Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 15th, 2015

I opened one heart in first seat with: ♠ A-Q-9-7,  A-Q-8-6-5,  10-5, ♣ K-3 and heard my partner raised to two hearts and RHO now joined in with three clubs. How would you rate my options of pass, double, three diamonds, and three hearts?

Big Game Hunter, Richmond, Va.

Passing is unduly pessimistic while double should be strong and extra values, not quite what you have. Your real extra distribution makes bidding three hearts as a purely competitive maneuver logical enough, but slightly pessimistic. Meanwhile a call of three diamonds is an unspecified game-try (one does not have space to make the call about diamonds). I'd settle for that action.

My partner and I want to establish a firm agreement about what is the significance of discarding an honor at your first opportunity. Equally, when you follow with an honor under a high-card lead from your partner, or an honor from dummy, what should that mean?

Fever Pitch, Newark, N.J.

If you drop an honor on partner's high-card lead, it suggests either at most a doubleton, or a suit solid down from that card, denying a higher honor. Similarly discarding a queen would suggest the jack and maybe the 10, but no king. Warning: very occasionally playing an unnatural honor might be suit-preference, or a wake-up call to find an unusual play.

Holding ♠ A-7-3-2,  A-5-3,  Q-9-5, ♣ A-4-2, I opened one club and heard my partner respond one heart. What is my best rebid now, one spade, one no-trump or two hearts?

No Second Chance, New Orleans, La.

I prefer a rebid of one no-trump – I might even try two hearts, though that would be very rare on a 4-3-3-3 pattern. I'd be unhappy to make a call of one spade, which to my mind guarantees shows at least four clubs. If you buy in to the idea that rebidding one spade then raising hearts would show a 4-3-1-5 pattern and a non-minimum, you have to go some way other than bidding one spade at your second turn. Otherwise you never get to show delayed heart support without promising extras.

Yesterday I played in a rubber group for the first time, and opened one no-trump on 17 points with a doubleton heart ace. My partner responded three hearts and when I played safe and raised to game we made six. Although they play transfers, she thought her bid showed a game force with six hearts. I thought it was better to make the strong hand declarer, and that the transfer would have given more room for the exchange of more information.

Chatty Kathy, Grenada, Miss.

One does not have to play conventions here but if playing transfers (and especially if playing Texas Transfers as well) then a two-level transfer and jump to game can be used for a mild slam try. Now we can get sophisticated and use the three-level bids for some of the awkward hands such as hands with both minors, or even 5-5 hands with both majors.

I have the feeling you like to get into auctions quickly, but would you make a take-out double after hearing one club to your left, and one spade to your right holding: ♠ Q-10-5,  A-K-7-5,  K-7-5, ♣ A-8-3?

Trouble City, Bellevue, Wash.

I consider action here mandatory. I think direct action safer than passing and then balancing. But I would refer to bid one no-trump showing a strong balanced hand, rather than double, despite my four-card holding in the other major. You should not play one no-trump as unusual, except by a passed hand – you have double and a call of two no-trump for the unbid suits.

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 2015. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


David WarheitMarch 1st, 2015 at 9:09 am

On Big Game Hunter’s hand, I would bid 4H. If partner has as little as SJ10x & HKxxx, game is a very good proposition on the bidding.

Patrick CheuMarch 1st, 2015 at 11:33 am

Hi Bobby,Your pard opens 1N(12-14),holding Axxxx 10x KQJ9x x,you transfer to spades(pard did not break transfer),and then do you bid 2N or pass?Pard held Kx AKx A10xxx 10xx,4S makes as spades were 33 and 5D makes,3N goes off on a club lead as AKQxx in one hand opposite Jxxx unless they fail to unblock the do we get to 5D or perhaps 4S? Regards~Patrick.(2S pass out scores 31%).

