Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 1st, 2016

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.

William Arthur Ward

E North
None ♠ 6 3
 6 5 4 3
 Q J 10 9 5
♣ A 4
West East
♠ 10 8 7 5
 Q 8 7
 8 7
♣ 10 8 7 2
♠ Q J 9 2
 K 9 2
 K 6 4
♣ K J 3
♠ A K 4
 A J 10
 A 3 2
♣ Q 9 6 5
South West North East
      1 ♣
Dbl. Pass 1 Pass
1 NT Pass 3 Pass
3 NT All pass    


When the opponents open, the bidding the range for a one no-trump overcall goes up to a bad 18. However, in today’s deal South upgraded his hand to being worth an initial double followed by a call of one no-trump, for which the range is a good 18 to 20 HCP. That persuaded North to drive to game. His jump to three hearts suggested precisely four hearts – with a longer suit he would have bid hearts before introducing his diamonds.

Against three no-trump West led the club two, ducked round to East’s king. The club three was returned — correctly, since otherwise declarer would have established the diamonds and made two spades, a heart, four diamonds and a club. This play had the effect of dislodging dummy’s entry to the diamonds.

On winning the club ace, declarer placed his opponents’ clubs as 4-3. Of course he could make nine tricks if East had at most a doubleton diamond king, but was there anything better? There was, as declarer demonstrated.

His first move was to play a heart to the 10 and queen, which marked East with both red kings. West exited with a club, which was taken by declarer’s queen. South now continued with a low diamond to the nine, which East had to duck or the suit would be set up. Declarer next ran the diamond queen and, after it held, he took a second heart finesse. He ended up taking two spade tricks, two hearts, three diamonds and two clubs for his contract.

Despite the disparity in your suits (and the auction in today’s problem above) I would advocate a response of one heart here. The logic is that partner will always deliver real heart support — at least three — and you are better placed to compete to two or even three diamonds. Such an auction would, incidentally, guarantee no more than four hearts and four-plus diamonds.


♠ 6 3
 6 5 4 3
 Q J 10 9 5
♣ A 4
South West North East
Pass 1 ♣ Dbl. Pass

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 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Mircea1January 15th, 2016 at 10:01 am

Hi Bobby,

Do you agree with South’s upgrading his hand? What should North respond if South’s initial call was 1NT (and West passed)?

ClarksburgJanuary 15th, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Another question about the 1NT overcall, but at the LOWER end of the HCP range.
I am considering dropping the lower limit from 15 to 14 when not VUL. This slightly weaker lower limit should allow the bid to be made much more frequently.
What are your views on the pros / cons of this style?

Bobby WolffJanuary 15th, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Hi Mircea1,

I definitely agree that either way South treated his hand, whether a double first, then 1 heart by partner and then after a 1NT rebid, jumping to three NT, but if South immediately overcalled 1 NT, I would probably bid Stayman first (2 clubs cue bid which would act the same way as Stayman (checking on a 4 card major), and then certainly 3NT (not 2) to honor that source of tricks (5 powerful enough diamonds.

It would also be acceptable (but not necessarily my choice) to jump to 3NT immediately rather than consider a 4-4 heart fit, downgrading the weak hearts but loving the solid 5 card diamonds for playing 3NT and, of course, never forgetting one less trick is necessary for game.

Believe it or not I consider the combined NS hands unlucky to not have 9 virtual laydown tricks, because East, not South, has the vital king of clubs and also that North has only 2 of them (with that being critical because they are led).

Hand evaluation improves markedly with greater experience, especially with those who are born with numeracy. Add that to NT bidding where hcps and suit lengths usually determine the source of tricks, rather than suit bidding which is more difficult to judge because of the combination of losers and, at least to me, usually more variables.

Do not hesitate to jump to 3NT more often than merely raise to 2 when an extra trick (such as the 5th diamond) is considered.

Strange, that on this hand only 3 diamond tricks are available but because of the ten of hearts, the ninth trick magically appears, with, of course, good logical timing.

Bobby WolffJanuary 15th, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

To your good practical question, I, while slightly on the fence with my answer, will agree that while playing duplicate and against only average+ players, I approve of your watered down strategy of overcalling 1NT more often.

However, while playing against very good players, they will double for penalty too often to make it worth your while, since when and if they do, your prospects (especially if you lower your requirements to a mediocre 14 hcps and maybe even without a 5 card suit (usually a minor) will a huge percentage of the time (ranging up to 90%) result in a 10%- grabbing of matchpoints, which is no way to win a duplicate.

