Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Holding ♠ 10-9-8-4-3,  A-J-10,  K-J-9, ♣ Q-10, I heard my partner open one club. I responded one spade, of course, but was not sure what to do over a two-club rebid. Any ideas?

Clubbed to Death, Holland, Mich.

While no one would ever pass now, my proposal might surprise you. The choice would seem to be a simple raise to three clubs, or the more ambitious call of two no-trump. But I would guess it was right to bid three no-trump; my club builders and side aces mean I might be able to make game facing as little as seven clubs to the ace-king and the spade jack.

Recently you encouraged a player with 10 points and 4-4 in the red suits to respond one heart to a one-club opening. I've seen players miss diamond fits after this start. So what are the advantages of your method?

Wonder Horse, Newport News, Va.

The logic behind bypassing diamonds is to agree that opener's rebid of one no-trump over one diamond may conceal majors. That makes it harder for your opponents to defend the hand. Additionally, opener's bid of a major over one diamond always shows a semibalanced or unbalanced hand. Incidentally, responder's rebid of two of a major over one no-trump is strong and natural, so you really should still find your fits when you need to.

I've heard it suggested that the range for a one-no-trump or two-no-trump overcall should change in balancing seat compared to the call in second seat. Is that true, and if so, why?

Balancing Act, Phoenix, Ariz.

Most people use a direct overcall of one no-trump to show 15-18. However, in the balancing position the range is closer to 11-15 for a one-no-trump call and 14-16 for a balancing call over a weak two-bid. The reason is that second hand is supposed to pass with a flat minimum opening, which cannot double. Thus if fourth hand is not permitted to reopen with a moderate balanced hand, your side may miss out on partscores or even games. Just for the record: a jump to two no-trump in balancing seat shows 18-20.

I was faced with a problem as to what to lead after my opponents bid two no-trump – three no-trump and my partner doubled. I had been dealt ♠ 7-6-2,  J-4-2,  J-7-6-3, ♣ Q-3-2 and guessed badly on lead. What are your thoughts? If the hand that is not on lead doubles in a blind auction, should his partner lead a specific suit, or is there some other sensible agreement to have?

Floundering, Naples, Fla.

Without specific discussion I believe that sequence asks opening leader to lead either his weakest or his shortest suit. I do know some use this to call for hearts (or spades!), or for the shorter major. Here I think you have to guess which semisolid or solid major your partner has (I vote for spades).

Though North should be the person to keep score in our game, we have a player that grabs the scorecard from North and turns it around and moves the other players around so that he can be the one to keep score. Another called one of her friends over to bid for me when she made a strong forcing bid (incidentally, the friend passed!) I had thought of quitting bridge, but enjoy being with my friends too much. What should I say to those two?

Off to See the Wizard, Kansas City, Kansas

This is an interesting problem. I think this is not really a bridge issue but an etiquette question. I'd ask Dear Abby but I understand it may be too late… So I tried the next best thing, asking my wife, Judy. She said that it might be best to have a private word with these two players to say how upset you were, rather than making it into a federal case. I concur.

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


ClarksburgNovember 17th, 2013 at 11:21 am

Mr. Wolff,
In answer to “Balancing Act” you responded, in part:
“….The reason is that second hand is supposed to pass with a flat minimum opening, which cannot double…”
I recall in a previous column / answer you indicated that when on the fence it’s generally best to err on the side of getting into the auction.
Roughly speaking, what would be enough to justify an off-shape TO Double?

Denis La RueNovember 17th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I want to comment on the november 16th column published in the Montreal Gazette.

If East trump the second club and comes back with a diamond or a heart, I don’t see how South can succeed.

Bobby WolffNovember 17th, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

To cut to the chase ASAP let us simply use the following hand as the prime example. In 2nd seat and while Holding:

s. Axx
h. Qx
d. K10xx
c. KJxx

If this person’s RHO opens 1 heart, he should IMO double, although it would be considered aggressive since”

1. The queen of hearts is not pulling its weight.

2. I do not possess at least 4 cards in the unbid major and certainly do not have extra HCP values to compensate.

At higher levels (when RHO opens either a weak two bid or a 3 level preemptive bid, distribution is the key with shortage in the opponents suit a big advantage plus, of course support for all unbid suits. If so 12 HCP’s is enough for either venture.

