time he gets a 2nd chance, the bidding has already used up vital bidding space.

As to fixing what we have and is now considered standard, there is no consistent way to overcome what you fear. It becomes a Hobson’s choice of raising with very little and likely get too high or not bidding and sometimes missing a game.

Remember bridge, as we know it (The Goren era) has been surviving for perhaps 70+ years with no one yet being able to solve the dilemma you dread, mainly IMO is because there is no solution which works.

There are some artificial counter measures to lessen the pain (two suited bids which are fairly weak and less than a standard opening) but they, too, have risks and are not for everyone.

Summing it up, bridge, as we know it, is an attempt to show many hand patterns and different values but all done using a very limited language (bidding) so perfection is, if you will excuse the pun, not in the cards.