Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 30th, 2014

I dealt myself this beautiful hand: ♠ K-7-2,  J-6,  A-K-9-6-3, ♣ A-Q-J. I opened one diamond, playing a 15-17 no-trump, and my partner responded one spade, whereupon the next hand bid three hearts. Was I wrong to bid three spades? It worked extremely badly when my partner had king-queen-third of hearts. We went down in three spades with three no-trump laydown.

Embarrassment of Riches, Vancouver, Wash.

While you were surely unlucky that you had neither a heart stop (when you could have tried three no-trump) or better spades to make the raise more palatable, I believe you had a better choice. The double of a preempt in this position should show extras, with no clear direction; so it would have been my preferred choice.

We had a hand last week which has sparked a bit of controversy as to how to reach the optimum contract. I heard my partner open two clubs and with: ♠ 3,  5,  A-Q-J-8-5-3, ♣ A-Q-J-7-4 responded three diamonds, then bid four clubs over my partner's three spade bid. Now my partner bid four hearts and I bid five diamonds, passing my partner's six diamond bid. We were cold for seven no-trumps facing a powerhouse 5-5-2-1 shape with both minor kings.

Love in Bloom, Bristol, Va.

Your partner's four heart call looks wrong. Had he simply bid four diamonds, you can jump to six clubs and he can do the rest. Even Blackwood might get you there if you can bid six clubs after finding the keycards are all present.

When your partner opens a weak two bid, should new suits by you be natural and forcing, or can they be passed by a minimum preempter?

Force of Nature, Dodge City, Kansas

This is to some extent about partnership agreement, rather than a rule of law, but having said that, it would seems normal to play a new suit as natural and forcing, but not necessarily forcing to game. After this start to the auction, anything by either hand that sounds non-forcing may almost certainly be passed.

I picked up: ♠ J-2,  K-J-8-5-4-2,  Q-2, ♣ Q-4-3 and heard my partner open one diamond and the next hand overcall one spade. Clearly I had enough to bid one heart over one diamond, but is this hand strong enough to bid two hearts here? If not, what call is best?

Keeping it Real, Peru, Ind.

A free bid at the two-level should guarantee 10 or more high-card points but you can shade the requirement with a strong suits or good controls, or even with fit for partner). This hand feels too scrappy for a direct call in hearts. If playing negative doubles, I would double and hope to back into hearts later.

Do you think that four-suit transfers over a TWO no-trump opening are a good idea? If so, how exactly would you play them?

Truffle Hunter, Woodland Hills, Calif.

While that system works well over one no-trump there is not quite enough space over two no-trumps. One simple solution is to use a three spade response as one or both minors. It forces a three no-trump rebid by opener, whereupon the minor suits now show single-suited hands, while four hearts, four spades and four no-trump show both minors with 5-4 pattern and 5-5 respectively.

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


AviDecember 14th, 2014 at 9:49 am


regarding the “Embarrassment of Riches”.
This might be up to partnership agreement, but wouldn’t a double of 3H be penalty?
If not, you might miss the penalty option (on a different layout obviously).
If 3H gets passed around to partner, he might pass it out without opening values or extras, and you can miss an opportunity to penalize with 1/4/5/3

bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2014 at 10:56 am

Hi Avi,

Yes, while I could accuse you of not being “thoroughly modern Avi”, in truth and without previous discussion and agreement a double by you should normally be considered penalty, depicting precisely (or close) the distribution you describe 1/4/5/3, 1/4/4/4 or even 2/4/5/2, 1/4/6/2, or 2/4/6/1.

However, the theoretical powers which be in high/level bridge (sort of a conglomeration of the current best world players and important, also practical theorists) probably deem that in frequency the problem type hand presented in the “E of R” above occurs more likely than the ones which involve pure penalty. If thought to be, and my guess is that in occurrence it might not be, still if the partnership agrees that these types of former penalty doubles now become merely very good hands with no particular specific direction, therefore suggesting to partner to “do something intelligent”.

If I and likely you, considering your comment, prefer the old fashioned methods (penalty), then the only real advantage of being modern is that, if the right contract is not reached, the opener can then blame partner for whatever decision he makes, instead of accepting the blame himself. A small advantage to some, but one of pride rather than substance.

The above is my way of saying that I would probably make the same bid (3 spades) that the writer made. Perhaps partner holding KQx of hearts and only 4 spades might have visualized that his LHO’s 3 heart preempt may have caused the opener to improvise because of the bidding space robbed and, of course, depending on how weak he really was, come to the rescue by bidding 3NT himself or perhaps even converted partner’s double to penalties by passing (especially with short diamonds), in spite of it being essentially takeout.

Such is life in the very competitive high-level bridge world. Discussion and agreement are very necessary and will likely trump guesswork for consistent good results, but never underestimate superior judgment while being at the table.

Thanks for your creative contribution of subject, to the real world of what it takes to win.

