Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Recently you ran a Bid With the Aces question where you held ♠ K-J-10-9-8-7,  A-Q-4,  6-5-4, ♣ 2. Why is it appropriate to open two spades in second seat vulnerable but only one spade if nonvulnerable? It seems you would be more concerned about pre-empting partner if you were vulnerable. How would the decision change, if at all, at IMPs versus pairs?

Champion the Wonder Horse, Carmel, Calif.

When vulnerable in second seat, you don't want to pre-empt partner (without the perfect hand). That doesn't mean you should never pre-empt, merely that you should wait till you have a near opener with a good suit — like this. The vulnerability trumps the form of scoring.

Do you like to be able to double and convert partner's response of clubs to diamonds without it promising extra values? I understand this is often referred to as 'Equal Level Conversion'.

Axe of Violence, Detroit, Mich.

I double fairly freely compared to the average expert (often without much support for the unbid minor or on relatively balanced hands). That said, I will indeed double and convert a response in clubs to diamonds to suggest 4-5 or 4-6 in the unbid major plus diamonds, without significant extras.

Holding ♠ J-7-5-4,  K-2,  9, ♣ Q-J-9-7-4-3, I heard my partner open one no-trump. Should I pass, transfer to my long suit, or bid Stayman? And should I aim to play game or a partscore here?

Buffalo Soldier, Elkhart, Ind.

These days, Stayman followed by a call of three clubs would be natural and forcing. I might risk Stayman and rebid two no-trump if we have not located a fit. Incidentally, with the minors switched, Stayman looks far safer, since I could pass a two-diamond response.

When is it wrong to investigate slam by using Blackwood as opposed to cue-bidding?

Bouncing Baldrick, Kansas City, Mo.

Much depends on my partner, the opponents, and the precise hand. When playing with a partner who will not cooperate intelligently in a cue-bidding exercise, by all means drive to slam via Blackwood if you know your side has the appropriate combined values — but be prepared to apologize if necessary! Cue-bidding works best when you have a suit with no control or you want partner to take charge.

What would you recommend to me as a way to watch and remember all the spot cards as declarer or defender? And do you try to remember every suit or just the ones you think will matter?

Pipsqueak, Levittown, Pa.

Every player in the world sometimes errs by missing spot cards, or missing the significance of the cards played. If you find yourself failing to recall the cards as they are played to the first trick, try saying the numbers silently to yourself, or as a matter of course reviewing the trick before turning it over. I find that sometimes the act of verbalizing the cards helps to get them to stick.

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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgFebruary 23rd, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Question unrelated to today’s column:
VUL against not VUL, as Dealer, I held
S AJ97543
D Q3
I elected to forego opening 1S, and to make a “more descriptive” opening. Although holding seven Spades, I opened it at 2 Spades. (intended to give partner more room to explore for game, e.g. via 2NT response).
What’s best? 1S, 2S or 3S ?

bobby wolffFebruary 23rd, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your question has provoked an emotional answer from me, which has nothing to do with aggravation, but everything to do with the importance of learning.

One of the worst (and most costly) sins any bridge player can make is to underbid and therefore distort what a preemptive bid should always mean. The purpose of preempting and weak 2 bids (WTB), as well as opening 3 and 4 bids, are among those types and must fit in accordingly.

Never, never, never open a WTB when a 1 bid is available and especially in spades, but in the other suits as well. The reason being is that it is miss informative to partner and could (should) put him in preemptive mode where his main purpose is to continue the preempt trying to throw nails in the path of the opponent’s bidding so that they will not have enough room to exchange information and reach their right final contract.

However when one possesses 2 aces and other defense (queens and jacks) it will eventually (if not immediately) be destructive to partner’s judgment with the end result.

It should never (or almost) be a pleasant surprise to one’s partner to find a much better hand (especially defensive) from partner’s supposed preempt, otherwise he will forever remain confused as to the purpose of what certain bids need to consistently remain, e.g very weak defensively enabling partner to further preempt (if possible) since, according to his exact hand, expecting the opponents to be cold for at least a game and sometimes perhaps a slam.

