Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Please give me a quick synopsis of the Michaels Cue-bid. Does it interact with the unusual no-trump?

Having a Fit, Galveston, Texas

The two conventions mesh well. A jump in no-trump always shows the two lower unbid suits, while a Michaels Cue-bid of a minor suggests both majors, and a cue-bid of a major shows the unbid major and one minor. Responder can ask for the minor with a call of two no-trump. With a powerhouse (the hand that would have been suitable for an old-fashioned cue-bid), start by doubling, then take further strong action.

I have always been a fan of penalty doubles when the opponents overcall. But all the people I play with tell me they are outdated. Are there still positions where penalty doubles are appropriate?

Lost Boy, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Clearly in the middle or at the end of the auction one often wants to double the opponents for penalty. Equally clearly, at your first turn to speak or when the opponents bid and raise a suit, double is normally takeout. Here are some exceptions: Double of a no-trump opening or overcall, or any double when your partner has opened or overcalled with a pre-emptive action and thus defined his hand very precisely, should be for penalty.

My partner accused me of cowardice here. Was he right? I held ♠ Q-10-4,  A-K-Q-10-7-3,  Q-4, ♣ J-4, and when my partner responded with a forcing one no-trump to my one-heart opening bid, I tried two hearts. He raised to three hearts — were my solid hearts enough reason to bid on? I passed and made 10 tricks when hearts split 3-3.

Forever Amber, Londonderry, N.H.

My view is that you do have enough to bid on. However, I would seriously consider bidding three no-trump now, rather than four hearts. After all, my hand is likely to play well enough in no-trump, given my source of quick tricks and soft values outside. Partner can always put us back to four hearts if he thinks it wise.

Many of the experts at my club play a convention referred to as Smolensk in response to an opening bid of one no-trump. I tried to find any details of it, but was unable to locate it. Please explain how it works.

Tattooed Lady, Vancouver, British Columbia

It is Smolen, not Smolensk — and the convention handles game-forcing hands with 5-4 in the majors, in response to a one- or two-no-trump opening, transferring declarership to the strong hand. With this pattern, you bid Stayman, then jump in your shorter major over a two-diamond response. This allows your partner to play three no-trump with no fit, or declare the 5-3 major fit from the stronger side, while making declarer the hand whose shape is unknown.

Playing social rubber bridge, I picked up ♠ J-10-4-2,  K-10,  K-9-2, ♣ K-10-8-3 and after a one-heart overcall of my partner's opening bid of one club, I doubled to show four spades. When my partner rebid two clubs, I raised to three, then heard my partner bid three diamonds. What would you expect that to show and what should I have done next?

Sucker Punch, Selma, Alaska

Your partner appears to be making a game-try based on length, so it feels right to bid three no-trump now. Consider that you might make game facing six clubs to the ace and the diamond ace and nothing else at all!

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 ClimieOctober 27th, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

Can I add an extra query to today’s column – partly bidding (where I may have tried to be too clever) and partly more delicate.

I played in a 6 round county one-day swiss teams yesterday, playing in a team 3 of whose members had won the competition last year. We had a poor result against moderate opposition in the first round, missing two slams not helping, although we only lost 1 IMP on the 2 boards. Then, at love all, I held S9 HKQ DAQ109xxxx CAx and RHO opened 1H. I could (and probably should) bid 5D but decided 2D wasn’t getting passed out and that I wasn’t prepared to bypass 3N so just bid 2D. Pass, Pass (Oops!) Double (relief) so what now? 2N perhaps, redouble, 3D and 4D are all worth thinking about, but I felt 2H would make him talk. Oh dear.

LHO (a weak but pleasant player) asked what the 2H was and partner said “No Agreement” and, when pressed, acidly asked whether they had an agreement for that sequence; perhaps unwisely LHO then asked whether he should have alerted if it wasn’t natural, and got a response which was less than polite to say the least. Partner then decided that with K10xx 109xx K K87x to pass 2H! I played this manfully for 1 off, diamonds were 4-0 so 5D went 1-off for a flat board.

