Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

My colleagues and advisers never seem to agree about how and when the Gerber convention can be used. Most agree that if clubs have been bid, the Blackwood convention is appropriate. Others maintain that it is still correct to bid four clubs.

Iceberg, Kelowna, British Columbia

Here’s when to use Gerber in suit auctions: never. I suggest to you that a call of four clubs is always a cuebid, rather than Gerber, unless it is a jump after a call of no-trump. I know my readers will never buy this, and that it is a losing battle to suggest it. So let’s at least agree that when it isn’t a jump, a call of four clubs is never Gerber. And it is never, ever, Gerber when clubs are trump.

Recently as dummy I saw my partner playing a three heart contract in which the opponents revoked in mid-hand. If the renege had not been caught, declarer would have been down one. He now receives two tricks from opponents. The question is, do these tricks give him game or just the contract and an overtrick?

Cereal Killer, Pinehurst, N.C.

The contract is three hearts – regardless of any revoke(s). The penalty can’t exceed the number of tricks taken by the offenders on or after the offence. If the revoker (personally, not his partner) won the revoke trick, the penalty is two tricks. If the revoker didn’t win that trick, the penalty is one trick, UNLESS the revoker subsequently won a trick with a card he could have played legally on the revoke trick. Also, a director can restore equity if the penalty does not suffice.

We have a pair at our club who play a weak no-trump. Do you consider that it is best to play a double of Stayman or of their transfer call by an unpassed hand as relating to the suit they have just bid, or to show points?

Al Dente, Cincinnati, Ohio

By a passed hand, all doubles are lead directing. A double of Stayman or an artificial transfer call by an unpassed hand might sensibly be played as strong, unlinked to clubs. But a double of a natural response should just be take-out.

Holding: ♠ Q-2, A-Q-7-5-2, A-J-9-3, ♣ 3-2 I opened one heart and after a two club response I bid two diamonds. Now my partner bid two spades and the next hand doubled. What should I have bid without the double – and what with it?

Wheaties, Tacoma, Wash.

Without the double, you would have to bid two no-trump – the doubleton queen is almost as good as a stopper, and if partner has an honor, no-trump is probably better played your way up. After the double you can pass, suggesting this pattern, or a hand with three spades but no wish to bid no-trump.

Please advise your bid with this hand. Holding ♠ Q-7-2, 2, J, ♣ A-K-Q-10-8-4-3-2 I gambled to open two clubs, and rebid three clubs. My partner used Blackwood and drove us to six no-trump, which made on a finesse. Was I out of line to do so much?

Fortunate Son, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Your idea was not a bad one, but the problem is that when partner has scattered values he will assume you own more quick tricks than you have. Here is a good rule; with a long strong suit open two clubs if all one-level responses from partner would leave you without a bid. Even so, open at the one-level unless you have at least one and a half quick tricks outside your long solid suit. Change a red card to an ace here, and you are closer to the mark.

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 ClimieDecember 20th, 2015 at 9:59 am

Hi Bobby,

A couple of quick queries today. On Wheaties’ query (when 4th suit forcing is doubled) what should redouble show? On the last hand, with the long clubs, isn’t this a classic gambling 3N showing a long solid minor with little outside? Has the latter bid fallen out of favour nowadays, though?



ClarksburgDecember 20th, 2015 at 10:07 am

Thanks to Iceberg for raising the “Gerber” question. And thanks to you Mr. Wolff for your answer; I will be quoting it, using it as a “Persuasive Club” in discussions with Partners and other Clubmates!
I have casually observed that Club players attempting to use Gerber in suit auctions create a bidding wreck roughly half the time. And even some pretty strong and otherwise sane Players want 4C to be Gerber over a natural 3NT .
As you say, it seems a losing battle. But I for one will soldier on.

AviDecember 20th, 2015 at 11:38 am

Hi Bobby

Also in regards to “Fortunate Son”.
If 2 Clubs is played as strong and/or 9 tricks in hand, isn’t it an infraction to open this hand with 2c?
Even for a 9 trick hand, aren’t you required to hold a minimum number of HCP (17+?)

jim2December 20th, 2015 at 12:15 pm

On Gerber, I try to get my partners to agree that Gerber is only “on” in notrump auctions where neither player has bid a suit naturally, Hence:

1) 1N – 2N — 4C would be Gerber

2) 1N – 2C; 2D — 4C would be Gerber

3) 2C – 2D; 2N — 4C would be Gerber

4) 1N – 2D; 2H — 4C would be Gerber

But in this auction Gerber is “off”:

1N – 2C; 2H — 4C not Gerber because hearts were bid naturally.

slarDecember 20th, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Some people play Gerber is on after first or last NT. Whatever. If that’s what they want to play I can do it but I strongly prefer it to just be on for jumps after 1NT or 2NT.

