Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 1st, 2013

How should I distinguish between a jump to game, a limit raise and a purely competitive raise when my RHO makes a weak jump overcall of my partner's opening bid? I held ♠ Q-9-8-6-4,  A-7-5-2,  K-5, ♣ 10-3 and my partner opened one heart. When my RHO bid three diamonds, was I right to bid three hearts, or four hearts, or even cue-bid four diamonds?

Upward Bound, Worcester, Mass.

With a limit raise, one should jump to game and hope to get lucky, but bid three hearts with say 6-9 HCP and maybe only three trumps. Here the jump to four hearts is reasonable if a mild gamble. However, had the jump overcall been in clubs, it would be only a little pessimistic to bid three hearts instead of four hearts. Incidentally, a cue-bid here would show opening values with a fit.

What would be the right tactical approach to take at teams with no one vulnerable when your partner opens three clubs and the next hand bids three diamonds? Holding ♠ 7-2,  J-8-5-4,  J-9-3-2, ♣ Q-9-3, I guessed to jump to five clubs — and we went for 800. Our opponents could have made slam in spades, but in the other room our teammates played the diamond game.

Pushing and Shoving, Springville, Ala.

I would not pass; sometimes leaving your opponents alone may give them the space they need to find their best fit. My view is that a simple raise to four clubs may well persuade your LHO to go quietly in game, but bidding five clubs gives them a fielder's choice.

When you support partner's minor-suit opening, are you supposed to have five-card support? I had always assumed you could support with four trumps in the right circumstances.

Foundation Garment, Troy, N.Y.

Typically you want to have five trumps to raise a minor directly, but four trumps will do for a diamond raise since partner will nearly always have four or more diamonds. In competition it is fine to raise with four when other calls, such as bidding a four-card major, doubling or bidding no-trump, are not convenient.

What should opener rebid after hearing a two-level response when he has a minimum hand and no convenient call? For example, after one spade – two diamonds, what is opener supposed to rebid holding ♠ Q-9-7-4-3,  A-10,  K-10, ♣ A-7-5-3? Does it matter if the response is not game-forcing here?

In for a Penny, Levittown, Pa.

Whether playing two-over-one game-forcing or not, I like a call of three clubs here to show a little extra shape or high cards, not this hand — although give me the club queen instead of the three, and I would bid three clubs. A call of two no-trump to show 12-14 and the other suits stopped is acceptable; rebidding such a miserable five-card spade suit is certainly far from ideal.

What do you think of psychic bids? I have played at my club for almost 30 years and rarely encountered one, but recently the director at another club in our area responded two spades to his partner's weak two-diamond call with three small spades and five points. We missed our spade slam as a result. Don't you think there should be some sort of announcement forbidding this?

Flummoxed, Memphis, Tenn.

I'm sorry you feel upset by what occurred. It is never fun to get a zero, but on this occasion your opponent just happened to take a legal action against you that left you fixed. It is never illegal for anyone (even a director!) to do that. Of course, one cannot have an understanding that this action might be psychic. But that is a whole different can of worms.

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 ClimieSeptember 15th, 2013 at 9:26 am

Hi Bobby,

Could I try to further console Flummoxed about being the victim of a psyche? If he / she were a weak player playing against a strong player, it would make sense for the stronger player to just play steadily, while giving their opponent scope to go wrong. They can then just wait for the weaker player’s mistakes instead of trying too hard to get good results. Psyches or other off-beat bids / plays make the result more random and thus more likely to favour the weaker player. On the hand quoted, opponenets might have walked into a large number or kept Flummoxed and partner out of a non-making slam or even game, or the victims might have missed the good contract anyway.

Hence the antic to which Flummoxed was subjected may actually be a rather backhanded compliment – I’m not going to wait for you to mess up, you need a push, despite the risk of it going wrong. If playing against much stronger players, you might want them to try odd things, rather than relying on their skill edge – just remember to double when they’ve gone off the rails!

