Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 18th, 2014

When no suit has been agreed and there is the possibility of a small slam, what is the best meaning to attach to a call of four no-trump? I thought an ace-asking bid could only be used if a fit has been found. Or is it for straight aces?

Star Watcher, Grand Forks, N.D.

When you are investigating a slam at no-trump, four no-trump is not normally played as Blackwood, but is instead used as a quantitative bid, asking partner to bid on if maximum and pass if minimum. The logic of this is that even if you hold the requisite number of aces needed for a slam, it is the combined high-card points that really matters at no-trump.

I was not sure what to rebid when holding ♠ Q-6,  A-J,  9-5-3-2, ♣ A-Q-6-3-2. I opened one club, heard a one-spade overcall, over which my partner bid two hearts. Can you compare the merits of rebidding two no-trump with such a weak stopper vs. raising hearts or repeating clubs?

Pick-Me-Up, Pottsville, Pa.

I think the simple raise to three hearts is best, your support equating to a three-card holding, in that it allows your partner to explore for no-trump with a cue-bid of three spades, getting you to three no-trump the right way up. Repeating the clubs is also sensible enough. I'm not brave enough to rebid no-trump without a nudge from my partner.

I had heard that some of the world's leading financiers play bridge. Is this true? And if so, do any of them play in the major events?

Star Hunter, Houston, Texas

Bill Gates plays occasionally in national events, while two of Bear Stearns' former senior executives, Jimmy Cayne and Warren Spector, are keen and expert players. Finally, Warren Buffett is a highly enthusiastic player, who frequently participates in Omaha regional events. Nick Nickell is the strongest and most successful of the chief executives.

Can the unusual no-trump be used after opponents have opened one no-trump? I thought it was only after an opening of one of a suit by the opposition.

The Unusual Suspect, Madison, Wis.

It makes sense for the call of two no-trump to be assigned some artificial meaning over a no-trump opening, whatever the range, since you hardly need it as natural. It used to be played to show a game-forcing two-suiter, with any two suits. However, many people these days play it to show the minors, and have other systemic bids to show the remaining two-suiters.

We play the fourth-suit as forcing to game, but until yesterday had never discussed how opener should bid when fourth suit has been doubled. Our sequence began 1  – 1 ♠ – 2 ♣ – 2  – (Dbl.). Does redouble now promise a stop, or show real length?

Number Cruncher, Memphis, Miss.

Redouble here should be an attempt to play — suggesting three cards to an honor, or a four-card suit. Bidding two no-trump might show a very strong doubleton such as ace-king or ace-queen. Playing this way lets you pass with a less clear-cut action, and wait for partner to make his natural call or redouble — which would also be a suggestion of a place to play.

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


ClarksburgJune 1st, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Recently I posted a general enquiry about appropriate strategy for BAM-scored events.
Here are two separate excerpts from comments by JIm2:

“…that part score bidding should be the focus of BAM-centric bidding systems and that slam bidding is essentially worthless system-wise….”, and then

“… in BAM leagues, one would want a system that focused on part score hands, less on game bidding, and not at all on slam bidding (beyond the rudimentary)…”

And here are two separate excerpts from your (Mr. Wolff)comments:

“…Upon my quiet consideration of trying to assess my gut reaction, surprisingly my remembered feelings give much respect to your numerate assessment. Ready to do battle at the two and three level especially against the quality teams in the event…”, and then,

“…Anyway, I do not believe that even today, partnerships discuss such tactics, rather just play, but individually are certainly conscious of the unwritten right of passage to the winner’s circle…”

I would guess that a roughly similar approach could be taken to Pairs where a top is a top, whether it’s for a part score or a Slam.
Maybe this question is not very important to most, but I’m now very curious about whether even Club players might consider gearing / tailoring their system to give priority to the (much more frequent) part score battles.

Bobby WolffJune 1st, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

In short, Pairs and BAM are based on frequency of gain, while IMPs and Rubber Bridge emphasize amount of gain.