The only time I have a real issue with Gerber is after a successful Stayman sequence – 1NT-2C/2S-4NT is quantitative so my partners insist on making 4C Gerber in that case. Blech. I’m trying to get them to play that the other major (1NT-2C/2S-3H) is a strong balanced raise in the first major. Then a subsequent 4NT bid is whatever flavor of Blackwood. Jumps to 4 can be splinter raises. The idea that a jump to 4D is completely different from a jump to 4C is just annoying. I would rather use my limited brain power on something else.

Bill CubleyDecember 20th, 2015 at 4:47 pm


I will be at the Myrtle Beach regional after Christmas. I disagree with his opening bid. He got very lucky that his partner held such a good hand and yet they still needed a successful finesse.

There is a lot of distribution and HCP out there. A one club opener will not be passed out. Howard Schencken’s Strong Club system allowed the strong club, with a long suit or a good 2-suiter down to 14 HCP from the normal 17 HCP. This hand is closer to a preemptive bid than a strong bid.

I am not a shy game/slam bidder. Even catching a great dummy with AKQxx of trump once. My experience with this type of bidding is many wild and crazy scores with lots of doubled sets as the norm. Confusing strong openers with preemptive hands is not a road to success.

Please feel free to gently correct me. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Judy.

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Hi Iain,

The redouble of the 4th suit, when doubled by his LHO, and thus your RHO, is useful, but should be reserved for either Ax(x) or Kxx in that suit opting for partner to be declarer in the most likely game contract, 3NT. As a finishing touch, but alas very rude, to give thanks to the doubler for allowing your partnership to right the side of the table 3NT (hopefully) will be played. However, even the absence of the double may cause a sophisticated partner to still raise the 4th suit with the above suggestive holdings, but theoretically it would show 4 of that suit.

The above is much like ballroom dancing, graceful and effective, but needing to be executed properly.

Yes, many bridge players, perhaps facetiously 0.00001% of the world’s total bridge players play gambling 3NT while holding a long solid minor and hoped for “slow downs” in the unbids. However since it is very common among the world’s elite it is certainly worth both discussing and then doing. However, that subject is just too radical for many to comprehend simply because it is a severe test for the average player’s imagination.

If some reader is still in doubt, perhaps this bridge joke would enrich his or her day. One bridge player states to his partner that his friend just taught him a new convention and that is to overcall three spades over his RHO’s opening 5 card major to show a stopper in spades allowing for his partner to venture 3NT just in case he held a solid 7 or 8 card solid suit of his own.

Do not allow me to pull anyone’s leg in a silly attempt to be funny, but you, especially, may find it worthy of laughs.

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Johnny Gerber, from Houston Texas, was probably my #1 mentor when I was in my late teens and being indoctrinated into what turned out to be higher-level bridge.

His convention according to him was handled in a sophisticated manner when one player or the other, out of the blue ventured 4 clubs, it was then construed to be asking for numbers of aces. with the primary motive to be able to sign off in the agreed trump suit (assuming there was already one established) in order to hopefully play at the four level rather than five in case of being off two of them. BTW, the followup to the original response, if not in the agreed trump suit was then a request for numbers of kings.

However, even in those early days and between two naturally very good players they had misunderstandings. Years later that convention was modified to basically the way most players (ranging from talented to not so) see it now. Only when the first or last bid was NT and even then only by a jump. However to it has been added other artificial ace asks, such as Redwood (meaning either 4 diamonds or 4 hearts) being a lower ace ask when another suit, of course, has been agreed.

All is fair when two (hoped to be sophisticated) players sit down to spend some time discussing an overall system, but necessary to enjoy playing bridge, not necessarily, unless those two deem it so, enough to make those extra minutes, first hours, then days, stretching out to months and even years, but always before final agreements are cemented.

The history of high-level bridge does have a past like no other, never easy, never smooth, but well worthwhile and IMO very worthy to be taught officially and for credit in the schools. The mind psychology, logic and forward thinking are just too powerfully positive to be discarded.

As you no doubt have noticed, I have shied away from getting into discussion of all the pitfalls involved in playing Gerber and leave it up to the intelligent readers to make wise choices. Pretty lazy of me, right?

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Hi Avi,

While I 100% agree with you about not opening a strong, artificial 2 clubs with anywhere near as weak a hand as illustrated I will make a comment on why. First, it is not sound bridge and partner will expect a MUCH stronger hand with honors throughout his hand and, of course, in different suits.

However, the restriction you talk about against doing it is to prevent bridge con artists (bite my tongue) will use such a bid to “buffalo” unwary opponents into buying a hand without serious opposition (for fear of the strong opening) and likely having unethical and illegal agreements among themselves to tread lightly when one of them opens 2 strong clubs.

Nothing going further into, but hope you understand the overall rule against, not so much bridge wise, but rather as protection to beginners or lesser experienced players.

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

I get your drift, meaning a simplification for that partnership, but still enabling the value of Gerber (keeping the responses lower in the event of signing off short of slam).

