Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 27th, 2013

I used to have instructions about putting together a Bridge hand (I think it was called something like: Mississippi Riverboat Gambler hand) that looked unbeatable, and the bidder thought it would make a Grand Slam, but it usually didn't. Do you have something like that?

Poker Player, Berkeley, Calif.

Do you mean a deal referred to as 'The Mississippi Heart Hand'? You can find details here.

The dealer has six solid hearts and seven top winners in the other suits with a void in diamonds, but his LHO has the other seven hearts and six winning diamonds, so declarer scores only his six trump tricks. Please don’t use it on your friends…

My wife and I played duplicate for several years and found that we frequently finished near the bottom for a given evening. I have concluded that we are way too much into evaluating our hands by ONLY counting points. Can you recommend any reading material that would help us evaluate our hands better?

Out for the Count, Willoughby, Ohio

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. Either of these might help, though both are moderately advanced. Mike Lawrence on hand evaluation is also excellent (and see the Wikipedia article on hand evaluation for further suggestions).

What is the most efficient style of responding to a weak two-bid when the next hand overcalls? Are new suits forcing or invitational? And does what you should do vary depending on whether the opponents double or bid a suit?

Changing Up, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Many play new suits as non-forcing after an overcall, with doubles being penalty. However, after a double, the priorities change since partner will probably end up on lead. A common treatment called McCabe allows new suits to be natural at the two-level, but lead-directional at the three-level, showing tolerance for partner. Redouble is strong and jump bids are natural but guarantee fit for partner. To sign off at the three-level, bid two no-trump as a puppet to three clubs, then pass or correct to your suit.

One of the areas that has always worried me is how to judge when an opponent's action takes you off the hook, in a situation where you might have responded or raised partner. Two examples: When the opponents double partner's minor, when do you pass on a hand where you would have bid in an uncontested sequence? And when do you pass when you would have raised partner's major?

Paso Doble, Union City, Tenn.

When you are minimum (in the range of 5-7) with a balanced hand or a weak four-card major, you do not have to bid one no-trump or introduce the major after a double on your right of partner's opening bid. Equally, when you have a minimum balanced hand with three weak trumps and what appear to be defensive values, you do not have to raise your partner's major in competition. Otherwise, I suggest you ignore the opponents' actions.

I was faced with a lead problem in our social game where my partner told me that I should have known what to do. My LHO opened one diamond, my RHO responded one no-trump, and my LHO jumped to three no-trump. My partner doubled and I held jack-fifth of hearts, jack-third of spades, a small doubleton diamond and three clubs to the jack. What should I have led?

Mother Jones, Springfield, Mass.

When your partner doubles a contract in a nncompetitive auction it tends to be lead-directing. The principle espoused by Theodore Lightner is that it asks for dummy's first-bid suit, so you should lead the top of your doubleton diamond, expecting partner to have a penalty double of diamonds.

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 ClimieNovember 10th, 2013 at 10:27 am

Hi Bobby,

On the subject of the Mississippi Heart Hand, I once held SA HAKQJxxx DAKQx Cx (a perfect hand to open 4N asking for specific aces) but RHO bid 1D. I bid 4N anyway, LHO bid 5S, partner passed and RHO bid 6C. I bid 6H, LHO took the save in 6S and we got a small plus but a fair result at pairs. Yet 4H is going off if the opponennts get things right.

RHO has SNone Hx DJxxxxx CAKQxxx and his partner has SKJ109xxxxxx Hxx DNone Cx. The spade lead is ruffed as is the diamond back (partner has D10xx), then a club to the Ace gets another diamond ruff. At the table, we got two heart tricks, then declarer misguessed the spades by playing the King (I was surely marked with a singleton Ace though) so partner made his SQ. All great fun, but who would imagine going off in 4H with that lot?



ClarksburgNovember 10th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Mr. Wolff
Question unrelated to todays column:
Pairs, favourable Vul, Dealer picks up:
Spades void
Hearts xxx
Diamonds AK9xxxxx
Clubs xx
Question 1: with the playing strength that 8-card diamond suit, (or “six-loser” hand) is this hand worth or close to being an opening 1 bid?
Question 2: In a case where a generally similar hand is right on the fence of one opener or pre-empt, would you recommend the 1 bid (“partner,my hand is worth an opening bid”) or a pre-empt (I have long Diamonds and not much else”, as a “best description” ?

