Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

When is it right not to lead a count card against suits or no-trump at the first trick? And does it matter whether you are playing fourth-highest leads or third- and- fifth leads?

Spot the Dog, Durango, Colo.

Playing third- and- fifth leads, you should always lead the true count card if you don't have a sequence. The exception is that from three or four small in a suit you have bid or raised, you might lead the top card. Playing fourth highest, I tend to lead second only from four or five against no-trump, and then only when I have a second suit I might want partner to shift to.

When you respond one spade to one club and hear the next hand overcall two hearts, passed back to you, what should you bid when holding ♠ Q-9-7-3-2,  A-J-7,  Q-9-4, ♣ J-10? I thought the choice was to repeat my suit or try two no-trump. What do you think?

Fighting Ferdinand, Augusta, Ga.

It cannot be absurd to pass out the deal. Is your side really that likely to make game? Even if not playing support doubles (where partner's double of two hearts would show three spades) repeating that feeble suit looks a little rich, and since double is takeout here, I'm left with two no-trump as the least offensive action, if I bid at all.

I know transfers and Stayman apply after an opening bid at no-trump. Do they apply after an overcall in no-trump? And in an uncontested auction where opener makes a simple or jump rebid at no-trump after a pair of suits have been bid, is there any place for subsequent use of transfers?

Wheels Within Wheels, Waterbury, Conn.

The simple answer to your question is yes, use the same system of Stayman and transfers after an overcall in no-trump. But although you can use transfers in an uncontested auction after a rebid at no-trump, this requires detailed agreements, and has only marginal benefits. You can see a discussion of this here.

Holding ♠ Q-8-2,  A-Q-4-3,  J-7, ♣ K-J-9-4, I opened one club and bid one heart over my partner's response of one diamond. When he jumped to three clubs, I knew I had a little extra, but I thought I had already shown clubs and hearts since I did not rebid one no-trump at my second turn. So I passed and found that three no-trump had 11 tricks when the finesse for the club queen was onside. Did I undercook my hand?

Lying Low, Orlando, Fla.

I might have taken a shot at three no-trump with your hand if I had held the spade 10 instead of the two. But as it was, I agree with your valuation. You had indeed suggested at least as much shape as you actually had, and partner could have used fourth-suit if he wanted to force to game.

I noticed that at a recent world championship in Bali, our men did not win a medal. Where do they stand in the world rankings currently?

Need to Know, Twin Falls, Idaho

Before I answer that, I should congratulate our women and seniors on their gold and silver medals respectively. Having said that, our men are still in the top five teams — Netherlands, Italy, Monaco and Poland have all been very successful recently, with Sweden in the mix as well.

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ClarksburgApril 6th, 2014 at 1:22 pm

When Partner opens a weak two, we intermediate-level players can explore for game via a forcing new suit (“Partner, can we play in my Major) or by a 2NT “ask” (Feature, Ogust, etc).
But what about when Partner pre-empts at the three level? What’s a good approach for exploring for / getting to, 3NT or 4M?
Is it ever right to open at two-level with a seven-card suit? (i.e. fibbing about length to give Partner the above-noted options).

Bobby WolffApril 6th, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Again, you are asking a good general question which deserves a thoughtful answer.

1. Always keep in mind the primary purpose of opening either a weak two bid or a three level preempt (or higher) and that is first to disrupt the opponents, by taking away bidding room from them at what should be called a hoped for minimum risk for your side in incurring a substantial penalty.

2. In order to substantiate #1, depending on the vulnerability (because of the scoring system for sets, especially when doubled) the then prime advantage is to understand the difficulty for the opponents to get your side doubled, even when that choice (after looking at all four hands) is available, but not, because of the bidding difficulty, chosen.

3. I would suggest the following treatments:

A. With WTB’s (only hearts and spades since an opening 2 diamonds is better off played otherwise, depending on overall system).

B. 2NT, either Ogust or Feature showing and only forcing to the 3 level, while a mere change of suit, with the exception of 3 hearts over 2 spades, and 3 spades over 2 hearts, NF with a desire for his WTBidding partner to pass unless he fits your suit wherein he should raise or, of course, certain exceptions such as perhaps void in your suit and 7 of his own. The two exceptions involving the other major above are often bid with 2 suiters and very powerful hands, of course, involving one of the suits the other major, but in any event keeping the bidding open so that if the WTBidder doesn’t fit his partner’s major the responder will be able to show his other suit, e.g s. void, h. AKJxx, d. KQJxx, c. Axx or s. KQ10xxx, h. x, d. A, C. AQJxx, bit 3 hearts over 2 spades and, of course, 3 spades over 2 hearts with the idea of bidding the minor suit when partner declines supporting the new major (which he should certainly do with 3 or with even a sometimes doubleton.

4. When a 3 bid is preempted I will suggest that change of suits are NF when not vulnerable, but F when vulnerable since the texture of the opening bidder’s suit is always (or should be) quite different depending on whether vulnerable or not. Also a bid of 4 clubs by responder over D, H and S is at least a mild slam try (4D over 3 C) over opener’s preempt e.g over 3 diamonds, holding Axx, AKJxxx, AJx, x that hand would qualify for a 4 club bid since the great controls (aces and singleton) and the source of tricks, establishing the hearts, will normally add to 12 tricks.

5. While 4 bid openings (both majors and minors) are effective preempts, there is not a clear and to be learned method of bidding slams, only intuitive methods which often just involve bashing instead of science.

6. When faced with other problems involving a choice of contract such as the following hand over a 3 spade opening by partner, s. xx, h. AKxxx, d. Axx, c. AQx, always choose raising the major rather than attempting 3NT since there is a real possibility (likely probability) of not having a future entry to the established spades and change the two little spades to the singleton Q (a much better holding than xx) and it even become more so to choose raising the major.

7. Finally, yes it sometimes feels right to open a WTB with: s. QJ10xxxx, h. Kxx, d. xx, c. x when vulnerable just because it feels a trick shy of what a 3 level vulnerable preempt should be. Please keep in mind that if partner bids 3NT over either his partner’s 2 or 3 level preempt he often may have a long running minor: AKQxxxx or some such with stoppers in the unbid suits so do not overrule him when your suit is broken (KJ10xxxx) because he should understand how to handle his hand if he doesn’t have a solid suit himself and for you to override him is just the type of event which eventually could end partnerships, because neither partner is considering what the other is suffering.

8. Returning to the beginning in completing a thought about the opponents being able to double you after your side has opened a preempt. It is unlikely that the bidding will go in a certain way which would feature one of the opponents making a TO double and the other being able (with your trumps stacked in his hand) to convert it to penalties and even when that feared combination is present sometimes the opponents then find out they could have scored a higher amount by bidding their game or slam. In other words, to lose by making a proper preempt (and you can guess I have a wide spectrum for what proper preempts look like by not worrying about having a side 4 card major or other lesser important strictures) your partnership has to be unlucky and being unlucky in all phases of the game will almost always do you in, regardless of how well your pair plays. When your pair gets conservative that is when you are most likely to get so-called unlucky, but in reality you are bringing the bad luck to you by not being tough opponents.

Enough for now, but ask more and ye shall receive.