Therefore part score battles which entail low level dog fights trying to name the trump, therefore buying the hand and get a better score than the other side would, had the opponents played their best trump suit. The above plays itself out usually with many bumps in the road and sure, luck plays a part, but in the long run the better card players will likely rise to the win.

In IMPs (and rubber bridge) one slam, bid and made, especially if it is a difficult hand to assess, is worth on average, perhaps 3 part score hands in total IMPs won, but to my tastes this method rates much higher with me since, believe it or not, IMO less luck is required and believe it or not it is a much easier game, more form full and very exciting as a challenge.

However BAM, not Pairs, is a great competitive exercise in meticulous card play and very accurate bidding, especially when the tournament is made up of all very good players (Reisinger in the Fall Nationals).

Hopefully some of the above will help you better understand, at least, what I think to be a fairly accurate assessment.

ClarksburgJune 1st, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Thanks again,
So if I understand correctly, although BAM is the toughest test of bidding accuracy and meticulous card play, you consider Teams IMP’s to be the preferred and more enjoyable event.
In that case it seems our local inter-Club teams league should probably move away from BAM for next season, and create a schedule of longer head-to-head matches with IMP scoring.
Would you agree?

Bobby WolffJune 1st, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Not necessarily. It depends on the individual players who are going to show up. Call for a vote, but first lay out, in your words, the pros and cons, at least the way you understand them.

My guess is that it will be a close vote, with each player, whether he knows it or not, voting for what he thinks he is more suited.

One thing is sure, whichever method is chosen will be an uplifting bridge experience, with the result being very positive for all the players and in its own way, good for the game itself.

jim2June 2nd, 2014 at 2:43 am

Chiming in late. Sorry, but I am on the road.

I am flattered! And would like to offer one additional point.

In MPs, there is the field to consider. That is, one needs to avoid bottoms as well as garner each additional MP. In BAM, that is not the case.

What I mean, is that a very bad result in BAM is the same as a merely slightly worse result. In MPs, that is not true.

Not sure how that precisely would change the math, but I think it does.

Bobby WolffJune 2nd, 2014 at 11:32 am

Hi Jim2 & Clarksburg,

Jim2, yes, you bring up a difference between MP’s and BAM which might be considered.

Since BAM scoring only concerns itself with one other table, where one’s teammates are playing the other half of the same team, that specific result is the only one that matters.

Therefore it should follow that every team should know (at least broadly) not only what one’s own teammates system encompasses, but theoretically (hardly ever happens) what the opponents at that table also play.

The closest I can get to an example is that when Bob Hamman and I played, we did not have a weak 2 heart bid available (instead playing 2 hearts to be Flannery, 4 spades, 5 hearts and 11-15 HCPs) This thought always crossed the minds of our teammates whenever the opening bid by one of their opponents was a weak 2 heart bid, which whenever our teammates became either defenders or declarer, it should have, and for all I know, did influence both the defense and the offense during the bidding and likely play of that particular hand, knowing that the bidding went differently at the other table.

The above is probably just too esoteric to delve deep into, but since our job here, Clarksburg, is to mention specific differences in the form of scoring hence, the psychology present, which may influence the players during the hand. However, I can assure you that almost all important learning in bridge (and after all, that should be the reason we all play the game), should not concern itself with the above anomaly, simply because there are much greater and more practical things to consider.

Jim2, your point is very well taken and explained, so for example if a pair playing BAM is in a very aggressive slam (or game) which almost surely will not be reached at the other table, every effort should be made to make the contract, because down one will be a sure loss anyway, while in MP’s perhaps down only one will garner a few points because poor players at other tables holding the declarer’s cards will find ways to go down at lesser contracts, but at BAM against a good team, it will never happen.

All of the above in essence is “much ado about nothing”, but probably worth discussing while on the elevator going up for individual aspiring players, and that probably is the math to which Jim2 refers.

I am not necessarily speaking for Clarksburg, but I am impressed with your trying to help while on the road. Sounds like a real bridge lover which we all know to be true in spite of your known affliction with TOCM tm.