Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Can you tell me how fourth-suit works and why you bid a suit when you don’t have it?

Champion the Wonder Horse, Portland, Maine

At his second turn, responder’s new suits are forcing. Bidding a third suit is natural, but bidding the fourth suit only suggests rather than guarantees length. Opener can raise the fourth suit with four, bid no-trump with a stopper, raise partner, or rebid one of his own suits. After three suits are bid, the next player assumes the danger suit is the unbid one. (This applies when the opponents bid a suit too.) In summary: as responder when you have the danger suit stopped you bid no-trump. When you don’t, but want help, you bid the fourth suit or cuebid the unbid suit.

I have a query on bidding: after a two no-trump overcall by me, can my partner use transfers? When my LHO bid one diamond, raised to two on my right, I bid two notrump. My Left Hand Opponent then passed and my partner bid three diamonds – and I wasn’t sure if this was a forcing call or a transfer.

Bristol, Va.

I have no partnership agreement here (this may be because I do not play two no-trump here as natural but two-suited here). However, my instinctive response is that if the call is natural then transfers should apply. Certainly over a natural one no-trump overcall in sandwich seat I do play transfers, so I suppose I would play them here as well.

Playing against a good but unsophisticated pair I heard my Left Hand Opponent open one club in fourth chair. His partner responded one spade, and he jumped to six spades! I held ♠ Q-10-8, 8-7-6, K-J-9-7-5 ♣ J-5. What do you think would be the killing lead?

Bobby Shafto, East Lansing, Mich.

My instinct is to lead a diamond to set up a trick/cash a trick before it goes away. Declarer might have a six-four hand with a slow diamond loser – or we might just cash two diamonds. Declarer might even reject the diamond finesse to play for something else. Or conceivably we might tap the dummy.

I have a quibble on the English in your column. I think the plural of trump is trumps. You draw a round of trumps, and you trump someone’s ace. You play a round of diamonds, not diamond, so why say you draw a round of trump?

Durham, N.C.

The English say trumps, the Americans say trump rather more often. One can ask ‘What are trumps?’ but one draws trump. The word is derived from triumph, I believe and Noah Webster is inconclusive on the matter. There is a house style, and just like Lola; what the syndicate wants, the syndicate gets!

My partner and I bid unopposed as follows: one diamond – one spade – two spades – three clubs – three spades – four diamonds — four hearts — five spades. What does this last call ask for? Is the call focusing on trumps, and if so how should opener respond with kingjack-ten fourth of spades?

Vancouver, British Columbia

Holding king-jack-tenfourth you should accept a slam try – partner’s indicated spade holding is queen-fourth or queen-fifth. Why? The responder would use key-card Blackwood if he held the queen-jack of trumps, to find what he needed to know. Jumps to the five-level normally ask for trumps – but if not, they focus on a single suit which has not been cue-bid, or on the opponents’ suit if no control has been promised there. Neither of those exceptions apply here.

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


Patrick CheuNovember 29th, 2015 at 10:58 am

Hi Bobby,How would you bid this hand? n AKQJ10 9 KQJxxx Q~ s xx AKQ10x A9xx xx.pairs Acol-N 1D E 2C S dbl(2H nf) W p-N 3S E p S 4H(intending to show opener n 5+H) W p-N 4S E p S 5D…pass out. 6D or 6S makes. Who should bid this? regards~Patrick.

Iain ClimieNovember 29th, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Hi Patrick, Bobby,

On Patricks problem, what would 3H mean followed by 4D over 3S? A bit rustic, perhaps, but the diamond opener is a real suit not a 3 card minor in Acol.

Alsop, in the lead vs 6S problem today, did Bobby Shafto give the full hand and answer?



Iain ClimieNovember 29th, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Sorry, I forgot this from last night. Dealer holdss AQxxx x AQ10xx xx and his partner has x AKQJ K Q1098xxx. The spade KJx sit over the opening bidder but the C are 2-2. It was pairs, but a sensible auction at teams to 5C would be interesting plus whether 3N is preferable.

Bobby WolffNovember 29th, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Hi Patrick,

And a top of the morning to you.

If I was South and in answer to your question of how would I bid that hand, I would no doubt answer after the fact, “Under an assumed name”.

As Iain pointed out, negative free bids (named because those change of suits are NF) generate problems since, as in this example, the bidder than has to devise artificial bids (double) which does not show a specific suit and therefore omits doing what the other roosters (in bridge bidding) are enabled to do.

Iain goes on to ask about the wisdom of jump shifting to 3 hearts instead of doubling. On this hand it will work out, but that round of bidding lost sometimes becomes critical making that venture also considerably less than perfect.

