Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

My partner and I can’t agree about the handling of big hands. We just had two two-club auctions in the same session that went awry. I am looking for suggestions on the best approach to second-round responses. (We currently use a controlshowing response, where a call of two diamonds shows one or fewer kings, two hearts shows an ace or two kings, and two spades shows an ace or king or three kings.)

Great Scott, Tucson, Ariz.

After the two diamond response you can use the Kokish scheme of responses. All other calls are natural – except that opener’s direct jump to three of a major should be long diamonds and four cards in the bid major. I like responder being able to use a next-suit negative if opener bids two spades or three clubs at his second turn.

Holding ♠ A-J-2, K-6-4, Q-10-9-3-2, ♣ J-4 is there any merit to opening this hand in any seat at pairs? How important is the vulnerability issue here?

First Blow, Greenville, S.C.

Non-vulnerable at pairs I would consider opening this hand – but only because of the diamond spots. Vulnerable I think I’d pass – there are too many bad things that can happen. At least when you bid diamonds, partner knows you actually have the suit you have bid. If I did open, I would plan to raise a major-suit response rather than rebid one no-trump.

Yesterday, at our duplicate group, my hand was ♠ 7, A-9-7-6-5, K-J, ♣ A-K-J-10-8. I opened one club and heard my partner respond four spades. I passed, thinking her bid was a “close out” bid. Was I wrong, and what would you have done? My partner actually had a strong hand and slam was in the cards.

Don Draper, St Louis, Mo.

Your opening bid should definitely unequivocally and without exception be the major on a 5-5 two-suiter. Suit quality is truly not relevant. I know some people treat 5-5 in the black suits as a one club opener. Not me – unless I had an honorless spade suit and 150 honors in clubs, when I’d feel someone was sending me a message. Equally, your partner’s call was flat-out wrong; new suits are forcing. Don’t preempt your own side for no reason.

At duplicate with both sides vulnerable my LHO opened two diamonds, weak, passed round to me. I held ♠ K-Q-6-4, K-9, Q-5, ♣ Q-9-6-4-2 and chose to bid two notrump, but afterwards my partner told me that this shows a strong no-trump, and that I should have doubled.

Torn in Two, Milwaukee, Wis.

Bidding either black suit suggests a better holding, and doubling with only two hearts is very risky. Meanwhile, a call in notrump does suggest a better hand – though I admit it might work! I prefer to pass; this works if your best available result is to concede two diamonds, or if you can set two diamonds, but can’t make a game. These are two quite likely options.

At duplicate with only our side vulnerable I held ♠ 9-4, Q-9-7-4-3, J-7-5, ♣ Q-9-2. My LHO opened one club, my partner doubled, and my RHO bid one spade. I passed, and my LHO raised to three spades, ending the auction. Four hearts our way would have made; should I have bid at my first turn with this hand?

Chicken Little, Naples, Fla.

Bidding two hearts is probably right at your first turn. You have a five-card suit and a few values, and partner has promised at least heart tolerance. Don’t let your opponents push you around; your partner might hope for a little more for a two-heart call, but he will not expect the World’s Fair.

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 CheuJanuary 3rd, 2016 at 10:52 am

Hi Bobby,All vul,pairs,your hand(North) is K J3 KQ9632 AQJ2. E 1S(4S n canape,Blue club sys),S pass W 2S N 3D-E 3S S pass W pass N?Would you bid again?I reopened with Double(for take out) pass out.3S makes..we can make 4C,but how to get there? Not many got to it. s 32 K8762 74 K1097. e AQJ987 A9 J85 53 w 10654 Q1054 A10 864. Against the same pair,NS vul D West,Pard held A64 J2 642 AQ854(South).W 1S(with canape) N pass E 1N(8-11 could be less if dislike for spades)S pass,pass out.We can make 2S,but are we fixed? w K832 K76 A983 97 n QJ1087 AQ8 J105 32 e 5 109543 KQ7 KJ106.Would you bid with South’s hand?1N makes but should be -1,majority in spades making our way..regards~Patrick.

Joe1January 3rd, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Happy New Year. At a recent session of rubber bridge there were a few throw-ins/all pass. During the postmortem it was observed that we rarely see or hear about this by experts (probably because such hands don’t make the highlight reel). My question is, how rare is this in an expert game? Statistically all four hands having 9-11 points without shape does occur, though infrequently. It seems these days the fourth hand can/should bid with very little.
Thanks for your passion for the game and kind instruction.

Bobby WolffJanuary 3rd, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Hi Patrick,

First, the Blue Club aka Neapolitan Club (Father) and later The Aces Club, Jacoby-Wolff, then Hamman-Wolff all slightly different, with minor additions and subtractions but both including canape, with my partnerships not playing canape by responder since 4th suit was needed to be forcing and therefore most times artificial but with the Blue Team, while they had the same problem, seemed always to be right (yes, sarcasm is intended) used canape by both, which had advantages, but only when that partnership (usually in that day, Forquet-Garozzo and then for a time and before CC Wei’s Super Precision, Garozzo-Belladonna) could divan out the two opposite meanings (never failed for them to seem to respond to whichever partner had and as one might expect, that nuance came up often).

And now to your hands against probably an honest Blue Club. Since, in that sequence the double of 3 spades by partner should be penalties, he cannot, IMO, bid anything but pass. Back to you and after bidding 3 diamonds (normal) it would be a stretch for you to bid, but if you felt fixed you might try 4 clubs which your partner may pass (because of the matchpoint philosophy of fighting to find a fit, taking chances, but then partner allowing for it). However, I do not think bidding 4 clubs by you is anywhere near sound and would suggest just going quietly but, on this board getting fixed. However, you should have company for your tie for zero.

