Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 10th, 2015

What is your take on the merits of using a one no-trump overcall in the sandwich seat (between two bidding opponents) as natural and strong as opposed to artificial and the other two suits? And what about in balancing seat?

In the Hot Seat, North Bay, Ontario

Playing one no-trump here as artificial and two-suited is wrong because you already have two ways to show the unbid suits (by doubling or bidding two notrump). You should keep the bid by an unpassed hand as natural and 16-18 points. In balancing seat, by the way, you may be surprised to learn that experts without exception play the jump to two no-trump as strong and balanced – about a two no-trump opener, or a little less.

I held ♠ 9, A-J-7-4-3-2, K-7-3, ♣ Q-J-3, and responded two hearts to one spade. My partner had an ill-fitting 12-count and we ended up in three no-trump, down three when neither major behaved. Afterwards my partner suggested I did not have enough to force to game. I respectfully disagree; what say you?

Over the Top, Houston, Texas

This was a sensible choice by you. Your call of two hearts is just fine – you would open, so you should force to game. In a perfect world if rebidding your suit was not a game force you might go that way, but here it is a case of omelets and broken eggs. Occasionally ill-fitting hands with the approximate values for game will get too high. Shrug your shoulders and move on.

Recently you ran a deal where West overcalled two spades over one spade, without the sort of strength I’d expect for this call. What does the bid mean? I read it for short spades and a very strong hand so I did not understand what happened in the auction thereafter. Was it a misprint? Could West have bid two hearts rather than two spades?

Fall Guy, Doylestown, Pa.

My apologies, I should have put a footnote to say that the two spade call was a Michaels Cuebid, showing five hearts and five of a minor. (West’s call is often played this way, but a footnote was appropriate.) Sorry!

Playing the weak two bid, some of my regular game have been taught that the appropriate range is five to 10 points with a six-card suit, while others have been taught a range of six to 12 points. Which is correct?

Hi-Lo Countryman, Wilmington, N.C.

12 counts are REALLY exceptional for a 2-level bid, and 11-counts are fairly unusual, except when first or second in hand vulnerable. My general rule is that when you look at a 10-11 count with a six-carder, add on two points for the six-card suit and one for any side four-card suit. If and only if the total comes to 13, open at the one-level so long as you have an ace and a king, or three kings, or else some decent defense. Otherwise bid at the two-level.

How should one play a redouble of a cuebid in a slam-going auction? Should that promise first-round control or is it sufficient for that sequence to show second-round control?

Show and Tell, Elkhart, Ind.

My view is that the redouble should show first-round control (by either hand). A pass of the double by second hand should be constructive – some people play this sequence promises second-round control, and that is certainly sensible enough, though it requires agreement. Whether you play this way or not, reversion to the trump suit is the weakest option always, and a new cue-bid denies any control in the doubled suit.

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Joe1May 24th, 2015 at 10:35 am

Do you use michaels only as 5-5, or can some 5-6 hands use this? What about 5 with a strong 4, say Kxxxx, AKQx, xx, xx? I think i recall seeing it used that way.

bobby wolffMay 24th, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Hi Joe1,

Since the #1 purpose of using 2 suited overcalls is to emphasize those suits 6-5 is better than 5-5.

Even 6-6, but however, sometimes and against known opponents who may think you are always overbidding it may be better strategy to bid those suits one at a time, with a better chance to get doubled later, when, indeed your side has at least a partial fit.

Also, and MOST important, especially to me, is when 5-4 is held in the majors and, of course the opponents either open 1 of a minor or even 1NT when your side has a bid which shows both majors to have 5 hearts and 4 spades rather than the opposite, since 3-3 and even 2-2 is not an uncommon holding by partner, and when either of those two distributions occur it becomes imperative for your side to arrive at the right major making hearts the bid to choose, so that both partners will allow for it.

Consequently 4-5 should often be shown as a major two suiter, but not 5-4. So if the responder has AQx in spades and xxx in hearts always choose hearts. Of course, if one’s gambling spirit is overactive when holding Jxxxx in spades and AKQx in hearts go try your luck at either Michaels, Landy or whatever bid your partnership uses to show the majors over an opponent’s NT, but realize the result may be contingent on what Dame Fortune deals your partner.

