Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 28th, 2015

During the auction, are you allowed (or even supposed) to use the terms: “Alert, Skip Bid, Transfer, Jump shift” and so on. I would like to be proven right or wrong so as not to continue this haranguing with my opponents! I have researched the printed word and searched the internet, but cannot find a definitive answer.

Baby Ruth, Troy, N.Y.

These words are not only legal but best practice. Stop (skip) bids are to prevent your LHO pausing too much or too little, thus tipping his partner off to his strength. If you MUST pause with both a flat four- or 14-count, your partner will be able to do what he pleases. An alert tells your opponents (not partner) that a call is conventional. If they wrongly think it is natural, they might be damaged. ‘Transfer’ is a small variant on the alert procedure; it applies to bids in response to a no-trump opening. The only required announcements are ‘skip’, ‘transfer’, ‘alert’ and ‘forcing’ for the response to the major, not ‘Jump Shift’.

As the proliferation of cuebids grows on my convention card, I’m seeking to find the best way to explain what an unassuming cuebid is and what the call has to be modest about!

Winston Smith, Sioux Falls, S.D.

The reason the call is so named is that facing an overcall, a cuebid by his partner shows a fit, and at least limit raise values. But it in no way promises any control (either high-card or shortage) in the opponent’s suit. Conversely, a jump raise of an overcalled suit now becomes much more about shape than high cards.

I was just reading a column last week where a player had a strong balanced hand in fourth chair when a one diamond call came round to him. With 17 points, why not simply bid one no-trump to avoid wrong-siding a major suit, as actually happened here?

Lip Smacker, Tucson, Ariz.

The range for the balancing no-trump is typically a good 10-15 points, so unless by agreement this call shows a weaker hand not a stronger one. One hopes to double and bid no-trump to show the extras; if you don’t play this style, you risk being closed out of the auction when you and your partner each hold balanced minimum opening bids.

I was thinking about going to Chicago in August to the US Nationals there, to try and get my first platinum points. However I see no way of entering any event with platinum points. Am I missing something?

Trophy Hunter, Newark, N.J.

My reading of the ACBL’s 2015 summer tournament schedule suggests that the bold upper-case events (the LM pairs, open pairs and fast pairs) do have platinum points I think. You can enter the second two events even if not a life master.

Earlier this week I had six hearts to the king-jack, and four spades to the ace-queen. I elected to pass in second seat (would you?). My partner opened a minor in fourth seat and rebid one no-trump over one heart, but passed my invitation to three hearts. Did I undercook the deal – since a favorable break gave me play for 12 tricks facing the minor-suit aces and the spade king?

Low-ball, Edmonton, Alberta

The initial pass is not my style though I understand it. Without the side four-card suit I might just invite game on your auction. But the extra playing strength and the well-placed honors makes it sensible to drive to game (perhaps in hearts if partner doesn’t admit to holding four spades).

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


ClarksburgJuly 12th, 2015 at 12:42 pm

This is about defensive signalling at first trick on a specific hand.
You are defending 4 Spades.
Partner, holding D AKJ74 and, having overcalled 2D over 1S, leads DA followed by DK.
You did not raise the suit (rightly or wrongly…there was a Diamond save available) but you hold D 9632.
If you wish, right from the outset, to discourage Diamonds, and not mislead Partner into thinking you may have started with only two diamonds, what should your first and second cards be from 9632?

Bobby WolffJuly 12th, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Good teaching (to which I aspire, but seldom reach my satisfaction), is, in answer to your question, simply would first play the deuce followed by the three.

However, like perhaps 90%+ in attempting to learn higher level bridge, there is more to consider.

1. It is impossible at this point to do any better than to discourage partner from even beginning to think that you may have a doubleton (or the queen if not visible) and any high low, since you didn’t raise might create that very dangerous first impression.

2. As one delves deeper into our great game, the bidding often has a relatively major effect on the eventual defense, therein once partner’s suit is supported partner will likely be advantaged (of course however, so will declarer).

3. Continuing on, after supporting with 9632 and now defending after partner plays the ace and then the king (lets pretend winning both tricks) your second card assuming you have played the deuce to start with could be then the 9 not one of the other two left which would indicate that you prefer the higher ranking suit (other than diamonds and spades) rather than the lower ranking one to which you would have continued with the three.

However your wily LHO is also intently listening so you the 3rd seat defender are already into (like it or not) a psychological battle with Mr. Declarer. If you think your suit preference will help declarer more than it will your beloved partner, by all means, do everything possible to mislead him (such as with AQxx being in dummy) signal for that suit when not possessing the king just to make your adversary think twice before finessing if in fact your partner has that king.

And the beat goes on. Yes bridge can be difficult and sometimes very exasperating but before everyone criticizes off the charts tennis players like Serena Williams, perhaps they should at least consider that she has already proven to the world that she alone is at the top of women’s tennis, a position unlikely to be challenged and although we all have obligations to be socially acceptable, how far does one have to go to satisfy that responsibility?

Bridge has the same hidden qualities which distinguish it from all other mind games, and to my taste, leaves them all far in the background except perhaps Chess, which IMO does not have the unbelievable charisma to match its science.

