Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Is anyone allowed to touch the dummy if the cards in dummy are put down wrong, or arranged untidily? And what are dummy’s rights, and restrictions when an infraction occurs?

Punky Brewster, San Francisco, Calif.

If dummy is hard to see I tend to ask him to straighten the cards up — or if he appears unable to do that, I will ask if it is acceptable for me to do it myself. Dummy should limit himself to preventing an infraction (if declarer is about to lead from the wrong hand). So after dummy spots an infraction, he should wait till play is over, then tell the other players. However, once an infraction is agreed to have taken place, dummy should call the director if no one else has.

Do you ever get tired of South and North doing all the bidding? I do! I would prefer to see more competitive auctions.

Nil by Mouth, Albuquerque, N.M.

I do try to have contested auctions a fair amount of the time. Note that for bridge readers, having North, East or West declare the hand is somewhat counter-intuitive and a little hard to follow. So that is why it is South who tends to have the good hand or be declarer.

When I read your bridge column I often lose the nuances of the bidding. Can you recommend a book that will explain some modern bidding techniques?

Gentleman Caller, Corpus Christi, Texas

I do sometimes forget to explain modern bidding fully enough. Space constraints and my memory may be the cause. Better Bidding with Bergen and 25 Bridge Conventions You Should Know, by Marc Smith and Barbara Seagram both cover some useful territory. But maybe read my column which appears online at two weeks after publication, and you can ask me questions directly!

Holding: ♠ Q-J-3-2, J-9-2, K-J-9-4-3, ♣ 3 I heard my partner open one heart and raised him to two hearts. (Do you agree with that decision?). When my partner bid three clubs, I thought he needed help there, so I signed off in three hearts. Any comments?

Hip-Hop Henry, Akron, Ohio

Most people play three clubs as a help-suit bid of some sort. Typically the most useful holding opposite is honors, but a singleton is not so bad — and the rest of your hand is about par for the course. I think I’d temporize with three diamonds and pass the buck back to my partner.

Is there a standard method for the defenders to split their honors when a card is led from dummy? When declarer leads a low card and you are second to play with touching honors, which card should you play, and does it matter if you have a two- or three-card sequence?

Ruling Class, Huntington, W. Va.

There is by no means a universal agreement here among experts that I know of. My custom is that with a two-card sequence I play the lower card, with a three-card sequence I play the highest. It is far more important to have an agreement than precisely what that agreement is.

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


ClarksburgAugust 2nd, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Mr Wolff
Regular readers of this blog will know about your passionate belief that Bridge should be included in North American school curricula.
This raises a question of how Bridge could / should be presented for students just starting out. Obviously the mechanics of how it works and the scoring is a must.
But beyond that, should there always be a “fully-prescribed” approach to hand evaluation, bidding, card play etc? Or might the keen, naturally-numerate students often be left to “just play” and thus to learn by experience and progressively figure things out for themselves.
I hope this question is not too vague. My real intent here is to play straight man and give you the floor (on your own show!) to let us hear whatever thoughts you might have on how you might go about it.

Iain ClimieAugust 2nd, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Hi Clarksburg, Bobby,

The latest English Bridge Union magazine (Issue 260, August 2015) has some articles on what is being attempted this side of the pond. It may be worth a look, butt there is a cautionary note in an interview with Simon Gillis – “The game needs advancement and promotion, both financially and through schools etc but it’s an uphill struggle. The young prefer other stimuli than those on offer around a bridge table.”

It is a fair point, I feel; we need to think about what youngsters can get out of it that they might really want. Exposure to older people (and I don’t mean my age of 57, but 35 to 40 +) provided the latter are sufficiently welcoming, can help youngsters with advice on career and life choices, including those that we’ve got wrong, thus letting them get information they could get but won’t take from their parents. It is also importat to realise that the young may have a few rough edges, while they’ll think we’re grumpy old farts (or some of us, anyway) so efforts will be needed on both sides. Best of luck with it all, but I think we have to sell the game to them on what they’ll get, not just what we think will be the benefits for them e.g. numeracy, problem solving, tolerance, coping with the unespecvted & unlucky, determination, concentration etc. Being able to talk to a range of people from differet professions and experiences could be a selling point here.



Jane AAugust 2nd, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You have touched on a point near and dear to Bobby’s heart. Since I know him and Judy personally, and how lucky is that, I know he has many good ideas on this topic. I also agree with what lain had to add as well. When I started playing in the dark ages, there were no computers for everyday use, no cell phones, no internet. Card and board games were so much more popular, but even then, I don’t remember much bridge being taught in public schools, at least not where I lived. It is such a fun game but very challenging, so it is important to present the game as something that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. It is also important to stress that it is not a game that can be learned quickly either, so patience becomes a virtue. I can offer little in the way of suggestions on how to get bridge into the public schools in the USA. Seems like a monumental task to me.

