Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

I’ve read your opinion of many of the top experts. I wonder if you would let us know who were the top American players who never won a world title? To spare their blushes, maybe you can limit your answer to those who are no longer with us.

Ranking Member, Saint John’s, Newfoundland

Of the real old-timers, Al Roth and Tobias Stone never won a Bermuda Bowl. Their contributions to modernizing the game of bridge as we know it cannot be over-emphasized. Of course they were not necessarily the most fun people to play against, but away from the table both were entertaining company. Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay would be another pair of candidates.

I need help on when to use shape in the decision as when to open the bidding. Holding: ♠ 9-3, J-9-7-4-2, K-9-4-2, ♣ A-K, would you open one heart in any chair or vulnerability? And would your decision be affected if one of your club honors were in your hearts? Finally, if you pass, what do you respond to a third-seat one spade opener by partner?

Threefer Madness, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

I’d pass this hand despite the easy rebid, because neither suit is especially powerful. Switch a club honor into hearts and a non-vulnerable opening makes more sense, though passing isn’t wrong. If you pass, then in response to one spade do not bid two hearts – the suit simply isn’t good enough, I believe. Bid one notrump and hope to get your values across later in the auction.

The textbooks do not discuss in detail how to respond to an overcall when limited in strength without a fit. For example, with: ♠ 9-2, Q-7-6-2, J-2, ♣ A-Q-7-4-3 is it correct to respond after hearing one diamond on my left, and one spade from partner, with a pass on my right? If so, would you raise spades, bid clubs, or do something else?

Advancing with Caution, Sacramento, Calif.

I think this hand has just too much to pass here, though I admit that it is close. Responding two clubs may get partner off to the right lead if you end up defending, and you can surely stand a retreat to spades from your partner. I really do not like the idea of raising spades on two, and the diamond stop is a little feeble for a call of one no-trump, so all that is left is bidding the clubs.

I play a fair amount of duplicate bridge and see a fair number of mentions of a Blackwood alternative called Redwood or Minorwood. Should I consider adopting it?

Mad Scientist, Jackson, Miss.

For many people regular Blackwood is quite enough, Keycard Blackwood of dubious merit… don’t get me started on other variations! Still if you want to get a feel for what is out there, at your own risk, feel free to do so. The most recent ACBL bulletins have some sensible articles on this theme.

What is the minimum holding one can have in the suit in which one makes a fourth-suit forcing call? For example does responder promise at least five spades and four hearts on the following unopposed sequence: one diamond – one spade – two clubs – two hearts?

Tree-hugger, Texarkana, Texas

Much as you’d like this sequence to show the suit you bid, it does not do so. While the fourth suit is game forcing, it does not promise length. Indeed, with a solid heart stop you might have bid notrump at your previous turn. Contrast that with the position when you are in a game-forcing auction, e.g. after a two-over-one call. Now bidding the fourth suit implies at least three cards in the suit (with support for partner you would raise, with a long suit of your own you would rebid it).

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


ClarksburgSeptember 6th, 2015 at 11:44 am

Matchpoints Pairs, Both VUL,
Dealer (LHO) passes, Partner opens 1S and RHO overcalls with 2H.
You hold: S 94 H AJ96 D A4 C K9762
What bid would you recommend…3C, 3NT, or other? Also, as a separate side issue, what should a bid of 3C show / mean here?

Your Partner had opened 1S with S AKJ1065 H3 D 82 C AQ105.
How should Opener proceed over Partner’s 3NT?

Note: This is for Hand of the Week seminar at a local club, where nobody got to any of the cold slams! And most played in Spades, not Clubs.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You and I, working together, could or may create a market for learning high-level bridge by exploring what our game is all about, emphasizing the wicked witches which seem ever present (because of the disadvantages of a limited language, bidding, made even more so, when those blasted opponents intervene).

Keeping in mind that my trump card, assuming that I might have one, is seeing the trees within the forest and then like Tom Sawyer and Injun Joe, finding a way out of the cave Mark Twain thrust them in.

For goodness sake (or rather for better understanding) let us begin at the beginning.
Without RHO’s overcall your hand would begin with 2 clubs (why not?). Then even Aunt Elsie or Uncle Luke, holding either hand would check on key cards (or just old fashioned Blackwood) allowing your partner to eventually or immediately chance a club grand slam since with spades very likely setting up and partner probably having 5+ clubs, at least 13 tricks figure to be there making a club grand slam an odds on proposition.

However, (and please keep this forever in mind) because of that &%#$% overcall, funny things happen on the way to what could have been, bridge nirvana.

