Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 6th, 2016

I disagreed with my partner’s decision to open the following hand with a three-club preempt in second seat non-vulnerable ♠ J-9-4-3, 9-4, 10, ♣ K-Q-J-4-3-2. Where do you stand on the issues of side major-suits, and six-card preempts, and how important is the vulnerability?

Red Menace, Elkhart, Ind.

The seat you are in is important – one needs to be more disciplined in second seat. The side four-card major, weak though it is, might dissuade me from acting either in second seat or if vulnerable. In third chair where I need to keep the opponents guessing, I’d open three clubs, and I would open in first chair non-vulnerable, but not if my spades were even slightly better (say Q-10-43). Preempting specifically in clubs with a six-card suit is often acceptable, less common with other suits.

When holding both majors, I am often torn between a double, an overcall and a Michaels cuebid of a minor-suit opener. For example with ♠ K-J-10-3-2, A-Q-9-4, 10, ♣ Q-4-2 what should you do over a one diamond opener? If you overcall, when your LHO responds one no-trump and the auction is passed back to you, would you balance, and if so with what?

Mighty Quinn, Troy, N.Y.

If you overcall one spade, and then double at your next turn this suggests your approximate values and general shape (though you could be much better). There is something to be said for doubling initially, but you lose the 5-3 spade fit that way — and occasionally a 5-2 spade fit is best. Here your proposed overcall, followed by a double, covers all the bases. A Michaels cuebid should — errors and omissions excepting — always be 5-5 pattern.

Can you give me a definition on how to use all the calls in the bid boxes? I know what bids mean but I cannot find out what the Alert, Stop, X, and XX cards stand for, and who can give an alert if they don’t understand when these calls are used. I haven’t found the answers in books – though maybe this is because they predate the bidding boxes.

June Moon, Willoughby, Ohio

The Alert card signals to the opponents that partner’s call has an artificial or unusual meaning. Use this for every call with what you deem to be an unexpected meaning. Whenever a player is about to skip the bidding by making a jump bid, he makes the call and leaves out the stop card for about 10 seconds. The next player is then expected to wait about 10 seconds before making any call. The X/XX cards simply represent the calls of double and redouble.

I think I understand how four-suit transfers over one no-trump work. But what does Stayman followed by a minor mean (and does it mean the same after a two no-trump opening instead of a one no-trump opener)?

Desperately Seeking Stayman, Madison, Wis.

After a one no-trump opening, Stayman followed by three of a minor shows a good hand (at least the values for game) and five plus cards in the bid minor suit, typically with a side four-card major. After a two no-trump opening you would expect the same sort of handpattern for responder; but the fact you have gone past three no-trump implies you should have at least mild slam interest.

My partner and I were discussing whether our aim should be to bid our own cards as accurately as possible and not worry about the opponents, or whether we should try and be in their faces as much as possible, and accept the bad results that occasionally come with this style. Do you have any opinion where we should be aiming on the spectrum?

Block and Tackle, Park City, Utah

At all but the very highest level you should not aim to be focusing on playing disruptive bridge. Sure, play weak jumps and weak jump raises, and open 11-counts. But accurate bridge wins; I truly believe no one ever lost a match where they and their team mates played well.

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


David WarheitMarch 20th, 2016 at 10:30 am

I want to thank you very much for your very warm remarks regarding Victor Mollo. Having had him as a guest in your home must be a highlight of your life!

One more question arising from his Destiny at Bay: As E you hold: AQ

N deals and passes. You bid 1D, S bids 1S, W passes, N bids 1NT, you pass & S bids 3S, all pass. Partner leads the D3. Dummy is:

You win the DAK and partner shows out, so you give him a D ruff, but how do you signal him to return a trump so that you can lead another D which he presumably can ruff with a S higher than dummy’s 6? Mollo’s defender, Charlie the Chimp, found the perfect answer: he returned both the D10 & 2 simultaneously! Of course in the real world, I’m sure that this seemingly perfect ruse would be punished, but what should E do? My thought was that E should win the first D with the A, then cash the K, then lead the 9. What could E possibly mean by playing the AK in unconventional order? What do you think?

AviMarch 20th, 2016 at 11:30 am

we know South holds 4 diamonds, and should have 6 spades for his jump to 3.
KJT987, x(xx), Q654, xx(x) also doesn’t warrant a jump.
So the missing cards are probably at least the 2 missing aces and a Q, or perhaps AQx + void, or even a 7-4 shape.
In all these cases, I fail to see how declarer can establish a safe discard for the Q diamond, for if he tries to draw trump, you can hop with the A and try and give partner his second ruff.

Bobby WolffMarch 20th, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Hi David & Avi,

Yes David, Victor was to say the least, a very interesting man and house guest. He and his wife “Squirrel” (no doubt his beloved affection and, of course, alluding to his menagerie) were almost inseparable, making his alone trip to Dallas a memorable event both in his life and mine. He stayed up most of the night sipping brandy, and then, after retiring, never arose before noon, claiming the result of only just being civilized.

