Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 27th, 2015

At rubber, with both sides vulnerable my LHO opened a strong no-trump, and my partner doubled, which we play as penalty. When my RHO ran to two clubs, should I have acted with ♠ Q-4, K-6-5-3, 10-9-5, ♣ Q-8-7-4?

Dumbbell, Jupiter Island, Fla.

You should double two clubs. Your hearts are not strong enough or long enough to bid, but the opponents must have less than half the deck without a great fit. If your partner has a long suit of his own, he will surely bid it over the double. If not, you will be happy to defend – and remember, two clubs doubled is not game!

Do you have any comment on the prevalence of bad ethics or cheating at the top level of the game? I ask because of the scandals currently blowing up involving several pairs of foreign experts.

Witch-finder General, Newport, R.I.

There are fewer than five top pairs suspected of collusion not already being investigated. Most of the expert community knows who the cheaters are, and the issue is whether the major federations will have the courage to go after them. Most of the guilty pairs were under suspicion for at least five years, but it took some brave individuals to publish and risk reprisals. I hope we won’t have to go that route again.

I held ♠ Q-J-9-4-2, 10-3, K-J-5, ♣ K-8-4. My partner opened one diamond and I responded one spade. When he rebid two diamonds, should I have rebid spades, tried for no-trumps, or raised diamonds?

Truth Seeker, Arlington, Texas

Simply raise to three diamonds. Do not repeat the spades on a five-card suit, since raising diamonds shows an invitational hand with diamond support – and with any luck partner will support your spades or bid three no-trumps with the appropriate hand. Whoever first said “Support with support” knew what he was talking about.

Do you have strong opinions as to what defense to a strong club most disturbs the opponents? I know you played a variety of artificial systems, but since you no longer do, can you let us in on the secret?

Behind the Curtain, Detroit, Mich.

Low level intervention doesn’t really help mess up your opponents’ responses. I like the idea of coming in with one heart and one spade on one- or twosuited hands when you can. And do preempt if the vulnerability will let you. Meanwhile, psyching against the strong club may score an occasional goal but will discourage partner on future occasions from bidding his hand.

At teams with nobody vulnerable my partner held ♠ A-9-6-5-3, J-10-4-2 K-5, ♣ Q-2. When I opened one diamond my LHO overcalled one spade, and my partner decided to pass and then passed out the re-opening double. We collected one undertrick for plus 100, but we could have made four hearts. What would you have done?

Underwhelmed, Venice Beach, Calif.

Your partner’s spade spots were a little weak to go for the throat. A negative double – intending to rebid two no-trump if no heart fit comes to life – looks plausible. But bidding no-trump directly is also reasonable, in which case one no-trump seems closer to the mark than bidding two no-trump. By the way, that action might have lost the heart fit altogether, so this is not an easy hand.

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Yasser HaiderJanuary 10th, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Hi Bobby
Off-topic but this hand came up last week in a moderate standard teams of 8 league match. I held vul against not AQJxx, x, AKJ9653, void. LHO dealt and opened 4H, partner overcalled 5C and RHO passed. What would you have bid? Thanks

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Hi Yasser,

Perhaps your problem will win the award for the most difficult bridge bidding problem of the year (perhaps the decade or even the century).

Since you are looking at almost all the tops in the two unbid pointed suits, your partner figures to have solid clubs so the choice then gravitates to pass, 6 clubs or selfishly also 5 or even 6 diamonds (one which too many would choose).

My official guess would be to rate the bids, 6 clubs (showing partner great respect, never a bad idea) =100, pass=80, 5 diamonds=40 with 6 diamonds only 10 (catering to a miracle as partner could easily be void).

Although a most unusual case (I, in all my years, never to my memory, was faced with anywhere near such a problem) but I thank you for submitting it, since it majors in bridge logic, not life logic.

Yes a better contract than 5 or 6 clubs is likely to be out there, but trust that others will be faced with that same guess so allow your experience to save our ship.

However, I shudder to hear what worked. And do not forget to give the 4 heart bidder credit for causing the consternation.

W. B. Daniel IIIJanuary 10th, 2016 at 5:51 pm


Why not bid 3H with Underwhelmed partner’s hand? This would be an invitational hand with 4 hearts and length in spades, else why not a negative double the first round or 1NT the first round. Sometimes a failure to act in a situation gives a lot of info and the failure to act plus the game invitation describes 5 spades and 4 hearts with 10+ points. Your partner should have 4 hearts or a strong hand capable of bidding 3N or 4 hearts for his reopening double. Even if he passes you are better off at 3 hearts than 1 spade doubled.