Thanks for your question, since many bridge players think, as you might, the opposite of the above, that having more than advertized is seldom a disappointment to one’s partner.

To me, it is worse than bad and I would MUCH rather have KQxxxxx, x, xx, xxx than the example you gave, where I do have an extra spade, but very little defense so that partner can much better gauge how to cooperate in our constant war against our worthy opponents.

Sorry for my rant, but you struck a nerve and the above is one of the distinguishing marks one must learn, as he quickly rises through the ranks to higher levels.

Without your comment this subject would not likely have come up and believe me, it is as important a concept as there is, in rising to the heights that, I am willing to bet, you are eventually going to achieve.

To then answer your specific question, 1 spade is as clear an opening as can be with neither 2 nor 3 spades a consideration.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 23rd, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I can suggest to Buffalo Soldier a method to cover all the bases. When Bobby overhauled my bidding system ten years ago, I became converted to Two Way Stayman which solves the problem you pose.

Two Clubs is NON FORCING to game while Two Diamonds is FORCING to game.

Thus, you can begin with 2C and if partner responds 2D (denying a major), you can rebid 3C to play it there.

If partner responds 2H, you can still bid 3C (NF);

And .. if you hear the hoped for bid of 2S, you can raise to either three or four as your judgment dictates.

The only option you give up is the transfer to hearts or spades, which I have experienced over the years is no great loss and also sometimes cause the opponents to come in at the three level if they are inclined.

Transfers not only are overrated as to who becomes the declarer, but also the big disadvantage of them is that they give the opponents extra bids to quantify their strength when deciding (or not) to compete.

All, in all, it has worked great for us. Try it, you might like it!

ClarksburgFebruary 23rd, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Thanks for the very clear and direct lesson! Not unexpected, as I would normally always open it 1Spade, for the reasons you gave (and had offered before). Something in the coffee that day…?
Ironically…in this case, with about 12 balanced and three Spades, Partner raised to 3 Spades and we played there, making four. The defense had a sure trick in every suit, but gave it away with a poor choice of opening lead. Every other pair in the room bid it to the “unmakeable” 4 Spades and also got an opening-lead gift. We got a 0% Board. So I got my well-deserved punishment, but for a roundabout reason!! Opening 1 Spade would have been not only correct, but also the way to play for average by staying with the crowd.
Won’t make that mistake again!

bobby wolffFebruary 23rd, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your attitude is indeed an inspiration and therefore your character, honesty, self-confidence, positive nature and self-effacing personality comes boldly forth.

I am only qualified to talk about playing bridge, but with your above proven qualities and with, at least some latent talent which would include problem solving, at least some numeracy, everyday logic and most important, a fierce competitive spirit, and, of course, if time gives you a chance, your bridge experience will always be a source of great pleasure to you and to all your future partners to come.

Good luck! You are well on your way to many great opportunities to both cherish the game itself and, above all, be a significant contributor to it.

Peter PengFebruary 24th, 2014 at 4:46 am

der mr. Wolf

could you please comment on the term “masterminding”? (in bridge)

my understanding is that the term is used for example when the non-captain of the hand changes the bid defined by the hand captain disrespecting captaincy positions. another example is when after a penalty double partner
decides that it is take out simply because it is a low-level contract.

do masterminding occur in expert games? how destructive it is to partnerships?


Florida Sunfish

bobby wolffFebruary 24th, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Hi Peter (aka Florida Sunfish),

Mastermind as applied to bridge could be defined as, in your first example, a player who has relinquished captaincy to his partner, then overrides his decision.

However your second example of a misunderstanding about what is or is not a penalty double has nothing to do with masterminding, but everything to do with knowing one’s system.

As an exception, but somewhat closely related, once partner does make a penalty double he still takes it out (knowing his partner’s intent) since he appoints himself more qualified to make such decisions and, at the same time, then insults his partner’s judgment. This, indeed, is also masterminding.

Masterminding almost never occurs in expert games and, if it does, leaves a devastating mark which will usually tend to breakup that pairing either immediately or soon after (perhaps after no apology offered).