Conversely, the time to try an off-beat bid (e.g. an over-agressive or even over-strong pre-empt) is probably against stronger but flighty opposition who may overbid to prove that YOU can’t derail their bidding. I hope this helps,



ClarksburgSeptember 15th, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Mr. Wolff,
In some recent responses, you have emphasized that it is winning Bridge to be playing 1NT, when allowed to play there.
Nowadays of course most Club players employ some form of interference, introducing two possible suits 5-4, or a 6+ single-suiter etc. Presumably when the Opponents buy the contract, there will often be opportunities for the 1NT Opener’s Partner to Double, improving chances for a good score.
Can you suggest some general guidelines for 1NT Opener’s partner to assess his hand and act, depending upon our combined HCP and their contract? e.g. they selected one of the two suits offered, either Major or minor; single-suited minor; single-suited Major etc.

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, by just bringing up the subject, you help. Valid problems do not go away because we want them to, but rather by meeting them head on and, together (well, almost) arriving at an equitable solution by suggesting alternatives. Of course, as thoroughly as possible we should encourage understanding of what our game is about and how all of us are expected to, if you will excuse the expression, deal with it.

I’ll start out by saying that I strongly differ with the ACBL’s approach to our game in regard to teaching the unique features of the ethics of our special game, with its partnership aspect and the player’s responsibility, if possible, to not convey unauthorized information to partner. But if it so occurs, for him (her) to then go out of his way not to take advantage of it, and, if anything, to do the opposite of what partner is illegally (intentionally or not) trying to influence partner to do.

Without the special ethical strictures which have always accompanied our game from its grandfather Whist, through its father Auction bridge, up to 1927 when it became contract bridge, wherein the partnership had to bid what they made in order to get maximum credit. our game would not be the least bit playable and would fall on the rocks and the poisoned flowers below, not only causing havoc, but rather instead, a game not worth playing.

Ergo, if I am on point, and, obviously I, at least, think I am, making it imperative for even beginners to understand what they are getting into when they take up our game IMO, far and away the greatest mind game ever invented with untold educational advantages, but one which needs tender loving ethical care and nurture by not just some, but rather everyone, without which we cannot function.

Therefore it is total folly for novices to not be educated and thus encouraged to understand (at least a working knowledge) of what is to be expected.

Our game would not work well, if there were rules, or rather laws, which prevented an experienced player from treating beginners differently than they would treat others. Sure, in tennis and golf (and even including chess), for example, duffers are not immediately subjected to playing against seasoned veterans, much less players who may even rank among the world’s best, but since bridge is different in being able, on any one fine day, to not only play against one of those high-level creatures but unlike the previous competitions mentioned, actually beat them on any one, two or even three hands.

Because of that, everyone must play by the same rules and if any new player is looking for special consideration we cannot comply, since by doing so we are theoretically, if not actually, doing an injustice to the game itself.

Now, back to the ranch, the above does not recommend psyching by experienced players against very weak players and/or beginners, but since psyching in contract bridge is as old as the game itself (86 years) and should be allowed at any time as long as partner is not privy, by poor ethics or worse (cheating) alerted to partner’s intentions and therefore also must run the risk of misreading partner’s bids just like their opponents might.

Obviously, there is a fine line in determining the above, but do not think for a moment that a wise tournament director and/or committee (sadly not all ACBL TD’s or committee members qualify for that distinction) cannot help determine whether or not the person who psyched was illegally acting without risk, and if so, the score, if necessary, should be adjusted to fit the crime with, just like the natural law, a record of such a finding going directly into that player’s resume to remain for, at the least, a significant length of time.

With the above can be a variety of specifics with which we can deal, but whatever we do IMO it has to include the same rules for all tournament bridge players. The game of tournament bridge is not for the sensitive or feint of heart players who want compensating advantage for being inexperienced.

When our governing body does not realize that we are not doing our job by not allowing all to play the same game, mainly because we are then playing a different game than bridge is supposed to be, then that solution is not to be recommended. To me, this consistency of behavior will easily work and be healthy for the game. Sure, those inexperienced players looking for some favoritism in order to both salve their ego and to do better scorewise, should try and achieve that result, by understanding why psyching has always been permitted and, although usually very rare, is as integral a part of the game as is, for example, a legitimate 1NT opening bid.