You are right about the spades being a little weak to pass the double, but if I had as much as the A109xx I might pass it. That would mean at least a 2 and probably a 3 trick set.

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Hi W. B.,

Your overall description is quite accurate, but my simply explained advice is to make a negative double, (showing 4+ hearts) and then if partner merely rebids diamonds or names clubs, then bid 2NT which seems to, at the very least, come close to describing this hand.

Sure, on any given day an immediate pass and then a conversion of partner’s reopening TO double may produce a good result. But as you so keenly mentioned the spade spots were not good enough to ward off the evil spirits and +100 only was chalked up.

While I do not quarrel with your assumed hands when partner first passes and then bids another suit, it doesn’t always stand up to the scrutiny of always showing the other major.

Bridge bidding often creates some original surprises and it sometimes takes great experience to find an apt description later.

However, thanks for your input and do not be a stranger to add to our future discussion.

David WarheitJanuary 10th, 2016 at 7:28 pm

On Yasser’s hand, I would think it highly improbable that partner could have bid 5C with nothing but solid clubs and the SK. (He must have either the HA or K, since he is almost certainly marked with more than a singleton H.) A very likely hand for him is Kxx Kxx void & 7 solid clubs. Note that with that hand, 6C is very likely to fail (HA and a H ruff). The best contract is (drum roll) 6S. How to get there? Bid 5H over 5C and then, if partner bids 6C, bid 6D which surely says “pick either 6D or 6S”.

Yasser HaiderJanuary 10th, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Dear Bobby I am in awe of your reasoning and also that of David who always has something insightful to say. I must confess to jumping to 6D, the eternal optimist/fool that I am. LHO doubled and I converted to 6S also doubled on my left. LHO was not done however and he led AC! Dummy put down K10x, Kx, x, KQJ109xx. When spades broke there were 13 tricks for score of 1860 which we all had to look up. Oh and diamonds broke 5-0 with RHO having all of them. A truly bizarre hand.

Bobby WolffJanuary 10th, 2016 at 10:46 pm

Hi David and Yasser

It seems that David’s methodology would have worked, that is assuming your LHO would lead the ace of clubs (which my guess all would agree is a grievous error with so much to lose and only unlikely shadows to justify) which, at the table, paid an enormous penalty.

However, while appreciating your optimistic reasoning (in the sense of partnership understanding, with another interpretation of cue bidding and then choosing a higher ranking suit, often that may mean a basic 6 1/2 diamond bid, inviting seven (almost always solid diamonds) unless partner doesn’t like his hand for a grand slam (not enough controls such as the ace of clubs).

While my intention is neither to win an argument nor point out the flaws in yours, but only to take on a real life (sort of) bridge situation and have the best chance to solve it correctly.

A very wise bridge player once told me early in my career, “Do not play me for the hand you want me to have, simply because I will never have it”. Although I am still alive and both kicking as well as playing bridge, so far he has been 100% in his assessment.

At the risk of being hard headed (no doubt) I stand behind my assessment of sticking with what probably motivated my partner to bid vulnerable at the 5 level, all by himself, an 11 trick club contract should mightily suggest to me that his principle motivation figures to be a magnificent suit, both solid and many, leaving me to have a trick or so for him to make it, but singularly naming trump himself.

However, I have been wrong many times before and hope to also have the privilege to again not be right a few more times, before I quit, so what is a fella to say.

And if we feel for each other with our different views, think of the poor fella who triumphantly doubled 6 diamonds and then 6 spades before leading the ace of clubs.

And me being a big American football fan, he has won a new title as the biggest triple threat in the annals of defending slam contracts in bridge, including bidding and opening leads.

Finally Yasser, there is another caveat which holds dear in my heart entitled, “Let the winner explain” and with that result, you are it.

Your partner had close to what I would expect for a 5 club vulnerable bid over a 4 heart NV opening, while pushing just a little. The only advice I could give you is to be very kind and thoughtful to your LHO since he may produce many assets in your pocket that is, if you both continue to play bridge against each other.

David OwenJanuary 11th, 2016 at 1:51 am

Mr. Wolff: I’m a staff writer for The New Yorker (and a regular reader of your blog). I’m planning to write a long article about Fisher/Schwartz, Fantoni/Nunes, etc., and would love to talk with you — about them, about cheating in general, and about bridge history. I’d also love your advice about who else I should talk to. Possible? Thanks!
David Owen
12 Ferry Bridge Rd.
Washington, CT 06783