Obviously, I have not thoroughly analyzed your specifics, but from what I read, it looks logical and consistent. I will advise others, if interested, to also read your post and decide for themselves whether to incorporate any of your ideas for both effectiveness and memory.

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Hi Slar,

Ever the pragmatist!

By these discussions the newbie will begin to understand just how much time can be spent while discussing system with a likely partner.

However just the back & forth logic involved is a learning experience which pervades bridge as we know it and is worthwhile not only in developing one’s bridge game, but also in applying life’s logic in solving people problems.

And I also hope readers get to appreciate the different and selected views various good players learn and, in time, incorporate.

Bridge can be a very far reaching subject and today’s questions and answers are good examples.

ClarksburgDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Jim 2
Presumably in your Example #4, the Pair is not playing Jacoby Transfers.
Otherwise, Responder’s 2D would be in effect a natural Heart bid, and Gerber would not be ON.
Is that a correct interpretation?

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Hi Bill,

No doubt, I agree totally in what you suggest. Playing a wild version of bridge, e.g opening 2 clubs with a long solid suit and little else is beyond a normal imagination and your exciting description best sums it up. It is NOT bridge as any good player imagines it, but it is a way of going about it for some.

The one constant is to return to you and yours the same very strong holiday wishes and also to all who frequent this site. Ever upward, ever onward for happiness and success.

jim2December 20th, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Clarksburg –

First, I am not an expert. Second, by my interpretation, 2D was not a natural bid (as it did not guarantee diamonds), hence Gerber would still be “on.” Similarly, 2H commanded by the 2D xfer was also not natural, as the bidded was not guaranteeing hearts by bidding 2H.

Third, I am not saying my treatment is in any way optimal, Merely that it allows me to play Gerber w/ few chances of mistakes and thus let me devote my few remaining gray cells to some other place. 🙂

Iain ClimieDecember 20th, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the answers and humour, reminiscent of the rubber bridge player whose poker style sandbag misfired. First in hand he held 10 solid spades and 3 singletons. He passed and so did everyone else. “Have anything, partner” he asked. “Just the 3 aces in a 1-4-4-4 hand, came the reply, I didn’t think we were going anywhere”.

All the best for Christmas and New Year to you and Judy, and to the usual suspects who contribute so much, plus any amd all passing readers.


bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 9:34 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Listen to Jim2 and try and adjust your thinking to the practicality of the sequences. It is hard enough to remember what different bids mean, but to try and learn them verbatim (usually the thing to do) doesn’t cut it in bridge, since all possible sequences (some artificial some not) only cause problems and do not lend themselves to automatic meanings according to some, or for that matter, any discipline.

Once an up and coming player, all the way to superstar, wraps his mind around bridge theory, those definition problems will tend to go away.

Also since high level play and defense have so many variations one needs to keep an agile mind in order to attack them properly.

To try what works in public speaking and financial management in business, following strict formulas, will put too low a ceiling on what you, specifically, could achieve in bridge and worse, drive you crazy with not good enough results (and unfortunately, for a lifetime).

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Hi Iain,

And back at you, for a very healthy, happy and prosperous holiday from all your firm and fast bridge friends on our site and especially from Judy and me.

Your wise counsel, humor, bridge style and friendship add much lustre to the many days which seem to go by so fast. Yes, I and likely all of us (and growing), want our familiar group to stay together forever.

Lacking that, my wish to everyone tuned in is for all their finesses to work, unless of course they have underbid.

ClarksburgDecember 20th, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Thanks to both,
What I had missed was that Jim2’s “NATURAL” has to mean that literally; so in 1NT > 2D > 2H, although Responder’s 2D (Transfer)was in effect showing Hearts, it was not bid naturally.
Seems Jim2’s four numbered examples would also be covered by the understanding that “we’re not in an agreed-suit auction, so the jump to 4C is Gerber”
But for the unnumbered exception, Jim2’s agreement eliminates any ambiguity.

bobby wolffDecember 20th, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Obviously the important feature is that you remain confident and it seems you are.

Old fogies like me remember when jumps to 4 clubs meaning shortness, were just being conceived, but to new spirits like you, splinters are old hat.

There is no question that all of us need to apply new thinking in bridge in our own way, lest we lose our compatibility with our favorite partner(s).

jim2December 21st, 2015 at 2:02 am

Clarksburg –

The sequence of a Jacoby Transfer followed by 4C is an example of a trade-off. That is, what is better, to reserve 4N as the quantitative invitation (inviting slam in either strain), or to allow a club self-splinter by the major suit holder facing the notrump bidder? Also, some of the auctions after a 2N opener are less well-defined. On the whole, however, my preferred treatment is just my attempt to get right a less-than-optimal system rather than screw up a better one by forgetting.

The reason I said the above is that the alternative (the self-splinter) SETS TRUMP (so there is suit agreement). The next Q is what does the same sequence but with 4D instead of 4C? See? I would argue it is the self-splinter and that we have simply agreed not to have club voids …. 🙂