Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Last week at our club a question arose regarding an Alert. In a Flannery sequence does a response of two hearts or two spades require an Alert, on the grounds that those responses indicate no game interest? Many of our newer or non-Flannery players would be shut out of the auction, because of the lack of an Alert.

Level Pegging, Bellevue, Wash.

I believe no Alert is required. The bids are a natural suggestion of a place to play. In a bridge club you’d assume that either the opponents will know this, or be able to work it out. I’m no great fan of using conventions to bamboozle opponents, but we can’t spoon-feed everyone – just in case they aren’t paying attention. By contrast, a jump to three hearts or three spades, if weak, should be Alerted, since the alternative interpretation of forcing or invitational could easily be assumed here.

Recently one of my opponents mentioned Goldwater’s Rule after a bid out of turn. I didn’t understand the explanation – could you clarify it for me please.

Term Limits, Eau Claire, Wis.

Tournament Director Harry Goldwater produced a rule but it was for a lead out of turn not an insufficient call. He suggested that when a lead is made out of turn, you should accept it, on the grounds that anyone who cannot work out who is on lead, probably won’t know what to lead either.

Can you comment on the rebid problem here? I held:
♠ Q, K-9-7, K-Q-8-7-4, ♣ A-J-9-3. I opened one diamond and chose to rebid two clubs over my partner’s one spade response. When my partner raised to three clubs, would you pass or explore for game – or even up and bid three no-trump? My partner had stretched with an eight-count and five clubs, so no game was good.

Third Time Lucky, Durango, Colo.

Your soft cards strongly suggest five clubs is not going to make, so the question is how much you need to go looking for no-trump. I would feel far happier with the diamond 10 instead of the four. As it is I would pass reluctantly, expecting neither of our side-suits would set up easily, even if we overcame a weakness in hearts.

I read your column daily in Spokane’s Spokesman Review. In a column around two years ago, you responded to a reader’s request for recommendation for a book for beginners. You recommended two books as I recall. I cut out the article, planned to order at least one of the books, but lost the page I had cut out. I would like to read up on a little bit before I join a bridge group of some kind — hopefully at my skill level.

Johnny on the Spot, Spokane, Wash.

Here are some suggestions: Planning the Play of a Bridge Hand, by Barbara Seagram & David Bird, or Bridge for Dummies by Eddie Kantar. And the Audrey Grant series for ACBL are all excellent.

I was dealt ♠ J-9, Q-7-3-2, A-10-8-6-4, ♣ K-7 and heard my LHO open one heart, over which my partner overcalled one spade. Now came two clubs on my right. Was I supposed to bid at all – and if so what would you recommend? I chose to raise spades treating my doubleton as the equivalent of three small trumps. Was this reasonable?

Advance with Care, Albuquerque, N.M.

In this seat some play fourth-suit doubles here (also called snapdragon or competitive doubles). This would show good but not great diamonds, together with spade tolerance, and values. The same principle would apply if your RHO had raised hearts as opposed to bidding a new suit. Double would be take-out and value-showing.

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Mircea1May 17th, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing 2/1, how should responder continue after 1M – 1NT; 2NT – ? Do Wolff Signoffs apply? What about transfers? Or is it best to play natural?

bobby wolffMay 17th, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Hi Mircea1,

Definitely yes, Wolff Signoffs should apply, but with transfers (4 way except 3H over an original 1H opening being a decent 5-5 in the minors instead), but since I strongly prefer to limit the FNT response to holding no more than 2 of the opened major and no better than 12 HCPs, a transfer back to the opened major would show exactly the almost maximum e.g s. Qx, h. Kxxx, d. Axxxx, c. Qx or some such to cater to partner being able to select 4 of that major or return to 3NT. Other transfers can be eschewed by partner for either 3NT or 4 or 5 (3S would be a club transfer) of the emphasized minor or, of course, 4 hearts instead of 3 over 3 diamonds.


1. It is very helpful especially when playing 2 over 1 since the 1NT response has such a wide range.
2. Other good pairs will notice and respect you for having such a serious side to your partnership.


1. It will not often come up and when it does, it is then easily forgotten.

2. When it is forgotten, besides a possible zero on that board or 12+ IMPs lost, others will also notice and disrespect your partnership for your sloth.