However one needs to give to get, so if a partnership loves negative free bids they must then accept lesser bidding science when a stronger hand comes up.

Back to the ranch and the hand you submitted, after North has rebid 4 spades showing 5-6 in the pointed suits South could (I think should) volunteer 6 diamonds since the opener may have 0-1 club and even if he has 2 he may also have a major honor (A or K).

After all, North has bid strongly and South does have the diamond ace, making his risk smaller than he probably thought. The key here (which many forget) that instead of bidding to a risky slam, to not bid it, is just as risky, since the competition is not the players at your table, but the ones sitting in your seats at the other table(s).

As an additional point and while playing the bastardized form of the game called matchpoints, because of the solidity of the spades, perhaps a distortion to 6 spades should be made by North, in the hopes of not getting a terrible spade break (or a void in diamonds out in the non-opening leaders hand), but those kind of gambles, at least to me, have little utility in discussing good bridge, but to win at matchpoint duplicate it probably needs to be at least, mentioned.

Thanks always for writing.

Patrick CheuNovember 29th, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Hi Bobby,Thanks for your cheerfulness,its quite dark and wet here,but your comment is always full of wisdom…

Patrick CheuNovember 29th, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Hi Iain and Bobby, 3N preferable cos the KD is a big card and pending on whether dJxxx or Jxx nine tricks surely easier…? plus the possibility of overtakg the KD and guessg Jxx of D?

Bobby WolffNovember 29th, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Hi Iain,

Your substitute jump shift (for those playing negative free bids) has already been discussed, and as you can see, between Patrick and me.

Also, AFAIK, Mr. Shafto did not give a result, at least no one told me he did, but if I learn differently I will let you know.

The hand you submitted is indeed interesting. While playing 3NT and getting a heart lead, while different options of declaring are available, it appears that it is not either but rather only a spade finesse or playing for the jack of diamonds to drop tripleton or fewer will be the consensus choice for success. No doubt, at least to me, 5 clubs is a superior contract which only needs holding the club losses to only 2 but being able to lead up to hand twice, making it odds on to make with either the clubs 2-2 or other favorable lies with the only likely killing distribution being either AJx or KJx behind declarer. It feels to me like about a 65%+ favorable chance.

Bobby WolffNovember 29th, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Hi Patrick,

You did present a line of play I did not even consider, but my immediate reaction is that it doesn’t reach the 65% I guessed would be the making of a 5 club contract, but then without a heart lead it will be better for declarer, but then as Jim2 often exclaims, “my head is starting to hurt”.

Iain ClimieNovember 29th, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this but reaching 5C seems highly problematic. 1S 2C 2D 2H 3D 3N seems a likely auction and that is not a success (one oppo had DJxxx and the defence can knock out declarer’s red suit communications with ease. If you can rely on opponents to keep attacking heart, though…



Bobby WolffNovember 29th, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, it, no doubt, is difficult to arrive in 5 clubs, but how about?: (with only our heroes bidding)

Dealer Responder
1 Spade 2 Clubs (GF)
2 Diamonds 3 Clubs (catering to length)
3 Diamonds 3 Hearts (3NT looks awkward)
4 Clubs 5 Clubs (expecting a misfit)

Not clear cut, but at least IMO, possible.

Choices in bidding, even with great players, always has an individual touch, and thus not
predictable. However the evaluation by those players, after the exchange, is usually pointed
to reality, emphasizing good bridge judgment.

Patrick CheuNovember 30th, 2015 at 7:14 am

Hi Bobby,re ‘3H(3N looks awkward)’,5C is going to be difficult if opener has 5521(c singleton),so you would expect him(opener) to bid 3N regardless of heart stop or not…?

Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Hi Patrick,

No, I would be as sure as I can be (because of my heart holding) that partner would never bid 3NT without a major heart honor.

However, from my hand, I do not want to rule out 6 clubs, just in case partner has the right club holding (including two of the remaining club honors), unlikely though possible, since the bidding up to now was just showing distributions and not pinpointing honor holding.

However, I do agree with you that stopping off at 3NT from your side (3rd bid) is certainly a viable option my comment being “3H (3NT looks awkward)”. I was attempting to only explain how it was possible to reach 5 clubs, not giving my proposed bidding an unqualified vote of approval.

And just to emphasize that partner should NEVER consider bidding 3NT without a stopper in an unbid suit, but even never could just mean, almost never, if partner happened to be 5-3-5-0 and he had already shown at least 10 cards in two suits.

If there is one thing certain in all levels of our wonderful game, it is, no matter how long we play our game, there will often be an exception the next time we play it. The idea is to understand when to make that exception, a quality that only seems to be present in our very best players.