Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

In a recent column a journalist presented a deal where an endplay might have worked, but the column referred to a Chinese Finesse as an unpalatable alternative. What is your understanding of this?

Sherriff Sam, Houston, Texas

Leading an unsupported honor for a finesse is what the author meant – and it is not normally a good idea but a council of desperation. Normally one opponent tends to cover or the other player takes the trick in fourth chair. An endplay is a maneuver that does not require defensive error, so is generally preferable.

The problem I encountered today seems to plague me and I never manage to get it right. Holding ♠ J-7-4, Q-10-5, J-9-3, ♣ A-K-Q-3, I opened one club and my LHO overcalled one diamond. When my partner bid one spade I raised to two, thinking he would rate to have a five-card suit. Was that wrong?

Looking for Length, Providence, R.I.

If you play negative doubles promise both major suits, then a one spade call only guarantees four spades. That being the case, a one no-trump rebid is a more descriptive call at your second turn, despite your limited diamond stop, rather than raising spades with such a flat hand.

I ran into trouble on a competitive auction. My hand was ♠ J-9, Q-8-7-5-4-3 A-4, ♣ J-3-2. I heard my partner open one club and my RHO bid one spade. I thought my best chance to get into the auction was to bid two hearts now, but we got too high. Should I have passed?

Going Too Far, Wichita Falls, Texas

The best plan might be to make a negative double, intending to convert partner’s minimum response to two hearts. This suggests a six-card suit and scattered values – which is what you have. If the opponents raise spades you may have to sell out, but that is hardly the end of the world if partner can’t introduce hearts on his own account.

Playing in an unfamiliar partnership our bidding started one heart – two clubs – two spades. When my partner bid four no-trump, should I have treated it as regular Blackwood, keycard for spades, or quantitative?

Man Overboard, Muncie, Ind.

I’m torn here. The right way to set spades is to raise spades then use keycard, while a quantitative sequence is preceded by a two no-trump call here. So logically, a direct four no-trump should be neither of these. But I’d still expect partner to mean four no-trump as keycard for spades, since the last suit bid is normally trump here; not keycard for clubs, I think. (It is best to set declarer’s first suit as trump via Jacoby or an inverted minor, so that in that one specific case the immediate four no-trump call is reserved as asking for straight aces, not keycards.)

I know you often deal with variations of this issue but I’m confused when responder to an opening bid as to whether I should show my strength by jumping at my first, second or third turn, and often as to what is forcing and what is invitational. Are there any simple rules?

Big Ben, Memphis, Tenn.

In all auctions but one, responder’s new suits are forcing; opener can’t pass. So responder’s jump in a new suit at his first turn sends a specific message: a good suit and more than opening values. At responder’s second turn when facing a suit rebid or a new suit, new suits are forcing, with fourthsuit forcing to game. All raises, suit rebids and no-trump calls by responder tend to be non-forcing. Responder’s non-forcing new suit comes only after a no-trump rebid by partner, or a no-trump overcall by the opponents, when one doubles with a strong hand.

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


ClarksburgJanuary 17th, 2016 at 6:57 pm

A supplementary question, following Man Overboard’s question and your answer:
A well know teacher of Intermediates, and prolific big-selling author, says the following:
1NT> 2C>2S > 4NT (quantitative)
1NT > 2C > 2H > 4C (Gerber)
and bases both on the fact that these sequences started with a 1NT Opening.
I find these confusing, unnatural and potentially accident-prone.
To me, the first looks like a key-card ask with Spades trump (as per your answer to Man Overboard). And the second looks more like “Heart fit, slam interest, and a Club shortage” to help Opener evaluate prospects.
Can you add anything further about such types of sequences?

Bobby WolffJanuary 17th, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

To get directly involved with my reply to Man Overboard let me first state what may appear off topic.

As you probably know by now I heartily endorse 2-way Stayman (2C=NGF and 2D=GF) instead of what I consider Jacoby Transfer as markedly inferior to 2-way Stayman.

And now to slither back to topical, by doing so and then, of course, with slam consideration in the mix, there will always be much room to agree suits before launching into the controversy (sometimes, but once is too often) of what is and what isn’t ace asking, and if so, what type?

Therefore with all auctions which begin with 1NT (whether weak or strong) the answer will flow rather than be controversial as to what the meaning of how potential ace-asking bids are defined.

For the many who still love transfers (even though it is well documented of how they give wily opponents two shots at coming in the bidding instead of one and sometimes in competitive auctions become downright controversial in interpretation) then I think what was said above in Man Overboard is as logical as can be, although, no doubt, confusing to less than well-practiced partnerships (and even then miss understandings are still floating in the air, ready to blow their very ugly wind).

Very simply, with transfers there has to be discussions about inferential agreements before all ace asking mechanisms become clearer making discussions that you and I are now weighing, mandatory.