Good luck to all of us in trying to make our game as good as it can be, keeping in mind that if we make certain (what I call) negative changes we will be going in the opposite direction in which we should.

However Iain, none of what I say is intended to contradict anything of what you say, only to give an overall assessment of how our very special rules should read.

Bobby WolffSeptember 15th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Like the philosophical subject which Iain introduced, yours is a very worthwhile discussion of a far different subject, but well worth the time spent, if I only had an answer worth its weight.

Bidding at the clubs and in the modern era, bridge is improving along with your hoped for discussion of what defenses against your 1NT opening the worthy opponents are using.

Two suited and sometimes an either or option is included, trying on their part to find a fit, but not forgetting that its main purpose is not to have to defend against a declarer who is looking immediately at all 26 of his assets while we are leading blindly and only see half of our assets and half of the opponent’s. Add that advantage to the defense having to communicate their hands rather than merely look and is it any wonder that defenses to 1NT are so wide and varied with the idea of being tough opponents first and later hoping (by getting into the auction) that they will land on their feet rather than their face.

Of course, you are talking about matchpoint duplicate (which I will now emphasize), not IMPs (or for that matter, rubber bridge) where the rules are very different.

Rules of engagement from the 1NTer’s side:

1. Play two way Stayman instead of Jacoby Transfers, both for accuracy, but more importantly, not to give the opponents two rounds of bidding instead of one to gradate their values and therefore upgrade their judgment. Never forget when the opponents get an advantage, the only ones who suffer are their opponents, which happen to be you and your partner.

2. Tailor your system to getting to your probable best contract ASAP, even when your partnership has to give up an option, e.g. holding: x, Jxxx, Qx, QJxxxx and hearing your partner opening 1NT (always either15-17 or close) do not look for miracles even if your system is able to handle it by trying for an 8 card heart fit and then if not, bid a 3 club signoff. Instead just jump to 3 clubs and be done with it, instead of allowing your opponents room to roam which is (by far) the greater danger!

3. Know the tendencies (if possible) of your particular opponents especially if they are aggressive or conservative and be prepared for them to be consistent at your table. It is, of course, not always the case, but that is still the way to bet. In my World Championship days most of the time my team was fortunate in having a good coach (not the Captain but the coach) who I consulted after trying to get him (or her) to scout our next opponents to whom I was not familiar and not concentrate on their system, but rather their bidding habits. That to me was by far the most valuable tool I could possess, to know just how far they would go to compete.

At a local club game you can be your own coach and develop your own dossier about individual opponents.

4. The usual matchpoint tendencies apply e.g. if it appears to be your hand (you have 7 or 8 balanced points and partner has opened 1NT), double them unless you know the bidder to be very conservative or possibly upset since your partnership has stolen a few hands from them recently and so he, being tired of those results, is changing his style (often happens in local club games). Among very competitive pretty good players expect them to hedge in favor of getting in the bidding, even if they are conspicuously overbidding.

5. Since there are so many different specific conventions against NT, it is almost likely that the particular opponents you are now playing have very little (or no) experience with the particular convention they are playing so don’t, if possible, treat their wrong with a greater wrong from your side where you believe they know the nuances of what they are doing, because they probably do not.

6. Normal bridge logic should apply when you open and it goes all pass and you and your partner together have no more than 20 HCP’s, rest assured, unless the opponents are beginners (where anything is possible), that suits are breaking and the bidding alone is more valuable in determining playing suit combinations (especially after the first few tricks) than are the percentages tables regarding suit splits.

Other than the above, no real advice except to
encourage everyone to sharpen ones judgment as experience is gleaned.

Iain ClimieSeptember 15th, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the extensive thoughts here. One club I play at runs a simple systems session once a week, and is at pains to emphasise the friendly nature of the club. As va more experienced player, you can still play vigorously, of course, but have to win (and, on occasion, get fixed by weaker players) with good grace and the director allows newer players a little more time. Stronger players are also expected to explain why and how the bidding and play went as it did. This seems to combine the best of both worlds i.e. encouragement without condescension, and allowing a phased introduction to “the rough stuff” to be found in stronger club nights and then the tournament world..


Iain Climie