Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 29th, 2014

I'm eager to experiment with some home-grown conventions. If any convention is explained to the opponents, should it be allowed? We are talking "club" level, but I am curious at why some conventions might be banned at regional tournaments. How can a convention give a partnership an advantage if the opponents are aware of it?

Rocket Scientist, Bay City, Mich.

There are different degrees of license; general and mid-chart are two such categories, the latter being more wide-ranging. In essence you cannot play any gadget until it is licensed. Most clubs will let you do what you like in your own constructive auctions, but won't let you open or overcall with a bid that requires defensive methods to be discussed. And that is how it should be.

I held ♠ A-Q-4-3-2,  Q-5-3,  K-10, ♣ Q-4-3. My partner opened one club, and I responded one spade. Now my LHO overcalled two diamonds, passed around to me. We play support doubles, so my partner had denied holding as many as three spades. I chose to double (do you agree?) and heard a two-spade response. What now?

Lumpfish, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

What an unexpected rebid! Your double looks fine, and I suppose your partner rates to have a 2-3-5-3 pattern with the doubleton spade king. I'd guess to jump to three no-trump now, hoping partner hasn't forgotten to make a support double at his previous turn.

When responder raises opener's second suit, the call seems to have an awkwardly wide range. Holding ♠ K,  K-Q-10-7-3,  K-10-2, ♣ K-J-3-2, I heard my partner respond one spade to my one-heart opening, then raise my two-club rebid to three. Was I supposed to pass, drive to three no-trump, or explore further for hearts?

Outlier, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Partner sometimes issues a courtesy raise with four trumps and slightly less than an invitational hand, but you should not necessarily assume that to be the case. You have too much to pass, but rather than going directly to three no-trump, you might temporize with the fourth suit, three diamonds, hoping partner can produce heart support or bid three no-trump himself.

Recently my partner opened one club, and I held ♠ —,  A-5-3-2,  A-K-J-9-5-3, ♣ K-8-4. In a noncompetitive auction should I bid one diamond, intending to reverse to hearts, or bid hearts, intending to jump-shift to diamonds? I chose to bid one diamond, and my LHO pre-empted to two spades. My partner bid two no-trump, and I bid three hearts, over which partner dutifully bid four hearts, which I passed. However, we were cold for slam. Where did we go wrong?

Missed Connection, Albuquerque, N.M.

Any time you have game-forcing values, bid your long suit first. So far so good, but your partner showed 18-19 with her two-no-trump bid. That means you should drive the hand to at least a small slam — indeed, you might well be cold for a grand slam on a good day.

Recently in Bid With the Aces, you advocated a two-club rebid after opening one heart and hearing a one-spade response, with ♠ 5-2,  Q-J-10-9-7,  A-K, ♣ K-J-8-2. Might not a rebid of one no-trump keep you comfortably low, and isn't your hand closer to balanced than unbalanced?

Balancing Act, Muncie, Ind.

One can make a case for rebidding one no-trump to get across the basic nature of the hand (minimum balanced). However, the intermediates in the long suits argue to me for the simple rebid in clubs. Whatever anyone tells you, a hand with 5-4-2-2 pattern is more suited to play in suits than in no-trump, all else being equal. At the very least, suggest your shape and let partner decide.

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


ClarksburgJuly 13th, 2014 at 11:32 am

Good morning Mr. Wolff,
This highly-distributional hand was player-dealt from a recent Club pairs game.
West Deals, Neither Vul.
With the lie of the cards, West has 5H cold against any lead while NS have a sac at 5CX -2.
Can you comment on a likely path (or paths) for the auction in an expert game.

West 2 AKQ97532 AQ73 void
North K95 void KJ98 AQ10654
East AQJ10843 8 64 832
South 76 J1064 1052 KJ97

Bobby WolffJuly 13th, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Here goes:

West: 1 heart (Much too strong for 4 hearts and, although the playing strength for a strong 2 bid, from a tactical standpoint I will prefer opening only 1)

North: Double (2 clubs is a possibility and would be chosen by many good players, the double gets all suits in the game and is less partner baiting in getting him involved).

East: 3 spades (Without the double I would bid 4 spades, but with it, I will subtract a trick.

South: pass (easy).

