Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Please tell me the name of the convention, which has appeared in your column more than once. After opener raises responder’s major-suit response, responder bids two no-trump to ask if opener has three- or four-card support, and to determine the strength of opener’s hand. Opener then defines his hand by a three-level response. If you know a name for the convention I would appreciate your publishing it.

Duke of Earl, Phoenix, Ariz.

I’ve heard this referred to as mini/maxi and also as spiral; if it has an official name, I do not know it! Bridgewinners discusses the subject.

Can you tell me what you consider to be the reasonable constraints for the suitability for a take-out double of an opening bid of a minor-suit? Does it guarantee 4-4 in the majors or might it be as flat as 3-3 in the majors? And what about the minimum length in the unbid minor?

Weight Watcher, New Orleans, La.

These days the purists are losing the battle for the takeout double to have perfect shape. A double of a minor suit should always deliver at least three cards in each major, and be relatively short in the suit doubled (three cards is the exception not the rule). But doubling one diamond with e.g. a 4=4=3=2 shape and a good hand may be the smallest lie. This sort of action has an element of danger — but that doesn’t make it wrong.

When your partner doubles a one-level opening bid, I assume you play jump responses are invitational. But what are double-jumps? And should you modify the meaning of the jump if the next hand redoubles your partner?

Bouncy Castle, Trenton, N.J.

As you say, jumps are best played as invitational (say 9-11, ideally with five trumps). After a redouble, the jump should be more shape and fewer high cards – closer to preemptive in nature. And double jumps always sound preemptive in nature to me.

When my partner opens one diamond, how do you feel about trying to improve the contract on a hand without the traditional values for a response? Specifically, I had: ♠ Q-9-7-4-3, Q-10-7-2, 3-2, ♣ 9-3. I elected to pass and found my partner struggling in a 4-2 fit while we had a 5-4 spade fit and even some remote chances to make game.

David the Dredger, Janesville, Wis.

For both tactical and strategic reasons I tend to respond lighter to a minor than to a major (the chance of improving the contract or stealing from the opponents are the two main reasons for bidding). Here I think a one spade response is entirely reasonable. You can pass a rebid in diamonds or correct a one no-trump rebid to two hearts to show a weak hand with both majors.

With both sides vulnerable, my partner dealt and opened one spade. My RHO bid three clubs, pre-emptive. I held ♠ Q, 10-5-2, K-J-10-9-7-5-3 ♣ 10-2 and passed, believing that three diamonds would indicate a lot more HCP and less support for partner’s suit than I held, and that four diamonds would be an unwise vulnerable pre-empt over a pre-emptive overcall. My partner says I should have gone ahead and bid three diamonds; who is correct please?

Romper Stomper, Torrance, Calif.

You are right, your partner wrong. A bid of three diamonds is a game-force. You must pass here – and note that a jump to four diamonds over three clubs would not be weak with diamonds – it would traditionally be played as a splinter (or perhaps a fitjump) in support of 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


ClarksburgSeptember 20th, 2015 at 2:59 pm

In this past Tuesday’s comments, SLAR said, in part:
“…Meanwhile they “learn” conventions that are nearly useless like Bergen Raises…”
I understand Bergen Raises have indeed increasingly fallen out of favour. What is the primary reason for that?
What is the preferred way (or ways) for Responder to bid four-trump hands ranging from “weak” to “strong invitational” ?

bobby wolffSeptember 20th, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

My guess is that while Bergen Raises (BR) can make it slightly easier to determine the correct final contract for the opening side it:
1. Makes it much easier for the opponents to enter the bidding with either doubling the opponents artificial suit for a lead, but catching a big fit, while at the same time enabling bidding the opponents suit for either a TO dbl or, if preferred some form of Michaels.

2. Enables a better lead from partner by either a dbl. or even the negative inference of the booming non-double, but mere pass.

3. Worse still is usually the low HCP content of the raiser bodes a more likelihood of a defensive hand which wants to bid but is restricted in choice, when no BRs are played.

4. More and more is now being realized about
being a tough opponent and playing BR tends to make that partnership the easiest.

5. Following to the next step, being a tough opponent is now accepted as perhaps the final touch to enabling a partnership to rise to the top without as much analytical knowledge in the beginning, but during that experience is when, the most positive results just seem to walk in from outside.

6. When the BR is showing only 3 trump and the other side becomes declarer much information is passed, particularly when the non BR side has only 3 of the opponents suit between them (that example means the opening bidder had 7).

