Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 26th, 2015

In third chair I held: ♠ Q-10-5-3, J-7-5, K-5, ♣ K-J-7-3, and heard my partner open one heart. Can you comment on the merits of the direct raise, a response of one spade, or starting out with a response of one no-trump.

Mixing it up, Memphis, Tenn.

If you use the direct raise to two hearts as constructive, with a one no-trump response as forcing, I’d raise directly. Try not to jump raise (either immediately or at the second turn) with a mundane 10-count – which this surely is. I would not respond one spade unless I planned to jump to three hearts facing my partner’s response. And I’d try to have good spades for that auction if I did.

Is Drury the answer to all problems when facing a potentially light third-in-hand opener? Is there not the risk of losing the club suit as a passed hand?

Gumboots, Rockford, Ill.

Drury (the passed hand response of two clubs to a majorsuit opening showing a maximum pass, and a fit) has many plusses. It keeps you low on occasions, and lets you explore the right game efficiently. You minimize the risk you describe if you stretch to open one club with 11 points and six clubs in first or second chair. With fewer points, pass, then respond one no-trump (or three clubs if necessary).

My partner and I disagreed over a recent hand. I had: ♠ A-J-5-2, 10-8-7-5-4, Q-2, ♣ J-4, when you hear your partner open one no-trump? I chose to use Stayman and pass the response of two spades, judging that I had improved the contract already. Nine tricks were the limit on the hand, but my partner said I owed him a bid. Any thoughts?

Head Cook, West Palm Beach, Fla.

I would use Stayman as you did, planning to bid two no-trump over a two diamond response. But I would have raised two spades to three, and would have raised a two heart response to game – so I feel you did not do enough, irrespective of the result actually achieved on this hand.

I play the rule of 15 to decide whether to open a fourth hand (adding my HCP points to the number of spades I hold.) A person I respect says I should have 16 pts. How many points do your recommend?

Pearson Pointer, Vancouver, British Columbia

Don’t be guided by that rule alone. With 13 or more HCP open, and don’t worry about such issues. With 11-12, look at your controls and ease of rebid. Consider the vulnerability (always open unfavorable, since neither opponent bid when they had the chance, and partner might pass 11-12 hands in 2nd). At favorable be more discreet – partner didn’t open when he might have done! Certainly use 15 not 16 as the guideline. You paid your entry fee; bid when you can.

When considering whether to open two no-trump, should you be put off by holding a weak doubleton? I assume a five-card major is not a serious drawback, but what about a five-card minor AND a four-card major? I recently held: ♠ A-Q-7-3, 9-5, A-Q-J-7-5, ♣ A-K, and elected to open one diamond. My partner disagreed with my perception of the hand’s flaws for an opening of two notrump. What do you think?

Lincoln Lawyer, Riverside, Calif.

I agree with you that opening two no-trump unnecessarily preempts yourself when you have an easy and far more descriptive route available, namely to open one diamond and then to jump or reverse into spades. Sometimes one settles for a two no-trump opening when all the alternatives are more seriously flawed, but not today.

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ClarksburgMay 10th, 2015 at 11:06 am

Good morning Mr. Wolff.
Here are two questions on bidding judgement and options. They are from a recent STACs Pairs game, and are of interest to several players from two local Clubs.

1) You are at Favourable VUL in second seat.
You hold S A84 H 1098764 D J C A53.
Two scenarios: RHO passes, or RHO opens 1 Spade.
Would you recommend acting, and if so with what call?

2) Both VUL you are in fourth seat.
You hold S J852 H QJ4 D AQJ76 C 5.
RHO (third seat) opens 1 Heart.
To us, there appear to be two plausible options:
First, a TO double, seeking a Spade fit and planning a rebid of 2D over a 2C response by Partner. (i.e. equal-level conversion)
Second, a two-Diamond overcall.
Could you kindly comments on these? Other recommendations?