West: 4 hearts (just as easy as the rose has lost its glow).

North: pass (East’s 3 spade bid should curb North’s enthusiasm).

East: pass (discipline and trust with partner). To bid again will NEVER happen in a good partnership since partner has assumed captaincy and has spoken after you have tried to guide him elsewhere.

South: pass (and hope to set 4 hearts, because of the unexpected heart trick.

4 hearts will make 10 tricks via the spade finesse, but lose 2 diamonds and a heart.

It is true that NS could take 10 tricks in clubs losing a total of only 3 pointed suit tricks with clever manipulation of both suits (taking 3 out of 4 tricks in diamonds and being able to ruff the 3rd spade with dummy’s 4th club).

The par result would then be 5 clubs doubled by NS down 1, -100, but that would be unlikely to be achieved since South’s hidden heart trick would probably dissuade him from supporting clubs even if North overcalled 2 clubs to start with.

I hope this discussion will enable you to understand the complexities of high-level bridge and the judgment involved, even by the best players. No one possesses the magic of being able to even begin to envision all 52 cards and therefore how any one hand will play out. Sure, unusual things happen and often lesser players make winning bids or plays (sometimes spectacular opening leads) but in reality have just had lady luck on their side.

Random chance will always be part of our game, but IMO that adds to the excitement rather than taking away from it. The ever present law of averages will always allow better players to get better results, but on any one hand anything can happen and often does.

If West would have opened 2 clubs (an artificial game force), North instead of doubling should bid 3 clubs and after 3 spades by East, South would volunteer 4 clubs, followed by 4 hearts by West and then probably 5 clubs by North. I then think East should double, because of the looming misfit and all might pass, although West may takeout to 5 hearts. Then EW -50 instead of +420.

From later scientific discussion it could be determined that opening West’s hand with a strong 2 bid (which is warranted, but IMO not best) caused the lesser result. However, this is only 1 hand and until a player has played thousands of them and against worthwhile opposition (and with the normal competitive pressure involved) none of the players involved in that very bridge educational environment will be pointed in the right direction of becoming as good as they could become.

Objectivity demands that all involved, look at things honestly and without ego, since without, a potential great player and then eventually a great bridge partnership, will never emerge.

The above is very long winded, but I hope beneficial in understanding the high level learning process.

ClarksburgJuly 13th, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Thanks. Most helpful.
This hand was selected as hand-of-the-week for pre-game seminar at the next game. I’ll pass your comments along to the “Presenter”.
About the play at Hearts by West: looks like with North on opening lead the Defenders cannot remove Dummy’s single trump before Declarer can set up and take a diamond ruff in Dummy, thus losing only one Diamond to make five odd.

Bobby WolffJuly 13th, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Thanks for your reply.

Yes, I am wrong in not mentioning what you have, that it is possible to make 11 tricks in hearts by taking advantage of the terrible heart break, by taking the spade finesse and then the diamond finesse into a hand which cannot take the singleton trump out of the dummy.

My oversight, and only symbolizes how difficult it is to try and teach theoretical play. While playing 5 hearts and having trumped the presumed ace of clubs opening lead, I think it normal to lead a low diamond out of hand which would run around to the ten who would then lead a heart. At this point, after the heart distribution became known, declarer would have the option of taking a spade finesse. If that is offside down would go the eleven trick contract and by two tricks, so, if playing only in 4 hearts, the declarer may eschew the spade finesse in favor of a spade to the ace and then a diamond finesse which also doesn’t work. Only a spade finesse will make even 10 tricks.

However, you are right and from a par result since, as you point out, North will not be able to take the trump out of dummy.

Again, the complexities of discussing the correct way to play, sometimes leaves the players in a state of confusion, and when unusual distributions occur the logic of best percentage gets lost in the shuffle.

Again Dame Fortune seems always to have the upper hand since she deals the hand and thus can be prepared to always find the best “double-dummy” play to secure the most numbers of tricks. However, and realistically the playing of the game does not and should not lead anyone to have to play like transparent cards were being used.

It is a fine line which determines the best way to learn from the experiences of discussing an interesting hand.

BTW, I think what you are conducting is a wonderful community effort to showcase bridge and learn as a group. We need more Clarksburgs to act as bridgeseeds.