Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 16th, 2014

A lot of my friends say they play the Phony Club and I don't really understand the difference between that and Standard American. Is there really any difference?

Cloud Nine, Milwaukee, Wis.

Some people playing five-card majors say their one diamond opening guarantees four cards. So with both four-card majors and three diamonds, they open one club with a doubleton — an almost immaterial difference from Standard American. Those who play that a one diamond opening bid shows an unbalanced hand will open one club rather more often with a doubleton. That system makes life rather more complicated.

Recently a Bid With The Aces column featured this hand: ♠ J-6-5,  8-7-3,  K-Q-10-7, ♣ 10-7-2. After one heart to your right, two hearts to your left, and a double from your partner, you advocated bidding three diamonds. So far so good, but why after your partner bid three hearts would you bid three spades?

Paul Bunyan, Vancouver, British Columbia

As responder you have shown diamonds and denied spades at your first turn, and are also more than somewhat limited in high cards. When your partner cuebids he must have a powerhouse, so you have to describe your hand further. Bear in mind that you actually have a decent hand in context. Incidentally, with five diamonds to the king-queen I would bid five diamonds now. On the actual hand if you bid three spades and partner raises you would pass and assume he knew what he was doing.

In third seat I held a moderate 10-count: ♠ Q-9-3-2,  Q-10-6-3,  Q-8, ♣ A-10-7 and responded one heart to my partner's one-club opening bid. When she rebid one spade, I raised to three spades — as an invitation. Was that wrong?

Rose-Colored Glasses, Tucson, Ariz.

You could argue that at least one of your queens will not be pulling its full weight, and if you agree, then bidding two spades here will be enough. You should assume partner rates to have 12-14 points in a balanced hand (and if they have more, they rate not to pass your raise to two spades). Facing a minimum balanced hand you do not have quite enough to invite.

Should the range for an opening bid of two no-trump start at any 20-count? And should the range be a two- or three-point spread?

Spread Out, Albany, Ga.

Your one no-trump opening or rebid has a three point range (such as 15-17) since responder has room to invite here. A two-no-trump opening or jump rebid should only have a two-point range, since there is now no invitational sequence available. If you play a 16-18 no-trump, use a 21-22 two-no-trump opener, if you play a 15-17 no-trump, then the range should be 20-21, or possibly a bad 22. With the two-point range above the one-no-trump opener, start with a suit, then jump in no-trump.

I've been hearing over the last few months about a cheating case involving some German doctors in the finals of a world championship against the Americans. Are you more surprised than disappointed by this story?

Dirt Digger, Riverside, Calif.

I wasn't surprised about this particular pair given the stories I had heard. I was surprised about the blatancy of the cheating. But my long experience has taught me that cheats always assume no one will catch them and get rasher and rasher in their behavior.

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


ClarksburgNovember 30th, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Further to Spread Out’s question about the point ranges for describing NT hands:
What about the ranges for rebids of 2NT and 3NT after a strong (2C) opening. It would seem logical to extend the two-point range approach, so that 2NT would show 22-23 and 3NT would show 24-25.
But some players seem to use three-point ranges there, e.g. 2NT rebid would show 22-24.
What would you recommend for this?
Also, what should a 3NT opener show? 26+ powerhouse or gambling 3NT?

Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Here is my recommendation, which is (I hope) based on practicality of use, rather than someone else’s rule.

1NT- 14+-17 with the lowest range possessing a decent 5 card minor (KJ10xx or better) and the 17 having no 5 card suit. Better to be hyper aggressive than to be ultra conservative.

2NT-19+-21 again with the 19 to have a decent 5 card suit, major or minor, but if with the major always a 5-3-3-2 (without which the hand becomes too suit oriented to start with NT). It becomes very close when the doubleton is Jx or worse, but remember (at least I try to, since it is my judgment) you want your partner to try and keep one of a suit bids by you open, but not with a balanced two queens and a jack or one queen and three jacks, but probably with a king and a queen or, of course, any 6 count.