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Hi David,

You present a good case for your argument. But, what about partner instead holding:
s. 8xx, h. KJxxx, d. QJx, c. Qx you will arrive at a no play contract and most with his hand would have jumped to 3 hearts the first time since he had what most would probably agree, a limit raise.

And, of course, if he had restricted himself to only a single raise, he would certainly bid game over your encouraging 3 diamond bid, so nothing would be lost (nor, of course gained) by almost whatever, you did, except a brilliant pass, (at least for this episode) and let him compete on to the final contract, 3 hearts.

An excellent early partner of mine, used to remind me often, “Please, don’t expect me to have the perfect hand, simply because I never will”.

While that generalization is untrue, just like all generalizations (including this one), in bridge it seems and feels better (in the long run) to include partner in the decision making.

Why, you may ask? Bridge, especially the bidding, is a partnership game with plenty of people psychology involved and, at least in my many years of experience, partners will likely feel and therefore play better when they suspect they are at the least, a 50% factor in that partnership success.

No one, especially I, would or should be upset if partner, with the opening bid, had jumped to game instead of asking, but why not let partner make the mistake instead of you. Indeed, if he had made a questionable raise with s. Jxx, h. xxx, d. KJxxx, c. Qx he will be happy that you consulted him.

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for asking since you will enable me to plug what I think is clearly a better way to play, 2 way Stayman instead of transfers over either weak or strong NT.

First and in answer to your question, it probably is the percentage bid (but, of course I am far from sure) to after playing transfers and bidding 2 hearts, then in answer to partner’s 2 spade bid, to then opt for 3 diamonds instead of 2NT. It certainly allows for more final contracts to be considered rather than taking a choice between both what suits (spades or NT) and how many.

As all of us can see, 6 diamonds is virtually laydown, but how to get there? The opening bid is perhaps too strong for a 12-14 weak NT, holding a maximum point count, a decent 5 card suit, two tens and above all, prime values (aces and kings).

How about with opponents passing throughout, 1D, 1S, 1NT, 2GF checkback Stayman 2D, 2NT (denying 3 spades), 3D, 3H (cuebidding values and, of course stoppers for NT) 3S (showing a prime card after denying 3 of them), 4H (recuing, very good hearts and by inference a maximum hand for this auction), 6D!

Am I playing results? Not for me to say, but I hope, NO.

If a strong NT (15-17) is decided, then a GF Stayman bid of 2 diamonds would set the wheels in motion for 2NT by the opener, then: 3S, 3NT, 4D,4H, (love my hand for diamonds and of course, the ace of hearts) 5C (control bid), 6D (whole hand appears to be working), P.

Sometimes a beautiful animal can be produced from a camel, especially in bridge, when one learns to get over the hump(s) and 2 way Stayman is usually very helpful, certainly in comparison to what I think is overrated, 2 level transfers.

Mircea1March 1st, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

In response to Trouble City, when do you use double and when 2NT?

Patrick CheuMarch 1st, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Hi Bobby,the question is after 1N(12-14) 2H,2S 3D-is 3D too pushy,assuming it is game forcing here?In your two way Stayman sequence,1N (15-17)2D,2N by opener shows? then 3S(5s presumably),3N 4D,4H 5C(first or second round control),6D by that correct?

Bobby WolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Hi Mircea,

Double is what it purports to be, a TO for the unbid 2 suits, usually at least 4 in each unbid suit but sometimes 5, especially in the minor suit, if only one of the minor suits is unbid. 2NT instead, should also be a new suit TO, and fewer HCP’s but greater distribution. 2NT being a TO, should also be in force if the opponents start 1 of a major, P, 2 of a minor GF
but always at least 10 cards in the unbids with no fewer than 5 in each suit.

That bid, though still suggested, but not without an important downside of making an otherwise pretty good declarer a much better one should the opponents, as will usually be the case, still outbidding the weaker hands for the final contract.

Sometimes a close decision because of the above, but one each player has to deal with when that type of situation arises.
Typical examples when the opponents start, for example 1C P 1H ?

