Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Holding ♠ K-10-2, A-Q-6-4-3, 10, ♣ A-Q-7-4 I opened one heart in fourth chair, and my partner responded one spade. Would you pass now, raise to two spades, or rebid two clubs? I can see a case for all of these actions, but as it happens the simple raise may be the only way to get to game in spades.

Badland Bill, Fayetteville, N.C.

Facing a passed hand I tend to raise one spade to two (or pass) with three trump and no extras. This hand is good enough that I’d bid two clubs, planning to raise spades over a preference to two hearts, a raise to three clubs, or a call of two no-trump. In each case delayed spade support would suggest extras and this shape. This hand is too good to pass one spade; six clubs could have play, facing the right nine-count!

Do you consider it is right to open a hand like this: ♠ K-10-2, A-Q-8-7-5-2, 8, ♣ J-4-3 at the one- or two-level, or to pass? What would be the factors to influence your decision?

Best Foot Forward, Washington, D.C.

I have a very clear rule, that with a suit as good suit as this one, I will either open at the one-level or two level, but I will not pass. So if you deem this hand too good for a preempt, you must open it at the one-level. Personally I’d treat this as weak two if vulnerable, but as a one-level bid if not vulnerable, regardless of position — except in fourth chair, where it is a two-heart opener.

After three passes, I held ♠ J-9-7-5, A-4 A-K-Q-7, ♣ A-6-4 and opened one diamond. When my partner bid one heart I thought I had a legitimate choice between a simple call of one spade, a jump to two spades, or a bid of two no-trump. What would be your choice, playing a relatively standard system? At the table, when I jumped to two spades my partner interpreted it as showing six diamonds and five spades. Who was off base here?

Percy in a Pickle, Miami, Fla.

A jump to two spades would be natural and game-forcing, but showing an unbalanced hand, typically with five diamonds, though a 4-1-4-4 pattern is technically possible. So this hand constitutes either a rebid of one spade or two no-trump. Put me in the latter camp. Partner should now be able to check back for spades, using the New Minor.

Why is the opening lead made face downwards?

Following the Law, Honolulu, Hawaii

The idea is two-fold. First you are trying to eliminate leads out of turn – not that this is always successful. Secondly, the player not on lead then gets a chance to ask questions about the auction without any fear that his partner might interpret those questions as loaded, or lead directing.

As a defender, I’m having trouble determining whether to split touching honors from the top or bottom. Is there a rule as to which card to play in first, second or third seat?

Off at a Tangent, Hartford, Conn.

Let’s do the easy stuff first. Lead top of a sequence on defense. When following to declarer or dummy’s lead, I’d suggest playing the lower of touching two-card sequences, but top of a three-card sequence. In third hand when trying to win the trick, play lowest of your sequence. However, when your opponents are winning the trick with a high card or trump, drop the top card of the sequence if you can afford it. Equally, when discarding, discard the top of a sequence.

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


Iain ClimieApril 3rd, 2016 at 9:42 am

Hi Bobby,
A few questions on Best Foot Forward's query and whether to open 4th in hand. What should the meanings of "weak" 2 and 3 bids be in 4th e.g. is there any case for playing an old fashioned strong 2 in that position, and treating an opening bid of 3 as showing a hand not stong enough for a jump rebid but with a good 6+ card suit and sound values?
Also, would your decision to open be different if the black suits were reveresed? Both opponents have stayed silent, so I'd consider passing the hand given out in 4th and definitely would do so with shorter spades – either the opponents have them or the hand isn't fitting well if partner has. Isn't there a "rule of 14" for this position – add HCP to number of spades in any marginal cases?

Michael BeyroutiApril 3rd, 2016 at 11:28 am

Dear Mr Wolff and David W.,
I posted my response on yesterday’s blog – just to say I stand corrected.

Peter PengApril 3rd, 2016 at 1:06 pm

hi Bobby

on a very obvious play, i.e., declarer had the rest of the tricks, and all knew it, he pulls the wrong card from hand,

and gives the hand.

What are the rules? Can opponents give a replay to declarer or must they accept the gift?


Best always

ClarksburgApril 3rd, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Good morning Mr Wolff
Further to Best Foot Forward’s Question and your response:
Opening that hand at the one level, even with the good minimum rebid available, would seem quite aggressive to most non-expert / Club players. Would it be accurate to conclude that your approach combines “firing the first shot” and being “not-easily-predictable” to keep the opponents guessing; and that it would require you and Partner to be in an unwritten natural rhythym and in-sync?