The above is a word to the wise and a point to be discussed and therefore agreed.

ClarksburgMay 24th, 2015 at 5:06 pm

A supplementary question about the range for weak-two bids, and the preferred way to make sure the opponents know what Partner knows.:
Our convention card says 5-11, but we like to open say S QJ10xxx at favourable vulnerability and seat position, and will do it frequently.
Is that a permissible style variation? Should it be alerted or perhaps pre-alerted? Should the card be changed to say 4-10 ?

bobby wolffMay 24th, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

While I always admire your bridge ethics, I think merely suggesting 4-10 on your convention card is enough, since probably everyone but rank beginners will understand when an opposing partnership may gravitate to the lower number.

And indeed, if you encounter newbies while playing, you might look to find an excuse to enlighten them on what to expect in the way of strategy by more experienced players. In that way you’ll teach them in one dose, what may take others, weeks and even months to grasp.

Of course, while doing so, depending on their dispositions, you may run into some distrusting
sorts who may originally think that you are not as well intended as you know you are, but the teaching (and necessary learning) in bridge will suggest that you at least try.

What tournament bridge really needs is more players like you, who really love the game and so mightily contribute to its advancement.

BTW, since Horn Lake is a hands off organization, allowing the probably thousands of bridge clubs around ACBL land to do as they wish there may or may not be a rule limiting the point spread limit on certain bids. I know that is true with opening NT spreads and wonder if it is also enforced with WTBs.

Whatever, while playing 4-? if one wants to open a WTB with 3, there is nothing remotely illegal about so doing under the logical theory of partner as well as the opponents are all not in the know. Of course, possibly many bridge club owners do not know themselves that the above is true and who knows what ruling one will get from them when the opponents call the director.

A definite disadvantage to having the parent organization a total hands-off entity, when a weekly or at least monthly newsletter from them to the registered bridge clubs may emphasize those always salient laws or preferred handling.

If so, I will apologize for my suggestion.

Of course, as far as I know, there may be such communication but, at least for me, only the Shadow knows.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 24th, 2015 at 6:29 pm


With reference to the question by Joe1 about cue bids with five/five, it brought to mind your innovative handling of similar holdings over a major opening by your RHO. I think your reading audience would enjoy hearing how you (and now we) treat 1S/2S and 1H/2H. It has helped us arrive at some superior contracts and affords comfort of specifics.

Your devoted disciple

bobby wolffMay 24th, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Thank you slave, (but a very attractive one)

Since when a Michaels occurs over an opponent’s major suit bid, it is often followed by a raise from the partner of the opening bidder to three or four in the opening bidder’s suit. Therefore it becomes important, with probably critical a better word, that the partner of the Michael’s bidder know what minor partner has.

Enabling becomes the key word so that I suggest it is better to play the other major and clubs as the two suits so when the Michaels partner has something like, s. xxx, h. Qx, d. xx, c. Axxxxx he can safely bid 5 clubs which is a double edged sword, with both edges giving the defensive hands the best of it.

The response to a normal Michaels (hearts + a minor) would warn off any good player since he will have no appreciable fit with partner a large percentage of the time when diamonds will be his second suit and not to bid when it is clubs not diamonds figures to produce a very bad result since both sides will be able to take a large number of tricks, but in fact, the opponents will play the hand in spades with likely no competition unless one defender or the other goes out on a short weak limb.

E’nuff said to the wise, and possibly too much to ones who have already made up their minds
to continue to take the well traveled road.

David WarheitMay 25th, 2015 at 1:08 am

A few days ago I suggested saving the deuce in the suit guarded by both opponents in a double squeeze. You weren’t too fond of this, but you graciously said I was welcome to do this should I ever play against you. Well, the situation is discussed in Bill Root’s How to Play a Bridge Hand, p. 231 where he calls it a “show off” play. So should I ever have the chance to do this again, my excuse will be that I did it to honor (or should it be “show off”) the late great Mr. Root.

bobby wolffMay 25th, 2015 at 1:41 am

Hi David,

No doubt, by doing so you would take root to either honor or show off by declaring war, on an animal in sheep’s clothing, despite the lowly height of a deuce or would you rather fight with a slingshot to prefer being a Goliath by honoring your namesake.