Bobby WolffAugust 2nd, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Hi Clarksburg, & Iain,

Yes, both for, of course, the marvelous game itself, and most importantly, for the steady development of a young and inquiring mind, the game of bridge offers virtual unlimited frontier opportunities to understand the following:

1. Simple arithmetic and its practical application with wide ranging use for determining percentage actions in life.

2. Problem solving, based on specific facts involving analysis, sorting out evidence, adjusting to lawful honest competition, everyday ethics apparent on every hand, similar in life to “truth in advertizing”, not taking undue advantage, forced respect to opponent’s existence and how far legally one side is allowed to go, real and psychological mind battles, especially against strong competition (equal to the possible tests between rival valedictorians), all done with a fierce reality, but always with peaceful and lawful ramifications.

3. During the formulated period of bridge learning, developing the experience of what works and what doesn’t. Therein learning how to create a dynamic bridge partnership which will need to think on and at the same level, combining eventual common compatible thoughts, eliminating contradiction, joining minds and efforts in legally trying to reach the highest pinnacle possible, while dealing with a difficult subject complete with unlimited surprises, but always understandable strictures.

4. Making use of individual brilliance, sometimes including anti-percentage actions which become, upon further evaluation, not so. Man to man (or woman to woman and often crossed) mind battles which involve legal deception and thus likely and to both the players and the kibitzers, nothing short of spectacular.

5. The certain opportunity to having to overcome adversity and holding one side’s losses when unlucky fate intervenes, similar to dealing with life during strained and perhaps unhappy episodes. Within a bridge partnership, if handled correctly by both parties, the end result will create even a stronger bond for the future.

6. Learning how to think clearly and then play well enough while under great pressure,
without missing a beat, which in life, will often be a strong asset in all undertakings, whether business or personal. The short cut description is only intense concentration.

7. All of the above, including the self-confidence which will accompany, partnership harmony, good personal habits of attention to detail, critiquing failure and thus mind cleansing, and just the realization of the advantage of preparation (partnership discussions) before engaging strong competition are all good habits in whatever one does in life.

Special to Clarksburg: Now that bridge has been in many of European schools for a number of years now and relatively fewer, but according to reliable reports from China, I do not know the specific curricula chosen.

However my experience tells me that early on, the players should practice as a foursome each playing thirteen cards with high card winning, but if out of a suit then a designated trump will outrank even the ace of another suit. In other words, practice the essence of the game, especially the importance of why naming trump is such an asset.

In the early going, perhaps almost 90 years ago, 1927, when contract bridge was basically invented, with auction bridge its father and Whist its grandfather, bidding was usually the the first lesson. However, that is probably changed since in order to get enthusiastic about learning bidding, a student needs to at least understand how to fulfill a contract he (and his partner) are then learning to bid.

No doubt a numerate student, not necessarily directly connected to individual IQ, will much more easily learn the ebb and flow of bridge, but, no doubt, these marvelous and clear thinking schools, which now teach it on a daily basis, will have, by now, much input on how to teach it and in what order.

And BTW Clarksburg, thank you, for setting the table, since, at least to me, future bridge in the USA has been rudely let down by those involved not doing everything possible, and on a daily basis to replicate what has been done successfully in both Europe and now Asia.

And now to Iain:

No doubt, there will be significant bumps along the Yellow Brick Road but those poisoned flowers and wicked witches didn’t keep that eclectic foursome from reaching the Emerald City. Sure, young people have their own ideas about what they prefer doing and therefore learning, but when one considers the rave notices coming forth highlighting this experiment from both the teachers and the students and add that to the rather large number of young potentially very good players (some of which are already, or at least approaching, World Class) who are no doubt, in an up elevator to recognized stardom in bridge within our Western Hemisphere, I think that these kids (relatively speaking) will all of a sudden start using their brains and establish the one quality which most symbolizes our great game, CONCENTRATION, which incidentally is probably the most significant attribute in whatever one chooses to major in life.

After all when the WBF chooses as its motto, “Bridge for Peace” they are right on IMO since mattering not the different nationalities, religions, and political beliefs one has, when somehow they become bridge players their focus changes. Only the caliber of how good they are and what is their potential matters, and presto, all involved become totally civilized in their perspective.