However if one’s RHO opened 1 spade, then that hand does not qualify (again my opinion) for a TO double and no other bid is the slightest appealing.

However if I held:

s. Axxx
h. K10xx
d. Axx
c. Kx

I would double either major suit 1 level opening bid by RHO and take my chances (though certainly not without risk) since I have prime cards, the other major suit, a slightly better hand, all of which, at least to me, overcome the danger of partner being a balanced minimum and choosing to bid 2 clubs.

As for overcalls I would venture 2 clubs over a 1 of a major opening by RHO even when vulnerable, holding:

s. Kx
h. Kx
d. 10xx
c. AJ9xxx

Direct overcalls are underrated, even though they do not take much spade available from the opponents for 2 important reasons.

1. Sometimes (more often than expected) the bidder finds a good fit and partner can immediately, when it is his turn to bid, up the ante to sometimes a high level and it is usually very hard for the opponents to then describe their hands as completely as they would like. Also they become worried, when thinking of doubling while being short of your trump, that they are running into more distribution than they might.

2. Getting the right opening lead rather than pass and have LHO either bid hearts or more likely 1NT and then wind up in some higher NT contract, or for that matter any suit, without you legally sending partner the right message as to what to lead.

Bridge (particularly among excellent players) is not without risk whatever one does and in my long experience, passivity is more dangerous than inactivity. That also applies to one level overcalls such as:

s. KQ10x
h. xx
d. Ax
c. xxxxx

where, if NV I would overcall 1 spade over a 1 level bid of certainly 1 diamond or 1 heart and against many players even over 1 club, except it would then be a little more dangerous to bid since, if immediately doubled for penalty (not likely with duplicate players all playing negative doubles) but if the bidding goes pass, pass (by partner, a danger sign, since he has not raised immediately) and then a reopening double by RHO then my 2nd suit run out is taken away from me.

I could offer much more but this response is already too long except to say that off shape doubles are OK if the hand is better than a minimum valued TO double, but every hand seems to be different and for clarity, much needs to be written to distinguish yea from nay.

Bobby WolffNovember 17th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Hi Denis,

Regarding, yesterday’s two week delayed hand (as well described by Jim2) I am not able to discuss a current real life newspaper hand, simply because I do not keep them on file and the hand was written at least 6 months ago.

If someone would forward the hand to me I will be happy to deal with it, and, if not, in exactly two weeks from yesterday that hand will appear on the internet and afford me the opportunity to either apologize or, at the very least, discuss it.

jim2November 18th, 2013 at 12:10 am

Okay, I found the November 16 hand online here:

Select November 16, go the classified section, and find the page with the comics and click on the bridge hand to blow it up.

I now think the other commenters are right and I missed it (I had the theme right but the club suit backwards). Nuts! That’s two days in a row I’ve missed it.


Here are the N-S hands:



The column line is to play to the AC and lead back towards the KC – – if both defenders follow, then clubs are breaking 3-2 and so give up one trick and the others are good. (Declarer draws trump ending on board and runs clubs).

East, however, has three diamonds and only one club, so the club suit is breaking 4-1. The actual East discarded and the contract came home. The question is what if East ruffs the small club lead from the Board.

If East ruffs, declarer would play the low card that was always going to be conceded anyway (a sort of loser-on-loser play). The problem appears to be that declarer is short an entry because the clubs are still blocked and cannot be unblocked until trumps are drawn. (This is the piece I missed!) However, that leaves declarer one board entry short.

That is, declarer can play the losing club under the ruff, but will have to play two rounds of trump before the KC can be unblocked. That leaves only one board entry — not enough to ruff the fourth club and cash the fifth.

Note that this was an as-dealt hand. Our Host was passing one on as-played by “P.G. Eliassen of Sweden.” I would add that the hand theme may now be, “give the opponents a chance to err,” as PGE’s play did not injure his clubs 3-2 chances while giving East the chance to play as happened and let the contract succeed.

Maybe someone should tell P. G. Eliassen?

(It would be especially neat if this hand got high press at the big money tournament only to have Our Host’s alert readers now spot the mistake all the analysts missed!)

Pete SagerNovember 18th, 2013 at 9:35 am

I think you’ve summed it up very well, Jim. What’s interesting about the hand is that it’s usually wrong for a defender to ruff declarer’s loser. East was just doing what came naturally by discarding.