Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 13th, 2015

I know most people play a double of a four heart opening bid as optional – maybe with an emphasis on take-out. What about a double of four spades, or a double after partner opens and the next hand overcalls four spades? I’d also be interested to know how the experts treat doubles of five-level overcalls.

Hunting the Snark, Galveston, Texas

I’d say that most play that one removes a double of four spades to a contract one expects to make, but otherwise passes. The same applies even more clearly to a double of a five-level bid. Try not to remove the double from fear; play partner for the odd trick or two for his double, and hope he can beat their contract in his own hand.

I had always been taught that the double of a major always showed the ability to play in the other major. Is that right or if a hand is strong enough can you start by doubling on a one or two-suited hand?

Heartfelt Harry, Albany, Ga.

With spades and a strong hand one can generally double, then insist on playing one’s suit. With hearts the position is less clear. The problem is that if the opponents bid spades you may find it hard to introduce your suit at a convenient level. Doubling with a one-suiter in spades is fine by me on 17 or so. If you have another one-suiter or a two-suiter, you need even more to start with a double.

I have seen your comments on leading high from three or four small in a suit you have raised. Would you lead your highest card if you had four card support: J-94-2, for instance?

Mumbles, Schaumburg, Ill.

This holding looks appropriate for a low card lead to me (the jack is an honor here). Whenever partner might need to know count, I’d try to give him that on lead (playing third and fifth leads the count is easier to read than in standard fourth highest methods, by the way). Whenever I think it is important to partner to know if I have an honor, I go with a high or low card as appropriate.

Can you comment on when, if ever, opener can rebid a five-card suit, without it promising six?

Nanny Goat, Staten Island, N.Y.

Opener strives not to repeat a five-card suit after a one-level response. Exceptions come (typically over partner’s one spade response) when with a 2-4-2-5 pattern and 12-15, including a small doubleton in diamonds, you might repeat the clubs. Things are different after a 2/1 game-forcing auction. If you play opener’s new suit at the three-level shows five or extras, and that two no-trump guarantees stoppers (or length) in the unbid suits, you sometimes have to rebid a chunky five-carder.

If the opponents overcall my partner’s opening bid, should I use weak-jump responses? Or is there a better meaning for jumps in new suits?

Grasshopper Mind, Laredo, Texas

I hate weak jump responses if the opponents are silent – I see no reason to preempt our side out of the auction when the opponents have shown no sign of bidding. But when the opponents overcall or double, using a jump as weak makes sense, particularly by an unpassed hand. And all jump raises in competition should always be weak. By passed hands, use fit-jumps in all new suits.

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


Michael BeyroutiSeptember 27th, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
in response to Mumbles about the opening lead… there’s also vertical/horizontal leads… which I find easier on the throat than German leads…

Iain ClimieSeptember 27th, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Hi Michael,

Naughty, despite being funny, what does everyone make of the latest scandal? I read up the detailed concerns posted by the Israeli pair’s teammate. It is so sad that anyone would so lose their sense of perspective about what is ultimately a game. My own views are coloured by having once tried to keep someone alive at a bridge club via CPR. Sadly the guy (a lovely chap incidentally) died 90 mins later in hospital despite the fairly rapid arrival of paramedics. I’m ashamed to say that my inappropriate humour was present, even as I was hammering away at him. “What on earth did your partner bid” was the thought that came into my head. Very British WW1 humour, I suspect – see Bruce Bairnsfather cartoons.



bobby wolffSeptember 27th, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Hi Michael,

Do you really think those four pairs really meant to cheat, or perhaps just were promoting a better game for everyone, with slightly different rules which covered solving some of bridge’s most vexing problems, such as blind opening leads, whether to come into the bidding with toss-up hands, or when to boldly preempt in hope of finding a fit.

It could be very naive of some of the bridge sheriffs for suspecting evil motives rather than just approved self-help.

It apparently is such a coincidence that those particular suspect pairs turned out to not be quite as good as they wanted to appear to be, but now they will probably try (at least their lawyers) and threaten their victims and other bridge lovers with dire money damages if their delicate well meaning clients are treated too harshly.

At least sometimes witch hunts produce wicked witches, and all of the last four partnerships caught surely, at least IMO, do travel by broomstick and likely have nothing but hate for our beloved game. Never to have the chance to play it again should be the choice, assuming no one could think of a harsher punishment, but what do I know?

bobby wolffSeptember 27th, 2015 at 11:41 pm

Hi Iain,

Gallows humor no doubt, but didn’t Charles I wear triple underwear on a very cold early morning in jolly old England, when he was being escorted to the gallows for supposed treason (or whatever) since he did not want to be thought to be shivering like a coward.

At least to me that possible excuse has so much more logic to it than cheating at bridge.

I wonder if Grantland Rice, a long ago well known and respected Americn sports writer who once wrote something like when the one great scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the game.

It is likely that neither Grantland nor the great scorer would have approved what was just revealed in bridge.