If you decide to play natural, it is perhaps better to play all suit bids by the original responder are natural and forcing and a return to 3 of partner’s major might be 3 small if allowed for 1NT, and/or otherwise Qx or better). Second best is to play 3 hearts over partner’s original spade opening forcing, but 3 of a minor (always showing at least 6 bad and a 6-7 pt hand ex. s. xx, h. xx, d. QJx, c. QJxxxx can be passed).

Much to remember and very rarely to occur.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

ClarksburgMay 17th, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Your answer to the question by “Advance with Care” raises the matter of the many names given to various modern Doubles.
Some intermediate club-level players can seem uncertain about what low-level Doubles mean. Seems to me the first requirement is to have agreed specific criteria, in auction context, for unambiguous Penalty Doubles. Beyond that, any Double that is not a conventional alertable call, should not even need a “name”! Partner can simply work out what it must mean in auction context.
Is that an OK way to approach this?

bobby wolffMay 17th, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

To maintain the acknowledged tone, Absolutely yes, sort of.

No doubt Snapdragon doubles are well defined as, after 3 different suits have been named around the table at no higher than the 2 level (below 2NT), a double by 4th seat, while playing the Snapdragon convention is length in the unbid suit (5 or on rare occasions, 6 relatively weak ones) and usually honor one in partner’s suit. Therefore bidding the 4th suit independently implies at least a fairly good suit and likely not even mediocre support for partner with the exception being a very good suit (KQJ9xx+) but also decent support for partner (Jxx+).

However if RHO has raised his partner’s suit, even at all levels, then double by the 4th to speak is TO for the unbids with or without mild support for partner (called a responsive double and named long ago, around the late 1950’s, after Dr. Fielding Reid from the Midwest, I believe but am not sure, Iowa).

Obviously the higher the opponents bid, the more a double can (and should) be treated as penalty. as trump stacks after suits are bid and vigorously supported are rare.

All of your other talk about various low level doubles is right on and in context. However, at a usual somewhat higher level the current expert treatment is that doubles are general ways to show some life (high cards with perhaps both the positions of aces and kings, if there are a couple, and distributions, not great support for partner, but usually sort of medium and more often good support for perhaps another suit(s) yet to be named.

A relatively modern expression of “you’ll recognize it when you hear it” is more or less a guide to the specific definition which all of us, good, medium and not so, tend to take too much for granted.

Will it eventually work or at least catch on among the many players who only play for fun? I doubt it, but we can always hope and what in the world is that word I use, fun?

Many different things and emotions to many different people, all bridge players.

Thanks for asking and please do not be terribly discouraged by my reply.

ClarksburgMay 17th, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Discouraged? Not at all! Thanks for the lesson!
I had not previously appreciated the subtle difference between the Snapdragon double and a direct bid of the fourth suit.
The Snapdragon Double now seems very natural in context, and I understand it is not Alertable…so… does it really need a “name”? 🙂

bobby wolffMay 17th, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Good! I’m glad you are not discouraged by the unspecified nature of so much.

I cannot understand why a Snapdragon double is not alertable, since it, at least to me, fills all the necessities of why alerts should be made:

1. It is an artificial double, not for penalties (as are lead directing doubles) and not for general takeout.

2. It is specific in showing a suit (unbid) and some partial support for partner, which would tend an ask from me as to approximately the number of cards in the suits shown and, of course, range of strength.

3. A short cut definition of what an alert is supposed to accomplish is the enabling of the opponents to at least know some reasonable amount of what the users know.

4. Perhaps the ACBL in their metamorphosis,
have forgotten, or maybe never knew, their responsibility to all who play tournament bridge to at the very least, create the appearance of providing the venue for a fair contest.

5. You are correct that a bidding convention does not really need a name, but when players tend to play an artificial convention such as a Snapdragon double in many different ways, to not now being an alert truly boggles my mind, or at least, what is
left of it.

6. That means if some play the way that double was played not many years ago as strength in that suit, penalty in essence, and suggesting a possible lead in the doubled suit, then they need to alert that action in spite of what it used to mean and I’ll dare say is played that way by about 95+% of the remaining overall entire bridge population left in the USA?

Please say it ain’t so, Joe uh, I mean Clarksburg.

ClarksburgMay 17th, 2015 at 8:31 pm

It ain’t so !!
My initial understanding (i.e.not alertable) came from one well known “educator” source.
I just checked a number of unofficial but credible sources; they all say it’s alertable.
So now I too know “it ain’t so”…second lesson of the day.