Yes Ari, declarer no doubt held s. KJ10953, h.
A, d. Qxxx, c. AQ leaving partner with the 872 of spades. Therefore I think East should win the ace of diamonds then play the king and specifically the ten (not the nine) somewhat overkill, and while early in that sequence eliminating clubs as a choice but the key stroke would be the ten, since it was entirely possible that the second signal enabled trumps themselves to be in the mix, not just hearts.

As any fool can see (referring to me) then the diamond queen would be discarded on the heart king before a trump from dummy would spell finis for the defense.

If the Hideous Hog happened to be South, can you imagine how intemperate he would act toward his partner for not rebidding 3NT, although without a diamond lead from East, even that contract becomes problematical.

ClarksburgMarch 20th, 2016 at 9:00 pm

A supplementary, related to the question from Desperately Seeking Stayman and your answer (which I assume is widely-used standard)

You and I had an exchange on the Sunday Blog of 2015 June 14. You indicated that at specifically Matchpoints scoring there is some merit in playing the sequence 1NT > 2C > 2D > 3 minor as weak to play in the minor, having checked for a 4-4 Major fit on the way. Could you kindly reconfirm that?

Now back to the more-standard agreement where the 3 minor call shows a strong hand. And let’s assume that like “Desperately” we are playing four-suit transfers. Now would it make some sense to have the “Stayman followed by 3 minor” call show specifically five-card length, and show any 6+ carder through the direct transfer, followed by agreed continuations in both cases?

Bobby WolffMarch 21st, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

And a top of the morning to you.

Yes, I may say standard and, at least to me, since that includes 2 way Stayman, it also stands for relative simplicity.

Start with 2 clubs and then after not finding at least an 8 card major fit, then a bid of 3 of a minor may range from 5 or 6 hcps up to 8 such as S. x, h. K10xx, s. xx, c. QJxxxx where if we find a magic heart fit we should raise to 3 hearts, but lacking that, settle for 3 clubs.

Of course, there would be no upside range on a game force start of 2 diamonds. Obviously since most (perhaps 80%+) play regular Stayman (2 clubs only) plus Jacoby Transfers (2 diamonds instead transfers to hearts and 2 hearts to spades) there will be some confusion and different opinions on the answer to your question. Many so-called standard bridge texts play one way or the other, but the truth is that your example, while not all that rare, and when it comes up, should probably cater to the strong hand since right games and slams are more important than better part score contracts. However upon further examination it is just another nail which proves (at least to me) how superior 2 way Stayman is to playing transfers.

However I do not expect the above to start a total exodus to my way of thinking so I will endorse, if playing plain one-way Stayman then after not finding a major suit fit, a bid of 3 of a miinor is GF and shows 5+ in the minor.

That would mean with the above example hand I would only jump to 3 of the minor (or transfer to it) and then pass, eschewing trying to find the major. There could be slightly more science added, but that is for another day, another time.

Finally bridge learning, though highly trumpeted first by Ely Culbertson then Charlie Goren had a few inaccurate (IMO) innovations, but commercialism demanded simplicity, allowing less than what could have been, to be skimmed over.

Even today, perhaps 85 years later, many, plus those who followed, are still victims, but the alternative may have resulted in lesser interest in trying to learn, so I bite the bullet with a mere shoulder shrug.

Good luck and always thanks for getting these worthwhile subjects on the table.

Bill CubleyMarch 21st, 2016 at 3:20 pm


Expanding upon Might Quinn’s question. I tell my partners that if a 2 suiter overcall, Michaels or Unisial NT, might have been bid, but I bid both suits it means at least a 2 card or more difference in suit lenght. Not a 5-5 [or 5-4] but 6-4 or 7-4 are likely shapes.

Any thoughts of yours are appreciated.

Victor Mollo sent my cat a postcard from London after the cat bid a grand slam and we won by 1/2 matchpoint. The club spontaneously collected dues and bought him a membership long since expired as is that cat.

Bobby WolffMarch 21st, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Hi Bill,

Which suit having 5 cards and the specific holding in the unbid minor often decide the choice.

With 4-5-3-1 and an opponent opening one diamond tends toward a Michaels cue bid rather than a double, but not over 1 club where a double would reign supreme. Also when spades are 5 and hearts are 4 then one spade followed, if allowed, to usually reopen with a double with 5-3-1-4 (over diamond competition) but possibly 2 hearts with 5-4-2-2 or even with 5-4-1-3 when hearts are good but clubs not so.

It also varies with habits of the particular player or partnership. With 6-4 likely 2 hearts, but always with 4 good hearts and 6 mediocre spades but 2 spades with very good spades and average hearts (KJxx).

It is not rocket science although once a rebidder chooses he is now stuck with whatever he does and often changes the final contract for that hand. It is important for any partnership to be consistent, but can stand different strokes for each partner as long as both understand each other’s tendencies.

The above is just part of the reason why long term partnership experience is probably just as important (or more so) compared to the individual talent of each partner.

I, for one, do NOT like my partner preferring spades with xx when holding Honorxx in hearts. And if playing with someone who agrees with me will then tend to not bid hearts (sometimes missing even game) while holding 6-4.

“You pays your money you takes your choice”.

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