Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Holding ♠ J-7-6, Q-10, A-J-8-7-2, ♣ K-4-3 would you overcall one diamond over one club? Would the vulnerability or form of scoring matter? If you would not act, how much more would you need to bid?

Through the Rye, Wausau, Wis.

I tend to overcall freely at the one-level with decent suits. Yes the diamond spots are not impressive, but the two honors in the suit encourage me to act over one club at any form of scoring or vulnerability. Note that this applies to a one-level action only. By contrast I would never overcall two diamonds over a major-suit opening at any form of scoring or vulnerability.

Does an unopposed sequence such as one diamond – one heart – two diamonds – two spades guarantee either four spades, or five hearts? Would you call it a reverse — or if not, what precisely does it show?

Shape Shifter, Tampa, Fla.

The two spade call is essentially natural (but may be only a three-carder at a pinch). Responder may pass a minimum rebid by opener at his third turn, such as three diamonds, and maybe even two no-trump. However, opener cannot let responder out below game. If responder has real extra shape, he can show it by rebidding spades next.

Recently, my LHO opened one club, and RHO bid one diamond. Holding ♠ A-J-8-7-6, ♠ Q-10-9-7-2, K, ♣ 6-5, I ventured two notrump to show both majors. LHO passed, and my partner drove me to game with four hearts and a nine-count. With the heart finesse working, game required my partner to find the spade queen (and he managed that too). The result was fine, but did I do too much?

Lucky Luke, Newport News, Va.

Your choice of the unusual two no-trump sounds right to me. You are, after all, 5-5 with all your values mainly in your long suits. Your partner played you for a fraction more than you had, but game was playable (and the opponents might have had a good contract in clubs but you kept them out!). I like both of your choices. As you indicated, you were a little aggressive and a little lucky. That isn’t yet a federal crime.

Can you explain the term Crawling Stayman to me please? Does it apply to an auction where the Stayman bidder follows up with two spades?

Gold Miner, Grand Forks, N.D.

Classical Crawling Stayman uses the sequence of Stayman followed by two hearts to show a weak hand with no game interest and both majors. Opener passes, or corrects two hearts to two spades with 3-2 in the majors. Stayman followed by two spades is more controversial. I like to use the sequence as a mild invitation with five spades in an unbalanced hand, but all sorts of alternative treatments, such as weak with five spades and four hearts, make sense too.

With: ♠ K-10-2, A-Q-6-4-3, 10, ♣ A-Q-7-4 I opened one heart, and heard a one spade overcall. My partner raised to two hearts and my RHO joined in with three diamonds. Should I have bid game, or just competed to three hearts? That last call would not be an invitation, would it?

Climbing High, Woodland Hills, Calif.

When the opponents compete to the maximum level (so you have no space for a game try) use double as a game-try, called a Maximal Double. Then three hearts becomes purely competitive, barring partner from re-raising. However, when the opponents have not agreed a fit (as here) it may be right to play double as defensive. If three diamonds guaranteed a spade fit, double would be maximal.

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


Iain ClimieOctober 4th, 2015 at 9:38 am

Hi Bobby,

Can I ask a very odd question. A work colleague, whom I meet up with weekly for a couple of beers is a fanatic amateur cyclist despit being 56 and is interested in various aspects of the sport. He has just been reading Lance Armstrong’s autobiography and asked if I’d heard of a bridge player called Bob Hamman (!) who gets a mention. Is cycling’s most notorious bad boy (despite his charity work) a keen bridge player on the side? I’m trying to think of any other possible connection – can you help, or can Bob Hamman himself shed any light on this? I said I’d ask….



