Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

I don't care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words.

Josh Billings

East North
Both ♠ 10 9 7 5 3
 J 9 4
 4 2
♣ K 5 3
West East
♠ A Q J 4
 8 6
 A 10 8 6
♣ A Q 10
♠ K 8
 Q 3
 9 5 3
♣ J 9 8 6 4 2
♠ 6 2
 A K 10 7 5 2
 K Q J 7
♣ 7
South West North East
1 Dbl. 2 3♣
4 Dbl. All pass  


Suit preference is a powerful tool in the right hands — but every partnership needs to be aware of when that signal conveys attitude and count, and when it is something else.

Today’s deal came in the qualifying rounds of the New York Grand National teams heat. When dummy came down in four hearts, West relaxed, assuming that a dummy this weak could never offer South a chance to make his game.

(Incidentally, there is quite a good case for subverting a response of two clubs after a takeout double as a constructive raise to two hearts; so the sequence at the table would show 4-6 points.)

South won the trump lead in hand and led a club up. West won his ace and got out with a second club. Declarer could pitch his spade loser on the club king, then surrender a diamond for an easy 10 tricks.

By contrast, in the other room, when declarer led a club toward dummy and West won his ace, East dropped the jack under it. That might look dangerous, but East knew that while his side’s spade tricks might get away, declarer would never be able to discard a diamond loser. So long as the defenders cashed their spades now, his side would collect any diamond tricks that they were due. And so it proved.

With a hand that is not worth accepting the invitation to game, it might look normal to pass the two-no-trump call. But here my best guess would be to bid three clubs, suggesting long clubs and a weak hand. Facing a balanced hand, the six-card club suit might be worth considerably more as a trump suit than in no-trump.


♠ K 8
 Q 3
 9 5 3
♣ J 9 8 6 4 2
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1 NT Pass 2 NT Pass

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


MirceaSeptember 16th, 2014 at 9:58 am

Hi Bobby,

On the BWTA hand, are you advising the Wolff Signoffs don’t apply in this situation (when responder’s first bid has been 1NT)? Or is it only on this specific auction (1D – 1NT; 2NT – )? Or maybe it’s a partnership agreement?

My thinking is that since responder has denied a 4-card major, it would be the second reasoning above (specific sequence), but then what would be the case for Signoffs afer 1M – 1NT (forcing); 2NT – ? Should they still apply?

bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Hi Mircea,

A good question, and the answer applies strictly to the logic of bridge bidding, which you seem to state.

Wolff Signoff would only apply when there appears to be two types of hands which can be held, allowing the responder to choose between a sign-off (to seek a making contract) or just to carry on to the likely only game.

In today’s hand, although it would be possible to construct a hand where 5 clubs would make, but not 3NT, that would be rare and almost impossible to predict, therefore allowing the bidders to at least attempt to play a safer part score if offered the chance.

However, if the opener had something like: s. Axx, h. Kxx, d. Axxx, c. AKx, because of the likely source of tricks in clubs, he should overrule and chance a return to 3NT.

Wolff SO is better used when it goes (exclusively between the partners), 1 of a minor, 1 of a major, 2NT, then if the responder had something like, s. x. h. Jxxxxx, d. Qxx, c. Q10x he figures to be better off to bid 3 clubs forcing 3 diamonds by partner and then a 3 heart re-response would ask partner to pass.

Also if partner is an overcaller sitting South with: s. Kx, h. QJ10xxx, d. Kxx, c. xx and after bidding 1 heart over his RHO’s 1 club followed by Pass from LHO but 2NT from partner, NF but invitational, then Pass, but 3 clubs by South (WSO) demanding partner to bid 3 diamonds and only then 3 hearts ending the auction.

This bid will, of course, make an immediate return to 3 hearts by the overcaller something like, s. Kx, h. KQ10xxx, Jx, AJx forcing but offering a choice of final contract to North.

On this sequence it could also be used with s. Kx, h. KJxxx, d. Kxxxx, c. x by South intending to pass partner’s required 3 diamonds. However on rare occasions when North had 3 hearts he might, in response to 3 clubs while holding, s. Axx, h. xxx, d. AJx, A109x innovate and instead of 3 diamonds at his second turn, instead try 3 hearts, all because of his somewhat suit oriented aces and, of course, his 3 trumps instead of fewer.