Here’s another one about minimum standards for an opening one bid, but with a flat hand. Matchpoints, both VUL, second seat after Dealer’s pass:

S Q84 H QJ74 D Q103 C AJ9

This was from a local typical Club game. Post-game seminar revealed that a large majority would open this hand.
Your thoughts?

bobbywolffApril 3rd, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Hi Iain,

Please accept a conglomerated but numerical answer to your general subject:

1. Radically changing 4th suit openings to fit the different circumstances of no other opening bids present, but different opponents to evaluate, conservative or aggressive, vitally aware of the differences in game played, matchpoints, IMPs, or rubber bridge or not, my answer would be very vague, indicating that while results may well be different, either eliminating competition by so doing, but getting one trick too high as against to sometimes stealing a hand as opposed to allowing those dastardly opponents to exercise their rules given right to compete forces me to declare, too close to call (the cowards way out).

However the artificiality of the change would force a decline to do it under the same guise as above, not enough to gain aka just too complicated to worry about.

Since I was born and lived my life as a huge optimist, I would never pass your example hand out. 1 heart in 1st and 2nd seat, 2 hearts in the other two. The rule of 14 for opening the bidding feels like a logical extension of what is at least close to accurate, but in spite of that, and whatever my number adds to (perhaps not having enough spades would rule out an opening) my ingrained optimism would cancel out all other barometers (not making it right for all).

Finally, my expressions of confidence does not in any way, gauge my deep down relative indecision of what is right or wrong. Rather it is only my personal choice and thus, worth exemplifying sometimes unintended irritating manner to others who become misled.

bobbywolffApril 3rd, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your reply and always remember the good someone (you in this case) does when you enable a subject, this one complicated, to be brought up for discussion.

How better a way to move forward than to, after analyzing a difficult declarer play hand, begin to understand how entries or lack of them, (on this hand) prevent arriving at the winning graceful solution. And bridge has almost an infinite number of those very challenging conundrums.

bobbywolffApril 3rd, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Hi Peter,

Thanks for politely bringing up a question for the ages, especially while playing our beloved game.

In spite of infinite excuses for answers, of course, your simple explanation is totally clear and my opinion leaves it up to the opponents as to what to do. Obviously they can cave and be thought of as superior sportsmen or women by so doing.

Naturally the stakes of the game, whether monetary or not, or whether at a World Championship or merely a home rubber bridge game with nothing of value the gain, it should be left up to the individuals on whether or not to take advantage of the brain slip which occurred.

No doubt that setting trick belongs to the defense, but whether they accept it or not is up to them. Excuses such as to not take it, would not be fair to my teammates or whatever else one may think of is only giving oneself an excuse for being greedy and of little value, but even when faced with it, which all of us (who have played forever) have encountered more than once, there is no right or wrong answer.

In case anyone is interested I have done both, but please do not ask me why, since it probably only has to do with my mood at that moment and nothing more profound.

bobbywolffApril 3rd, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Opening the bidding, at least according to me has much to recommend it. Yes, I would open 1 heart intending to suggest a good suit to eventually settle in, if, in fact we have a decent fit (Kx or even Jx a minimum). We also by virtue of a 6 card suit have fewer losers outside to worry about covering and a singleton to boot, just in case of a heart fit or, of course a long suit by partner who will be satisfied with 3 card support.

Throw in lead directing in case the opponents outbid us and you’ve got my entire argument.

However with that balanced 12 count with many quacks (queens & jacks) my answer is no although since very good players world wide are now opening very light (even balanced 11 counts) I would probably be in a minority if compared with the world’s elite as to the advantages inherent in striking the first positive blow in a bidding war.

No doubt, Charlie Goren, (or in actuality Milton Work) who invented the 4-3-2-1 point count overvalued the quacks while also undervaluing the aces and kings (probably should be A=4 1/2, K=3 1/4 Q=2, J=7/8) but if done how could that be commercialized and sold to the (at that time) fast growing bridge playing public?

Since Goren’s idea immediately made the game extremely popular who can quarrel with those results, but in reality one who aspires to be good in bridge cannot pretend that wrong is right.

I’ve perhaps not rendered a total majority view, but, if so, it is not because I have not tried.

And finally, yes I would open that hand 1 club if playing against Casper Milk Toasts as opponents, since the scoring rules usually, but not always, seem to favor the big bidders.

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