Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 25th, 2014

If my partner and I have agreed to play that an opening two-bid means something that we alert our opponents to. Shouldn't this be acceptable to our opponents without the rolling of eyes and the questioning of my loyalty to my country?

Free Bird, Palm Springs, Calif.

My wishy-washy answer is: yes and no. Destructive tools (e.g., a one-spade overcall shows 13 cards nonvulnerable vs. vulnerable) get in the opponents' way and there is no great defense against them. Not everyone agrees. In some countries (for example, Australia) you can do what you like. Even Forcing Pass systems are allowed in some places. But I'd ban destructive methods that you can't defend against easily in normal club play. Arguably, though, at the top level anything goes.

Nonvulnerable at Teams I picked up ♠ K-J-10-7-5-3,  A-Q,  Q-5, ♣ 10-8-3. I opened one spade and was raised to two spades. Was I wrong to try for game by bidding three spades?-My partner told me that I was being too-optimistic.

Moon Spinner, Tioga, N.D.

You could certainly argue that you made the right bid for the wrong reason. Subject to your having any special agreement with your current partner, the reraise should be a blocking bid, not a game invitation. With game interest, you would bid a new suit as a help-suit try, while keeping three spades as semipre-emptive (shutting the opponents out).

I found myself in the middle of a bitter disagreement between my current and ex-partner on the meaning of a reopening call of two no-trump, when one of a suit is passed around to the player in fourth chair. Third parties consulted offered ideas that ranged from a two-suiter, weak or strong, to a balanced hand, and other options too bizarre to mention!

Plebiscite, Springfield, Mass.

I say that there is just one right answer here. The bid shows approximately a two-no-trump opening bid, say 19-21 points. With a two-suiter, bid one of the suits, make a Michaels Cue-bid, or pass if your hand is weak enough to make you think the opponents may have missed something.

I was last to speak, with ♠ Q-5,  Q-J-9-7-3,  A-3-2, ♣ K-10-2, and heard my LHO bid one spade and my RHO bid one no-trump, forcing. I realize that I'm not quite worth a bid of two hearts, but I also thought that if I didn't act now, I'd have to bid over two spades. That seemed more dangerous than acting now. Was I out of line? As it turned out, bidding was not the right thing to do.

Soupy Sue, Raleigh, N.C.

I hate to be shut out, but I'd pass initially and bid only if my LHO bid two of a minor and this was passed around to me. Otherwise, I'd sell out; color me yellow if you must. The opponents frequently do not have a real fit here, and can double at will.

Is there such a thing as an obvious suit-preference position? Or are there general rules to follow about helping partner out?

Galley Slave, Staten Island, N.Y.

Suit-preference situations principally occur where partner is about to gain or retain the lead and will need to know which suit to switch to. This assumes that a continuation of that suit is illogical. But when you are giving a ruff or are wanting to indicate the need for a ruff, the same rules apply. Far more complex is the idea that when you have already signaled attitude, your second card may be high or low signalinging your preference for one of the other suits. Finally, when declarer is drawing trump, some people use their spot cards in trump to give a suit-preference signal.

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 8th, 2014 at 11:47 am

Good morning Mr. Wolff,
A general question on ethics and fair competition. (The game and the situation was of little consequence, but I thought the general question arising was worth asking).
Partner forgets an agreement, and makes a call that means something different from what he intended. I respond, and continue to respond throughout, according to our agreements. As the auction proceeds I eventually “catch on” to what has happened. So I then had an opportunity to ignore our agreements and “recover” thus minimizing the damage.
I decided that, to be fair to the opponents, I had to stick with our system and agreements right to the end of the auction. Was that overly strict, or was it clearly the right thing to do?

jim2June 8th, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Could I get some clarification on the one about reopening two notrump?

Some sample auctions would help.

bobby wolffJune 8th, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your being true to your agreements is indeed the actively ethical thing to do. Perhaps it is overly strict, but it still is CLEARLY the right thing to do.

