Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

When you open one no-trump and partner responds with Stayman, how do you deal with intervention? Can you ever bid at the three-level?

Coping Mechanism, Texarkana, Texas

If the opponents double, the simple option is to redouble to show very good clubs, while two diamonds shows real diamonds, and pass is the default call with nothing to say. A more sophisticated approach is to pass without a stopper and use any action to show a stopper. Over higher intervention, bid at the two-level if you can, with double penalties. Bids at the three-level show a five-card major and a maximum.

I got criticized for opening the following hand: ♠ A-Q-3-2,  Q-J-3,  10, ♣ Q-9-4-3-2. Where do you stand on this, and would your position change depending on position or vulnerability?

Light Brigade, Bremerton, Wash.

5-4 hand patterns with easy rebids are tempting to open. I'd be much happier with a little more in my long suit or chunkier intermediates; but non-vulnerable I don't need much convincing to get in there. This is especially so in first or third seat.

I picked up: ♠ 10-7-4,  Q-10-8-5,  A-Q-9-5, ♣ A-Q and opened one diamond in second seat. My LHO overcalled one spade, partner made a negative double, and my RHO raised to two spades. Should I bid three hearts now or pass?

Lone Granger, Fresno, Calif.

I think your weak spade length is favorable for action. Bidding three hearts is certainly reasonable here, but there is a conventional gadget that might allow you to distinguish between a real invitation and a purely competitive action. Details of how to use a call of two no-trump as artificial (the so-called good-bad two no-trump) can be found here.

In fourth seat, not vulnerable, I held ♠ J-10-9-7-6-5,  J-5-3,  A-4, ♣ 6-4. My LHO, vulnerable, opened with one spade, which my partner doubled. My RHO passed, and after some thought so did I. We set the contract two tricks, for 500 points. My partner insists I should have bid one no trump, allowing him to bid at the two-level. My argument is that even plus 110 or 140 versus the 200 that I considered probable was a poor return.

Hair Gel, Albuquerque, N.M.

I like your reasoning – it is the 9-7 of trumps that persuade me! If your partner cannot be convinced by the result that you achieved at the table, he is indeed a hard nut to crack.

In yesterday's Casper Wyoming Tribune, the partner used Blackwood, but opener's response was five spades with only one ace. Why wasn't the response five diamonds?

Goodnight Irene, Casper, Wyo.

My apologies for losing the footnote that should have gone with the Roman Keycard Blackwood response. Bridge Guys’ definition sets out how this version of Blackwood allows you to find out about the trump king and queen. This is by no means an essential part of modern bidding but honesty compels me to admit that more and more players do use a gadget of this sort when asking for aces.

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


Patrick CheuMarch 8th, 2015 at 9:45 am

Hi Bobby,Pard and I disagreed on the bidding of this hand-North:Qxx void AKQxxx Jxxx-South:K10x K10xx 10x AQ98.Playing Acol-N 1D S 1H,N 2D S 2N,N 3D pass out.Four pairs in 3N making,one in 5D making and one in 3N going off,plus others.I was annoyed for not being in game,should I have just bid 3N as South rather than ‘consult’ as my hand was quite ‘chunky’?Pard maintains that we don’t want to be in a non making game on a heart lead,I disagreed as West has to find a ‘lead’,is it clear for him to lead one..from J9xxx? Pard said he would..The game hinges on the nine of hearts,if it were in my hand 3N was ok.In theory only 8tricks,in practice 9tricks as the traveller seems to imply..W 987 J9xxx 96 K10x,E AJxx AQ87 Jxx xx.If pard have bid 3C(min hand) over 2N,we might have got to 5C or 5D best spot..your thoughts would be much appreciated.Regards~Patrick.

ClarksburgMarch 8th, 2015 at 10:26 am

Good morning Mr. Wolff,
I’m looking for a sound criterion for the 1NT Opener to make a “super accept” of Responder’s transfer bid. I know there are various methods whereby Opener can provide some detail about shortness etc., but this question is about specifically the common simple jump to three level.

At present, our agreement is that with four trumps in a “not-4333 flat’ hand, the 1NT Opener (15-17 range) should jump to the three level, irrespective of HC strength. I like this because with the Law of Total Tricks at it’s best at the two and three level, particularly with HCP divided relatively equally between opposing sides, why not get to the three level ASAP with your nine-card fit i.e. it has some pre-emptive value if our side is weaker. Also, Opener is more likely to be at the “weak end” of the 1NT range than at “Max”, so the bid can be used more often.

Is that a sound approach, particularly for Pairs?

Any other comment / advice ?


bobby wolffMarch 8th, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Good morning Patrick,

Some simple advice to offer: Both sides should have bid 3NT. First if partner only rebid 2NT (with his 2nd bid) the holding of AKQxxx in a minor suit is enough on its own to risk 3NT. (With a major instead, especially when holding an outside void suit, I would also never pass, but may either just jump to the major suit game, e.g. s. AKQ10xx, h. void, d.QJx, c. J10xx, or consider another bid, if one is available, to give partner a chance to prefer playing game in the major rather than NT). Again, as a general thought, do not, even at matchpoints, but never at IMPs or rubber bridge tend to pass 2NT instead of taking the dare in search of the game bonus since the declarer will be advantaged by either a wrong lead or follow-up, later soft defense, or just lucky breaks. (of course with Jim2 always an exception). Edgar Kaplan’s good advice, “Where there are eight tricks, somehow those suddenly become nine” and for as many reasons as one can count. However that admonition is based on a known source of tricks, not two random balanced hands made up of many quacks (queens and jacks).