Peter PengSeptember 28th, 2015 at 1:15 am

hello Mr. Wolff

how does one submit questions for the Sunday piece? and is there a deadline?


slarSeptember 28th, 2015 at 3:11 am

Haha Bobby. If anything I think the game has gotten a bit too scientific. It is like opening theory in chess (now mapped out 10-15 moves instead of 5-10 in the game I learned in the 80s) or golf where classic courses were designed for 250 yard drives and are now being bombarded by 350 yard drives. Sometimes I wonder if the game would be better if the 1C card were removed from the bidding box or something else done to put less emphasis on precise bidding and more on card play and (legally) deceptive bidding. Maybe there should be more games where the participants throw out their detailed system notes and convention cards and just play classic Goren or EHAA. Perhaps the game wouldn’t be so intimidating to less ardent players.

Ronna MorrisonSeptember 28th, 2015 at 3:50 am

You have said that third and fifth leads are easier to read than fourth best leads. Why? So many of us struggle with this. Thank you!

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 4:35 am

Hi Peter,

Just find an email address which gets directly to me, either this one, or the one mentioned within the column.

Somehow or other the question will be directed to me and I’ll personally be sure to handle it. Lacking that, just write on this column your query and I’ll promise not to confuse you too much.

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 4:50 am

Hi Slar,

The science usually involving better ways to discuss our sign language, bridge bidding, is what that has directly improved bridge playing across the board.

Back in the middle of the last century there were players around who matched up favorably with the best players of today, but not so in the bidding of that era, which was no where near as effective as it is today and worldwide.

In effect, though I do not necessarily disagree with you, I think the game has improved by bounds and leaps in going to extremes to have every possible useful bid in all of our quivers as we try and hit the target.

Yes, it can be confusing, no it is not for everyone, except perhaps only socially, for someone who does not love to think numbers and their application, the shortcut definition of numeracy.

With bridge being in the primary school systems of so many countries in Europe and all of China, no doubt bridge, as we know it, will not die out there as it might, here.

To achieve winning talent in our wonderful game, one needs to direct heart and soul to its learning. Without which no one will get good enough to really appreciate how good the game is for one’s mind, taking the form of solving problems, partnership communication, and a crash course in mostly arithmetic logic.

Of course, if one finds something he or she likes better, whether another human, an animal, or another powerful pastime, do not resist it, since something similar may never come that close in the future.

Yes the game can be intimidating to many, but, while only assuring them that it is worth it, they need to get into it willingly and see for themselves. Remember, not everyone will love it.

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 4:56 am

Hi Ronna,

My fellow writer likes 3rd and 5th while I like 4th.

Once used to either one of those popular choices, it will answer your questions for you. With 4th best leads the rule of eleven applies while with 3rd and 5th a similar “tell” will lash out after you.

In truth there is very little to choose between those two popular lead conventions, but the thing you must do, whatever your choice, both you and your partner MUST understand what you are doing.

Good luck and consult your local bridge guru. If no one fits the bill, you must be living on the moon or somewhere not easily accessible.

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Hi Valdiviezo,

Yes, in bridge there is cheating and with hemp you likely refer to cannabis.

However in bridge you have to be off-the-charts selfish and a total dope to cheat which, in turn, destroys every thing around you, including honest people, but with using cannabis you might only just destroy yourself.

Definitely a socioeconomic issue which favors those who favor your pastime rather than ours.

slarSeptember 28th, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I agree with all that but I want to add one thing. Bridge is a partnership game and good partners don’t grow on trees. Playing with a random partner generally entails dealing with idiosyncratic (at best) tendencies and at worst multiple bidding miscommunications. When the field is tuned like a fine-oiled machine and you and your partner are fumbling around in the dark, it gets frustrating in a hurry. A free-wheeling bidding style (like bridge had at its peak) would compensate to a point.

I’m fortunate enough to have a partner who is pretty close to me in ability but it isn’t like we are always able to play together. I’m very close to saying I’d rather play with the BBO robots than the invariable Guggenheim who is patiently sitting by partnership desk. (Other than the obligatory annual LM/NLM game, LM players generally won’t play with NLM players unless they are paid.)

I don’t have any easy answers to this, but if the game is going to flourish here, it needs to get more people to show up, ardent or not, whether they learned the game in school or not.

bobby wolffSeptember 28th, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Hi Slar,

While it is difficult to argue with your pragmatic approach, the main problem as I see it, is what to put first, the horse or the cart?

With bridge in schools, I think the winning principle evolves, passion for the game which will last a lifetime if time and place allows.

With bridge not in the schools, the initial passion has to evolve itself without a prompt. Never forget that during the immense arrival of bridge in America (1930s+ signalling the arrival of Contract bridge replacing Auction) which then soon bridged itself to Europe, life was much simpler (before modern day life became so formidable).

Therefore I am only suggesting that bridge needs to be learned in a controlled environment by a very youthful audience who in time (not very long but maybe a couple of years) will then captivate the youngster (assuming he is not allergic to the qualities necessary to excel) and once learned always ingrained, never forgotten, and most always returned, even if circumstances in life do not always fully cooperate, especially early.

Perhaps only a dream, but my entire life span causes me to bet on such a thing. To succeed, we must set a model and then monitor it until it is sure to succeed.

slarSeptember 28th, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Yeah. Maybe if my friends’ kids were playing bridge in school they might be compelled to get back into it themselves and not wait until they are retired. As it stands now, I have a number of friends who learned in college (if not earlier) and could easily be ramped up but I can’t get them in the front door. That rising tide would float all boats.