Starting with an artificial 2 clubs and then 2NT- 22-24, mainly because this, of course, is only forcing for one round and partner should pass 2NT with 0-1 (or even 2 with only two jacks, close). A jump to 3NT should be made over an immediate double negative (I prefer an initial 2 heart response to be double negative, fewer than 3 HCPs and balanced distribution or an immediate double of an overcall through the 4 level to also show a double negative with a pass then to show a positive response, but one which cannot be made since the level has become too high.

I also prefer a 3NT opening to be gambling, but semblances of stops with a long solid minor suit, e.g. (Kx, Qx, Ax, AKQxxxx) would be classic, but with the practicality of sometimes Jx may be sufficient. Never forget that science in bridge, particularly in the tactical area (3NT opening) is totally overrated and bridge, similar to poker, needs some judgment (aggression usually trumps conservatism).

Yes it is OK to open 2NT or 2C and then 2NT with a singleton, but always at least a K or an A). Then, it is important to realize, that hands of this ilk are the WEAKEST part of any Standard American (Goren) system and way below all systems which start with either forcing clubs (not complicated) ranging up to other forcing openings (at the one level) enabling much more bidding room with the intent of more accurate slam bidding (more bidding room available) as well as better choice of the proper trump suit in game bidding.

Holding: s. Axxx, h. K, d. KQ10x, c. AQJx I would open 1 diamond, but with s. AJxx, h. K, d. KQ10x, c. AQJx I would open 2NT for fear of partner passing and our side missing an important game (usually 3NT but sometimes 4 spades or 5 of a minor).

Of course, it then follows with s. A, h. KQxx, d. AK10x, c. AQ9x I would open 2 clubs with the intention of rebidding 2NT since it is far too dangerous not to, because of easily missing a game if partner passes my 1 level opening.

It also is worth mentioning that each player (from novice to super) has his (or her) own quirks about what is important and mine is NEVER to show a frivolous (carefree) attitude to partner in the importance of being consistent with one’s thinking. Let partner know and respect his ability to pass at the one level, knowing his partner has taken pains to provide for it by his choice of opening bid. One can never achieve anywhere close to 100% in this area, but nevertheless should always consider it.

My guess is that 24 HCPs (balanced) opposite 0-1 (balanced) will, while playing against good defenders, produce game only about 20% of the time unless there is an 8 card major suit fit, and then only about 30%.

Again, good luck and also remember the art of bridge requires resiliency in overcoming adversity. It goes with the territory.

Iain ClimieNovember 30th, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Hi Bobby,

Just out of interest, what would you open with A Axx AJ109xx AK9? This cam up the other week and I toyed with opening 2N but settled for the boring 1D. LHO bid 1S, Pard hesitated and passed, RHO bid 2S and I fekt that I could only bid 3D after the hesitation, although double or even 2N might have been possibilities without the pause. Partner had been very cautious, although he has only just returned to playing duplicate after a break of 20+ years, and had passed with xx KJ10x Kxx 10xxx and had previously played penalty doubles. I had the mortifying experience of making 13 tricks, although clearly 3N is only right if you guess the diamonds. 5 or 6D are more like it, though.

Obviously I cut him some slack due to inexperience, but how good is 2N relative to 1D, 2C or even a strong 2 or similar (Benjaminised Acol is popular here, where 2C is a strong 2 in any suit). Feel free to blame me for not making allowances here!



Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Hi Iain,

I previously thought that one should always “lean over backwards” to not take advantage of a break in tempo (BIT), but you win the award.

While I appreciate and admire your intent, certainly a double at your second opportunity, is clearly right-on (with a correction of 3 clubs to diamonds), your partner should make a negative double of one spade, then after RHO raises to 2 spades, a call of 3 spades by you should produce 4 diamonds (hearts have already inferentially been bid by partner).

Over 4 diamonds, a simple slam try (facetious) of 6 diamonds should end the refrain.

Making it is up to you, but after all, it is only 1 out of 2 finesses or almost.

Thanks for all you stand for and, very important, what you have to say.