OK, firstlly should I have been tried to be over clever, given that this partner has “form” for getting irate when I try things which misfire, even though he is a good enough player to have won the English National Pairs a few years back. More to the point, what about manners?

I trundled over to the opponents’ table afterwards and apologised for him, but should I actually have a go at him or just not bother playing with someone that rude? We used to be a regular partnership umpteen years ago (before my 25 year sabbatical) and played at a fairly high level so expect the grouches towards myself. Should I have called the TD (who is a friend of both of us) to complain about him being rude to the oppo, or should I hand over a diaper to attempt to teach him a lesson? He is in his mid 60s for goodness sake, and is generally pretty good away from the table.

Any advice on the minor bidding concern and the more serious behavioural one?



PS I may not be able to correspond too much this week (my mobile, which I use for internet access, just died) but I can pick up replies.

ClarksburgOctober 27th, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Mr Wolff,
Supplementary question about the Michaels item.
Would the requirement for doubling first be then around 19-20 equivalent in playing strength?
If so, that leaves a lot of ground below. Do you recommend / endorse “min / max” (e.g. Michaels with 9/10 or less, and with 16+, but not with a minimum opening bid strength).
If not, what would you recommend for the sub-double range(s)?

Bobby WolffOctober 27th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Hi Iain,

Although I am entirely aware of the type of your table’s behavioural plight (having experienced similar dallies through my long travails, especially when I was very young and my partner’s were no doubt great players, but equally short tempered to be, at the very least, a match for yours), I have very little original nor intelligent to recommend.

Although the following may sound like an excuse, it is only meant as a fact finding mission in order to first, place the blame, and then from that, assess the damage.

Your lesser opponents bridge wise, probably contributed to the melee, by not accepting your emotional partner’s explanation of “No Agreement” which, after all, although not 100% clear to them. was exactly the case. He had enough positives in his hand (more than you might expect, especially the mighty diamond king which, because of the ghastly 4-0 break turned out to not be the game going card (both 5 diamonds and, of course, probably 3NT) so became bewildered by your unusual, but I dare say, intelligent stab, which left both of those normal right final contacts in the offing.

Although since behavior, as you suggest, is the main subject, but bridge moods are often tempered by the hand itself and this one, IMO was not handled logically by your esteemed partner. The very least he should offer is a raise to 3 hearts, which he certainly had, if first the opponents were playing 4 card majors and second, he thought (since he did pass) that it really might be natural.

The above aside, moods, particularly when attempting to play high level bridge, vary greatly, particularly so among some of us who take it very seriously, like to win, and above all, cherish being on the same wave length (or at least close) with partner.

Enough of the unimportant bridge part of your sad episode, but I do not think you needed to apologize to your possibly not as innocent opponents, as you originally thought. They provoked the incident by not accepting “No agreement” or even “not discussed” if that was said instead, at its face value.

Obviously there was nothing wrong with your apology, but I do not think it is necessary, since to not know that bridge sometimes produces anxiety is similar to not knowing that the sun usually comes up in the morning. Also, while in no way do I endorse your partner’s anger toward them, I can understand it and will grant him a “Get out of jail free card” for this particular transgression.

Sometimes being the senior and possibly most respected partnership present in the room adds fuel to fires, particularly when bridge plays its known dastardly tricks to bridge lover’s minds.

Summing up, while I do not even begin to agree with your partner’s ridiculous (my word) pass of 2 hearts, I think that what he did there was worse than his later behavior and, at least to me, his manners echoed that realization.

Sorry for the long (and possibly useless) tirade by me, but these things do happen and the embarrassment caused lingers on. Also there is probably no reason to discuss it further with your partner as he likely now realizes that, although no matchpoints were probably lost, he was not up to the occasion and, worse, in full view, especially to him, as a very good player.