Carrying it further, if after all of that, for whatever reason, your partnership thrived, so be it, and that result would count, even though some opponents would shriek unfair, but sometimes luck in bridge is unpredictable and staying out of a 95% slam which failed sometimes gets a top, but that is called “playing luck” and should not be changed.

If a TD (or a committee) would then rule that forgetting a little used (and possibly often misunderstood convention) they should have the right to impose a procedural penalty (PP) (on your side) but the result, then creating less than a full board at your table, the opponents getting fixed, let’s say a 10% result and your then 90% being reduced by 50% (because of the PP) to 40%, the resulting total of only 50% on that board at your table is valid and thought to be earned.

In that way the field is protected at matchpoints, justice is done and your side should realize to either learn your conventions or cross it off the card if you cannot .. or suffer a penalty and the scoring becomes fair. Bridge adjudication should adversely impact offenders and return non-offenders to the status quo, but “fixes” are a part of the game, especially since in most instances the non-offenders usually benefit from mix-ups (which they are entitled to keep) by the opponents and lady luck with actual results should not be modified.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

NOTE: Some experienced very good players do not agree with the above and argue to eternity against it, but, at least to me, no other way is as fair because of the nature of our game. In turn sometimes the TD is somewhat intimidated by some well-known opponents (who violated), and more often the committee which follows is even more so, making their decision corrupt.

We need PRECEDENTS to be recorded with both the TD and the COMMITTEE names plus, of course, the decision made, to act as a PRECEDENT to be available to future committees with the hope of being consistent, but the real reason is to prevent the governing bodies from having their names directly connected with terrible decisions, which would tend to make them happen less often, but up to now the powers that be (the bad guys) do not agree (for obvious reasons).

I hope that at one glorious righteous day this will all change, but probably not during my lifetime.

Jeff SJune 8th, 2014 at 4:54 pm


I have a variation on Clarksburg’s question. In his question, his partner did not realize he had made a mistake. What if I make a bid and my opponents ask my partner what it means. She tells them and I think “Oops”. She is right, but I had it wrong and now she has (completely innocently) brought it to my attention. What do I do next? I am sure this must happen from time to time so I am guessing (hoping) there is something in the rule book that offers guidance.

Also, different issue. I may have read Free Bird’s question differently that you did. To me, it sounded like a situation where an alert is given and the opponents are rude because the bid (to them) has a fairly obvious meaning. I had this happen once – I opened, my wife alerted, and one of the opponents went on a long rant in the apparent belief that her intent was to make sure that she and I were on the same page.

Thanks for your help!

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2014 at 6:48 pm

HI Jim2,

Please excuse my lateness of answer, but the ways I have played the 2NT reopening for at least many years is very strong, e.g. 19-21 with double first (perhaps hoping partner can bid one or the other unbid major) and then 2NT about 17-20, the difference forced by the possibility of partner responding at the 2 level, but if only at the one level then a rebid of 1NT would be perhaps 17-19 and a then jump to 2NT 19+-21).

The only so-called disadvantage would be that the jump to 2NT has nothing to do with minor suits as it would in 2nd seat over an opponent’s opening bid of 1 of a major.

If I was dealt Ax, x, AQ10xx, KJxxx and heard my LHO open 1 of a major, passed to me I would bid 2 diamonds and hope to later bid clubs just like hunters kill elephants, one at a time.

No one (at least an experienced player and to my knowledge) has ever said that bridge bidding is anywhere near an exact science, it is merely a code with a very restricted language, which intends to make each code word as descriptive as possible, considering both the practical application and the handicap involved.

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Hi Jeff S,

If either partner forgets the meaning of a conventional bid and, of course, the bidding proceeds and then something happens to remind the wrong thinker what that bid really meant, he (or she) must not take advantage of the correction and bid the entire hand with her mistaken apprehension.

Sad but true, however in most cases this experience will tend to make most well intended players to learn the convention well enough to not forget it, and if in doubt, scratch it off the card or out of memory (if not required on the card) in order to offer the responsibility every bridge tournament player has to the field in which he or she is playing. To do less is not ethical and should not be condoned.