Optimistic, sure, but since my life has been thrown into that category, I have seen it, been there, done that, and if my testimony is worth anything at all, it will work and in NO TRUMP, but first we need to invite ourselves to the party.

Bobby WolffAugust 2nd, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Hi JaneA,

Thanks for your kind words and your valued opinion.

Sure it will be tough, but if done, will make a major positive difference. The learning of bridge should always be (and is in Europe and China) an elective subject, not required, enabling a student to opt out, if desired. No doubt there are large numbers of students who, for whatever reasons, are not going to be interested.

Having said that, let it be, but eventually all we can do is facilitate a choice. Remember that all endeavors, both good and bad, need to be available before anyone can keep score on what they represent.

And from all the rave notices that I have read and heard, it certainly seems positive enough to be offered a choice. At the very least, the USA’s educational department should be able to hear a proper presentation.

Much of Europe and all of China are not likely to be in left field or “somewhere under the rainbow”.

ClarksburgAugust 2nd, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Well whaddya know…this discussion has given birth to a little small-scale idea.
Provide very attractive prizes to be awarded at an end-of-year Teams tournament (Clubs and well-heeled members put up the $).
Teams can be from and identified with schools or any other community group.
Competent volunteers from Clubs do the “basic education” / play / practice sessions throughout the year.
Teams can practice “on-line” which introduces at least some measure of “cool” (or whatever the appropriate word is today).
This is not really much different than what’s being done in many areas already. But the “rich prizes” and “local fame” may have some appeal. Could also enlist “celebrity” help from local young people who have been members of e.g national Junior teams.
May test the water and give it a try it here.

Bobby WolffAugust 2nd, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your specific bridge community is indeed fortunate to have your creative bridge ability
on call.

Good luck on your end of the year project.
Perhaps a fantasy bridge game can rise
from its ashes or would that have to take
place in Phoenix?

Send me your favorite hand from anywhere along that event and we will write it up. Do not worry about perfect reporting since we both allow and sometimes indulge in non-serious tweaks (sort of like a playful 3NT which is meant to be only a mild slam try).

Voluntary goats are welcome.

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 2nd, 2015 at 8:35 pm


AOB is a perfect venue for both newbies and experienced bridge lovers. Your candor (rarely soft-soaped) has been very educational to your readers (present company included). Of course, my free pass was ingrained in our marriage contract and it helped immeasurably. However, I cannot recall any other top player in history who has extended such a gracious offer and, at the same time, enjoyed every minute of it . In his personal case, I suppose it is a form of payback for the incredible life of loving what he does .. the reward of over sixty-five years of success, joy and excitement stemming from our unique and wondrous game.

The Lone Wolffess

ClarksburgAugust 2nd, 2015 at 11:20 pm

Judy Kay-Wolff,
AMEN to your comment!
Mr Wolff’s generosity with his time, for players of any and all abilities, is absolutely over the top!
I have received an education here on insights and nuances that are not to be found in any books or courses as far as I know.
I have compiled and filed, for personal use and reference, hundreds of what I call “Bobbyisms”. Absolutely priceless!

Lee McGovernAugust 2nd, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Bravo to Bobby for all his kind and generous advice to the masses

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 3rd, 2015 at 1:24 am

Hi Clarksburg,

I have never met you or any of Bobby’s other faithful new friends (though Iain and I have become pen pals). Yet, I have enjoyed the mutual friendships that have evolved from all the back and forths over the last few years. It is not only about the learning and improving process, but the humor and clever ‘plays-on-words’ which accompany the mutual exchanges between y’all (that’s Bobby’s Texan influence on me .. a former Philadelphian).

What is so fascinating is that regardless of how much one studies, reads and discusses, there is always something out there that may have never appeared on the horizon before. As I have made reference earlier, we play twice a week and though I have been on the bridge scene close to sixty years, I am amazed to observe how the expert mind works .. without effort. Bobby makes it look so easy .. and to him it is. However, he has learned to have mercy upon people like me who have not been graced with what he calls ‘numeracy.” Yet, thanks to him, I have learned to change and reprogram my earlier thinking with much better results. But, make no mistake about it ,, sitting across from him doesn’t hurt one’s score.

I have always known how much the readers enjoy Bobby’s responses, but seeing your comment above makes it even more worthwhile. Thank you, Clarksburg!



Judy Kay-WolffAugust 3rd, 2015 at 4:21 am

Hi Lee,

Seems like you are one of the newer additions to Bobby’s followers. It has evolved into one great big zealous group of bridge lovers and everyone’s input gives us all much to think about. Stay tuned!