Bobby WolffMay 10th, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

#1. At favorable vulnerability, (NV vs. Vul) I would open 1 heart after RHO has passed. 2nd choice would be to open 2 hearts which leaves 3rd choice with pass. The hand is just too strong to not open and I do not want partner to play me for this much when I either open 2 hearts or pass.

I am willing to deal with the poor lead direction (vs. suit, but not necessarily a NT contract) since, as usual, some disadvantage often occurs with making a close choice.

If RHO does open 1 spade, I am there with 2 hearts since it is so likely, if not then, will go the ability to get into the auction at all, although, of course, if I did pass and LHO bid a simple 2 spades (IMO his most liikely choice), I, would, if it went pass, pass, back to me then bid 3 hearts.

No 2nd choice with either action and a good example to choose an opening of 1 heart (aces are seriously undervalued and so are 6 card majors, no matter how weak). If I was able to open 1 heart and then it went, pass, 2 hearts, pass, I would preemptively raise to 3 hearts (barring partner from even considering bidding anymore) and my guess on your scoring it up is: making 3 60%, making 4, 20%, down 1 15% and down 2 5%. with an average matchpoint score of about 70&. That is, if played to best advantage with a random opening lead, but good defense afterward.

2. #2, While it may appear inconsistent I would choose pass, but be prepared to balance, in case it went 1NT by LHO, pass pass, I would then bid 2 diamonds, or if it went 2 hearts pass pass I would bid 3 diamonds not double and convert 3 clubs to 3 diamonds (obviously an equal level conversion due to the initial pass), but for fear that LHO will continue with 3 hearts and my unfortunate partner will be tempted to venture 4 clubs with, s. Axx, x Kxx, Q109xxx.

Be careful about shading an original TO dbl before (particularly with distribution: e.g. Axxx, x, Jxxx, A10xx not so bad, although against fierce opponents I would not do it).

Caveats to be considered:

1. You and your specific partner should agree with similar tactics (most of the above suggestions would be my hoped for conditions of combat)

2. Understandings should be based on A, who the opponents are and what will probably be their reactions, although it could be argued that this knowledge should be available to those opponents. However your discussions should only be based on their aggressive or not so attitudes and not especially to exactly who they happen to be.
B. Could easily be different at IMPs and/or the status of the match at that point, keeping in mind who the opponents are at the other table and, of course, their tendencies.

C. If the opponents, take the bait and raise themselves a level (after a balancing bid), the partner of the balancer should adopt a conservative mode, being happy that they may be one higher than your teammates are at the other table.

The secret of the best a partnership can be is not necessarily to play close to errorless bridge (virtually impossible, but rather to be consistent with tactics, not varying them so much that partner will never know what to expect.

Bridge SHOULD NOT always be fun while playing it, but rather that emotion should be reserved for assessing the final result of both partners performing well enough to come up with the win.

Most sessions are long enough to have to deal with highs and lows and the highs should be close to perfection (or better put, the perfection measured by your current abilities), with the lows being mostly mistakes in judgment, to be always learned from, why and for both partners, since often mistakes made are the results of the partnership, not a specific player.

PS, you will soon learn that often mistakes by you are, in truth, generated, by the best players around which, in turn, should cause our best and brightest up and comers to begin to understand that those opponents are who you, should be eventually trying to emulate.

“So much to learn, so little time to feel your desire to learn it” should usually accompany your early bridge playing experiences.

Mircea1May 10th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Hi Bobby,

The last five paragraphs in your response to Clarksburg are IMO some of the best advice that a player of your caliber can give to the rest of us bridge mortals. I commend you for it and for everything you do here on Aces. Thank you very much.

Bobby WolffMay 10th, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Instead of Mother’s Day, I feel it is be kind to Bridge Friends day, particularly ones who give opinions.

Truthfully, it is wonderful bridge lovers like you which make me give all I can to preaching how magnificent our game really is and, of course, how I would love for it never to die.

Thanks again for your very sincere and thoughtful words. I will always cherish them.

Bill CubleyMay 10th, 2015 at 6:05 pm


I actually held very close to this hand once. S Axx H T98764 D — C Axxx and did open 1H in second seat.

