Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 11th, 2015

I was dealt ♠ J-2, A-J-10-6-4, Q-7-6, ♣ K-7-4, and responded one heart to one diamond. When my partner jumped to two spades, I was afraid to give preference to diamonds in case he passed. Should I have bid two or three notrump, used fourth suit, or even rebid hearts?

Multiple Choice, Hamilton, Ontario

Remember, two spades sets up a game force, so you should not worry about playing partscore here. Rebidding hearts should promise a better suit, and to bid no-trump you would like a more solid club stopper than this. Giving preference to three diamonds is economical and descriptive. More importantly it leaves room for partner to describe his hand, and tell you why he set up a game force.

What is the current expert position on signaling suit-preference on defense? Where does suit-preference rank in terms of signaling count or attitude? And what should I be thinking about when deciding which signal to give?

Self-referential, Wheaton, Ill.

On opening lead I signal attitude unless I am sure my partner should know who has any missing honors in the suit led. Thereafter, the default signal becomes count. It is only when the need to shift is obvious that suit preference kicks in. By contrast, when a suit is played for the second time, I will often give suit preference, unless I believe partner really needs to know count.

I picked up a hand at rubber bridge yesterday, which left me stuck for a bid. I held ♠ 3, A-9-6, A-7-6-4, ♣ A-K-7-4-2. I responded two clubs (game forcing) to one spade, and when my partner bid three spades I had no idea how to advance. What would you suggest?

Menace to Society, Naples, Fla.

Since partner’s three spade call promises good spades, I would need to make at least one slam-try. My choice would be a jump to five spades to focus on partner’s spades. I need him to bid slam with a one-loser suit. I think he should appreciate that I have at most a small doubleton in spades for this auction, but all the sidecontrols.

How much do I need to rebid one no-trump when I open one of a suit and hear my LHO overcall at the one level, passed back to me? I tried this on a bad 15-count that I had elected to open one no-trump, and was told in no uncertain terms that this was theoretically unacceptable.

Two Stools, Casper, Wyo.

Whether the language used was unparliamentary or not, the idea of a rebid in no-trump facing a silent partner is that it should be 18-19, i.e. more not less than a strong no-trump. With a minimum balanced hand facing a presumably weak partner, let the opponents play in peace and quiet – though you can reopen with a double when short in their suit, of course.

If my partner bids one diamond, do I have to have five hearts to say one heart or am I able to do it with only four? Does one have discretion to bypass a weak major?

Nearly a Novice, Lorain, Ohio

You ask an important question — never be afraid to ask even if you think you should know the answer. One level major-suit responses only guarantee four cards. They may have more of course. Opener raises with four (and sometimes with three and an unbalanced hand). One needs the response to show four-plus cards or one can never find the 4-4 fits with confidence. Bypassing a major is rare, but possible after your RHO doubles a minor.

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


ClarksburgOctober 25th, 2015 at 4:19 pm

A general question about SOS Redoubles:
I recently tried one, at the four-level. (The distribution of all four hands was wild and misfitting, but I judged we could still have a safer landing spot).
Typical Intermediate teaching, and some of our stronger local Club Players, insist that a XX above the three-level is never SOS. Seems to me there could be some auction contexts (e.g. prior bidding error / misunderstanding, heaven forbid!) where a higher-level XX could be SOS and Partner would “get it”.
Three Questions:
What are the main few auction contexts where the SOS Redouble is effective?
Is the “never-above-the-three-level criterion sound, or could there be some flexibility?
Does it make sense to seldom, if ever make a high-level business Double at Matchpoints?

Iain ClimieOctober 25th, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Any chance of seeing the whole hand – it sounds quite something. I suspect that it is better to have a clear rule here than a perfect system. Suppose the auction starts 1D (P) 1S (P) 2D (P) 4H X. Would redouble by opener confirm a heart control (I’d expect 4H to be a cue-bid agreeing diamonds, but concentration can lapse) or should it be a willingness to play there if partner had hearts? If there were 2 passes after the X, what would XX mean now – surely an intention not to play in 4H.