Yes, I would probably rebid 3NT rather than only 2 with the responders hand. An unseen advantage to doing that is simply that 3NT would show anywhere from a good 12 count to perhaps up to 18+ instead of the well defined 11-12, sometimes creating still another disadvantage to the defense, especially at matchpoints where every overtrick can be critical, instead of just going all out to defeat it. On this hand, a 3NT jump could cause the opening leader to shy away from a heart lead (the suit bid by declarer). Why?, I couldn’t begin to tell you, but since I am not the leader, you need to ask the one who is who may be delving too deeply into an area which just only demands positive hope.

Yes, ask any beautiful woman, being mysterious has its advantages.

As far as responder, at his second turn to bid, not bidding NT, but instead catering to a different game contract, count be out in that experiment, in spite of its possible success, “Loose lips sink ships” in bridge as well as war.

What about a club lead from an opening leader who was dealt K10xx in clubs (keep that suit unbid and you sometimes get that suit led from Kxx)!

Patrick CheuMarch 8th, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Hi Bobby,Your advice is much appreciated here and thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us. Best regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffMarch 8th, 2015 at 3:34 pm

And, Clarksburg, a cheery good morning back to you,

In the area to which you are referring, your understandings appear effective and for the right reasons.

However, as your partnership grows with experience you may want to add a tiny adjustment with the always worthwhile goal of winning more often.

Yes, the LOTT (law of total tricks) does suggest that with 4 of your partner’s transferred suit, it is indeed prudent to jump to three, in order to keep those worthy opponents from balancing and often going plus with a 140 or 110 at the three level after your partnership subsides at the two level or worse sets you 300 (2 tricks, NV doubled) when your side then, after the competition continues, to now chance competing at the three level, but not succeeding.

All of the above is realistic, except for when playing against inexperienced opponents it will probably not be necessary to jump to the three level, holding four trumps, so possibly +110 can be shown instead of -50 or -50 can be achieved instead of -100.

The differences in those numbers may be worth up to the equivalent of 1/4+ a board and is worthwhile for your partnership to use its nose and take advantage of its surroundings.

Therefore, if the above is agreed and implemented the overall result, IMO will be a plus in the future. In other words, against cutthroat competition (or almost) yes, use your basic partnership understanding, but against others, try to buy the hand at as low a level as possible and let nature take its course.

To label the above you might define it as “the good and the very good”, which my experience will suggest that if you do not implement that psychology now, you will eventually, as you climb the ladder of success.

While actually living that growing in stature approach you and your best partner(s) will choose that philosophy in many of your bidding methods, since without it, you will be giving away an advantage already achieved by the competition around the room who enter with the sworn intent of doing what it takes to score the maximum on every board. And BTW the above also applies at IMPs where there are some of those also available for plucking by also adopting the same course of strategy.

Otherwise I will give you my blessing for your present agreement regarding transfers, although I think you can do better by playing 2 way Stayman instead. And for the same type reasoning, by giving the opponents only 1 shot at balancing instead of 2. (and also for thinking that playing from one side or another is basically an overrated advantage to which I sincerely concur).

ClarksburgMarch 8th, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Thank you. Most helpful indeed.
Your comments have given us further confidence that our emerging agreements and style are appropriate.

About inexperiened opponents? Right on! Here’s a direct excerpt from the preamble section of our System Notes:

“…It is worth thinking about appropriate TACTICS, and how to best utilize our bidding tools. Our bidding system and conventions are actually designed and geared to competing against highly competent “at-the-Table” opponents who know how to compete and will compete. When facing such opponents we should fully utilize our pre-emptive tools i.e. “go high quickly when weak” to crowd their auction. In such cases, a one or two trick set may very well be a good result. However, a one or two trick set would most definitely not be a good result at all, against weak opponents who are less likely to fully value their hands and may not have bid to their makeable contract anyway!! So, against weaker opponents we should perhaps be less aggressive in pre-emptive bidding, and in going right up to the level of the fit (which may not be necessary). …”

So, thank you again Mr Wolff.

bobby wolffMarch 8th, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Sincerely hope that we can stay in such rhythm for a long time.

In this case my radar intercepted your system notes and consequently I was only acknowledging our agreement.

On a more serious note, and as time goes by, (sounds like a good song title we might write some time) very high-level bridge has now taken on, dealing with high-level opponents and thus doing to them, what they wish not done to themselves.

Next in line will come dealing with the game the way it is, full of guesses and thus misjudgments, especially when the bidding of the opponents is full of red herrings and other unpredictable strategies.

Up to now there has been certain confusions between legal obstructions: psyches, phony temporizing bids and lead inhibitors rather than intentional poison gas efforts, like hidden partnership tendencies, destructive bidding (made only to hinder opponents and not to deal with anything constructive for one’s own partnership), intentionally not discussing certain parts of ones own system in order not to have to disclose and other borderline legalities which to me, prove only that winning is the only goal, even if helping destroy the beautiful game itself is the result.

I could better specifically define the above, but it both makes me very sad, but then at times even think it sort of amusing that some top players still regard the formal development of the game as a prelude to what it is not, never has been nor should never be, a theater of the absurd.

If so, bridge, as we know it, would not IMO be worth even being played.

Does the above remind you, as it certainly does me, the political abyss and thus the sorrowful realism which has fast become today’s world?