A. s. AQ10x, h. Kx, d. KJ9xx, c.Ax, but with only xx in clubs I would still double.

B. s. QJ10xx, h. Ax, d. KQ10xx, c. x I would bid 2NT also showing the unbids, but greater playing strength and fewer high cards. If I was vulnerable and playing against fast doublers I would love an 11th card (especially if in the minor suit) for greater protection. However instead to pass, is just too dangerous to consider since the odds are in one’s favor because to bid, even if a relatively severe penalty awaits, still has to be doubled by the opponents and that occurs less likely than feared, often because of the timing of whose turn it is to then bid and the thought processes used by all honest opponents.

Sure, sometimes (very rarely) the opponents will be able to double us at the 3 level for their gain, but for every time that happens the TO will work multiple times in return. However my judgment may be biased and thus untrue, but nevertheless that is the way it seems to me. And always consider that if partner with a long holding in one one of the TO doubler’s suits immediately is able to jump the bidding, that bidding space lost by the opponents may be critical in their not reaching their optimum contract.

ClarksburgMarch 1st, 2015 at 3:16 pm

About bidding Patrick’s hand, just out of curiosity, is this one that in fact could also be bid well enough with Transfers?
Playing 15-17 it would be opened 1NT as per your reasons given. The auction could go:
2S (no super accept so hand not well suited for Spade contract)
3D (second five-card suit and a GF hand)
Opener now thinking “I really like Diamonds and have the fitting SK”, so I’ll encourage”
3H? or 4H? (like Diamonds and a Heart control).
The auction now seems to be at the same point as the two-way Stayman auction, and can have the same finish, i.e.
Have I missed something important, or does does this make sense?
If so, what about Opener’s choice of 3H? or 4H? Is there any important difference in meaning?
Just curious here. I’ve actually started trying two-way Stayman with one of my Partners

Bobby WolffMarch 1st, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You, as usual, are very close, if not 100%, of being directly on point.

Let’s dissect. If, in fact, the various entire bidding sequence with either a transfer or a 2 way Stayman (2WS) start might finish with an ultra successful 6 diamond end.

And for detail I would suggest only a 3 heart cue bid instead of 4 if only because a 4 heart choice is unlikely to have been discussed in such a way that the message becomes very clear. No doubt, in choosing 3 hearts, it must be 100% that over an only 3NT response to it, that the opener will continue to 4 diamonds, paving the way for the end result, although by so doing might then result in a TD call, either then or later, stating that because of a BIT the opening NTer continued on with a logical alternative of pass to the 3NT call made, determined by whoever happened to be on the eventual committee might make it a victory for the court, but not the game itself.

However, my main reference point, and yes I may be unjustifiably biased, is that the very nature of 2WS, begins to save bidding room at lower levels than do transfers.

By the time the bidding is entering the 3 level, while playing 2WS there is already important information having been exchanged, and that extra room before game contracts are in the rear view mirror sometimes are necessary to go for or not so, for the gold.

Without rambling on with details which vary from hand to hand, I’ll let my main selling point take priority.

However, let the normal caveat-emptor apply keeping in mind I get only a very small commission from those who do play 2WS.

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Hi Patrick,

Sorry for my lack of response, since you managed to acrobat yourself into a proper position, but for whatever reason, remained invisible to me.

Yes, that sequence to the great diamond slam (opposite a WNT) will likely get you a decisive swing (or all the matchpoints).

However, even more importantly, when faced with an awkward choice of either taking a conservative view and not showing both suits when holding a 2 suiter (in this case of spades and diamonds) or going all out, risking a set when not finding a good fit for either, my choice will always be, go for it. “Bid aggressively, but carry a big stick” (to clobber partner when he complains of the big penalty you just took for overbidding and getting doubled to boot). But how often will that happen when your 2nd suit is KQJ9x opposite a NT (albeit weak).