7. I only know of one way most partnership play BR and that is the two minor suit 3 level responses show either 3 or 4+ (Imagine yourself as an opponent with also some length in their suit and then immediately know that partner is very short and yet did not bid, meaning fairly weak, but getting ready to be a great dummy in whatever your best trump suit will be.

The above should be enough to understand why they may be going out of style (nothing from above is intended to give Marty Bergen a bad name, only enough to understand the direction of where our game is going, particularly the high-level one).

ClarksburgSeptember 20th, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Most helpful. Thank you.
If I may ask, could you kindly add your views on the second part of my question: “What is the preferred way (or ways) for Responder to bid four-trump hands ranging from “weak” to “strong invitational” ?”

bobby wolffSeptember 20th, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Restrict whatever you play as an initial GF trump raise (Jacoby, some jump shift such as 3C or even the old style 1S or 1H , Pass, 3S or 3H) to at least 4 trumps and go 2 over 1 in another suit first and then vigorously show initial trump support on the 2nd bid while holding only 3.

The only real problem is when one is dealt:
s. Axxx, h. xx, d. AKJxxx, c. x and having partner open 1 spade, it is not good to, at this moment bury the great diamonds, when while holding s. Kxxxxx, h. Ax, d. xx, c. Axx this hand is cold for a spade grand slam with 2-1 spades.

I would suggest a jump shift to 3 diamonds and then possibly jump in spades (if not gong beyond 4) the next round but if partner instead holds. s. KJ10xx, h. Qx, d. Qx, c. KQxx even 4 spades is in jeopardy.

There is not much more to add with specialized original trump support but only gimmicks such as 1 spade by partner, double by RHO then 2 hearts by responder is a good raise to 2 spades leaving an immediate 2 spades to be weaker. Same with hearts only using 2 diamonds as artificial with a better raise.

Otherwise it is only judgment between the partnership which should improve with time and, of course, experience BUT NOT WITH VOCAL EMPHASIS!

I realize I am preaching to the choir, but there are other readers out there (I hope).

Peter PengSeptember 20th, 2015 at 11:34 pm

hello Mr. Wolff:

Reading the ACBL magazine recently I saw and article by Frank Stewart in which he notes a hand in which you overcall 1S after a one level opening having, if I recall correctly, KQxx. I have a partner with whom we do that, i.e., use 1 level overcalls with four cards, and we have been very successful at the club. We normally will have at least an Axxx or 2 honors. We find that we often uncover a 4-4 fit that would otherwise be lost, or that there is lead directing value and we rarely lose anything. Mr. Stewart says that this is a long-term loser. I like this but have not analysed it much. Have you read the article, do you remember the hand, and do you you still like the 1 level overcall with 4 cards, with qualifications?

Lee McGovernSeptember 21st, 2015 at 3:16 am

I have a partner who has seen vugraph ‘expert’ examples of 1 of a major being supported by 2NT response when holding 3 cards in the major suit and 10-11HCP’s. I am dubious of this system and have used 2NT as Jacoby previously, what is your view on that item?

bobby wolffSeptember 21st, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Hi Peter,

Yes I have, and while Frank and I go back a long way and he is indeed, a great friend, we do not always see eye to eye on all bridge subjects.

I’ll only say that I think your good results with 4 card overcalls are not by accident, since I have also appeared to have very acceptable returns from when I have relied on them, but almost always at the one level.

In conclusion my regard for them might even change to without qualification instead of with.

And I do not agree that it is at all important that partner will now be flummoxed in applying the law of total tricks to his possible competition in the auction as it rises.

At least to me, bridge bidding choices are based on more artful judgment rather than scientific.

bobby wolffSeptember 21st, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Hi Lee,

My opinion strongly prefers a Jacoby 2NT response to be both 4 card+ support of partner’s opening 1 of a major and a GF rather than an invitational one which also may only include 3 card support.

At least to me, it is important for slam decisions to announce support ASAP in order for both partners to quickly be on the same wave length as to what suit is going to be trump.

After all, there are only 2 principle decisions necessary in the bidding, what suit (or NT) to play it in and how many. Consequently to answer the first question is an important step in the process and leaving much room to decide the second question often helps in the necessary decision.

Possibly a good answer to choosing bidding methods is to beware of “home brews” and concentrate (particularly while relatively inexperienced compared to when a partnership is further along) on applying tried and true methods, adjusting to what has worked for others, before even considering possible tweaks.

Sometimes being thoroughly modern, while though being fashionable, is however, not the best way to go!