Meanwhile, back at the table, I must confess that after the 2 heart intervention I would eschew 3 clubs (the scientific bid) to venture a simple 3NT, the practical choice (doesn’t work well here). However partner should soldier on and, although instead of chirping 4 or even possibly 5 spades, 4 clubs seems to be more flexible, warding off those evil spirits of not getting other possible trump suits into the offing.

From there, should go 4 hearts by the original responder, showing 1st round control and implying a good club fit. Then, as before, the opener can check on key cards or even just simple BW and do as he would have done without the overcall.

Sure, if the responder only had 4 card club support the grand slam may not be laydown, but once he cue bid hearts and then showed his controls I would think the grand slam offered enough promise to wisely attempt it (sometimes a good partner, especially if he is you, will have an extra benefit for his strong support, this time being the precious fifth club).

What lessons have we both learned? Simply, when faced with a choice, after partner blasts 3NT, if possible, should choose a bid which offers alternatives, rather than just a simple spade return or jump. Chalk it up to what playing good bridge really is, a combination of learning what it takes to be down the middle, but not disdaining a possible slam when that aroma is in the air. And then further defining, a good fit and controls in trumps, an immediate source of tricks (spades) and not two immediate losers in any one suit.

With this example a control ask reaps even a larger award in having all bases covered. Sure the queen of spades (instead of the jack ten) would be nicer, but absolute guarantees usually do not accompany what top level bridge is about.

Finally, back at the beginning, in an attempt to find our way out of the cave, when holding the hand held, both 3 clubs (previously mentioned or even an in tempo pass, hoping partner may reopen with a double so that we can penalize those reckless demons, may work best, but practically, it must be considered what would happen if partner merely raises clubs to the four level, bypassing the likely final contract of 3NT?

Thanks for the sensational question. You have a great knack for finding sensitive areas, especially in bridge bidding and such a talent requires a long comprehensive discussion, which could, but may not, benefit many bridge lovers.

In order to have a chance to rise quickly up the ladder in bridge one needs at least some numeracy, but just as important the judgment of what our game is about, and particularly when to be practical and when in a few cases, exactness enters the room when slam raises its head.

This hand represents all of the above and also by the results shown at your bridge club, what a simple overcall may accomplish in raining on their opponent’s parade.

jim2September 6th, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Why would one not Pass, so that pard could Double?

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, many would choose exactly that, but those kinds of common tactics are fraught with moving parts. To do that effectively one has to:

1. Rely on partner reopening with a double.

2. Probably count on setting 2 hearts 3 tricks to show a profit and remember it is much more
difficult to defend than to be declarer.

3. Possibly run into unexpected circumstances
wherein West possesses many diamonds and is able to run to daylight from the penalty double to a poor result for us due to the transferable values we have not shown.

4. Have partner bid in such a way that his possible slam or no slam values become obscure and just a random guess for us, who have not shown any strength up to now, to now act.

5. Partner may have something like Kx in hearts and let it go when, of course we should be in game.

All of the above will happen if enough hands are played. However, since I believe you are asking about the majority choice, in no way am I remotely suggesting that everyone else is wrong, however the above speaks to my experience in dealing with partner having to reopen and then having to wait until he either does or not. (please also keep in mind, I do NOT want him to feel obligated to reopen when he doesn’t think he should). If he holds, s. J109xx, h. xx, d. KJ, c. AQJx I prefer he passes.

It is much more straight forward to just bid yourself and let what happens happen.

Having something like: s. xx, h. QJ9xx, KQx, c. Qxx is MUCH more to my taste to first pass wherein many of the moving parts evaporate.

Following through, bidding immediately with transferable values (offense and defense with that heart holding of AJ9x an example) is and has always been my preference.

ClarksburgSeptember 7th, 2015 at 12:16 am

Many thanks for the very specific answers and the overall perspective.
Our Club- seminar participants are going to learn a lot from this one.
By the way, that &%#$% 2H overcall (note your “badjective” repeated here exactly) was made on:
S Q3 H KQ10542 D J1097 C4
It worked out here of course. But over the long run, is that hand clearly worth a VUL Two-level Overcall ? I’d be expecting a bit more from Partner.

bobby wolffSeptember 7th, 2015 at 12:43 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, it is OK, though with certain partners probably not.

Since the advantages of overcalling are rarely mentioned, but the dangers are, many steer clear of rocking the boat, and just gradually die, suffering from poor player’s luck.

No pain, no gain, and the only change to make to comply with aggressiveness is for partner to inquire when able, rather than just assume the overcaller to have full value.