My wish is that the above makes things clearer rather than the opposite.

slarJanuary 17th, 2016 at 9:01 pm

RE: Man overboard once again the lack of clarity on what “standard” is rears its ugly head. Personally I hate the idea of 4NT being Blackwood without clear suit agreement. The sad thing is that in a 2/1 game force, you almost never need to jump to 4NT. If you want it to be Blackwood, rebid a suit to set it as trump. If you want to show 15-17, jump to 3NT. If you want to show 18+, bid 2NT to stall or jump to 5NT (pick a slam). If you pick a random partner from a random location, there is no telling how these bids would be interpreted.

One of my goals this three-day weekend is to review my system notes with my primary partners to make sure things like this are clear. One thing that is nice about system notes is that when things are in writing, your partner can veto anything that is considered too hard to play or remember.

The author was playing in a pickup partnership. In that case, I recommend avoiding possibly ambiguous bids. Have fun and don’t be afraid to take some chances. Sometimes jumping directly to slam (or 5NT pick a slam) is a reasonable risk, especially when you have good controls and a source of tricks.

slarJanuary 17th, 2016 at 9:33 pm

FYI we discussed the Stayman/Gerber situation last month.

Iain ClimieJanuary 17th, 2016 at 11:05 pm

Hi Bobby,

One query on 2-way Stayman. How do you show invitational hands with a 5 card major where transfers would start 1N 2D 2H 2N? I also used to play transfer followed by 3 of a minor as only guaranteeing game interest, so we could stop in 3Maj although the modern treatment is that (say) 1N 2D 2H 3C is GF.

Many thanks,


Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2016 at 3:19 am

Hi Slar,

Must admit I tend to trust your bridge judgment regarding new partnership philosophy and what to expect from random partners without prior discussion. And even with much back and forth, all of us tend, especially in bridge, to revert, when memory fails, to previous tendencies which we acquired
during early development.

Also the bridge tools (4 and 5NT) as well as announcing fits ASAP, are helpful to overcome general sloth, but believe it or not, the more two compatible partners play together the quicker these positive traits mature into the strategy of playing well and then consistently starting to win.

In short, I think you are well grounded into finding the right partner, if you haven’t already.

Bobby WolffJanuary 18th, 2016 at 3:24 am

Hi Iain,

Very quickly by first responding 2 clubs over partner’s opening 1NT and then jumping to 3 of a major to only invite or, of course 3 hearts over a 2 spade response.

All of us need to have or acquire a solid bridge citizen who is well versed with integrating a workable system, and not take the risk of just following some new fad from someone who doesn’t take bridge seriously enough to totally trust.

But what else is new, since almost everyone of us has fallen victim to that sort of foolishness at some time in our bridge careers.

Peter PengJanuary 19th, 2016 at 6:18 am

hi Mr. Wolff

I really like the tip to the last question, jump shift by responder at first turn to show game going hand.

BBO uses this calling it Soloway jump, and shows six cards, ~17HCP

I like it, because it immediately brings slam into to the picture.

Like 1C- P – 2H

However, my club partners all treat this 2H bid as a drop dead bid.

If responder has 6 hearts, weak hand, how should he/she bid?


Bobby WolffJanuary 22nd, 2016 at 5:33 am

Hi Peter,

Since any bridge partnership has their choice of how to play an immediate jump shift, I will suggest the following:

1. If strong the immediate jump shift should go a long way to determine the trump suit, by reducing the contract to either the jump shifted suit or, if not, partner’s suit to be determined after the 2nd round of bidding.

For example with holding s. Ax, h. KQJ10xx, d. Axx, c. Jx and hearing partner open 1 club, respond 2 hearts and then over partner’s rebid, rebid hearts to confirm that hearts are trump, but also while holding s. Ax, h. AKxx, d. xx, c. AQxxx first jump shift in hearts (solid values such as AK but then return to clubs to let partner know that the jump shift was made because of the club fit (which now both sides know which suit will be the eventual trump suit.

Obviously in high level bridge there is more to discuss, but for purposes of early discussion the above should suffice.

However, if the decision is to play a jump shift as weak, the following hands, would be significant examples of responding 2 hearts to partner’s 1 club opening:

1. s. x, h. QJ108xx, d. Kxx, c. xxx or
2. s. xxx, h. KQJ9xx, d. Jx, c. Jx

Once done, partner should be captain and the above hands should only speak if spoken to, usually by your partner asking you to gradate your hand. For example if partner in each case would make an invitational raise to 3 hearts I would accept with hand #1 and decline with hand #2. The singleton in an unbid suit (spades) strongly influences that decision.

Call it points schmoints or any other derogatory term, but when that part of one’s game gets on the right tract, you give yourself (together with your partner) a good chance for consistently either winning IMP matches or finishing well above average in any quality matchpoint bridge contest.

Good luck on your partnership growing into formidable competitors.