Iain ClimieOctober 27th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the words of wisdom, and I’m still slightly bemused at partner assuming that I’d have overcalled 2D and then bid 2H naturally with a (say) 1-5-6-1 hand. A lesson for next time is not to try flights of fancy – I remember the state he once got in when the auction started 1D – 1S – X – XX (I’d originally passed but had about an 11 count with good defence and some spade tolerance) which we hadn’t discussed. Something about “If you can’t take a joke, ….” springs to mind though.

Perhaps one thing I’ve realised after my long break is that things WILL go wrong (IF is just a fantasy) somewhere so there is no point in throwing a blue fit when it happens. Just pick yourself and/or partner up and get on with the next board; we still came 2nd in the competition, anyway, and none of us played well, so it was hardly a disaster. The problem with playing opposite such a partner is the Mollo line from the Rueful Rabbit – it isn’t the abuse that’s so bad, it’s waiting for it and not knowing when it is going to arrive!

Thanks again,


Bobby WolffOctober 27th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You ask an important question, one which should be asked and discussed with partnerships who play Michaels, and some form of that convention is played by 90+% of all very good players. The other 10% also play it usually artificial, but with possibly different suits involved.

The vulnerability, not mentioned during the column discussion, is extremely important and would certainly be a deciding factor in making bidding decisions.

Yes, what the column discusses is generally played of differentiating Michaels cue bids from TO doubles. However, the vulnerability also plays a part, so when after a player uses Michaels then raises or even jumps to game over partner’s response sometimes does it with only 4-10 HCP’s but has greater distribution, perhaps 6-5 or even more so, with partner bidding the 6 card suit and perhaps (very important) freely without having to bid anything (opponents, partner’s RHO, bidding over the Michaels but partner, although not having to bid, does).

Summing up, yes the column is correct, but there are several exceptions and the auction itself, (the opponents bidding) should inform your side what partner’s actions should mean. Michaels is a combination of 25% science and 75% tactical and experience of playing will help more than any words can say in determining what to do.

Again, good luck!

ClarksburgOctober 27th, 2013 at 6:22 pm

So if I understand correctly, in expert or very-good level competition Michaels (and UNT?) could range from “very weak” right up to “near-doubling” strength. Then, what it means, in the context of which suits are held, vulnerability, calls by opponents etc. will be “worked out” as the auction proceeds…featuring quite natural, common sense calls. Is that roughly correct?
Seems now that this flexible wide-range open-ended approach could be taken by ordinary-mortal Club Players as well. For example: “Hmm we’re at favourable Vul and partner has shown both Majors. That could very well be weak; so if I’m weak with a fit I’ll go up fast.” Or “Hmm, we’re at unfavourable Vul and Partner has shown both Minors, so it’s likely a strong hand”. And no doubt there’ll be some situations where an overcall, planning to bid both suits, may be more appropriate.
Is that more-or-less on the right track?

Bobby WolffOctober 28th, 2013 at 4:34 am

Hi Clarksburg,

By George you’ve got it. The rain in Spain stays mostly on the plain.

There are fewer strict rules in higher level bridge than many relatively inexperienced players realize.

1. The language of bridge (bidding) just does not have enough code words to be anywhere near as comprehensive as we need to be.

2. Not only are some bids this, that, or the other thing, both partners need to keep in mind who the opponents are, how good they are, how much experience they have, and the exact event in which our partnership is competing

3. The major discipline revolves itself around the definition of captaincy, respecting partner’s earned judgment more than most do, not creeping up on any opponent unless partner is totally out of the picture and those caveats apply to both bidding and defense.

4. Always assume partner is made the best bid available and act on that information. Never consider a hand good, bad or indifferent, but rather only in relation to one’s earlier calls.

5. Always be ready to play your best regardless of the circumstances and make no excuses for anything, just accept what is dealt to you.

6. Keep negative emotion on the sideline and play, bid and defend every hand as if it was your last one.

Other than the above, have as much fun as you can and laugh a lot.