Also on those middle of the road hands, I do recommend entering the bidding via a double or even a 4 card suit overcall rather than go quietly while playing a good pair. Overcalling 1NT is sometimes just too rich when your hand is at a minimum, but I try my best to bid something, hoping to find a fit so that their good declarer’s play doesn’t always preclude us from scoring an average or above.

Also, while partaking of the above strategy, perhaps you will be able to rebid 1NT when partner has enough to also compete making your side on at least an equal basis to those good opponents.

Do not let the above imply to you that you should never overcall a light 1NT over an opponents opening bid. For example with: s. Kx, h. xxx, d. Jx, c. AKQxxx and hearing RHO open 1 spade I definitely would overcall 1NT and if LHO doubled I would not (usually) run to 2 clubs the next round. Maybe they will defend well, maybe they won’t (after all they are mere humans).

I can think of many bridge matches during the last 100 years where one direction scored up 1NT doubled while the other side, bid and easily made a vulnerable game and more than once, even slam.

Mircea1January 15th, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thank you for your response. I have seen players advocating ‘system off’ in response to partner’s 1NT overcall. Do you see any merits in that approach? If not, what is the best meaning to be assigned to a transfer into opener’s suit?

Bobby WolffJanuary 15th, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Hi Mircea1,

One thing it should not be, is length in that suit.
Also the answer to your question will have to do with whether transfers are part of a pair’s nomal NT bidding.

I, for one, strongly prefer two way Stayman (2C=NGF, while 2D=GF). When doing do and having the opponents open 1 of a suit followed by partner’s 1NT overcall, I will suggest 2 clubs =NGF and 2 of the opponents suit=GF. Only when the opponents open 1 club is an important bid taken away, but, if so, 2 clubs then by the partner of the NT =NGF.

However, when playing transfers and hearing partner overcall 1NT over his RHO’s 1 of a suit, then a bid that transfers to that same major is merely a general game force whereup if the NTer only accepts the transfer he has nothing more to say (at that time) and asks you to bid your suit (primarily major(s). However if your partner has a special meaning he likes better, go for it, since my suggestion has no particular merit, only a stopgap (GF).

No doubt, though, that since learning good bridge is a jealous mistress it helps for a would be partnership to discuss, discuss and discuss, in order to learn the other’s approach. Bridge can be as serious as one wants to make it, but trouble looms when one takes it much more seriously than does the other.

We learn by our mistakes, but while doing, since mistakes are very much an everyday part of the game, a forgiving attitude is very necessary, but the refusal to plow ahead is probably the real obstacle to getting there from here.

All I can add is that bridge offers a wonderful mind exercise and for a lifetime, so do not ever discount the advantages of learning it the best way you can.

I apologize for not giving you a better meaning for transferring to the opponent’s suit, but likely it should be very short in the opponents suit and so all other suits are possible final contracts, including 3NT, just in case the NTer is very well fortified in that suit.

ClarksburgJanuary 15th, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Thanks. Most helpful.
Already consistent with your added advice here, we do make an offshape TO Double with a hand that’s too good to pass, but not suitable for a 1NT overcall.
I will now add the “overcall-with-a-good four-card suit” if that’s the best description / least fib.

Bobby WolffJanuary 15th, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

My mistake! I left off an important caveat. 4 card overcalls must be restricted to the one level, but sometimes even KQ9x would be OK.

While holding s. AQ9x, h. A10xx, d. xxx, c. xx I would overcall 1 heart by RHO with 1 spade and think it a significant error not to.

Think: 1H P! 1NT P P or 1H P! 1NT P 2C or 2D P P or even a raise to 3 of whatever suit the opener has rebid and partner is sitting with 4 or more spades and about an 8-10 count.

When this happens (and more often than many may think) the non-opening side has victimized itself by its ignorance of what our game should be accenting. Sure disasters can occur when immediately overcalling, but will even one in ten real bridge lovers not realize that by not overcalling that side is clearly getting the worst of it.

Furthermore, while holding: s. xx, h. KQ10x, d. Kxx. c. K10xx and having RHO open either 1 diamond or 1 club, at least to me, it is even more important to bid one heart rather than to meekly pass. And also slightly reduce the overcallers hand and I still consider an overcall a necessity to keep from both getting fixed and from being above all, a tougher opponent.

ClarksburgJanuary 15th, 2016 at 7:28 pm

No, actually it was my mistake. I was going to edit to say “…one-level overcall with good four-card suit…” but didn’t bother.
But this way I got some additional advice and perspective!!
A good day on the Blog!