ClarksburgDecember 14th, 2014 at 11:30 am

Mr. Wolff,
From a Club-level Teams BAM game.
Partner held:
As Dealer, I opened 1C with:
Partner bid 1S and my RHO (VUL) overcalled 2D.
Although recognizing the value of the singleton D, I elected to just invite. Partner passed so we played it at 3S.
Our opponents bid it to the 4S making.
Should I have bid the game?
Did Partner have enough to stretch and accept the invitation?
Were our opponents on solid ground, or did they gamble a bit?
(Both Defending pairs were solid, expected to defend well)

bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Chalk up the hand presented by you to, “Just bridge, Mister”.

Attempting to figure anywhere close to 4 spades being a percentage contract (50% or better) is, at the very least, a difficult task. Any 4-1 (or worse) trump break will likely scuttle declarer taking 10 tricks as will certain club distributions. My off hand guess (and believe me it is a guess) is against good defense about 9 1/3 tricks would be the average number, making game a slightly non-percentage effort (especially if NV).

I would definitely pass your 3 spade rebid with your partner’s 4-3-3-3 ace and a king. However, this particular hand does suggest that aces and kings are somewhat undervalued, but we all already knew that and, at least I think, should still pass. True, your values were pure, singleton in the opponent’s suit, good enough trumps (KQ combination), solid hearts (improving the value of the 4th one), the solitary jack in your opening bid suit, turns out to likely be necessary to protect against semi-evil club distributions, a value sometimes totally absent, but unpredictable during the auction.

Perhaps an interesting discussion to some, but although many things in bridge are learning experiences, perhaps this topic being one of them, in truth I think we will be spinning our wheels with no tangible correct conclusion.

In the days of the original Aces (late 1960’s-early 1970’s) missing 4 spades (or bidding it) would be a gray charge (not black or white) meaning, “Only the Shadow Knows” if the wrong result occurred.

Sorry for the ambivalence, but trying not to play results.

ClarksburgDecember 14th, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Your response was exactly what I was looking for…a perspective on it.

MirceaDecember 14th, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

Could you please elaborate on transfers to minors over 2NT openings and if I’m not asking too much, provide us with the better method (you called the one in your response to Truffle Hunter, “simple”)


bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I was only apologizing for not being able to recognize a mistake in either your bidding or in what was done at the other table by your more aggressive opponents.

All bad results which often occur are not the result of poor bridge, but rather just as good judgment which unfortunately turned out incorrect.

In fact, it makes me feel good that our discussion hit the spot.

bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Hi Mircea,

The question discussed originated with discussing 4 suit transfer and how they applied to minor suits.

What I like is very simply, 3 clubs, regular Stayman, 3 diamonds and 3 hearts, major suit transfers and 3 spades both minors (at least 5-4 or 4-5) with, of course a return to 3NT by the 2NT opener a denial of slam interest in either minor. With a single suit minor first 3 clubs and then over partner’s response a bid of 4 of the held minor with 4NT by the opener a NT sign-off and other bids all agreeing that minor and cue bids showing controls (almost always aces).

While not quite as complicated as 4 level minor transfers, I can’t remember a hand where the above method was lacking, and although a little hit or miss, seemed to get the job done and is, above all, easy to apply.

Simplicity, rather than complexity, is preferred (at least by me) since no total so-called perfect bidding sequence, never seems to work out without at least some subjectivity and later intelligent judgment necessary.

Besides a clearer and less complicated bridge mind seems to be better prepared to devote his efforts to the game in its entirety rather than what might be considered more exacting.

bobby wolffDecember 14th, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Hi Mircea,

As an afterthought I need to explain that basically when either 2NT or NT beginning with an artificial 2 clubs begins, the partner of that strong hand becomes captain and does the questioning with the strong hand answering, resulting in the captain being mainly responsible for arriving at the final contract.

If the weaker hand at most any point in the bidding jumps to 5NT or just bids 5NT (but not part of asking for either the number of kings, or as some play, for specific kings, it is named Baron and asks the strong hand to bid 4 card suits up the line with the idea, particularly in IMPs and rubber bridge of playing in a 4-4 fit which often produces an extra trick via drawing trumps (usually split 3-2) and then scoring the last trump in each hand separately to accomplish sometimes the difference between either 13 and 12 tricks for a grand slam or 12 and 11 tricks for a small one. After you think about it and then put it into practice, no 4 card fit will be left uncovered.

However for matchpoint scoring sometimes playing Baron leaves a partnership with a poor score since perhaps on that particular hand 12 or 13 tricks (as the case may be) can be produced with high cards (or a favorable break in a 4-3 fit) instead of the method mentioned above.

At least to me, that type of luck should not often be present since the skill of finding a 4-4 fit should be more important than the luck necessary to score the same number of tricks and to me somewhat bastardizes the matchpoint game.

However to others that luck is just part of the game itself and do not worry about it. To each his own.