In any event, I’d love to see the hand assuming you’re willing to post it. At pairs, of course, this is just another bottom if things go wrong…



bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

While I have never heard of the “no SOS redoubles at the 4 level or higher” it might, in fact, be a reasonable caveat.

Redoubles at higher levels are fairly commonly used for perhaps 3 reasons:

1. When the redoubler likes his chances, almost always because of some surprise distribution, but is also well prepared for the opponents if they respect your judgment and decide to take it out in their suit, especially when the auction was competitive along the way.
1A. There are times when the poker element in bridge comes to the party and, if behind in a match, sometimes a clever way to chance a major swing one’s way, is to redouble, creating doubt. However those times are few and far between, but an observant player will know when they are when he sees them.

Any doubt of when the exception for a redouble of a high-level contract to be for SOS is unheard of in my experience, but, I guess, there is always a first time for it to be, but after thinking about it, I cannot come up with even one example.

SOS redoubles have their basis when, at the low level, the opponents have doubled and usually, but not always, the player being doubled offers a redouble.

For example when 1NT is doubled for business (assuming the doubler’s partner has also announced some cards, then redoubles are never for business but often are used to suggest one of two suits available to select.

For example: 1NT Pass Pass Double, then Pass Pass redouble by the partner of the NTer is for rescue, however if instead he runs to 2 clubs then gets doubled by either opponent, now if he redoubles that should show the two immediately higher suits (almost always 4-4) and thus if he, after bidding 2 clubs gets doubled back to him, then if he runs to 2 diamonds, gets doubled and then he redoubles he would be showing 4-4 in the majors.

Obviously this is a systemic way of trying to find the partnership’s longest suit to make trump. At least for me, though not nearly perfect, it does have merit and usually works, not necessarily for getting a decent score, (it is already too late for that) but maybe the best score possible from here on.

Also the same would apply if the NTer himself ran, the same formula would apply to his running. It should immediately be assumed that if the player running bids a higher ranking suit, at that point both partners should assume that he holds 5 of them.

Finally, no I definitely think there is a place, even a necessity, to make penalty doubles while playing matchpoints of high level contracts.

Particular so when the bidding by the opponents appears to be natural and straightforward and the defense is sitting with a trump stack (particularly not susceptible to endplays, eg. QJ1087 instead of QJ752) since other tables with the same cards will likely be defending the same contract and the wise ones need to let the opponents know they made a mistake.

Not for ego reasons, but merely to get a better score than the other players holding those cards who quietly pass.

My best quote for less than very experienced high-level players making categorical statements would be that “all generalizations are false, including this one”.

Of course, from here we could then discuss “Lightner doubles” and how they also apply to game contracts, not just to slams, but that is for another time and another place.

Good luck and never fall for the false belief that no luck is required to do well with our marvelous game. When equals collide and everyone plays well enough, only luck will decide who is the champion.

ClarksburgOctober 25th, 2015 at 8:20 pm

The hands were player-dealt. We suspect the Board contained a brand new deck, right out of the package and that the shuffler didn’t shuffle much!! Everyone had an 8-5 void void shape, and everyone was void in both of Partner’s two suits.
North (Dealer) void AKQJ8 void J10985432
East void 109765432 void AKQ76
South 109876543 void AKJ108 void
West AKQJ2 void Q9765432 void
We all missed some great opportunities to Pass!! One South received a one-trick gift and made 3 Spades. Everything else was big expensive sets. My Redouble blunder cost us only 1/2 Matchpoints and we got a well-undeserved 50% Board

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2015 at 8:21 pm

Hi Iain,

If a partnership becomes serious about playing the best bridge they can play, IMO, the first order of business is to make sure both the bidding system, with all of its nuances, and the defensive legal signalling is clearly understood.