PS Top bridge players don’t get drug tested at the Bermuda Bowl, do they? We’ve seen all the recent scandals but (apart from caffeine or lacing your opponents drinks with something causing red/black colour blindness and suit shapes to wobble) I can’t imagine drugs would ever help. Mind you, I wonder at times what the world is coming to. How long before there is a cheating scandal at the World marbles championship held every Easter at a pub (the Greyhound) near Crawley in Sussex where I used to be a regular? That isn’t actually a total joke, believe it or not – see:

It goes back to the 16th century.

bobby wolffOctober 4th, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Hi Iain,

No, I do not believe Lance Armstrong ever played bridge. Possibly because he had spent all of his post cancer cure time illegally cycling, (but being what was thought to be a wonderful model for what true grit could accomplish after defeating cancer and also contributing mightily, charity wise).

However, Bob ran his own successful sports insurance business, insuring events against windfall results so that the sponsors of those events, in the event of someone insured winning the prize, could, at the very least, share the high cost of paying off the spoils.

And so it came to pass with Armstrong and Hamman as Bob’s SCA insurance business handled a succession of Lance’s victories causing Bob’s company to take some really big million dollar hits.

After the fallout from Armstrong’s indiscretions hit the fan, Bob has just now been awarded a rather large sum in compensation what is now known to have happened with Lance’s illegal doping habit.

While the process is still ongoing there is a movie in the works with Dustin Hoffman (the American famous actor) playing Bob (at least that is the rumor) scheduled for release sometime in the fairly near future.

Although, as you could imagine, this subject, before the fairly recent legal rectification, was very serious, but could now be thought to be an error by Bob, while playing and then being misled by by a cheating false come-on signal by his opponent.

Oh well, it will give you and your bar buddy fodder for thought to realize how small this wide world really is, in spite of its billions of people.

Also, yes at bridge world championships the players are tested for mind enhancing drugs before the play (kind of random) in order for what the WBF thinks is a wise thing to do (with, of course, connections with the World Olympic Committee, if ever bridge can become an Olympic sport. Not as far fetched as thought since it is already labeled a qualified mind sport and in addition in Indonesia and likely next year, bridge will be included in the Asia Games as a worthwhile sport.

“Little by little we can do great things”, particularly if we get lucky!

Brush up your bridge game, getting ready to qualify to be an Olympian and impress your beautiful wife and all former girl friends as to your immense overall prowess.

Iain ClimieOctober 4th, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for this and my commiserations to Bob Hamman although at least he’s had some recompense.

All the best,


ClarksburgOctober 4th, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Further to Climbing High’s question and your reply re Maximal Doubles.
Could you kindly provide further clarification about Partnership agreements, trust and discipline?
First, if in auction context the Double is clearly “Maximal”, is Partner obliged to take it out to either three or four of your side’s Major, or could it be left in to defend?
Second, if in auction context the Double is clearly Defensive (as you phrased it) is that Unambiguous “to defend”, or could Partner choose to remove it to your trump suit?
I guess what I’m getting at is to clearly understand how the Maximal Double differs from Optional / Card-showing Double.

slarOctober 4th, 2015 at 4:42 pm

My understanding is that a maximal double is purely a game try used when there is no suit available to make one (the opponents’ suit is one below yours). Converting it to penalty would be extraordinary.

On the other hand a do-something-intelligent/card-showing double means you have a good hand but have not yet found a fit. The main time it comes in handy for me is when three suits have been bid and you have four cards in the fourth suit. You’re happy with anything partner does – show secondary support, rebid a good suit, bid the 4th suit, bid NT or convert to penalty. You might not end up in the perfect place but you should do no worse than average on the board. (Or partner’s response was not very intelligent! Or your partner is jim2.)

Aggressive players may also use it to show a hand with a fit and extra strength, but the wrong distribution to compete to the necessary level. I made one (successfully) last week.
With a flat 10, I didn’t think the opponents could make 9 tricks unless my partner was very light. She passed and we collected our +200. My RHO had the best hand at the table but LHO was nearly broke. I wouldn’t make this bid in IMPs.

slarOctober 4th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Does it go without saying that my jim2 quip was all about TOCM and nothing to do with his bridge ability?

jim2October 4th, 2015 at 5:56 pm


bobby wolffOctober 4th, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Hi Clarksburg & Slar,

There is not a way I could define Maximal doubles better than Slar except possibly to slightly expand on its tradition and therefore uses.