Partner splintered 4C, I bid 4S, got a 5H response so I bid 6H knowing I was getting good hearts in dummy.

The lead was a small diamond from Queen fourth. Dummy held S xx H AKJ5 D KJ9xxx C x.

I put on the jack, ruffed the ace and eventually made seven. Do you still hold to those percentages above? 😉

Happy Bridge Players Day to you and to Judy.

Bobby WolffMay 10th, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Hi Bill,

Your comment should create another bridge truth, “One only needs half the deck (20 HCPs) to sometimes take all the tricks”.

Of course, some luck in the name of a diamond lead helped, or, of course the diamond ace or maybe even the queen being tripleton may have contributed.

Next time even you and surely all of us mortals, will consider before we jump to a small slam in hearts. That thought should be about the possibility of bidding a “grand”.

“Take the current when it serves or lose our fortune”.

Happy Father’s Day to come.

Bobby WolffMay 10th, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Hi Jim2,

I know you didn’t write, but on this sentimental holiday about those of us who have or had a mother, we realize that you would be thinking of how to play this hand knowing Qxx of hearts offside along with other misfortune, are sure to happen

jim2May 10th, 2015 at 8:11 pm


slarMay 11th, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Clarksburg’s #1 is a good example of “there is no hand too strong for a weak 2 and not strong enough to open.” I have to think about this. Washingtonians compete hyper-aggressively for some reason. Keeping your opening bids sound keeps the penalty double in play and I seem to need it a lot. Therefore I generally avoid opening 8 loser hands at the 1 level. However, against a likely 3S contract I can probably take three tricks in my own hand. Since I can tolerate it if partner doubles 3S, I should feel comfortable opening.

Bobby WolffMay 12th, 2015 at 4:52 am

Hi Slar,

In your sincere effort to both be consistent and yet improve your bidding judgment, you are running into what every aspiring younger player (and I suspect you are, although the age for being ones best at bridge is an older age than is becoming an athlete).

Everyone, including me, is guiding you in different directions which only tends to confuse, not achieve.

It is an advantage to open the bidding, since: 1. By doing so you’ll gets your suit or suits in earlier allowing a good fitting hand to not be left at the post.
2. Take valuable bidding space away from the opponents, making them guess what to do more often than they would like.
3. Usually, but certainly not always, you will be suggesting a better lead both for defending suits and even more importantly, defending NT.
4. Bridge, even at the very high levels, is somewhat random, depending often on suit breaks and winning finesses more than even the overrated value of high card points. For suit play, distribution (fits) are the order of the day. The learning of the game has been commercialized much more than is healthy and serves many older bridge players, who become teachers, especially for novices and allows them to keep their minds active into the later years.
5. All of the above tends to bastardize the learning of the expert game, which to get where you want to go, will take more time than you probably have to give it, and will require total concentration while at the table to overcome the advice of what so many less than stellar players are trying to tell you about A. defensive strength (forget that requirement by not doubling wary opponents unless you know something they do not). As previously mentioned, find an excuse to bid something rather than one to not.

Keep your bridge mind alive by reading Terence Reese’s Master Play and slowly, not proceeding to the next chapter until the previous one is totally understood. Kibitz the best players you can find and ask them as many questions as your mind can comprehend.

Forget this and that advice and in not too many months or perhaps a couple of years you’ll not be able to recognize yourself with the knowledge you have gleaned.

AND ALWAYS LEARN TO COUNT EVERY HAND, both offensively as declarer and defensively until it just comes naturally. After about 6 months depending on your numerate IQ my guess is that you’ll never have to pick up an opponent’s hand later (or even more so your partners) but instead you will have those hands indelibly in mind getting there through the process of counting everything.

I know it looks difficult but no one I know who seriously loves the game has ever failed with this part of the game. Many do not belong trying, but they will fade out long before they need to be told.

Opening bid or not, who cares! just be consistent and understand what takes tricks and how your partnership views bidding in general and you are already at least half way there.

I’ll now shut up and wish you good luck!