On the other hand West opened a balanced 10 count which is not recommended in that system, of, for that matter, many other systems, at least ones which can be legally successful.

It is worth checking out and what Recorder Slips are for, by filling one out, turning it over to a competent experienced, hard working Recorder who should check it out, by investigating that pair. My guess from inventing the use of Recorders (Montreal, Spring of 1985) he will find unusual activity and possibly something sinister in their partnership. Not guaranteed to happen but is the very purpose of what the Recorder system is supposed to do–INVESTIGATE unusual, but often effective counter intuitive methods to see what, if anything is going on. I’ll guess that well over 50% in this case, a competent Recorder will find unusual and offensive activity by that pair. Why? Simply because those weak openings have proven not to come close to being effective, so the law of averages would create doom for them unless they had some underhanded (and quite illegal) way of signalling such light goings on.

Other that the above advice, all I can say is “grin and bear it” but if something informative came from the investigation your bad board is well worth the time, but NOT if nothing is done about it.

I would insist that the Recorder system be installed in your unit (or district) since without it, all that happens is that a form of horrible cheating will be left for anyone with that inclination to use to major advantage.

Yes, the Blue Club (or whatever name it is called) lends itself to covering up system flaws by illegal methods.

In addition, in spite of those flaws it is, IMO, a highly effective method of getting to good contracts fast and being a particularly difficult system to deal with. Take away the flaws (possibly in your case) and it becomes that much better. Of course, without the illegality of some kind of signalling, opening that West hand in example #2, is just not a winning bridge philosophy.

Good Luck and welcome to the bridge police.

Patrick CheuJanuary 3rd, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Hi Bobby,Your comments strike the right cord and I always learn from it.Thanks again for all your kind help.Very Best Regards~Patrick.

Jane AJanuary 3rd, 2016 at 6:59 pm


I will be interested to see what Bobby posts regarding your question, but my opinion is that fourth seat should not open the bidding with very little because if your partner is a passed hand, so why help the opps find their partial. Some players use the rule of 15 in fourth seat to help them decide, which is the total number of high card points and the number of spades. Some people will open light in third seat however, but I am not one of them because once again, my partner is a passed hand. Let the opps do their own work!

slarJanuary 3rd, 2016 at 9:54 pm

It is hard to generalize too much. I look for excuses to open (especially non-vulnerable) but the hand has to have something going for it. The Rule of 15 is helpful but I am not afraid to ignore it if I have a nice suit. Most of the time you open a major you end up playing it at the 2 level. If you open a minor it is a little more risky but you can often dump your partner in one of a major or play 1NT which is a tossup. If my most likely results are +90 or -50 I’ll take those odds.

Bobby WolffJanuary 4th, 2016 at 12:14 am

Hi Joe1,

Sure, there are probably fewer passed out hands in duplicate pair games than there are at rubber bridge, since the frequency of gain (pair games) vs. the amount of gain (rubber or IMPs) makes every hand worth the equivalent of any other.

However, do not rely too much on science, but rather on tactics and good old common sense. For example, when holding: s. QJ10xxx, h. Ax, d. QJ10x c. x I would certainly open 2 spades in 4th chair (or probably any chair, but holding the same in hearts instead of spades, in 4th chair, probably not, but somewhat depending on the perceived aggressiveness, plus both the vulnerability and believe it or not, your opinion of how aggressive the opponents may think that your partnership has become).

If I was your bridge captain (OMG) my instructions would only be three little words, instead of those initials, “better be right”, although all that would be at stake at IMPs or rubber is a small amount of money or just a few Imps.

Don’t be afraid to take liberties in 4th chair not taken in 1st or 2nd seat, since all that is at stake is an attempt to buy a low level contract.

Oneupmanship is involved much more than bridge or any other kind of science.

Thanks also for the kind words, but a willing ear by who asks the question is difficult to refuse.

Bobby WolffJanuary 4th, 2016 at 12:18 am

Hi Jane A,

As usual I agree with most of your comments, with only the provision in 3rd or 4th chair of opening a suit (even a 4 card major) which should be worth asking your partner to lead. In other words AQxx instead of Jxxxx.

Bobby WolffJanuary 4th, 2016 at 12:20 am

Hi Slar,

Yes, I also like your comments and could be listed under the category, Bridge Common Sense. Also the Golden Rule works at bridge in wanting your partner to help you (legally) as much as you want to help him.

Tim QuigleyJanuary 5th, 2016 at 3:31 am

Hi, Bobby: My partner and I play two-over-one. Recently, she had a good hand (16 or so points) with five spades and five hearts. I had 11 points with two small spades and three hearts (Ace, King, small). I responded 1 no trump. She bid two hearts. I took her for only four hearts and, when she subsequently re-bid spades, I raised to game which went down one. Four hearts would have made easily. She told me her heart bid in that sequence meant she had five hearts. Which of us is correct? It is not a case of winning debate. I just want to know how to read such bidding in future. Many thanks.

Bobby WolffJanuary 5th, 2016 at 5:15 am

Hi Tim,

With the facts you gave, you have won this fight, (please excuse the expression), hands down.

Once she rebid hearts, and I assume you must have bid 2NT showing fewer than 3 spades and/or 4 hearts, but at least 9+ HCP’s.

Your partner should then have rebid hearts which would show at least 5 hearts and, of course, 5 spades by inference. Likely with her hand and depending on the strength of her two suits she would normally bid either 3 or 4 hearts (holding, as you said, 16 or so points.

No problem, since next time both of you will be on the same wave length. In bridge we gather inner strength by being able to overcome adversity. This episode will merely make your bridge partnership stronger.

And good luck to both of you.