Maximal doubles were originally only played with the two following sequences: 1S, 2H, 2S,
3H, Double or 1H, 2D, 2H, 3D, Double. From that simple start, it expanded to also when the users were overcallers instead of opening bidders, 1H, 1S, 2H, 2S, 3H Dbl inviting while 3S is merely competitive.

When one’s opponents are bidding different suits, as already mentioned, then a double of the last bid suit is penalty, not maximal.

At least to me, for a partnership to have arrived at the beginning stages of being a quite respectable good pair, both partners must, of themselves, understand the logic why all bidding sequences (and eventually sometimes added to solid partnership’s methods) exist and, more importantly why and what bridge situation is involved in choosing to either play it or not.

Of course, this would be my dream for bridge to achieve if, after getting bridge in the schools, being able to have the kids understand the logic involved which, at least to me, is more practically helpful than geometry, algebra, or even learning a foreign language unlikely to ever have to be spoken.

Others, particularly ones who do not now play bridge, might argue, but I would expect to win that argument in most debates, especially if someone other than I, did the arguing.

Your above post has convinced me that you are, very capable of joining, as even a charter member, the bridge lovers crowd and even, to your added luster, are aware of other people’s feelings in your note to Jim2.

However his smiley has dashed all fears you might have had, but since our group has gotten to know each other, everyone has a right to say what he thinks without fear of having to issue an apology or receive nasty retaliation, as long as we continue to have respect for the falcon to which all of us think we are.

ClarksburgOctober 4th, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Slar and Bobby
Many thanks to both.
I knew the meaning of the two calls, but was asking whether there can ever be any leeway in Partner’s response.
To paraphrase your answers to my specific questions:
When Partner makes a Maximal Double, don’t leave it in.
When Partner makes a Penalty Double, don’t take it out.
That’s pretty clear and simple.

slarOctober 4th, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Now if you can tell the difference between a penalty double and a card-showing double, you’d really have something! Colchamiro devoted about half of his book to it and I still don’t fully understand it. I think you have to work out a partnership style. I’m more aggressive than most when it comes to doubling but my partner knows that she can pull nearly any one with undisclosed length. Sure we occasionally get it wrong but I think we do much better than par when we pull out the double card in the middle of an auction.

ClarksburgOctober 4th, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Bridge Bulletin, 2012 November. Concise summary of auction contexts where Double is Unambiguous Penalty Double.
Helps narrow things down…if it’s not a known Conventional Double, and if it’s not an Unambiguous Penalty Double…then it must be Optional.

bobby wolffOctober 5th, 2015 at 4:49 am

Hi Slar & Clarksburg,

When establishing a worthwhile partnership, especially when both partners are at near equal abilities, a rhythm will be developed, not implying anything even bordering unethical, but having to do with the entire auction itself.

That advantage plays out without many (or even any disasters) when each partner becomes aware (by much experience) the type hands we are all dealt which fit with the auctions we hear, allowing both partners to almost be sure when partner is liable to surprise an opponent with a trump stack as opposed to that same partner wanting you to pick the best suit to continue on with fierce competition (usually concerning the key to winning at matchpoints) while attempting to win the part score battle.

Also along that same theme, matchpoints and IMPs sometimes offer the same problems and solutions, but the frequency of gain necessary at matchpoints is almost totally opposite the amount of gain principle which dictates IMPs causing close penalty doubles to be common at matchpoints but, logically, very rare at IMPs.

slarOctober 5th, 2015 at 6:43 pm

You’d think that would cover it, but it really doesn’t. I’m sure our host could recommend a reasonable set of unambiguous penalty doubles but several of them are up for debate.
1NT(overcall)X: penalty or negative?
2C(overcall)X: penalty or weak?
(4S)X: penalty oriented or takeout oriented?
And so on and so forth. From what I have seen, most Flight B partnerships don’t have these things nailed down yet.