On the other issue, if the opponents were questioning your right to use a convention, the only possible remedy is to call the director and have him explain what is the law in that club.

True, some ugly situations arise out of different meanings to what is said or what is thought to be, rather than a simple answer meaning something entirely different.

When that happens, it is important to remain calm and expect the best from one’s opponents, not the worst, but if the worst happens, again stay silent and let the TD handle the altercation.

jim2June 8th, 2014 at 9:01 pm

My sample auction Q was more directed at what “reopening” itself meant in this context.

For example, is this a reopening?

1C – 1S – P – P

Bobby WolffJune 8th, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, in actuality it is a reopening, but for bridge nomenclature it is not, with reopening applying to a player who has not yet spoken.

Someone, who knows more than I, even if it is only the use of English, might think differently and if so, I’ll happily take a back seat to him with respect, but if it concerns itself with the actual usual meaning of the bridge involved, I’ll go down fighting.

Your example sequence should be a long solid club suit (with many tricks) and of course their suit stopped: AQx, Kx, Jx, AKQxxx or Kx, Ax, Qx, AKJxxxx.

Against shrewd opponents be prepared for a non spade lead, since that lead may provide trick #9 (after partner raises to 3NT). However, since that is the most likely type of hand, since other more HCP’s and fewer club tricks would have opened 2NT to start with, the above is what to expect, both from yourself, your partner, or the two worthy opponents (assuming they are).

Before, after due consideration, and only after thinking everything through, yes possibly Qx, Ax, Ax, AKJxxxx would suffice and, if so, I would be the first to congratulate what I have gotten away with most of my life and wish the same for you.

Poker is the game wherein we get the conscience of the King, not exactly a quote from the Bard, but one which we definitely would have, had he been introduced to poker a very long time ago (unlikely since it had not been invented in his long ago lifetime).

jim2June 9th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

So, what is the difference between the “balancing position” and the “reopening position”?

Bobby WolffJune 9th, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Hi Jim2,

The “balancing position” is usually (at least in my mind and perhaps a few others) a possible bid (balance) without having bid positively before, while a (“reopening position”) applies after having bid affirmatively before.

Perhaps a moot point, but nevertheless some logic behind.

jim2June 9th, 2014 at 4:59 pm

I am really confused. Here is what you posted at 4:00 PM:

Hi Jim2,

The “balancing position” is usually (at least in my mind and perhaps a few others) a possible bid (balance) without having bid positively before, while a (“reopening position”) applies after having bid affirmatively before.

But previously at 11:43 AM:

For example, is this a reopening?

1C – 1S – P – P

Bobby Wolff June 8th, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, in actuality it is a reopening, but for bridge nomenclature it is not, with reopening applying to a player who has not yet spoken

Bobby WolffJune 9th, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Hi Jim2,

Sorry for the contradictory rhetoric.

When I wrote at 11:43PM I must have been also confused, since the term reopening (think re) probably implies that the same bidder has bid before on this hand.

Also then, it follows, at least to me, that balancing (in bridge, meaning from the bidding of the opponents) having limited their hands, usually not higher than the 2 level, the 4th seat up to now, non-bidder, will, (usually based more on distribution rather than high cards) balance his hand with what the opponents figure to have, leaving enough strength and possible future trump fit, with partner to now compete for the contract, with the very least expected, driving the opponents an extra level higher, where perhaps our side will have a better chance to set them.

Now if both of us can figure out what I am intending to say, we will both probably learn something, unless, of course, we do not.

Bobby WolffJune 9th, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Hi again Jim2,

As a far out example, but used before by me during a time long ago, when I attempted to teach high-level bridge to young players:

If the bidding goes: 1NT P P ? and the hand with the ? mark holds: s. xxxxxxx, h. xxx, d. xxx c. void it is surely right to now bid 2 spades since partner, inferentially and according to the opponents limited actions, has at least 15 HCP’s and probably more, making a 2 level contact in spades a slam dunk to make.

At that time, and I guess still ever since, this type of action is called balancing.