It is NEVER enough to just talk about it. firm agreements need to be known by both. It is not NEARLY as important to play specific conventions nor emphasize helpful traits and trends as it is to be together with understanding exactly what is expected of both.

For example, I am not that helpful to my partner in always giving signals whether they be attitude, count or whatever, but rather I, as a player have always exercised trying to make it more difficult for a wily declarer to guess every card right. Whether that way or rather being always (within reason) honest about everything will not automatically cause breakdowns or worse, failure, but to not both understand the whys of a convention and when to use it, can be and usually is, nothing short of devastating to that partnership.

Yes, time is certainly required to work out a very effective bridge partnership, and everyone will understand if that makes it somewhat unavailable, but without it, keep one’s hopes realistic, otherwise disappointment will follow.

There are no quick roads to the top of the mountain, at least that has been my experience, IMO.

ClarksburgOctober 25th, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Mr Wolff,
To correct a slip on my part, when I said:
“…Does it make sense to seldom, if ever make a high-level business Double at Matchpoints?…”, I meant to say Redouble not Double. I assume your answer would be the same anyway.
I was thinking that making the contract against an ill-considered Double would be a good Board anyway, so why Redouble, possibly tipping the Defense off to something.

bobby wolffOctober 25th, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Hi Clarksburg,
Well its over 6 months since April Fools Day but only a few days from the Witches and the Goblins. so if one is to believe those 8-5 hands (all four of them) were hand dealt then there are no cows in Texas. Change dealt to picked and you've got a taker.
However, yes you might have made a two suited take out redouble (maybe the most dramatic one ever) and if so, you will have to be lucky and have partner pick his void which will happen to be opposite your 8 card fit instead of his other void opposite only your paltry 5.
It usually helps to be creative in life, but while competing in bridge, better to leave that talent to those big, bad opponents.
Possibly the elephant in this bridge room is that the original meaning of redouble is to tell the doubler that he was mistaken. not a bad message at that and since rubber bridge came before tournament bridge its original meaning hasn't changed, although the new breed bridge player may think of a way to allow an artificial redouble to slither its way into importance.
FWIW the redouble's real worth is helping to show certain specific features in the bidding without it having any punitive or numerate hidden meanings. Let's leave it at that for fear of anyone taking us too seriously.

ClarksburgOctober 25th, 2015 at 11:10 pm

So, as you say :
“…It usually helps to be creative in life, but while competing in bridge, better to leave that talent to those big, bad opponents…”

Think I’ll write that on the back of my convention card, take a peek at it before every game, and then plant my feet solidly on the floor (aka ground) under the Table.

Iain ClimieOctober 26th, 2015 at 12:24 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Many thanks for that and the shape all round the table supports your theory. I’ve seen a few 7-6 hands over the years and even a goulashed 12 card suit but never anything like that. There again, passing with lots of shape can misfire. There is a story about a player at high stake rubber bridge holding 10 solid spades and 3 singletons and defining to pass 1st in hand. All passed. He asks partner if he had much. No, comes the reply, just 3 aces in a rubbish hand, so I thought I’d pass.

Hi Bobby, thanks for the very sound advice. All I need now is a sane partner and some self -discipline!



Bobby WolffOctober 26th, 2015 at 11:29 am

Hi Iain,

Sane partners often grow on trees and when ripe, ready to be picked.

However that other requirement, if you are like me, is very elusive and even if not difficult to recognize, unlikely to be added, however inexpensive it may be, to possess.

slarOctober 27th, 2015 at 2:09 am

So how good a suit do you need for a penalty double in Matchpoints? I had QT9xx and my opponents were known to be 5 on the left and 3 on the right. Since the J was offside it was possible for that holding to only take a single trick double dummy. (Unfortunately “we” rescued ourselves into -1100 so we’ll never know if the declarers would have played it correctly…Fortunately we got it back on the next board with +670, but that’s a story for another day.)