Obviously there is more to be said and other sequences to be explored, but my general drift is that since bridge should be and is a thinking man’s game, no one is allowed to check his bridge brains at the door.

Yes, whether the 1NT bid was forcing or not over partner’s major suit a return to 3 clubs by him over the opener’s raise to 2NT is to play, certainly not the beginning of a signoff, but rather the signoff itself.

For me to say much more would be violating Mr. Billings quote at the heading and perhaps I have already committed that sin.

Iain ClimieSeptember 16th, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Hi Bobby,

One minor quibble; you described the CJ play as appearing dangerous but east can see every club bar the Q10. Surely his only concern is to play the CJ smoothly, as thinking first will upset opponents. East knows he wants a spade and urgently, so has to think ahead of how to ask for it. The C9 might do as well, of course.



bobby wolffSeptember 16th, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Hi Iain,

Of course, the play of the jack of clubs is a no brainer, but one others are not used to using to advantage (suit preference).

My guess is that 99+% of the world’s so-called bridge players not only do not play suit preference signals, but most probably have never heard of them. They are used to playing their 13 cards and not correlating what either of the other three players are thinking or heaven forbid even what they probably have left.

Thanks for pointing out what should have been emphasized in the column, the AUTOMATIC play of the jack of clubs (to show the spade king instead of nothing in diamonds therefore making partner guess what to do, and any low club would be suggesting the wrong switch.

MirceaSeptember 17th, 2014 at 7:33 am

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the clarification with WSO. I’m begging you to consider printing at least a booklet describing the convention in all its incarnations. I haven’t been able to find too many printed references detailing it, aside from Max Hardy’s 2/1 (yellow) book, which only gives the basics.

bobby wolffSeptember 17th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Hi Mircea,

Thanks for stating your interest in wanting more information on Wolff Sign-off (WSO).

A brief history should recall the original idea, invented by Jeremy Flint of England, where after 2NT is the opening bid, a response by partner of 3 diamonds (now, universally played as a transfer to hearts showing at least 5, but, at this point, unlimited in value) then required partner to also bid 3 hearts, and the weak hand would either pass that or return to whatever long and weak suit he had, eg, s.Jxxxxx, h.x,,, bid 3 spades suggesting strongly for partner, to merely pass. Flint, at that time, only emphasized the sign-off feature, but not the playing it from the strong hand advantage with the opening lead coming up to the strength instead of through it. It also enabled other immediate suit responses to be game forcing and though quite simple, served a useful purpose.

WSO is merely a continuation on Jeremy’s original idea. Briefly stated, when the strong hand (at some point in the auction either bids 2NT eg. (2 weak spades, P, P, 2NT or 1D, 1H, P, 2NT or 1D, P, 1H, P, 2NT then 3 clubs by the original responder, in all those 3 cases, forces 3 diamonds and usually then is followed by a final sign-off. However, if the possible weak 3 club bidder then follows with a positive bid such as 3NT, the 3 club bid is then restored to showing clubs and, of course, a bid which wants to play at least game, but offers a different picture of the would be dummy, (always including clubs).

There are many variations available and although the 6th edition of the ACBL does not have an accurate description of WSO, in practice, since most who play it are very high-level players, usually tailor it to their own preferences.

The advantage in playing a version of WSO is apparent, and your request to printing a booklet describing it accurately is reasonable, but, if you can believe that your request caused me to check the 6th edition, published in 2001 for the writeup on WSO and found it very sketchy and certainly not consulted on by me, but it is probably just as much my fault as someone else.

In any event, I appreciate, as always, your kind intentions, but at this point the thought of doing justice to how I think WSO should be played, while pure, is a tedious project which will need to wait its turn.

However, I would have confidence in you working out with your favorite partner(s) your individual choices for when you want to install it into your regular system.

As a word of warning, bridge has a way to interact with partnerships who need to be more thorough, not to mention accurate, in adding a new convention, so consider yourself on notice to not take that task lightly.

Finally, I do not disagree with almost all who play it their way, since with the choices available, I would rate them all about the same.

HerremanOctober 21st, 2014 at 12:44 pm


2NT in this sequence, shows almost sure 16_17H, 5card diamonds, single club !
I would always go for 3D..