ClarksburgNovember 10th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

oops, forgot to also ask:
Taking ACBL Regs. literally, and strictly speaking, is the one-opener legal with only 7 HCP ?

Bobby WolffNovember 10th, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Hi Iain,

Every now and then, mostly then, an unbelievable hand, such as yours appears. Funny how we all remember crazy (not normal) distributions more than we remember beautifully contrived play, defense or bidding.

The reason may be is those 10 card suits (I do not recall ever, in all these years, having more than 10 in a suit) leave such an impression, but brilliance in bridge by either side leaves the details to recall, plus perhaps telltale hitches or other important extraneous information, sometimes not an easy task.

Your hand is a likely candidate for what we in America refer to April 1st, otherwise known as April Fools Day.

Thanks for the entertainment complete with the details.

Bobby WolffNovember 10th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Because of my 0-3-8-2 distribution I would open 4 diamonds (especially in 3rd position) because even though in either 1st or 2nd, 3NT may be the standout contract. My distribution, however, suggests that the opponents (most times) will be competitive and I will usually choose (except against very inexperienced opponents) to begin our table battle with depriving them of bidding space by opening something large, even 5 diamonds, at favorable vulnerability.

My logic goes to the essence of the game, bridge is the master, not offering safety, much less any guarantees, so come out with one’s gloves off and try and land a haymaker. Experience it yourself, and (at least I hope) you may like the result.

If not, it is all your fault for taking my advice.

Please do not take those so-called ACBL silly rules seriously. As long as there is no malice nor private understanding involved, other than seeking a good result, a player can choose any bid he (or she) picks, as long as his partner is also in the dark as to its possibility.

Opening 1 diamond with the subject hand is definitely on the table, but probably instead, not a balanced 7 count, especially if partner then dogs his 15+ HCP’s and stops short of game, evidencing an illegal unannounced partnership understanding., which touches on serious wrongdoing and demands reporting by their opponents.

John StoreyNovember 11th, 2013 at 6:36 am

Hi Bobby

What do you think of this collection, all vulnerable, at matchpoints?

10 9 7 6 3 2
J 7P
8 4
8 6 3

Leftie deals and opens 1 Heart. Partner bids 1NT showing 15-18 HCP. Rightie bids Hearts.

Would you transfer to spades with this ?

John StoreyNovember 11th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Hi Bobbie – Rightie bid two hearts.

Bobby WolffNovember 11th, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Hi John,

Good question.

Pass would be the prudent choice, but 2 spades could be ventured, if playing with a conservative player who would tend to not compete to 3 spades, unless maximum (with a spade fit), in order to have a chance to defeat 3 hearts (partner could well produce all five defensive tricks).

My bookmaking proclivity on average suggests 7 1/2 tricks for your side and 8 3/4 tricks for their side, and since we do not figure to be doubled in 2 spades it would be a good tactical gain to drive them to the three level.

However, if your partner is the slightest bit over aggressive, beware and let them steal from us, if that in fact is what they are doing since down 200 in 3 spades whether by being doubled or not, will result in a terrible MP result.

Please excuse my mamby-pamby answer, but the above is how I see the solution. Experience does say however that, since bridge is a bidder’s game, for whatever reason, Dame Fortune seems to smile on the ones who bid em up.

Ayman AzzamNovember 15th, 2013 at 11:19 am

Dear Mr. Wolff

What would you do if you were dealt S: —– H:Qx D:KTxx C: KQT9xxx. The bidding went LHO 1S, partner 2H , RHO 4S. what you would bid in different vulnerablity situations. Would you kindly rate the following bids: Pass, Dbl, 5H,5C. Thanks

Bobby WolffNovember 18th, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Hi Ayman,

I would always bid 5 clubs, regardless of the vulnerabilities.

My rating (and please excuse the finality),

Double= -10

At least to me, 5 clubs just stands out, with all other actions, both passive and misdirected, simply very wrong. It doesn’t mean that any of the other calls, not promoted by me, would not work. It is simply, one would never catch me doing anything else but bidding where I live and at the appropriate (and necessary) level.

I hope my response has not struck a nerve with anyone, but to say less, would be obstructive to learning and downright ridiculous.