ClarksburgJuly 12th, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Thank you Mr. Wolff
Some Clubmates are following this (from our Hand of the Week)
If I may, a supplementary question, with further detail.
Partner leads DA followed by DK as before.
Dummy comes down with:
S AKQ2 (trumps)
H J107
D Q8 (Queen now visible in a Doubleton)
C K765

You hold:
S 875
H 52
D 9632
C QJ103

Do you still play D2 to the first trick? Or do you play another card to give or start off to give a different or secondary message?

Bobby WolffJuly 12th, 2015 at 11:36 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

With the queen of diamonds doubleton coming down in the dummy, you want your partner to take the other high diamond so you should start with the three and then follow up on the 2nd diamond with the six and partner will no doubt notice that you have a club preference at trick three, when the nine remains at large. If you had 4 baby clubs, assuming hearts are trump, but also having nothing in hearts you should not ever risk the nine of diamonds, since the dummy indicates that partner may lose a heart trick with a small heart switch, but in clubs it may just be neutral, but certainly discourages hearts (the important message).

While holding a heart honor (ace, king or queen) the 6 of diamonds should first be played and then the 9 on the second diamond

Side notes: Rarely can one partner baby partner on defense, but rather to just understand the limitations imposed on the defense. Partner can be helped, but he will be the one, from the rather slim evidence given, to work out the best play at trick three.

Also, many good players prefer the ace from ace king, with the biggest plus the then knowledge that the lead of the king denies the ace but promises the queen. However sometimes, (such as this hand) partner may choose to lead an unsupported ace (diamonds) and that confusion by partner sometimes leads to bad choices of signalling from partner.

The problem stems from many bridge writers, both recent and importantly. old timers, really missed (or possibly never understood) the complications arising from changing to leading the A from AK.

IOW, those former bridge icons didn’t do their due diligence before they used their immense influence to change routines

If bridge had reached our schools when Europe and now China have had many years of bridge being in the curriculum, they will pass the rest of the world (already well under way) and leave the Western Hemisphere to ponder why we will continue to lose bridge WC’s.

Horn Lake (and the ACBL BODs) still have a chance to right that ship (or at least try hard), but I seriously doubt that they care enough to keep that sad future from occurring.

Good luck in passing on what we have discussed. Learning to play good bridge is indeed difficult. Learning to do even better is a full time job.

Lee McGovernJuly 12th, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Can you give us examples of where you would employ Psych bids and the type of hand you would hold?

Bobby WolffJuly 13th, 2015 at 4:30 am

Hi Lee,

Psychic bids, although years ago quite popular and around the world, occurring in many World Bridge championships are not my style.

However, even though I have psyched perhaps forty or fifty times in my life, as far as I know, there is no real pattern only a sudden urge to do so. But now that you mention it, just a few days ago while playing matchpoints with my wife Judy, she, as dealer, with only the opponents vulnerable, opened the bidding 3 clubs followed by pass from my RHO. I held: s. Jx, h. 109x, d. Jxxx, c. AKxx and got the urge to bid 3NT. It went all pass, down 7 (-350) when Judy laid down, s. Jxxx, h. K, d. 10x, c. Q109xxx. The opponents were cold for 6 hearts with the AQJxx of hearts belonging to my RHO. The field was all in 4 hearts making the laydown 12 tricks for +680. Both East & West had bare opening bids and decided not to bid.

I guess most would call that a psyche, but to me, I would call it a tactical way to get lucky.

In the old days some players would open 1 of a major with few points and shortness in the opened major, but regardless of the result on that one hand the partnership IMO is doomed to lose trust in one another, turning the game into a free for all.

Bridge has very strict rules against partnerships colluding to psyche and well they should, since any of that is very harmful to the game itself and smacks of specifically violating bridge ethics,
a strong no, no within the game itself.

Sometimes a player will cue bid a control he does not have in order to convince the opponents to not lead that suit. I would call that a tactical action also and as long as partner is not privy to such a thing it is totally legal and should not be condemned. That partnership will run the risk of the partner of the tactical bidder to just up and bid a no play slam. All perfectly legal and above board.

Mircea1July 13th, 2015 at 11:52 am

Hi Bobby,

Would you have bid the same 3NT in strong field and/or at teams?

Bobby WolffJuly 13th, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Hi Mircea1,

In retrospect, definitely yes, since it can hardly lose, only gain since my RHO’s hand (remember vulnerable vs. not) was: s. xxx, h. AQJxx, d. AQx, c. xx, leaving LHO with, s. AKQx, h. xxxx d. K9xx, c. x. Can either of my decent opponents be blamed for not bidding? Yes, I could have merely jumped to 5 clubs, but might my LHO have come to life with a TO double? And if then my RHO might have leaped to 6 hearts leaving me -1430 (or even -1100 in 7 clubs doubled down 5).

Judy’s and my matchpoint result would then have taken the ultimate descent from a full top to an unopposed bottom. Yes, I would have, especially now, since we all can see in cinema scope what might happen.

And besides and most important, let the winner (only on this hand) do the talking.

However if Judy’s king of hearts somehow would have been in position to take the setting trick, well that’s another story.

Ain’t bridge a wonderful game or what?

Lee McGovernJuly 13th, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Very interesting. Thanks Bobby

Herreman BobSeptember 24th, 2015 at 6:36 pm

My first – and my partner’s -, when partner leads A vs suits:
what is shown in dummy……